Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Cough, by Lynn Chandler Willis

 "The Cough," by Lynn Chandler Willis, in Writers Crushing COVID-19, edited by Lawrence Kelter, LightSpeed Books, 2020.

There's been a sort of race going on this year and, as far as I know, Willis is the winner.  She is the first person to get a story published in which COVID masks are used by robbers as a disguise.  You knew it had to be coming. 

That's not why this story is my best of the week, of course. The reason is that it is an amusing story of incompetent criminals.

Marty and Dwayne are hoping to rob a bank but the virus lockdown means that only drive-thru's are open. Foiled again!

Marty is the brains of the operation (and that is a low bar).  Dwayne seems as happy to score some toilet paper as he would be with the contents of a bank safe.

But our hero thinks of a way to rob the WalMart.  You my not be astonished that things don't go perfectly.  You may be even less astonished that COVID is involved.

My favorite line: When the two guys get separated and complain someone asks Marty: "You his emotional support animal or something?" 


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Kevin of the Dead, by Eoin Colfer


"Kevin of the Dead," by Eoin Colfer, in The Strand Magazine, Feb.-May 2020.

A page into this story I found myself hoping a crime would show up.  It was by no means a sure thing that that would happen, and I only review crime stories.  Fortunately, the story turned sufficiently criminous, as Ellery Queen used to say, to meet my standards.

So what is this about if not primarily crime?

It's a vampire story.  But Kevin is not your classic suave gothic (or goth) undead master of minds.  He's a whiny emo young man with a lot to complain about.  

"In my opinion there's a real market for vampire counsellors.  Someone to guide you through the process.  It's very traumatic waking up dead, I can tell you.  Not as traumatic as high school but pretty close."     

Our boy had a hard time getting along with people when he was alive and things haven't improved since he snuffed it.  Colfer offers us a more (dare I say?) realistic look at the undead lifestyle and it's hilarious.  Kevin goes out each night looking for blood but he also hopes his victim has "Netflix on her phone so I can catch up on Stranger Things."

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Golden Lives, by Joseph S. Walker


"Golden Lives," by Joseph S. Walker, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, September, 2020.

Annalee Lincoln left the army due to an accident that removed her foot.  Three months later she is home because her brother Ike died, in another accident.  This one happened while he was attempting to commit a rather stupid felony.

Annalee has trouble grasping that, because Ike was the smart one.  They were raised by their worthless uncle and Annalee feels the guilt common of older siblings who escape from a toxic home and have to leave the younger ones to cope without them.  

She can't bring him back but can she figure out what happened?  And maybe find love along the way?

Very satisfactory story.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

No Body, by Clea Simon

"No Body," by Clea Simon, in Shattering Glass, edited by Heather Graham, Nasty Women Press, 2020.

Before she even spoke she knew her body was gone. It had been a struggle, losing it. 

At first I thought the protagonist was a ghost, but no, she is a person in trauma experiencing, as some people do in such a situation, the sensation of being outside her own body. In fact, she was drugged and is being raped. 

None of the characters in this story are named, and the protagonist is never "the woman," but simply "she." It is a stylistic choice that keeps the story as intimate and claustrophobic. And this story is strong on style. 

The main character is a college student and the rapist is a popular student who lives right down the hall. He doesn't stop tormenting her, either, joking with his friends about her. But then... 

 I said this story is mostly about style, so honestly I was not expecting a clever and unexpected plot twist. But that's what you get.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Nicking Votes, by Stephen Buehler

"Nicking Votes," by Stephen Buehler, in Low Down Dirty Vote 2, edited by Mysti Berry, Berry Content Corporation, 2020.

I have a story in this book, by the way.

It's the summer of 1974 and con man Nick Townson is having a bit of hard luck.  His (stolen) car is overheating so he has to pull into a small desert town named Promise.  He will have to wait overnight for repairs and figures to while away the time by conning the locals out of some money with bar bets and similar tricks.

But it turns out there is an election going on, with two candidates for mayor: a sleazy developer and the attractive owner of the bar where Nick is playing his sneaky games.  Nick has no interest in politics but he may have no choice but to get involved.

A lot of clever twists in this one.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Law of Local Karma, by Susan Dunlap

 "The Law of Local Karma," by Susan Dunlap, in Berkeley Noir, edited by Jerry Thompson and Owen Hill, Akashic Press, 2020.

The publisher sent me an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

When Sergeant Endo Maduri talked about the case later he'd start off, "That was the last time Shelby and I rode together.  It made some of the guys on the force uncomfortable, but Maduri didn't care.

That is the opening paragraph, and it sets the hook nicely.  Is it the last time because Shelby dies, or retires, or because the two cops decide they can't work together?  It certainly made me want to turn pages and find out.

It's a winter afternoon in Berkeley and someone has killed a real estate flipper.  That means there are tons of suspects because lots of people had reasons to hate the guy, including police officer Shelby  and their only witness, a college kid named Janssen.  Maduri and Shelby get the witness in their car for a search around the neighborhood and he manages to include Lisa, a woman who is way out of his league, but would like the excitement of a trip in a police car.

Maduri is trying desperately  to keep the kid's attention on possible suspects while Janssen is much more interested in Lisa.  And Shelby, nearing retirement age and grumpy as hell, seems to have lost interest in the whole deal.  There are some clever twists here.

I must say this story almost lost me on the first page.  Maybe it's just me but I had a hell of a time figuring out who was who.  Is Shelby Callahan's first name?  Is one or both of them the patrolwoman?  Who is the suspect that everyone loses interest in but leaves face down on the sidewalk?  

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Only the Desperate Come Here, by Michael Mallory


"Only the Desperate Come Here," by Michael Mallory, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 2020.

I made a huge embarassing gaffe in an earlier version of this review.  My apologies.

 This is the fifth appearance here by my friend Michael Mallory.

When a client goes to attorney Scott Turley they know they are scraping the bottom of the barrel.  He lives in a room at the Y and his dinner is whiskey.

So it is a surprise when Carl Bone the Third, son of a city councilman, comes to him.  Seems he killed an old college buddy in the alley next to the bar where he worked.  Turley knows the ropes and has some tricks up his sleeves, but fate has a few aces he will need to deal with...

My favorite line: "While confession might be good for the soul, it was terrible for billable legal fees."

Clever stuff.