Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Paler Shade of Death, by Laura Benedict

"A Paler Shade of Death," by Laura Benedict, in St. Louis Noir, edited by Scott Akashic Press, 2016.

This may the grimmest story I ever chose as my best of the week.  Nothing jolly here, folks.

Becca is moving to a duplex because her husband has a restraining order out against her.  Seems she threw some tea cups at him, among other things.

Their son died a few years ago and they have recovered at different paces, which leads to tension.  That can happen after a tragedy.

But there are rumors flying around the neighborhood that the child's death was not an accident.  And Becca is drinking a lot.  Plus there is a little boy who keeps following her around, a few years older than her own son would have been.  What's that all about?

I sometimes complain that the editors of the Akashic Noir series forget that it isn't enough just to be depressing; the stories need crime as well.  No worries here; Benedict is not afraid to get her characters' hands dirty.  If you like your fiction grim, I recommend it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Playing the Ace, by Loren D. Estleman

"Playing the Ace," by Loren D. Estleman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2016.

This is the second appearance in this space for Estleman and his stories of the Four Horsemen.  While it is not a whodunit there are mysteries of a sort that left me pleasantly puzzled.  We will get to them.

The Four Horsemen are what remains of the vice squad of the Detroit Police Department during World War II.  They are not popular with the bosses but are determined to stay  in nice safe Michigan and not get sent to, say Iwo Jima.

In this case they are given the job of bodyguarding a flying ace who is in Detroit on a tour to promote war bonds.  Problem is he turns out to not be a very nice person.  And that's putting it mildly.  So our alleged  heroes have to decide what to do about that.

Which brings up my puzzles.  If this a crime story, what crime exactly is the subject?  And are the Horsemen working for or against the war effort in  this affair?

Read it and decide for yourself.  You will enjoy it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Asleep When Awake, by Duane Swierczynski

"Asleep When Awake," by Duane Swierczynski, in The Strand Magazine, June-September 2016.

This is Swierczynski's second appearance here.
As I have said before, yea, in this very space, you don't need a new plot device to write a terrific story.  You can just think of something original to do with an old one.

The idea of two personalities inhabiting one body goes back at least to Robert Louis Stevenson.  And that appears to be what's going on.

Gibbs is keeping a journal to try to make sense of what's going on in his life, and maybe in his head.  A woman in California invited him to her party so he driving all the way from Philadelphia for the occasion.  He has no clue why he would agree to do that.

But someone else writes in the journal too when Gibbs is drunk, and then maliciously destroys the pages...

Is this a simple case of psychosis or is something much more sinister going on?

I can't much more without giving stuff away. It is a satisfactory tale with several twists I did see coming.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Prowl, by James Creally

"Prowl," by James Creally, in Thuglit: Last Writes, 2016.

I am sorry to say goodbye to Thuglit.  Todd Robinson and his staff have done terrific work with this magazine - last year two of the 14 stories on my Best Of list came from Thuglit.  I am sorry the market didn't support the magazine as well as it deserved.

My favorite story in this issue is by James Creally.  Try this line on for size:

"I'm sorry.  Things just aren't working out."

That is a man breaking up with his girlfriend.  What a cliche, right?  Why would I bore you with such a banal line?

Well, Lonnie, our protagonist, is saying it to the woman who has just broken into his apartment with a hired thug because she discovered he was stealing from her.  Which makes the cliche response a bit more interesting.

Lonnie is a failed scriptwriter, now making his living by bedding older women, i.e. cougars, and robbing them.  It is not, as they say, sustainable, so he is trying to find a different approach as well, which may mean asking someone else he robbed for help.  Comic noir.

I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but a very good story over all.

And goodbye, Thuglit.