Sunday, September 30, 2012

Training Day, by Andrei Kivinov

"Training Day," by Andrei Kivinov, in St Petersburg Noir, edited by Julia Goumen and Natalia Smirnova, Akashic Press, 2012.

This new noir volume by Akashic gets started, logically enough, with a story about a policeman's first day on the job.  It rambles a bit but eventually focuses on a mystery of sorts involving the apparently supernatural ability of a corpse to be in two places at once.

It's not a detective story per se, the cops aren't trying  to solve the puzzle.  But in the course of their duties they do.  An interesting glance at what a day in the life of a St. Petersburg cop might look like.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Window of Time, by John H. Dirckx

"Window of Time," by John H. Dirckx, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2012.

I wrote once before about Dirckx's series of stories about Cyrus Auburn. I think that one of the things that make these police procedurals memorable is that while Auburn works alone he has a cast of supporting bit characters with recognizable personalities who get to play thier small roles in each episode.  We know that the crime scene man is going to bump horns with the coroner's guy, and so on.

In this case, a nasty gossip columnist has been killed in his own apartment i a high securtiy high rise.  Aubusrn has to figure out who done it, of course.

The other thing that makes these stories stand out is the cleverness of the writing style.  For example, Dirckx could have written "Auburn thought the workmen had probably not been as prompt as they claimed."  Instead he wrote: "Auburn suspected the roundness of these numbers."  Nice.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Good Intentions, by Michael Z. Lewin

"Good Intentions," by Michael Z. Lewin, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,  November 2012.

Last year in this space I reviewed "Who Am I," in which Lewin gave Albert Samson, his Indianapolis private eye an unusual client: a quiet, unremarkable man called LeBron James who was convinced his father was an extraterrestial.

The would-be alien is back, this time calling himself Wolfgang Mozart.  He is still doing good deeds and for his troubles this time he gets stabbed.  Since he is unable to answer questions Samson has to figure out what happened and why. 

Mozart and Samson are sympathetic characters and the story is well-written.  (My favorite line: A nurse named Matty meets Albert's kid the cop.

"And she's YOUR daughter?"  Matty tilted her head.  "Your mother must be very very beautiful."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

LIttle Big Commentary: Not For Sale

It seems ridiculous to even say this but maybe, because of stories like this one, every online critic who can say this, should.   So here goes.

My reviews are not for sale.  Nobody pays me for them.  Sometimes someone sends me a free book (or more often a link to an ebook) in the hope that I will review it.  But there's no payment.

Why are my reviews always positive?  Three reasons:
1.  I don't like writing negative reviews.
2.  Panning a short story is silly; wait five minutes and it will be gone anyway.
3.  Because of reasons 1. and 2. I choose to review the best story I read that week.  If I didn't like any, I choose a classic.

All you other reviewers out there, if you don't get paid (and I assume you don't) maybe it's time to say so.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Final Ballot, by Brendan Dubois

"The Final Ballot," by Brendan DuBois, in Mystery Writers of America presents Vengeance, edited by Lee Child, Mulholland Books, 2012.

Boy, I don't know if it's just the dog days of summer affecting my mood but I can tell you I have just loved  the last three stories I chose for this column.  Real stand-outs.

Beth knew in a flash that she was outgunned.  This man before her had traveled the world, knew how to order wine from a meny, wore the best clothes and had gone to the best schools, and was prominent in a campaign to elect a senator from Georgia as the next president of the Untied States.

She put the tissue back in her purse.   And her?  She was under no illusions.  A dumpy woman from a small town outside Manchester who had barely graduated from high school and was now leasing a small beauty shop in a strip mall.

That's not the opening of the story but it is the core of it.  Ms David, meet Mr. Goliath.

Beth's daughter was brutally attacked by a son of the senator/candidate.  The man-of-the-world described above is the problem solver.  "In other words, I'm the senator's bitch."  He offers her two choices which he insists on calling "avenues."  She can pursue prosecution of the senator's son, guaranteeing herself years of being stripped naked by the press, attacked by his supporters, dragged out as a symbol by his enemies... or she can agree to let the culprit get psychological treatment and accept financial aid from the senator to cover her daughter's long-term medical needs.

I won't spoil it by telling you what happens next.  But two old sayings apply:  Never fight with someone who has nothing to lose.  And: the most dangerous place in the world is between a mother and her children.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Change of Heart, by Raymond Goree

"A Change of Heart," by Raymond Goree, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2012.

I'm not on the committee that decides on who gets the Robert L. Fish Award for best first mystery of the year, but they're crazy if they don't give this one a careful look.

The narrator is a Las Vegas cop who, at around age 40, suffers a heart attack.  Turns out his ticker is in horrible shape.  ("Like trying to sew Jell-o together," says the surgeon.)  After some more horrible luck ("Jokes on you, says God.") he gets a heart transplant.  By coincidence he had met  the donor, a cancer patient named Sammy, in the hospital.

After the operation he feels obliged to go to Sammy's favorite restaurant once a month and order the man's favorite, very unhealthy, sandwich.

Sometimes Sammy joins him.  Not to eat, of course, just to watch him eat.  Creepy, huh?

But wait, there's more.  One month Sammy tells our hero that his daughter has gotten involved with would-be bank robbers.  "I cant get through to her," he  complains.  "It's like I'm not even there."

So Sammy wants our hero to stop the robbery and save his daughter.  "You owe me,"  he insists.  But will a robbery really take place?  And if it does, how can the cop explain what he knows? 

Wonderfully written, one-of-a-kind plot.  Highly recommended.