Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Sleeping Beauty," by Gerald Elias.

"Sleeping Beauty" by Gerald Elias, in Noir at the Salad Bar, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.


A long way from noir, but an interesting piece of work.  The nameless narrator is a classical musician and, while eating at an elegant restaurant in  Manhattan, he witnesses a woman attacking a waitress for no obvious reason.  It turns out that she is a former star ballerina.

By coincidence, our narrator meets the ballerina a few years later and learns the reason for the attack.  This is a subtle little story, more about nuance and emotion than action, which seems somehow fitting for the professions involved.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Smoked, by Michael Bracken



"Smoked," by Michael Bracken, in Noir at the Salad Bar, eidte by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and SHawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.

This is Bracken's fourth appearance in this space, which puts him in the top five repeat offenders, I believe.

Beau James had built a nice life for himself, operating the Quarryville Smokehouse, and living with a girlfriend and her daughter.  When his restaurant is featured in a magazine with his picture he knows that the good times are over.  He is in the Witness Protection Program and the motorcycle gang he turned state evidence against are bound to see the picture...

The story takes place in modern Texas but it has the feeling of an old-fashioned Western, with the bad guys getting closer and the townsfolk having to decide where they stand.  A good story.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Publish or Perish, by Kevin Z. Garvey

"Publish or Perish," by Kevin Z. Garvey, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, July 2017.

Every twist ending is a surprise. Not every surprise ending is a twist.

Stories written in second person are not everyone's cup of espresso, double tall skinny.  This one works pretty well for me.

The main character ("You," obviously) has just kidnapped the editor of a mystery magazine.  You are a frustrated unpublished author.    Frustrated to the point that you are convinced that there is a conspiracy against you.  How else is it possible to explain that no magazines will accept your utterly brilliant stories?

You are determined to get to the bottom of the puzzle, even if you have to do nasty things to the editor.  What's your long-range plan, though?  Well, that's a bit of a mystery.

This story won the prize for the week because of the ending which surprised me, but (see first paragraph) was not a twist.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Monday, July 24, 2017

An End in Bath, by Janet Laurence

"An End in Bath," by Janet Laurence, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

Irene Wootten lives a peaceful, quiet life in Bath, ever since her father died.  One day an extroverted young man arrives, informs her that he is her cousin Rod from Australia, and he wants to stay for a while.  Rather disturbing, but she enjoys his company.

More disturbing is the fact that Rod feels his side of the family was cheated out of their inheritance by Irene's father.  And worse is her discovery of the assorted crimes that led to Rod's grandfather being pushed off to Australia.  Is this a man she can, or should trust?

There is a lot more to this complicated and enjoyable tale of family intrigue.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The False Inspector Lovesey, by Andrew Taylor

"The False Inspector Lovesey," by Andrew Taylor, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

This anthology is s festschrift, if I may get all librarian-y at you, a tribute by the Detection Club to Peter Lovesey on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

My favorite Lovesey novel is Waxwork, the summit of his Victorian series about Sergeant Cribb.  But my second favorite is The False Inspector Dew, about a mild-mannered man who decides to kill his wife and escape disguised as - why not? - the most famous police officer in Britain.

So as soon as I saw the title of this story I was prepared to enjoy it.  I did.

It is England sometime after the war.  1950s, I think?

Our heroine is hired help (not a servant, she says firmly) for the rather dreadful Auntie Ag, who takes in boarders.  Ag is not really her aunt because, well:

The only thing I know for certain about me is that my name is Margaret Rose, like the Queen's sister.

I know that because when they found me in the porch of  St. John's Church I was wearing a luggage label attached to a piece of string around my neck, and the label said 'My name is Margaret Rose.' 

So she has not had the easiest time.  But Margaret Rose has dreams.   To make them come true she will need to get to London.  To get to London she will need money.

Enter the new boarder, Mr. P. Lovesey, with "a droopy face like Mrs. Conway-down-the-road's basset hound."  He says he is a tax inspector, but Auntie Ag and Margaret Rose, both excellent snoopers, soon have reason to doubt that. 

Everyone in this story has their own motives and their own schemes.  But one of them also has a dream... 

A worthy tribute to a master.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What could Possibly Go Boing?, by Mat Coward

"What Could Possibly Go Boing?", by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Nutty Mat Coward is making his third appearance in this space.  This time his characters are the staff of Fake Dog Dirt Etc., a rather low-end novelty shop.  Their crisis is that one of them has killed their boss.  Murder?  Well, that's debatable.  I can't find the quote I am looking for but I believe one of the characters says, approximately, "The first few blows could be self-defense, but the next half dozen were purely recreational."

