Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Really Big Ka-Boom, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"The Really Big Ka-Boom," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February, 2015.

Apologies for misspelling Ms. Rusch's name, now fixed.

I may have to revise my rule about what makes a story one of my favorites.  I have said they tend to have at least one of three characteristics: a great concept, a twist ending, or heightened language.  Ms. Rusch has reminded me of a fourth method to reach the winner's circle.

Great characters.

The plot of this story is not brilliant, but that doesn't matter.  The characters carry it.  (Let's face it: Wolfe and Archie lifted Rex Stout above some pretty poor plots.)

The narrator is Spade, a three-hundred-fifty pound retired software millionaire whose life revolves around science fiction conventions, for which he provides accounting skills.  His soulmate (he wishes) is Paladin, a young private eye who is everything he isn't (except dumb and socially competent): she is small, beautiful, perpetually angry, and rash.  Clearly they balance each other out.

In this story they wind up in Portland, Oregon at Christmas time, accompanied by Caspar, a homeless thirteen-year-old computer whiz they rescued in an earlier adventure.  The main story begins when they go out to eat and a nearby building explodes.   And Paladin, as Spade notes, is the sort of person who rushes into a burning building.

Now, my first paragraph did not mean that  Rusch does not provide some wonderful language in this story.  Try out this paragraph:

Paramedics had moved a lot of the people Paladin saved, sorting them as if they were damaged collectibles and someone had to grade them: Fair, Very Fair, Good.  The folks in Mint condition stood to one side, and those who were judged Poor had already been stuffed into ambulances and driven to hospitals.


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