Sunday, July 24, 2016
In his first published story (!) Mark Thielman seems to have played midwife to the love child of Rex Stout and Lillian de la Torre. Or maybe I have just been infected with his characters' love of metaphor.
"A Meter of Murder" is this year's winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award, which is co-sponsored by AHMM and the Wolfe Pack, dedicated fans of Rex Stout. Often but not always the winner follows the formula of Stout's Nero Wolfe stories: a genius detective who seldom goes anywhere, and a narrator who does the footwork. So it is in Thielman's story.
But this novella is also part of a subgenre which, as far as I know was invented by Lillian de la Torre. I assume she was reading Arthur Conan Doyle one day and noticed that Holmes referred to Watson as "my Boswell." And she thought: If Watson is Boswell why can't Boswell be Watson? And so she created the Samuel Johnson: Detector series, the first mystery stories to make use of a real person as the fictional hero.
And now, at last, we can get to Thielman's story.
London in 1661 was a very dangerous place. King Charles II had just taken the throne and anyone who had been on the Roundhead side in the Civil War, or worked with Cromwell after, had to keep one eye over his shoulder, expecting arrest or worse.
One of those was the blind poet John Milton, not yet the creator of Paradise Lost. The narrator of the novella is Milton's younger friend, Andrew Marvell, who was both a member of Parliament and a poet.
At the beginning of what turns out to be a very long day Marvell comes to tell his friend that a royalist member of the House of Commons has been killed in circumstances that suggest a possible political motive. If someone doesn't find out whodunit, then the people of their party may be chosen as the killer.
And so Milton gets on the case, sending Marvell out to investigate and bring back suspects. Thielman clearly knows his Restoration London and his Rex Stout. I enjoyed this novella a lot.
One line made me laugh out loud. Milton to a suspect: "Sir, don't be pugnacious. Spare us your vehemence."
Doesn't that sound exactly like Nero Wolfe?
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Lot of good stories in this issue but so far the laurel wreath goes to this somewhat bizarre story by James Nolan.
The narrator is a recovering alcoholic who gets a call from Grasshopper, for whom he has been acting as AA sponsor. Grasshopper has been diagnosed with stage-three liver cancer and has decided to drink himself to death in Mexico.
Off he goes to the sunny southland but the big C is not what takes him away. Instead his head has found on the short cut between the local village and the suburb for American ex-pats. His body never turns up. So our hero heads down there to recover the head and try to find out what happened.
Did I say bizarre? He meets an ex-stripper, a couple of midgets, a crooked cop, a grouchy dentist - and all in a town where "the funeral home is the only place open all night."
Very compelling story with well-drawn characters.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
All the stories in this book take place at conventions, conferences, club meetings, or the like and part of the fun is seeing how the authurs use that. Simmons features, largely enough, a mystery weekend.
The twist is that all the guests - and hosts - come dressed as great fictional detectives, and are penalized if they dare to speak out of character. Now Inspector Bucket (from Dickens' Bleak House)
has tumbled down a flight of stairs and two genuine cops are trying to figure it out how it happened.
Their big problem is that the suspects and witnesses think they are part of the act and start ringing penalty bells if they try to speak as if this was a real-life event. Funny, and bizarre.
I may be prejudiced in favor of this story because it reminds me (in a non-plagiarizing way) of my story "Shanks Gets Killed," which also involves a murder weekend and a Maltese Falcon-related prize. But in any case, Simmons has given us a fun read.
Sunday, July 3, 2016
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a story featuring amnesia and said that what matters is not that a device has been used before, but what you do with it this time. This week the device is paralysis
Rachel is in a nursing home. She can only move a few facial muscles and, on a good day, twitch the fingers of one hand.
At night, some creepy man has been coming into her dark room to cheerfully tell her about his career as a serial killer and his plans to kill another of the residents. Is he a resident, a staffer, or someone else? She can't see him. But clearly he is getting pleasure from telling his plans to a person who can't tell anyone.
Can Rachel find a way to tell someone what is happening? Will anyone believe her? A very suspenseful story.
Monday, June 27, 2016
I believe this is the first story from Mystery Weekly to make my weekly best. It was also their free sample of the week, which you can get sent to your email.
The story is a little thing, flash fiction or close to it, more anecdote than full-blown story. But it's interesting. containing a character sketch (the narrator), nice language use, and something to think about.
Here's how it starts:
I only know three ways people ever get eaten by bears. There could be others, but I haven’t run across them.
The gentleman meditating here is a small-town coroner in West Texas, and as you may have guessed, he is dealing with the results of one of those three methods. The victim is a meth cooker who apparently lost a fight with a colleague, which led to him starting a new career as bear chow.
Our coroner explains what he can tell from the partial remains that have been brought in by the violently ill deputies. Then he ponders the unfairness of the future that is sure to be waiting for the bear.
And that's about it. Like I said, it's slight, but it hangs together, and is definitely worth a read.
Monday, June 20, 2016
This is the second appearance on this page by Craig Faustus Buck.
Amnesia appears in fiction more often than it does in real life. But then again, so do dying message clues, femme fatales, genius detectives and a lot of other tools of the trade. The trick is what use you make of the item.
Buck has taken us to 1960, East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Our protagonist has been shot in the head, a grazing blow that vaporized his memory - or most of it. Now the cops want to know what happened, and the deadly secret police, the Stasi, are lurking on the sidelines, up to God knows what.
Our hero speaks German and English. Which is he? He has the name Slade tattooed on his arm. Is that his name? Will he figure out who he is before the shooter realizes he is alive and makes another try?
A fine piece of work.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
This story is set in the world of prohibition in one of the fancy backwoods hotels where gangsters could relax until the heat cooled down. Our narrator is the owner of Hotel Hatteras in Michigan, called Hotel Hate by her rotten husband who deserted her years ago. Now he's back and trouble follows...
A nice tale with plenty of period touches.