Sunday, July 28, 2013

Little Big News: Two Men, One Gun

I have a story in the October issue of AHMM.  You can read all about how I came to write it at SleuthSayers.

The Hunting Party, by Tony Richards

"The Hunting Party," by Tony Richards, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2013.


Editor Linda Landrigan has been doing something risky in AHMM in the last couple of years and I haven't seen anyone else mention it.  She has occasionally published science fiction mysteries.

The usual thinking is that mystery fans don't want to read science fiction.  I think it goes back to the idea that you can't have a fair-play mystery if the solution depends on the detective knowing that the Model K3 ray guy has a defenerator switch on the left side, not the right, or who was elected emperor in 2994.  Of course, that's nonsense; a fair-play set in the present or past can be just as unfair. 

Besides, most mystery stories today are not traditional fair-play, anyway.


Which is also true of Richards' tale.  It is (at least) the second story about Lieutenant Abel Enetame, a cop in Federated Africa, a continent that has made tremendous gains over today's gloomy situation.  Unfortunately there are some fanatics who want to force a return to the good old days of tribal violence. 

The leader of this group, Chief Manuza, appeared in the first story.  Now he is more dangerous because he has an ally,  a Nobel Prize-winning physicist named Kanai. 

"There is a saying in the scientific world," Mweru told me.  "Einstein stood on the shoulders of others.  Kanai stood on the shoulders of Einstein...and then just floated off into thin air."

Such a man could give Manuza's rebels a dangerous weapon in their fight against progress.  But weapons can be dangerous in more ways than one as we learn in the stories very satisfying ending.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Samsa File, by Jim Weikart

"The Samsa File," by Jim Weikart, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2013.


I wonder what percentage of AHMM's readers got a few pages into this story and said "What the hell?"  Maybe five percent?  Ten?

I, on the other hand, eat this sort of thing up.

Unless you are in that undefined percentage, the title should give a good hint as to what you are in for.  Havel, a police detective in present-day Prague is assigned to investigate the apparent murder by poisoning of a young man named Gregor Samsa.  Except - surprise! - Gregor had somehow transformed into a giant cockroach.

This is sort of reverse steampunk, transforming a Victorian plot -- Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, of course -- into the modern era, and a modern genre, the police procedural.  Weikart even offers something that Kafka had no interest in, an explanation for Samsa's transformation. 

Of all the stories I have read so far this year, this one is probably the one I most wish I had written.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Departmental Issue, by John H. Dirckx

"
Departmental Issue," by John H. Dirckx, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2013.

For many  years John H. Dirckx has been publishing stories about Cyrus Auburn, a police detective in what I had thought was an unnamed city.  In this one it appears to be Cleveland.  Who knew?

The stories tend to be pretty straight police procedurals, without a lot of personal side trips, but in this case Auburn, newly promoted to lieutenant is feeling a certain amount of paranoia.  His old boss asks him to take on a case too ticklish to share with anyone else in the department: a custodian fell to his death from the roof of skyscraper, leaving behind a former- police department laptop that  was sold to someone at an auction.  Is a cop the killer?

This story lacks one of my favorite things about Dirckx's stories: the interaction between all the regulars.  Since Auburn is on his own we get much less of his co-workers than usual.  But the other wonderful characteristic is Dirckx's imaginative writing style.  Consider: how can you describe a pile of dirt on the floor and make it interesting?

A pile of refuse had been swept into a corner, where it skulked in the lee of a wide broomleaning against the wall.

"Skulked in the lee."  Lovely.

Some more examples:

Rober's wallet was as devoid of interest as a wet paper towel, and his cell phone had come out of the fall with an incurable case of amnesia.

Amid an atmosphere thick with the scent of scorched grease and freshly chopped onions, white-capped and white-aproned servers of both genders took orders, delivered food and drink, and bussed tables with unflagging lethargy.




Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Secret Life of Books, by Angela Gerst

"The Secret Life of Books," by Angela Gerst,  in Mystery Writers of America Presents The Mystery Box, edited by Brad Meltzer, Grand Central Publishing, 2013.

It is a tricky business, writing fiction about real people; more so if the non-fictioner is your main character.  Besides the boring risk of being sued, there is the problem or doing research, and the fact that many of your readers may have a strong sense of what your character should be like, and that may disagree with yours.

I think Gerst does a good job, although I have to say that before I knew the story I knew nothing about Colette except that she was a famous French author, and the creator of Gigi, which became a famous movie.   So I may be off in my assessment of the story, but Gerst certainly convinced me she was drawing an accurate picture.

The story takes place late in Colette's life when her health makes her almost a prisoner in her apartment.  A famous prisoner, with a steady stream of visitors, some famous, and some not.  One of them is Roland, an ambitious chef whose boring chatter she tolerates for the extravagant dishes he brings her.  Roland is marrying a much younger country lass, who hopes to save her family's dwindling estate.  When someone gets killed, Colette must come to the rescue. 

The writing is good, and here is my favorite example.

"How long will your dear husband be away?"

"Too long."  Colette explained that Maurice was promoting her books in the world's richest land, "now that Europe has again reduced itself to ashes."

My darling Colette" -- Liane helped herself to more coffee -- "nobody reads in America."

"Oh, but there are so many of them, even nobody is ten thousand."