The ringleader is June who proudly says that her siblings call her "the coldest June on record."  She and her co-workers decide that they can keep the store open for a while, bringing in a few precious weeks' wages.  All they have to do is find a place to hide the body. And find the boss's hidden money. And avoid the cops.  And oh yes, the blackmailer.

It all gets rather complicated. And hilarious. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hard to Get, by Jeffery Deaver

"Hard to Get," by Jeffery Deaver, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

It's a classic concept of the espionage story: an amateur is forced to into the spy game to play against the deadly professionals.

In Deaver's variation Albert Lessing is not a complete amateur.  He is an analyst for the CIA; a desk jockey.  But when an agent dies in an accident while preparing for a vital mission, Lessing is the only person with the language and academic abilities to fill the gap.

So all of a sudden he is in a small town in Poland trying to attract the attention of the deputy to the Russian spymaster who is running a ring of seditionists in the United States.  But he has to attract the man subtly.  If he is too obvious they will know hit's a trap.  Play hard to get, he is told...

And Lessing turns out to be very good at this new trade.  Or is he?  Or isn't he?  As in a lot of the best spy stories its hard to tell for a while.  And there are plenty of plot twists, one of which made me laugh out loud.  A most enjoyable trip through eastern Europe. 


Friday, June 30, 2017

Little Big News: Macavity nominations

Mystery Readers International has just announced the Macavity Award nominations.  Congrats to all!  Their website won't met me copy the nominators but you can find them here: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2017/06/macavity-award-nominations-2017.html

Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)


The Macavity Award Nominees 2017

The Macavity Awards are nominated by members of Mystery Readers International, subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal and friends of MRI. The winners will be announced at opening ceremonies at Bouchercon in Toronto, Thursday, October 12. Congratulations to all.

If you're a member of MRI or a subscriber to MRJ or a friend of MRI, you will receive a ballot on August 1, so get reading. To check if you're eligible to vote, leave a comment below with your email.

Best Novel 
• You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)
• Dark Fissures, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
• Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley (UK, Hodder & Stoughton; US, Grand Central Publishing)
• Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (UK, John Murray; US, Soho)
• Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman (Wm. Morrow)
• A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel 
• The Widow, by Fiona Barton (UK, Bantam; US, NAL)
• Under the Harrow, by Flynn Berry (Penguin)
• Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)
• IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland Books)
• Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)
Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pain Man, by Bev Vincent

"Pain-Man," by Bev Vincent, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Last week, a long novella about drug deals, car thefts, and murder in specific rural landscape.  This week a short, funny tale of a Walter Mitty-type in Boston.  You never know where the pursuit of the Best of the Week will take you.

Raymond is a widower, pushing sixty, and waking up with new aches and complaints everyday.  One day he blundeers into a bank robbery and is both injured and humiliated by one of the robbers.  So Raymond decides to become a superhero.  Naturally. 

We then follow his training regime, his setbacks, and Pain-Man's eventual rematch with his nemesis.  Read the story.  It will take your mind off your aches and ouchies.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Short Story, by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta

"Short Story," by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta, in Matchup, edited by Lee Child, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

I'm not a big fan of thriller novels, but there are a bunch of terrific stories in this book.  The gimmick is that each story features two members of the International Thriller Writers, one male and one female, bringing their most popular characters together.  In this case it is Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta (making his second appearance in this space) and they decided to dive into their protagonists' backstories.

It's 1993 and Jeffrey Tolliver, is a young Birmingham cop.  He is in a small town in Georgia on a long weekend that has gone terribly wrong.

How wrong?  Before the tale has gotten fairly started he finds himself standing in a hotel parking lot in front of a busload of missionaries and...

"Holy crap,mister. You're in your underwear."
"Running shorts," he said, resisting the urge to cover himself.  "Training for a marathon."
"With just one shoe?"
"Half marathon."

That has a nice Groucho Marx surrealism to it, doesn't it?  And pretty soon Tolliver is in jail on suspicion of murder.

Meanwhile, up in Cleveland, Ohio, veteran cop Joe Pritchard and his green partner Lincoln Perry are being asked by the DEA to help them track down a local drug dealer who has gone national.  Seems he has been spotted in a small town in Georgia...

