Sunday, June 20, 2021

Capes and Masks, by Richard Helms,


"Capes and Masks," by Richard Helms, Mystery Weekly Magazine, June 2021.

This is the third time in ten years of weekly reviews that I am featuring a story by the same author two weeks in a row.  (Mat Coward and Terrence Faherty were the others).

And except for quality, they couldn't be more different.  Last week I critiqued a war-and-crime story.  Today we have a quirky tale of a superhero, Captain Courageous:

"You know the story. Stolen by aliens who crashed my fourth birthday party.  Returned when I was seventeen, but I was somehow... different than when I left.  Well, duh,  I was thirteen years older, had all this weird hair growing where it never had, and my voice sounded like I was shaving a cat with a cheese greater."

If that sounds a bit... hardboiled... for a superhero it is no accident.  His cover identity is Eddie Shane, private eye.  He mostly deals with divorce work but when a caped dude named Sunburst is found mysteriously dead, this is no job for a superhero.  We need a detective to save the day.  

Very funny and clever.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Goodnight Saigon, by Richard Helms

 "Goodnight Saigon," by Richard Helms, in Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel, edited by Josh Pachter, Untreed Reads, 2021.

I have a story in this book.

This is the sixth appearance on this page by Richard Helms.  It is more war story than mystery but there is plenty enough crime to qualify.

And a riveting war story it is.  It's 1958 and soldier Owen Wheeler, for offenses unknown to him, has been transferred from a cushy assignment in Germany to a job in Vietnam training the nation's soldiers.  It wasn't supposed to be combat work "but once the black flag rose and the bullets flew, every man in a uniform was fair game."

Taking the trainees out on a long-range recon patrol Wheeler encounters deadly enemies, human and otherwise.  In the process he captures a Viet Cong soldier and brings him back for interrogation.  And that's when the story turns to crime, and gets very very twisty.

You'll want to read all the way to the satisfactory ending in one sitting.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Crown Jewel, by Joseph S. Walker

 "Crown Jewel," by Joseph S. Walker, in Moonlight and Misadventure, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk, Superior Shores Press, 2021. 

The publisher sent me a copy of this book.

This cheerful romp is the second appearance here by Walker.

Like all genres the mystery field is full of repeating tropes.  Locked rooms.  Dying messages.  Private eyes with drinking problems.

And identical twins. Lots of interesting ways to play with identical twins.  Whodunit when both who's look alike?

The late great Jack Ritchie loved mocking such memes and in one story his cop hero was broken-hearted when he realized that the identical twins had nothing to do with the solution to the crime.  So sad.

Which brings us to today's adventure, which is a tale of obsession.  Obsession tends to be funny or tragic depending on how close you are standing to the shrapnel.  this one is pretty funny.

Keenan Beech is a compulsive collector of vinyl, and his golden fleece is The Beatles, better known as the White Album.  You see, the first few million copies have a number stamped on the cover and collectors like Keenan keep buying, buying, buying them, trying to get closer to the elusive lower numbers.  Yeah, obsessive. 

But that's not his big problem.  That would be his identical twin Xavier.  Keenan is a hard working guy; Xavier is an unsuccessful scoundrel.  And when a record store offers Keenan a rare copy of the White Album for a mere five grand Xavier somehow gets his hands on it first by, duh, pretending to be Keenan.

Can our hero somehow steal the album back?  And if he does, will that just be the beginning of his troubles?  A cautionary tale for all the obsessive collectors out there.

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Case of the Brain Tuber, by Mark Thielman


"The Case of the Brain Tuber," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2021.

This is the sixth appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer Mark Thielman, and the second by his unlikely hero.

Sheer silliness here.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The narrator is a private eye whose side gig is dressing up as a potato for marketing events at supermarkets.  They call him the Spud Stud.

But this time he gets to appear as a normal person for a special event at the Idaho Potato Museum. They are celebrating the newest inductees to the Potato Hall of Fame.  So get ready for tater-based humor.

The band is called the Twice-Baked.  The name tags were "shaped like small packages of freeze-dried hash browns." They are serving vodka (of course) but you can also get a sparkling wine called Potateau.

Like I said: silly.  But when one of the guests of honor dies and the cops are delayed the Spud Stud has to solve the crime. His method is clever.      

Monday, May 24, 2021

Brain Damage by Tom Leins

 "Brain Damage," by Tom Leins, in Coming Through in Waves: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Pink Floyd, edited by T. Fox Dunham, Gutter Books, 2021.

Rey is out of prison but he visits Barrett there because Barrett saved his life once.  Of course Barrett wants a favor: "My wife's sister is missing."  She was thrown down the stairs by her ex-boyfriend resulting in brain damage.  

Rey finds out that the wife used to work at sex parties for a crooked lawyer named Thorgerson and Thorgerson used to take an interest in the little sister.  Maybe too much interest...

A hard-boiled private eye-type story with an unusual protagonist. A lot to recommend it.

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Witches of Endor, by Janice Law


"The Witches of Endor," by Janice Law, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2021.

Janice Law is one of my favorite contemporary short storyists, as demonstrated by the fact that this is her seventh appearance here.  She is also my friend and a fellow SleuthSayer.

Edie and Cynthia are older women, two sisters with an unusual occupation.  They create highly detailed dioramas of crime scenes.  Usually they are commissioned by forensic conferences to show actual murders or create training puzzles.

But their current assignment is different.  A private client has asked them to reconstruct the scene of an unsolved murder.  What's his motive?

"It was an article of faith with [Cynthia] that a really complete reconstruction held the solution..."

The ending cleverly ties the title in.  I wonder how many readers will understand that part?

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Frank Scarso Finds His Life, by Doug Crandall


"Frank Scarso Finds His Life," by Doug Crandall, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May/June 2021.

Walter Mosley, who knows a thing or two about writing fiction, said "Story is what happens. Plot is when the reason it happens or the reasons that it happens are revealed to the reader."

In other words, you don't necessarily want to have the beginning, middle, and end of your story in that order.  

The first thing we learn in this tale is that whatever occurs in it  lands our protagonist in prison. And he doesn't seem to be too upset about that.

Frank Scarso was  in prison before because of a tragic mistake he made.  Now, in his sixties, he is looking for a chance to do a little good. In a word, he is hunting for redemption.

He gets a job in a home for kids with serious problems and finds himself oddly bonding with an autistic boy whose life has been one horror after another.  Frank thinks he can maybe help, and if that brings him grief, so be it...     

What does Crandall gain by putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, telling us how Frank's story will end?  I will paraphrase another author, Jean Anouilh, who said the difference between tragedy and melodrama is that we know how tragedy will end, so the struggle to survive takes on a sort of nobility. We know where this is going but it is a fascinating trip...