Sunday, August 26, 2012

Frank, by Steve Hockensmith

"Frank" by Steve Hockensmith, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2012.

I admit I may be biased in favor of this story, simply because of its subject matter, which is one my family is dealing with currently.

Frank is a retired police detective, living in an assisted living complex.  Frank's memory is, at best, shaky.  He can't always remember what day it is, or the names of his neighbors (although in the case of at least one neighbor's name, Hockensmith notes drolly, "forgetting it had been a choice.")

But now a series of crimes are happening in the complex -- maybe.  Unless someone is imagining it in senile dimensia.  Can Frank pull himself together long enough to catch the culprit?  And what if he is the culprit?

Witty, touching, and a  twist at the end.  What more do you want?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Key, by Ferdinand Von Schirach

"The Key," by Ferdinand Von Schirach,  in Guilt,  Knopf Books, 2012. 

I reviewed a story in Von Schirach's previous book Crime last year.  He is a criminal attorney in Germany and all of his stories are narrated by an attorney named Von Schirach. leading to some debate as to fictional they are. 

In most of the stories the lawyer is a minor character, but none more so than in "The Key."  You could remove the part about Von Schirach without altering the plot a bit.

And speaking of plot: Frank and Atris are German criminals who visit Amsterdam to obtain, from a nasty and believable Russian general, some designer drugs that encourage women to do things they might otherwise prefer not to.  Frank is the brains, Atris the brawn, and when Frank gets picked up by the cops things start to get very messy for Atris, and for the dog Frank has left in his care.  Atris then finds him in a deepening pool of trouble with a series of sinister people.

At this point I need to say that if cruelty to animals is a turn-off for you, you do NOT want to read this story.

There is a flaw in this story: in order to make everything turn out okay a certain person has to perform out of character - or at least to have hidden reserves which we had not been left to expect.  It made it hard to suspend disbelief, but I enjoyed the story anyway.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Snow Birds, by Gary Phillips

"The Snow Birds," (2009) by Gary Phillips, in Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians, and Killer, Perfect Crime Books. 2012.

Gary Phillips is a very smooth, professional writer (and a hell of a lot of fun to sit next to at a dinner party, by the way).  I was reading through this book and finding mostly what I expected: grim stories about various levels of bad guys.  And suddenly I find him channeling, of all people, Ring Lardner.

Now one time it comes on Thanksgiving or rather two days prior, and we were standing on the sidelines in the midst of our permitating as the Silver Slicers of Bowler Street went at the Cruze Cru of Avenue J.  Sidelines is a relative term when it comes to street polo as it was of necessity that we and the other onlookers had to, at times, quickly move about to avoid say a smashed toe or bruised shin,.  The lads and lasses zoomed back and forth, to and fro, on their steeds of battered alloy whacking the bejeezus out of a croquet ball with their homemade plastic mallets while adroitly slaloming their bikes, most of the time barely sluicing past one another, on the field of play.

So the tale begins, and clearly we are not on the usual mean streets, nor are we in the prose of, say Ernest Hemingway.  I happen to be a fan of rococo language in mystery shorts (James Powell, Avram Davidson, and John Collier come leaping to mind).and have often wished it was a road I could travel further myself.

Phillips is clearly having a fine time as he tells the story of two small gangs battling over a load of Thanksgiving turkeys.  The plot is silly, the joy is in the language.

At this juncture I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there was an ongoing tiff between the two as, one might suspect, it involved a dame.  In this case it was a lovely young woman named Annakosta, who'd come this close to gracing the pages of a KING magazine thong special.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Closed Book, by Mary Hoffman

"A Closed Book," by Mary Hoffman, in Venice Noir, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Akashic Press, 2012.

Jakubowski saved the best for last in this book.  In Hoffman's story an Englishwoman visits Venice, chooses a gondolier, and starts peppering him with questions about the city's most notorious crimes.   She's working on a collection of short stories, she explains, but something about her makes Taddeo, the gondolier, quite uncomfortable. 

When the tourist is found murdered in her hotel room Taddeo is the only suspect and is promptly arrested.  His fellow gondolieri don't believe in his guilt and conduct their own investigation.  The reader knows more than the characters and it is fun to watch as the net closes in. 

I like the subtle way in which the underlying motive -- the crimes behind the crime -- is left below the surface.  We can figure out what is in the victim's short story about Venice; the details are left to our imagination.

A very nice piece of work.