"To Kill a Rocking Horse," by James Powell, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2016.
I have said it before. My friend James Powell (who makes his fifth appearance in this column today) has more imagination that any three authors should be permitted to possess. This is particularly obvious in his annual Christmas stories in which ideas go flying across the page like bullets from a machine gun.
Exhibit A is this tale about Canadian private eye Gladstone Tydings (ponder that name for a moment), who gets visited by Santa Claus. The fat man needs help because his elves have gone on strike. They feel that someone is trying to destroy all the rocking horses they created in honor of the now extinct species of ski-footed ponies that helped the elves survive when they first came to the Americas. (Why did the elves wind up at the North Pole? They were the last to cross the Bering Sea land bridge, because they had the shortest legs, of course).
I won't give away much more except to tell you about two groups who appear in the story: militant women who attack phony santas and are known as the Slay Belles, and the North Pole's crack paramilitary unit, the Christmas Seals. And then there is the rule about camp followers with a heart of gold, and -- Somebody stop me!
Read the story. You'll love it.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Sunday, January 24, 2016
We start reviewing 2016 with a nice story in the P.I. vein by my friend Terrie Farley Moran.
New York City, the Great Depression. Tommy Flood, unemployed bookkeeper is looking desperately for work, and surviving through family ties.
And speaking of family, he gets an invitation from Van Helden, the wealthy man who employs his cousin Kathleen. He has a dangerously wild daughter, and Van Helden has decided the solution is to find an attractive but tame gentleman to escort her safely to the risky sorts of establishments she enjoys.
"You, Mr. Flood, are reasonably presentable and so unsuitiable that I'm sure my daughter would find you attractive."
And, of course, if anything goes wrong, cousin Kathleen will immediately join the ranks of the desperate unemployed.
Tommy meets the daughter by pretending to be a private eye. And guess what? Turns out he's good at it. The story has a couple of minor plot holes, but I enjoyed it very much.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Sunday, January 17, 2016
The best story in this collection of holiday tales from Thuglit Magazine was penned by the editor himself, alias Big Daddy Thug.
Boo and Junior are lifelong buddies, stuck holding down the fort in an empty Boston bar on Christmas Eve. They are both orphans, no one to get festive with. Noel makes Boo miserable and Junior happy, which makes Boo feel even worse. (Oh, and one thing to get straight: Boo calls Junior his "heterosexual life partner," but they are both male (unless I am reading the story wrong). So either Robinson or Boo really means platonic life partners.)
Back to the story. Into the joint wanders a semi-regular customer name Darla and a man she has apparently just met at another bar where she works.
Boo says: "I didn't like him immediately. He had that cocky Ivy League swagger, chin held at an arrogant angle. His overcoat looked extremely soft and extremely expensive. But maybe I was just feeling jealous of somebody with a beautiful woman on his arm on the worst night of my year...."
Turns out Boo's instincts are on target. Caleb, for such is the jerk's name, attempts to give Darla a date rape drug. Our heroes spot the scheme and things get complicated. And messy. And funny.
"So...do you guys have a plan?"
"For what?" Junior asked.
"To get him back into his room past the front desk."
"Improvise?" I said.
"That sounded like a question," Darla said.
I thought for a second. "Yes. Yes it did."
From the floor of the backseat erupted a terrified, "FLUMMWRAAAA!"
And happy holidays to all you thugs out there..
Sunday, January 10, 2016
They were born on the same night, of the same father but different mothers.
A nice opening sentence, that, with a lovely fairy tale feel. Samra keeps this up in his story, set in contemporary times, partly by leaving all the characters nameless. And then there is the plot, which has a timeless feel.
You see, the half-brothers were born in the same hospital, and there was some confusion, so no one is sure which brother is which. The father makes an arbitrary choice, setting their destinies forever in place.
The two boys grow up next door to each other. The so-called bastard envies his brother his legitimacy and wealth. The heir envies the other one his freedom, a loving mother (his own died in childbirth), and his strength and confidence.
Clearly their fates are tangled up and the story tells us the stories of their lives, with an appropriately noirish ending.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
Montalbano, Camilleri's series character, is appointed Chief Inspector in a village in Sicily, and discovers that a Mafia family feud is well under way. A member of the Cuffaros is snuffed out with an old-fashioned shotgun, and then one of the Sinagras dies the same way.
Our hero digs deeper as the bodies pile up but no one is talking. "No wonder Ulysses, right here in Sicily, told the Cyclops his name was Nobody!"
But then something highly irregular happens. Two members of the same family are killed in a row. How unseemly! And Montalbano spots a way into the maze.
Very clever story. And the fact that one of the characters is named Lopresti did not influence me, I assure you.