Monday, November 22, 2021

Killers, by Brendan DuBois

"Killers, A Story of Love in Four Acts," by Brendan DuBois, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery magazine, November/December 2020.

This is the ninth appearance in this space by DuBois, tying him with Michael Bracken.  Other than high quality, it doesn't have much in common with his other stories here, which tended to be long tales of good guys overcoming bad guys. "Killers," on the other hand, is a short and quirky tale about somewhat eccentric baddies.

Palmer and York are ex-cops, turned to a more profitable career as hitmen.  They are sitting in a car one night, waiting for a couple who they have been assigned to attend to.  Alas, the targets are late and the old friends run out of things to talk about.  And so, to keep awake, Palmer says: "Tell me the most romantic thing you've ever done."

Well.  That's a surprising turn.  What follows are a couple of revealing anecdotes from the killers' past.  And in the last scene we see how they are affected by these memories.

I thought I knew where this charming story was headed.  DuBois fooled me completely.


Monday, November 15, 2021

The Trouble with Rebecca, by Larry Light

"The Trouble with Rebecca," by Larry Light, in Alfred Htichcock's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2021. 

Generally a piece of fiction has a premise (woman comes to private detectives seeking protection; one of them is promptly killed) and a plot (see, there's this statue of a bird rom Malta, and some very bad guys want it...).

And also generally, a reviewer can discuss the premise but shouldn't give away too much of the plot.  This becomes a problem if the story is halfway over before the premise is clear.  So I will be revealing a lot of the set-up because, what else can I do?  Discuss the punctuation?

Max is a "tech geek," working for a company that does hush-hush security stuff.  Because he hates the social side of work he invents Rebecca, a non-existent wife.  This imaginary person is his excuse to avoid after-work events and the like.

All goes well until he falls in love with a flesh-and-blood co-worker.  His tightly zipped employer does not approve of infidelity.  Leaving Max with a thorny dilemma:

How do you rid yourself of a wife who does not actually exist?

This story is a real treat.  


Sunday, November 7, 2021

Back Down to Black, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

"Back Down to Black," by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, in Mystery Magazine, November 2021. 

This is the fourth appearance here by Welsh-Huggins,and I think it is the second appearance by protagonist Mercury Carter.  It's hard to tell because the hero of "The Mailman" is nameless, as far as I can tell.  They certainly seem to be the same guy.

So who is that guy?  He's a delivery man, the person you contact when the package absolutely, positively needs to be there on time - and bad guys are ready to kill to prevent that.  In the first story the package was two people.  Today it is a flash drive full of potentially life-saving data needed by a virologist.

Someone once described Thomas Perry's novels as "competence porn," meaning that his protagonists don't make mistakes and have whatever skills they need.  We are in that territory here.

Here is Carter reacting to someone putting a gun against the back of his head and telling him "Don't do anything stupid."

'Sure,' said Carter, and did something stupid, driving his left elbow back into the man's chest.  Carter was hardly big enough to do any kind of damage with such a move, which almost any schoolboy could manage better, but it startled No. 4 and the gun barrel slipped off Carter's neck momentarily and he turned and broke the man's nose with his left palm, rocketing his hand forward like a power to the people salute gone terribly wrong.

Actually the character reminds me less of Perry's heroes than of Richard Stark's Parker, although Carter appears to be a good guy.  A most enjoyable story.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Night Bus by Ellen Clair Lamb


"Night Bus," by Ellen Clair Lamb,
 in This Time For Sure: Bouchercon Anthology 2021, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan,  Down & Out Books, 2021. 

The writing advice for decades has been: Start as far along in the action as you can.  If backstory is necessary, you can fill it in after drawing the reader into the story.  One result  of that is that a lot of the time the mystery is not "Who done it?" but "What was done?"  

Jodie is getting on a bus late at night and she wants to be left alone. Unfortunately the last seat open is next to a chipper old lady who is eager to chat.  Her name is Barbara and she is observant, too observant for Jodie's liking because Jodie has a secret to keep.  And that secret - what was done? - will keep you turning pages.  

Just like last week (and from the same book) it is the last sentence that made this story my favorite.  Very clever tale.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Killing Calhoun Again, by Alan Orloff

 "Killing Calhoun Again," by Alan Orloff, in This Time For Sure: Bouchercon Anthology 2021, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan,  Down & Out Books, 2021. 

"The first time I killed Royce Calhoun I’d been floating on three Wild Turkeys and a raft of rage."

And so we begin.  Jake Pardee got jealous because Calhoun had been "doing the nasty" with his girlfriend Angela May, so he shot him, twice., and then took off  Apparently he should have gone for the hat trick, because Jake's friend Mouse tells him that Calhoun is back, insufficiently dead, and still hanging around with Angela May.  

"I had no reason to doubt Mouse, not about this anyhow. He spouted some conspiracy nonsense at times, and he had trouble always knowing right from wrong, but when it came to something like this— ratting someone out— he was usually dead on."

Charming language these low-lifes speak. 

I admit it was the last sentence of the story - not so much a twist as a punchline - that made this my favorite of the week. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Big Store, by Terence Faherty


"The Big Store," by Terence Faherty, in Monkey Business:Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers, edited by Josh Pachter, Untreed Reads, 2021.

I have a story in this book.

This is the eighth appearance in this space by my fellow SleuthSayer Terence Faherty.

Last week I wrote about a story in this book that gave us a view of the Marx Brothers as they might have appeared in real life  Today we go to the opposite extreme with a story that could be a sequel to the movie in question -  and it's odd that such a bad movie could lead to such a good story.

Our narrator is private eye Wolf J. Flywheel. Groucho's character. Based on his success in saving Martha Phelps' department store in the movie  he now has an office in her shop and is pursuing his detective business while also pursuing the boss.

"Martha, Martha, Martha. I could say her name a million times. Once for every greenback she has in the bank."

If his motives are less than pure, his language is pretty hilarious, and convincingly Marxist.

"The department store business is one tough racket. Machine Gun Kelly once tried to return a violin case to Macy’s without a receipt and ended up kissing the sidewalk."

I won't go into the plot.  Let's just say mischief is afoot and Flywheel has to rush to the rescue with the assistance, if that;s the word I'm searching for, of an Italian blackmailer and a silent harpist.    Good times.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Day at the Races, by Joseph S. Walker


"A Day at the Races," by Joseph S. Walker, in Monkey Business:Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers, edited by Josh Pachter, Untreed Reads, 2021.

I have a story in this book.

This is the third appearance here by Joseph S. Walker, the second this year.

One of the interesting things about an anthology like this one is seeing the many different ways authors interpret the theme.  Some use the plot of the film as a jumping-off place.  Others work with the on-screen personas of the brothers.  This is the first one I have read that tries to show us our heroes as they might have appeared in real life.

Julia Simmons is the head of personnel and payroll at Santa Anita Racetrack and this is the day before the film crew will arrive to shoot the racing scenes for the new Marx Brothers movie.  Unfortunately it is also the day that the manager of the track is murdered.  The handsome detective in charge of investigating the case has many questions which keeps Julia rushing back to her office - where an odd little man in a gray suit is hanging around for no apparent reason.  We will figure out his part in the story long before she does, but it's fun hearing his commentary on the action.

There's a lot of wit in this tale, and a satisfactory plot.