Sunday, September 17, 2023

Lavender Diamond, by Edward Sheehy


"Lavender Diamond," by Edward Sheehy in Crimeucopia: Boomshakalaking! Modern Crimes for Modern Times, Murderous Ink Press, 2023.

This is one of those mysterious books that came into existence without an editor.  And this is, I believe the first story from Crimeucopia to make my best of the week list.

What is the difference between comedy and farce?  Farce is the extreme end of the spectrum, clowning, no suspension of disbelief necessary.  Neil Simon's The Odd Couple is comedy, his Murder by Death is farce.

And what Sheehy offers us today is farce.  Here's how it starts:

I'm done writing first-person point-of-view stories.  My latest saga of a modern family stretching back several generations, voiced by 72 first-person characters including pet dogs and cats and a crow circling the narrative dispensing omniscient commentary, had been soundly rejected by dozens of publishers.

Can't say that I blame them.  But my first question: is this meta?  Is this Sheehy telling us something about his writing?

No, as it turns out this is his character, who is a writer.  But now it gets confusing, because our hero, still writing in first person, visits a library where he encounters...

A tall dude, six-feet-four with a shaved head, wore a gold chain over a tight turtleneck that showed off a thick musculature gained from years of pumping iron at Cumberland Correction on a narcotics charge.  Inside the joint the dude known as Craz had been the leader of a brutal and murderous prison gang.

Wait a minute!  How does our character know all this?  Have we wandered into third person omniscient narration?

Strap in.  It's going to be a wild ride.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Last Shot, by Dave Waskin


"The Last Shot," by Dave Waskin, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2023.

I don't usually notice a theme in issues of AHMM or EQMM but this one is  centered on  games.  Last week I wrote about a boxing story.  This week it's basketball.  There's also baseball, computer games, and I haven't finished it yet.

But let's get to Waskin's tale.

Connor is a college ball player but he knows he isn't good enough to make it  to the NBA.  That's just the tip of the iceberg of his problems: his father's in prison, his girlfriend seems to be out of his league, and he's having trouble with his classes.

And then the team's star player tries to drag him into a point-shaving scam with some very nasty gangsters.

But that's just the surface.  There are layers within layers here, wheels within wheels.I won't go further except to say Connor has enemies and allies you won't expect.  I enjoyed this one a lot.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Doing Business, by Mark Hannon


"Doing Business," by Mark Hannon, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2023.

Foreshadowing in a story can take many forms.  This tale starts deep into the action and then goes back to the beginning.  I don't usually think of that as a form of foreshadowing, but it feels like it here, partly because that first scene is just a few paragraphs long.

But there is another type of foreshadowing through the story, a kind of trouble coming at the protagonist.  It is obvious to the reader but it is not at all clear whether the hero, who is also the narrator, sees it.  And that makes for a lovely bit of suspense.

Kelvin is a boxer, about to go into the biggest match of his career.  His manager, sparring partner, and the inevitable hangers-on are all providing well-meaning contradictory advice. Ah, but is all the advice well-meaning?  And will Kelvin see the spider in the web?

A very nicely written first story.  

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Your 10th Bond Is Free!, by Wendall Thomas

 "Your 10th Bond Is Free!, by Wendall Thomas, Crime Under the Sun, A Sisters in Crime Anthology, edited by Matt Coyle, Naomi Hirahara, and Tammy Kaehler, Down and Out Books, 2023. 

Ava is struggling to keep the family business afloat after her father's death.  The business happens to be As You Were Bail Bonds.  This means that as she grew up her family friends were cops and petty criminals.  Petty because her father didn't have enough money to bail out, say murderers.

Our business model depended on aspirational, incompetent criminals accused of crimes with a bail amount  under twenty-five grand.

I love that word aspirational.

When her business card is found in a homicide victim's pocket Ava's life and career are endangered.  A quirky story that provides a new look at the bail bond business.


Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Regular, by James Thorpe


"The Regular," by James Thorpe, in Crime Under the Sun, A Sisters in Crime Anthology, edited by Matt Coyle, Naomi Hirahara, and Tammy Kaehler, Down and Out Books, 2023. 

Ray is drinking more than he should  His wife is gone and that led to him making a bad mistake.  What's worse is that Veronica knows about it.  She is the pianist at the bar where Ray does his too-much-drinking.

And, ironically, she starts nagging him just like his wife did toward the end of their marriage.  Why doesn't he demand a promotion?  He needs to make more money...

Just like his wife, except that Veronica's motive is different.  That link between pianist and wife is the amusing spark that kept me turning pages, but there are many clever twists to come in this neat little tale.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Making the Bad Guys Nervous, by Joseph S. Walker


"Making the Bad Guys Nervous," by Joseph S. Walker, in Black Cat Weekly, #102.

This is Walker's third appearance in my column this year.  It is his  tenth overall, which ties him with Terence Faherty and Mark Thielman at the top of the pantheon, for the moment.

Tim Chadwick is a disgraced ex-cop who sometimes fills the times between drinks by doing some unlicensed private eye work. (cough cough Scudder? cough cough).

A client is worried that his mother's suburban neighborhood is being plagued with porch pirates - people stealing packages left by delivery workers.  He wants the bad guys caught before they escalate to violence and he is willing to pay Tim to put a week into it.

So Tim finds himself sitting in the living room of Sandy, the client's mother, peering out the window, eating her sandwiches, and listening to her attempt to play the piano.

"Is that Springsteen?"

"If you're feeling generous."

It's a low-key story that shifts to a low-key sort of violence.  Very clever.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Lenny, but not Corky, by Daniel Stashower


"Lenny, but not Corky," by Daniel Stashower,  in Cleveland Noir, edited by Michael Ruhlman and Miesha Wilson Headen, Akashic Press, 2023.

The publisher sent me a copy of this book.

Cleveland rocks.  There are a lot of good stories in this anthology.

Some stories are primarily about plot, others about character. This one is about style.

The narrator is talking to a reporter, "you." We never hear her speak, just Anders' reaction to her questions.  

We learn that she is writing an article about the disappearance of a paper boy fifty years earlier.  Everyone refers to him as a boy, but he was actually nineteen.  Anders and his wife were hippies and they were close friends with the kid.  They could have been the last people to see him alive, except they had had a fight.  The guy who wrote a book about the disappearance "the great and all-knowing Julian Story," Anders calls him, made it look as if it was Anders' fault, that if hehad been there the boy might have been saved.

Anders doesn't like Julian Story or the book, and he thinks this article may be his last chance to spell things out.

If you have to drag all this up again, at least let me tell it my way, like you said.  No, I'm not bitter... 

Oh, he's bitter, all right.  And he has a fine story to tell.