Monday, November 28, 2022

More Than Suspicion, by Joseph S. Walker

"More Than Suspicion," by Joseph S. Walker, in A Hint of Hitchcock, edited by Cameron Trost, Black Beacon Books, 2022.


First of all: great cover.

This is the  sixth story I have reviewed by Walker, and the second this year. 

The place is a small town in Colorado.  The time is just after Pearl Harbor.

Hannah is the projectionist in the town's movie theatre.  She is also the de facto manager since her boss ran off and enlisted.

Supply chain issues leave her running Hitchcock's classic movie Suspicion over and over.  You would not expect it to maintain much of an audience, but one newcomer returns to view it almost every night.  

Darlene's obsession is based on her dislike of the film's ending, in which the husband turns out to be innocent and the wife merely imaging the danger she is in.  "The end is the only part that's a lie.  A pretty lie, but still.  He kills her.  Of course he kills her."

Clearly Darlene has a secret.  It turns out Hannah has one as well - beautifully foreshadowed - and it is one she would love to reveal to Darlene, if she could gather the nerve.  

You won't be surprised that Darlene's past comes calling and the two women have to work together if they want to survive into the future.  A terrific story.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Other French Detective, by O'Neil De Noux


 "The Other French Detective," by O'Neil De Noux, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November/ December 2022.

My friend and fellow Sleuthsayer, O'Neil De Noux, has series characters at work in different periods of New Orleans history.  Sometimes they will investigate crimes in the same building, a century apart.

In this clever story it is 1877 and police detective Jacques Dugas is in demand because he is one of the few officers in the mostly-Irish force who speaks French.  Galjour, a police inspector from Paris, has just arrived.  He speaks no English but he is seeking a French prostitute who killed the wife of a government official and is believed to have escaped to Louisiana.

Dugas helps the French cop search the city's brothels but things get more complicated the next day when another Frenchman arrives, also claiming to be Inspector Galjour.  Of course, this is long before the days of photo I.D.s and instant indetity checks via the Internet.  And then it turns out that the woman both men are after may be a victim rather than a killer...

A twisty story I enjoyed a lot.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

A Rat Tale, by Mark Thielman


"A Rat Tale," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2022.

 Mark Thielman, my fellow SleuthSayer, is having a good year  This is his third appearance on my list in 2022 and his ninth overall, which I believe has him tied at the top.  It is also the second story in this series to make my best-of-the-week list. 

Bernard de Vallenchin is a sixteenth century French attorney with an odd specialty.  Medieval law allowed animals to be tried for their alleged crimes.In this case the farmers of a region are demanding that rats be punished for ravishing their crops.  Our advocate faces penalties if he can't find an adequate defense.

What follows is what they refer to in TV legal dramas as "winning on a technicality," as de Vallenchin embraces the skewed logic that says rodents can be taken to court.  A very funny story, based on an actual case. 









Saturday, November 5, 2022

Paying the Ferryman, by E.J. Wagner

 


"Paying the Ferryman," by E.J. Wagner, in Jewish Noir II, edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimee Osman, PM Press, 2022.

I have said before that my favorite short stories tend to have at least one of these characteristics: great characters, a twist ending, a great concept, or heightened language.

By heightened language I mean that the words do more than get you from the title to the last page.  In effect, they express a world view. This could be  style as flat as Hemingway or as Baroque as Faulkner.

Which brings us to the opening of Wagner's story.

He tells Judith that he loves her. 

They face each other across the butcher'-block counter, the one made fifteen years ago in the first months of their marriage.  She slices sweet peppers for their dinner -- the peppers are bright green, red, and yellow, and she loves the look of them as she slides them into a big white bowl...

He tells her that he truly loves her, and has since they met, but that he -- and here he smiles sadly -- he has fallen deeply, desperately, passionately in live with Hadassah Sharon, the Israeli graduate student he is mentoring, and that he simply can't control his feelings because they're overwhelming.  It is bashert -- predestined.

I skipped a few paragraphs but this gives you some idea of what Wagner is doing.  The rich detail.  The oblivious egotism of the husband.  

Imagine if this story in the more customary style: past tense, with the husband's words in quotation marks.  Some of the magic vanishes.  The story becomes ordinary.

The rest of the story tells how Judith responds to hubby's announcement.  It is a neat tale, neatly told. 

You may wonder why a story in Jewish Noir II has a title referring to Greek mythology.  Well, there are at least two links, as you will see if you read it.  And I hope you do.

 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Do-Ye0n Performs a Cost-Benefit Analysis, by Mark Niemann-Ross


"Do-Ye0n Performs a Cost-Benefit Analysis on a Career Based on Questionable Activities," by Mark Niemann-Ross, in Crooked 2,  edited by Jessie Kwak, Bad Intentions Press, 2022.