A lot of stuff goes on here - in spite of its title, this is the longest novella in the book -- and there are some nice surprises along the way.and more witty lines too, as when a bad guy says:

"This ain't no Batman movie, mister.  I don't got to explain myself."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Summer of the Seventeen Poll, by Aoife Clifford

"Summer of the Seventeen Poll," by Aoife Clifford, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

I like stories of political intrigue (insert joke about current events here).  But I am not used to them taking a noir tone.

...dawn broke as gently as a politician's promise.

Nice, isn't it? 

The narrator who gave us that lovely line is Callan Valient, an operative for the Labor Party in the Australian state of Victoria. Please don't insult her by calling her a spin doctor. 

You see, I'm a "smokejumper."  I get the first phone call from the powers that be, even before they press "s" for spin.  To be able to spin, you need to how the truth.  I find that out, and then it's someone else's job to ensure the public never does.

The particular wildfire Valient is jumping into involves a long-dead corpse discovered in the seldom-used house of the head of the state, who happens to be the unpopular leader of the Labor Party.  Premier Prendergast might be a pig, but he was our pig...

Valient and her boss, Roland "Stainless" Gesink, have their work cut out for them as most of the suspects have the last name Prendergast.  The solution is quite a surprise.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rosalie Marx in Missing, by Robert S. Levinson

"Rosalie Marx in Missing," by Robert S. Levinson, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

This is the second time Levinson has made it into my column.  A lot of his stories are about fixers in Hollywood in the Studio Era.  This time we go to Las Vegas and the 1970s.

Vincent Riverbend is a private eye who works with Joyce Ryan, the daughter of his late partner from his days as a cop.  And their client is a casino mobster named Nick Simone.  Not the ideal customer but he wanted them so they didn't have much choice: "Simone wasn't somebody who ever took no for an answer.  Ask anyone who tried it, if you can find them."

Turns out the granddaughter of Simone's boss has been performing at the casino.  Turns out she's gone missing.  And if Riverbend and Ryan can't get her back a  whole lot of nasty thugs are going to be upset.

But life is not that simple.  There are wheels within wheels, and when the roulette wheel stops spinning there will be a lot of surprises.  Very satisfying tale.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tattersby and the Silence of the Lumbs, by Neil Schofield

"Tattersby and the Silence of the Lumbs," by Neil Schofield, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June, 2017.

Yes, this is the third story I have chosen from this particular issue.  Some weeks/issues are like that.  It is also the third time I have featured a story by my friend Neil Schofield.

But, just for variety, I think it is the second story he has produced about Tattersby, a retired English cop who sounds a bit like a cross between Wodehouse's Wooster and Mortimer's Rumpole.  Here he explains why he prefers curiosities to mysteries:

Because curiosity is a more interesting word. And it's more friendly.  A curiosity tickles the mind.  A mystery is obscure, menacing.  Mind you, a curiosity can become a mystery when it grows up.  I like curiosities.  I like it when a curiosity comes out of the undergrowth and rubs itself against your legs.  A mystery just runs up and bites you in the calf.

 In this story there are several curiosities (or worse) that disturb Tattersby's peace.  His friend Eggy, a former crook, needs some help with his aunt who thinks she is losing her mind.  Tattersby solves that one but quickly learns that a young constable has disappeared, a corpse has been found in the canal, and a convict named Mental George has been seen in the vicinity.  Not to mention the haunted house, or as a local kid calls it, "a ornted 'ouse."

Naturally all these pieces come together in interesting ways. More Tattersby, please.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Girl! by Jeff Cohen

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Girl!" by Jeff Cohen, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

Years ago Akashic Press published Baltimore Noir and it had a story by Charlie Stella.  I don't remember anything about that tale except that as soon as it was done I thought: I gotta get me some Charlie Stella books.

And of course, that's one reason novelists write short stories.  Getting paid to advertise your books is pretty cool.

All of which brings me to Jeff Cohen, who also writes under the name EJ Copperman.  Based on this story I gotta get me some Jeff Cohen books.

Elliot runs a movie theatre that shows nothing but comedies, most of them old.  That may explain why Sharon, a doctor, divorced him years ago.  Harder to explain  is that she's  about to have Elliot's baby.  Like today.

Elliot rushes her to the hospital and promptly bumbles into a supply closet where a man in scrubs seems to be in the act of killing a woman in scrubs with a knife. Awkward.

And when he gets hospital security and they rush back to the closet there is no one there.  No sign of a struggle.  Which leads the cops to question our hero.

