Monday, April 12, 2021

Ghost of a Ghost, by Martin Hill Ortiz

 "Ghost of a Ghost," by Martin Hill Ortiz, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2021.

This is, I think, at least the fourth story in this series.  One of them made my best of the week page before.

Phillip Prince is a private eye (well, those of us who have read the other tales know it's more complicated than that, but let's skip the backstory).  He lives in a cabin in northern California and occasionally gets unwelcome visitors, like Sherm, who just tried to punch him and got shot for his troubles.

Some careers don't jibe well with mediocrity. Being a thug-for-hire doesn't come with a health plan, which is what Sherm needed now.

On the way to the emergency room Sherm explains that he was hired to kill him by Lancer.  Which rather confuses things because: "There were two reasons why Ted Lancer wouldn't kill me: number one, he had hired me to keep him alive; and number two, I failed  While my failure gave him a motive, death makes for a fine alibi."

A nicely convoluted tale.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Who Stole The Afikomen?, by Elizabeth Zelvin

 "Who Stole The Afikomen?," by Elizabeth Zelvin, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2021.

I won't even pretend to be objective about this story by my fellow SleuthSayer.   Let me explain why.

The narrator, Andy, is a Catholic and he is about to meet his new fiancee's extended family at their Passover dinner - his first experience at a seder.

I was raised Catholic and have attended many seders with my wife's family and now at our own house.  So I know just where Andy is coming from.

The story is hilarious.      

Uncle Manny kept saying, "Focus, people, focus.  We've got a goal here."
"To get the Jews out of Egypt?" I whispered.
"To get past the rabbis to the gefilte fish," Sharon whispered back.
"Is that the Promised Land?"
"The pot roast is the Promised Land."

But this is EQMM so naturally there has to be a crime.  The afikomen goes missing, and with it a valuable diamond. And since Andy is a cop if he can't find it he's a putz.  But if he accuses a member of the family of theft - oy gevalt!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Ladies of Wednesday Tea, by Michael Bracken

"The Ladies of Wednesday Tea," by Michael Bracken, in Bullets and Other Hurting Things, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2021.

This is the eighth appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken, which ties him with Brendan DuBois for first place. 

Florence Quigly owns a florist shop in a small Texas town.  Her best friends are three other older women.  When her useless grandson gets in trouble with some local bad guys Flo and friends prove that you don't want to mess around with four old ladies.  

Over the years each had lost a spouse or a significant make figure, though LOST might not be the appropriate term.  They knew where the bodies were...

It's fun seeing how their skills and history complement each other.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Phone Message, by Robert Cummins


"The Phone Message," by Robert Cummins, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2021.

 I think it has been years since I reviewed an author's first story here. This is a very nice one.

The beginning is likely to remind you of Columbo.  In the first scene Carole Donaldson calmly kills her husband.  Police detective Wesley Lovett is in charge of the investigation.  Ms. Donaldson, just as calmly,  informs him that she had motive for the crime.  Tons of motive. But she also appears to have an unbreakable alibi.

So far, as I said, so Columbo.  But what makes this story unusual is that Wes begins to wonder whether he wants to break the alibi.   That gives a nice variation on the usual cat-and-mouse game.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Winter Night's Dream, by Michael Wiley

 "A Winter Night's Dream," by Michael Wiley, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2021.

This is the second appearance here by Mr. Wiley.

The private eye story goes back at least to Sherlock Holmes.  The version we think of as the hardboiled dick is a product of the 1920s.  (As Donald Westlake pointed out "hardboiled" is WWI slang and "dick" for detective springs from Prohibition.)  It is nice to see people think up new clothes for this old hero to wear.

Take Sam Kelson, the hero of this story.  He calls himself a "not-so-private investigator."  Due to a  brain injury he can't help but tell you whatever's on his mind.  "I'm an open book -- unzipped -- a gushing hydrant."

Fascinating concept, and suboptimal for a P.I.  His potential client isn't impressed:

"You're something of  a bastard, Mr. Kelson."

"That's CANDOR to you, Chubby Knees."

Chubby - excuse me, the client - walks out of the office and is promptly murdered.  Kelson wants to catch the killer.  The police detective in charge is also unimpressed.

"First, there's no WE," she said.  "There's the police and the not-police.  You're the not-police.  That means you can only make things worse." 

Snappy dialog throughout.  By the way, most of the characters in this story are librarians, Wiley doesn't fall into the usual stereotype traps.

"Librarians like to talk.  They could make reality TV out of this place."

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Truckstop Salvation, by Leigh Lundin

 "Truckstop Salvation," by Leigh Lundin, in The Great Filling Station Holdup, edited by Josh Pachter, Down and Out Books, 2021.

This collection of stories inspired by Jimmy Buffett songs starts off with a bang, with a tale by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Leigh Lundin.

It's 1978 in eastern Tennessee.  The narrator is a TV reporter and he witnesses the arrival of Tommy Peters, a hometown boy who made it big as a country singer.  

The town is about to be flooded to make room for a dam, and Peters offers to hold a benefit festival to raise money.  That makes him a hero for some people, but not all the locals love him.  Like the sheriff whose ex-wife used to be Peters' lover.  And the ex-wife's brother, now a fire-and-brimstone preacher.  No surprise that bad things are going to happen at the festival.

Some clever lines here:  "Sheriff Bulwark hadn't yet succumbed to the fat-Southern-deputy stereotype, but he'd been studying the brochure."

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Katerina Goes to Studio City, by Thomas Perry

 "Katerina Goes to Studio City," by Thomas Perry, in The Strand Magazine, LXII, 2020

This story puts me in an awkward position.  I always publish my best-of-the-year list in my final SleuthSayers column of January, to give me a few extra weeks to catch those last stories.  But this issue of The Strand didn't arrive until late February.  I will have to go back and add this tale to my list.  Ah well.

Katerina is a teenager leading a miserable life in Moscow with no hint of a better future.  Then her best friend escapes to the United States and Katerina, a very resourceful girl, arranges to go as well.

Naive as she is, she does not realize why a Russian oligarch ("He's like a king,") would be willing to help a beautiful young girl come to California.  He sends a different man  to her apartment every night and Katerina develops a wide assortment of tricks and games to keep them out of her bed.

Does this begin to sound familiar?  Are you perhaps humming a few bars of Scheherazade?  

Before this very clever story ends Katerina will ring in a different and also very old tale.