Oddly enough, this is the second story I reviewed this month which qualifies as science fiction.  Both are set in the near future and involve a society in which one's access to resources is strictly regimented by one's activities.  

In Thielman's story your ability to progress depends on your perceived good citizenship. In Niemann-Ross's world it depends on what job you can get.

And Do-Ye0n is stuck at Level One because of a screw-up he made at his last position.  His automated job coach tells him he can get a job in "corporate network penetrative testing," which is to say ransomware.  

It is highly lucrative, and legal.  Well, sort of legal.  Unless some agency, or some other entity decides it would be better to make it temporarily illegal...

Robert Heinlein wrote a novella called "If This Goes On--" and that is one of my favorite types of science fiction: the one that extrapolates from what the author sees as a growing trend in our society.  Niemann-Ross has written an interesting example.



Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Relentless Flow of the Amazon, by Jonathan Stone


"The Relentless Flow of the Amazon," by Jonathan Stone, in Mystery Writers of America Presents: Crime Hits Home,  edited by S.J. Rozan, Hanover Square Press, 2022.

I have said before that sometimes a story begins so strongly, with fine writing and a clever concept, that by the end of the first page I am rooting for the writer: Don't screw this up.  We have an example of that today.

It is the beginning of the great lockdown, "the time of boxes.  Everything delivered." Annie and Tom,  new to their suburban neighborhood, are getting tons of boxes which they leave in their garage to give the virus time to wander off.

One day they get an Amazon box they are not expecting.  It contains two plastic but clearly real guns.  How the hell did that get delivered?  Why?  Should Annie and Tom tell the cops, trying to explain what happened?  And who wants cops wandering around their house, breathing their bugs on them?

Maybe they can just put the guns away and forget about them. Besides, as Tom points out, it's not like there's any ammunition.

I bet you can guess what arrives in the next load of packages.

Things get wilder and I won't give anything away.  I had a ball.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Cost of Something Priceless, by Elizabeth Zelvin

"The Cost of Something Priceless," by Elizabeth Zelvin, in Jewish Noir II, edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimee Osman, PM Press, 2022.

This is the second appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer. Zelvin has written other novels and stories about the Mendozas, a fictional family of Sephardic Jews, some of whom sailed with Columbus. 

 And this tale combines two generations widely divided by time.  The story begins as a letter from a modern Mendoza bequeathing to her granddaughter the family's most precious treasures: a necklace and the documents proving it belongs to them.  But there is a lot more to her history than that.

Intertwined with this tale is the third-person story of how Rachel Mendoza really acquired the necklace half a millennium ago.  Let's say that both women found their way through considerable difficulties.

My favorite part of the story is Grandma trying to explain life in the 1950s to her grandchild, and especially what it meant for her to marry a WASP.

People say so glibly that two people come from different worlds.  Everyone said it about Foster and me.  I laughed it off.  I had no idea what it meant.  Take "going to Princeton."  When a Jewish boy went to New York went to Princeton, it meant he was exceptionally smart.  He'd competed successfully in academics, athletics, and an array of showy "extracurricular activities," to make the extremely small quota of New York Jews the university was prepared to tolerate.  When Foster Gale Bentbridge IV went to Princeton, it means that Foster Gale Bentbridge I, II, and III had gone to Princeton. Period.

A skillful story with a powerful ending.


 

This is the second appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer. Zelvin has written other novels and stories about the Mendozas, a fictional family of Sephardic Jews, some of whom sailed with Columbus. 

 And this tale combines two generations widely divided by time.  The story begins as a letter from a modern Mendoza bequeathing to her granddaughter the family's most precious treasures: a necklace and the documents proving it belongs to them.  But there is a lot more to her history than that.

Intertwined with this tale is the third-person story of how Rachel Mendoza really acquired the necklace half a millennium ago.  Let's say that both women found their way through considerable difficulties.

My favorite part of the story is Grandma trying to explain life in the 1950s to her grandchild, and especially what it meant for her to marry a WASP.

People say so glibly that two people come from different worlds.  Everyone said it about Foster and me.  I laughed it off.  I had no idea what it meant.  Take "going to Princeton."  When a Jewish boy went to New York went to Princeton, it meant he was exceptionally smart.  He'd competed successfully in academics, athletics, and an array of showy "extracurricular activities," to make the extremely small quota of New York Jews the university was prepared to tolerate.  When Foster Gale Bentbridge IV went to Princeton, it means that Foster Gale Bentbridge I, II, and III had gone to Princeton. Period.

A skillful story with a powerful ending.