Sunday, April 27, 2014

International Vogue And The Pajama Fiasco Weekend, by Rosalind Barden

"International Vogue And The Pajama Fiasco Weekend," by Rosalind Barden, in Mardi Gras Murder, edited by Sarah E. Glenn, Mystery and Horror, LLC, 2014.

One of those subjects that literature professors like to discuss is the unreliable narrator.  That can be a person who is deliberately lying, like the narrator of a famous Agatha Christie novel.  But it can also be someone so deeply in denial or self-disception that he or she can only give us the most warped view of what is going on.

Among the latter you will find Josh McConnley, or at least we can call him that.  "That last name is one I've been trying out lately.  Goes with my persona.  Very strong, masculine, yet, sympathetic."

Josh, or whoever he is, is an actor, or is trying to be, and so obsessed with himself that the world is just a static backdrop to his running commentary.  Here he is chatting to an unwilling listener, of sorts:

I told him about my time studying Shakespeare in Pasadena, about my time in my high school drama club where no one appreciated how much more talented I was than them.  Of course I highlighted the airline commercial and pointed out how stupid the airline was.  When the airline dumped me, the agent I had back then dumped me too.  She said she was keeping my bad luck from "spreading."  That led me to discussion of my father.

All the characters are similarly pathetic types trying desperately to take advantage of each other.  Good luck with that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hunters, by John M. Floyd

"Hunters," by John M. Floyd, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2014.

So, where do you get your ideas?  That's a question writers hear a lot.

One place is news stories.  Sometimes I will run across some bizarre thing that actually happened and file it away, thinking, hmm, yes, that could turn into fiction. 

My friend and fellow SleuthSayer, John M. Floyd, made something out of one of those news items that I never got around to, and more power to him.

Occasionally you hear about someone going on trial because they tried to hire a hitman, often in a bar, to kill someone.  It seems to me that it is usually a woman trying to bump off her husband, but that might be selective memory.

And this story is about Charlie Hunter, who owns a bar in a bump-in-the-road town in Mississippi and has an envelope full of cash ready to pay the hitman he is hiring to solve his marital problem.  As you can guess, things don't go according to plan.

What makes this story different is that it is not the usual bad-guy-tangled-in-his-own-web tale, but more of a mediocre-guy-with-second-thoughts affair.  No heroes, not a lot of villains, and a lot of gray lines.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Teddy, by Brian Tobin

"Teddy," by Brian Tobin, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 2014.

No fireworks in this one, no groundshaking concept or twist ending.  Just a solid story about two men, both of whom turn out to be a little better than they/we thought. 

Sean is a homeless man, a guy whose trail of bad luck runs from childhood, through service in Iraq to his current miserable life.  The one bright point is Teddy, the puppy he rescued from drowning two years ago.  In return Teddy has given him companionship, protection, and a reason to get up in the morning.

Andy, on the other hand, is making a lot of money in a quasi-legal business, but is willing to go further over the line to make more.  His problem is that he believes in the Sam Spade code: When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it.  When that happens, Andy steps up like a good citizen, and disaster follows.  

What ties these two men together is Teddy, the dog.  And maybe all three of them can find a way out of their mutual mess. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It's So Peaceful In The Country, by WIlliam Brandon

"It's So Peaceful In The Country," by William Brandon, in Black Mask Magazine, 1943, reprinted in The Hard-boiled Detective, edited by Herbert Ruhm, Vintage Books, 1977.

I have been reading a lot of old hard-boiled stories lately, mostly from the Black Mask school.  A lot of them read like photocopies of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories, some blurrier than others.  It made this story stand out by contrast.

Brandon's hero is Horse Luvnik, just out of jail on burglary charges and feeling unhappy because his beloved wife has decided she doesn't want him back until he goes straight.  And she has decided that going straight means buying a cigar store.  How he is supposed to gather enough coin to do that is his problem.  (I guess he can go straight after that.)

Things look bad but then Horse gets an invitation to Vermont.  A gentleman scholar there named Dingle is working on what he hopes will be the definitive book on Edgar Allan Poe's first editions.  The problem is that some of the information  he needs is in the home of his hated rival, a woman who lives a few miles away.  And since she refuses to share Dingle hires Horse to steal her notes every night -- and then smuggle them back into her house every morning.

As you can imagine, things quickly get silly.  It is as if Damon Runyan and P.G.Wodehouse collaborated on a hard-boiled tale.  The Continental Op might spin in his grave, but I enjoyed it.