Monday, December 10, 2018

Character is Everything, by Jon McGoran

"Character is Everything," by Jon McGoran,  in Unloaded Volume 2, edited by Eric Beeetner and A.Y. Aymar, Down and Out Books, 2018.

And today we are in science fiction territory.  At least, I hope it remains SF for a few more years.

Roscoe Boyer is an endangered species.  He is the last employed writer in the world.  

Roscoe had started out writing honest-to-God books, but he'd changed with the times -- video games, social media micro shorts, story interactives.  Finally this. 

This is creating character outlines for robots.  And now Roscoe is being fired from even that job. Ah, but Roscoe has a trick up the old sleeve...  A clever story.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pan Paniscus, by James W. Ziskin

"Pan Paniscus," by James W. Ziskin, in Unloaded Volume 2, edited by Eric Beetner and A.Y. Aymar, Down and Out Books, 2018.

The theme of these collections is simple: crimes without guns. Certainly this story has plenty of plot.  Here is the first sentence:

The adolescent bonobo named Bingo escaped from the zoo in the early hours of an October morning.

Animal lovers may be glad to know that Bingo is not a crime victim.  Human beings are not so lucky.

Bingo is spotted on the property of Mitch and Fiona Hirsch.  Mitch is a bleeding heart liberal who annoys his law firm by working on pro bono cases.  His wife Fiona is the daughter of wealth and doesn't seem to do much except drink her way through book club meetings.  And then there is Evelio, their gardener.  He is, not surprisingly, illegal.

When Bingo shows up unexpectedly all their lives are changed dramatically, forever....

Monday, November 26, 2018

Plan Z, by Travis Richardson

"Plan Z," by Travis Richardson, in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

This is the second appearance here by Richardson.
 
 Sometimes it is 10% tale and 90% telling.  This is a simple story of three guys who "decide to up their game from B&E and liquor stores."  We don't learn much more about Ted, Greg, and Hector than what position they used to play back in Little League.

So this piece is not big on plot or character development.  What it does have is a wonderful way of unwrapping the adventures of our unlucky trio.  You see, Plan A is to rob a cash-checking joint.  They throw that over for Plan B which is an armored car that Greg's Uncle Arnie drives.  

But Arnie gets fired, leading to Plan C.  Except Arnie shows up, drunk and demands to participate, which brings on Plan D...

Pretty funny.
 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Keep Walking, by Geoffrey Household

"Keep Walking," by Geoffrey Household, in The Days of Your Fathers, 1987.  (Originally published 1968)

Sorry this is late; I have been on vacation.  That might also explain why I did not read any new stories this week I liked enough to review.  As I have done before when this happened I am going to review a classic story, one of my favorites.

I first read this story in the 1970s, published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, with a stupid title I won't repeat here.  (Editor Frederic Dannay was famous for deciding he knew more about titles than the authors of the stories he published.)

This is a spy story and a great suspense tale.  The nameless protagonist is a spy in a hostile country, also unnamed.  It is implied that she is working for a Western democracy.  And she is in big trouble.

She has just posted an incriminating report when she realizes the police are watching her.  At any moment they will scoop her up. torture her, interrogate her, and kill her.

But there is one fragile reed she can cling to.  If the bad guys don't think she has seen them, they will keep following her, hoping she will lead to useful information.

If she runs, they'll grab her.  If she tries to get on a bus, they will collect her.  All she can do is keep walking, and hope desperately to find a way out...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Strangers on the Run, by Sarah M. Chen

"Strangers on the Run," by Sarah M. Chen, in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

This is the second appearance in this space by Chen.

Imagine being an illegal immigrant in this country.

Now imagine you have murdered your sister's abusive husband.

Now imagine that said husband was a gangleader, so now both cops and mobsters are chasing you and your sister.

Sounds like enough trouble for one man to bear?

Now imagine your sister has Alzheimer's...

And you think you've had a bad year...  A very moving and suspenseful tale.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Top Ten Vacation Selfies of Youtube Stars, by Preston Lang

"Top Ten Vacation Selfies of Youtube Stars," by Preston Lang, in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

To the best of my knowledge I have never read any work by the late William E. Wallace, reporter and mystery writer.  But I have read enough of this book to get some sense of what his writing may have been like.  Pretty noir stuff.

The narrator of this tale, Michael Roth, also used to be a reporter.  Or maybe we should say he is currently a reporter without a job, struggling to survive as a freelancer, writing Internet clickbait. (See the title of this story.)

He gets a call from somebody named Brack who used to be a hitman.  Would he like to meet and talk about Brack's illustrious career?

He would.  But Brack, as it turns out,  has another, more dangerous offer to make...


Monday, October 29, 2018

Jenny's Necklace, by O.A. Tynan

"Jenny's Necklace," by O.A. Tynan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2018

We writers prattle on endlessly about the importance of the right opening, but sometimes they matters more than others.  Sometimes it would be a completely different story without the proper beginning.

The last time I saw Jenny, she was lying unconscious in the sandy hollow at the foot of Danagher's Head...

That's the first sentence.  The rest of the paragraph describes Jenny's appearance, and ends with a "sudden hoarse shout as someone found us." 

So as the story progresses we have a good idea of what the climax will be.  We are watching for clues as to what causes Jenny's fate.

The narrator explains: "That was long ago, in the summer of 1961.  I was nine years old at the time..."  This is Ireland and she belongs to a wealthy family with a summer home on the coast.  Jenny is a naive country girl, and more fun than all the governesses the girl has ever had.

But something results in innocent Jenny crashing off that cliff.  Was the narrator's distant but chivalrous father up to no good?  Was her sinister mother jealous?  What about Jenny's mysterious boyfriend who supposedly gave her the beautiful necklace?

Maybe you will guess the answer.  I sure didn't.