Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Incident at a Diner, by Chris Miller

 "Incident at a Diner," by Chris Miller, in Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology, edited by Andy Rausch, All Due Respect, 2021.

This is one of those stories that grew on me, meaning I liked it better the more I thought about it.  There are so many moving pieces it takes a while to sort everything out.

Sam and Millie are meeting for breakfast in a diner in rural Texas.  They are deep in lust and soaking in guilt because Sam is cheating on his wife.  

But they aren't the only people having trouble in that joint.  A man and woman are arguing furiously about something.  Two gangster-types from New Jersey are complaining about an associate has screwed up.  And then there's the old cowboy who seems to have his own agenda.  How is this all going to work out? And, let's remember: why is this story in a book about hit men?

The climax surprised me a lot.

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Hell of a Thing, by Wayne J. Gardiner

 "A Hell of a Thing," by Wayne J. Gardiner, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2021.

This is the second appearance here by Wayne J. Gardiner.  It doesn't have a complicated plot, more of a slice-of-life story.  

On the first page Carly does something most officers never need to do in their whole careers: fire her weapon in action.  In fact, she shoots three armed robbers and she shoots them all dead.

The rest of the story is about her trying to find ways to cope with her reactions and those of the people around her.  And, perhaps inevitably, there is a niggling self-doubt: Is she sure the first robber was turning his gun toward her?

It is a moving tale, well-told.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Glass, by James R. Benn

 "Glass," by James R. Benn, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2021.

One of the many reasons AHMM is my favorite magazine is that they occasionally take a chance on a crime-related story from a different genre.  This story, for example, has a clear science fiction orientation.

The proton moved an at insane speed.  If it had been capable of fear, it would have been terrified.  Contained within an oval tube, traveling just short of the speed of light, it whipped around the 54.1-mile circuit ceaselessly as other protons shout past it from the opposite direction.  Collisions sparked all around it, sending smashed protons against the smooth metalic surface which contained its universe.

 That's the start.  We follow the path of this proton for an entire page before things go awry. The superconducting super-collider goes boom and a piece of 21st-century technology is blasted back through time to 1965 where it is discovered by hapless recently-fired salesman Guy Tupper.  Guy brings it to his cousin Jerry who runs a repair shop.  Together they figure out just enough to get the device working, and then...

Well.  That would be telling.

There is a clever roman a clef here, with a well-known writer being referenced under a transparent pseudonym.  The best part is that the plots of his novels fit spookily to the situation Guy and Jerry find themselves in.

There is a twist in this tale that made me gasp audibly.  That doesn't happen very often.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Stain of Memory, by Thomas K. Carpenter

 "The Stain of Memory," by Thomas K. Carpenter, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2021.

This is the second appearance in this column by Carpenter and his Roman detective.

Carpenter's Ovid is not the great poet, but a magistrate serving in a poor neighborhood of Alexandria.  He is a long ways from a conventional hero, modern or Roman, being overweight and somewhat dithering.  But he is clever, and honest, and has an excellent grasp of Roman law, which is vital because these stories tend to turn on quirks of this legal system.

As usual, Ovid finds himself between a rock and a hard place.  To be specific, his boss, who is in charge all the magistrates and the military in the city, has brought a charge against the governor.  Both of them demand that Ovid, as presiding magistrate, rule in their favor.  Either can destroy him at will.  

As I said, Ovid has been in tough spots before, but this time he learns something that makes the problem very personal.  So, in effect, he is his own client.  

A very clever story, and an excellent portrayal of the time period.  

Monday, August 23, 2021

Perfect Strangers, by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

 "Perfect Strangers," by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs, in When A Stranger Comes To Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Hanover Square Press, 2021.

Gershom is finishing his second prison term for armed robbery when his cellmate Dougal points out the new gold mine: marijuana dispensaries.  Cash-rich and security-poor, they are a robber's dream.  So when he gets out Gershom begins to plan an elaborate robbery, because he does not intend to go down a third time...

The writing here is very witty. "Five years [in prison] went by like a snail with a hangover."  "If this went sideways, they'd lock me up and melt down the warden." And so on.

If you have read a few hundred stories like this you know something will go sideways,  But Jacobs found a clever and unexpected way to do that.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Skull Collector, by Joe R. Lansdale

"The Skull Collector," by Joe R. Lansdale, in Collectibles, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2021.

This is Lansdale's third appearance here.  

If a story is told in first person, style is character.  Here is our heroine describing her boss, a fence, dealing with a dissatisfied customer:

"He was a tough old guy, Ruby said.  Big, cold crack walnuts with harsh language, chase a squirrel up a tree with bad breath. She had to use an axe handle to sort the guy out a little.  It wasn't too bad.  He was able to leave on his own, though not without a certain amount of pain and difficulty..."  

That tells you a lot about Ruby, sure, but we also find out a lot about the narrator, especially that "It wasn't too bad." What does she consider a real problem?

Ruby has been hired by a Texas bigwig to steal a skull form a cemetery  -- I'll leave the reason for that a secret -- and she ropes our heroine in.  Things get worse.  Then they get worse.  And... you get the idea.

Here is the assistant fence describing the hasty exit made by two thugs: "Bridge Support and his Kemosabe left out of there so fast they didn't even leave body odor."

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Yelena Tried to Kill Me, by Trey Dowell


"Yelena Tried to Kill Me," by Trey Dowell, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 2021.

"The first time I saw Yelena Nevsky, she tried to kill me."

Well, that opening line got my attention.  Our hero participates in armored duels at a renaissance fair.  Yelena, dressed in Russian medieval chain mail, battles him for the championship.  I won't tell you who wins, but the result is a romance.  

The protagonist's friend isn't buying it.  Why would a sexy Russian fall for a nothing like him?  And as a Russian cultural attache she must be a spy, right?  "And she's, what, stealing all the classified info I keep in my corner coffee shop?"

Maybe not, but something must be going on or this wouldn't be in a mystery magazine.  The story has some clever twists.