"Why are you here in the hospital today, sir?
"My ex-wife is having a baby."

Oh, yeah.  That sounds good, doesn't it?

Cohen writes funny.  Here is Elliot talking to his wife.

"You keep a civil tongue in your head, young lady, or I'll marry you again."
"In your dreams."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Little Big News: Anthony Nominations!

The Anthony Award nominations have been announced.  The winners will be revealed  at Bouchercon in Toronto in October.  Congrats to all the nominees!  Read about the other awards here.

Best Short Story
"Oxford Girl" – Megan Abbott, Mississippi Noir [Akashic]
"Autumn at the Automat" – Lawrence Block, In Sunlight or in Shadow [Pegasus]
"Gary's Got A Boner" – Johnny Shaw, Waiting to Be Forgotten [Gutter]
"Parallel Play" – Art Taylor, Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning [Wildside]
"Queen of the Dogs" – Holly West, 44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul and Payback [Moonstone]

Best Novella (8,000-40,000 words)
Cleaning Up Finn – Sarah M. Chen [CreateSpace]
No Happy Endings РAngel Luis Colón [Down & Out]
Crosswise – S.W. Lauden [Down & Out]
Beware the Shill – John Shepphird [Down & Out]
The Last Blue Glass – B.K. Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2016 [Dell]

Best Anthology
Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns – Eric Beetner, ed. [Down & Out]
In Sunlight or in Shadow – Lawrence Block, ed. [Pegasus]
Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens – Jen Conley [Down & Out]
Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 – Greg Herren, ed. [Down & Out]
Waiting To Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak, Inspired by the Replacements – Jay Stringer, ed. [Gutter]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Montclair Dead-Star Comedy Revue, by Michael Mallory

"The Montclair Dead-Star Comedy Revue," by Michael Mallory, in The Mystery Weekly Magazine, May, 2017.

First of all, congratulations to The Mystery Weekly Magazine.  I understand that a story they published will be in the 2017 edition of Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories, and another made the Distinguished Story list in the back.  That ain't no small stuff.

This is a good issue and the best story I have read so far is this historical show biz tale by my friend Mike Mallory, making his third appearance in this space.

Buddy Barker is short, fat, and funny.  He was born to be a second banana comedian in vaudeville, but it's the 1950s and vaudeville is dead.  Lucky for him he has found a job in live TV.  Unlucky for him somone commits a murder in the theater.  The producer decides that Buddy, who is liked by everybody involved, is the right guy to look into the matter for him.

But playing detective is not one of Buddy's specialties.  He's trying to stay out of the way of the cops and - much worse - an investigator for the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

The story has some clever twists and the murderer's, shall we say, career path, is unique.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Money Maker, by Jas. R. Petrin

"Money Maker," by Jas. R. Petrin, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

I admit to being a major fan of Leo "Skig" Slorzeny.  This is his fourth appearance in my weekly best list.

Petrin's protagonist is an aging loanshark in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  There is a "demon" eating up his guts - in earlier stories it was an "imp," so I guess it is getting worse - and it will kill him if one of his many enemies don't get around to it first. 

In this story Skig has done an unnamed favor for a couple of Maine crooks and they send him the agreed upon fee.  Unfortunately, half of it turns out to be counterfeit so Skig sets out to figure out who along the line of shipment shorted him.

He is accompanied by his sidekick, Creepy Culbertson, who fixes cars in the garage that Skig has renovated into living quarters.

"I'm in."
"I thought you had a front-end alighment to do."
"It can wait."
"Won't your customer be wanting his wheels back?"
"Don't see why.  He don't even have a driver's license.  I'd be doing the world a favor, keeping that boozehound off the road." 

Not exactly the dialog of Holmes and Watson.  But that is one of the joys of these stories: the tough guy characters sound tough.   So does the narrator, describing a crime scene:

Under the chairs a sight the media might describe as "distressing to some viewers."

Another highlight of this story is meeting Saul,  Skig's attorney for, I believe, the first time.  Here they are having lunch.

"And you went to meet this man so that you could..."
"Take a delivery.  A sack of cash."
Saul clucked his tongue.  "The kitchen's noisy.  I didn't hear that."
"The kitchen's at the other end of the room."
"Yes.  They're incredibly clumsy in there."

 But the highlight of any Skig story is Skig.  People underestimate the aging thug in all sorts of ways. 
"There's nothing nice about me. Nothing at all," he says, after doing something nice. No heart of gold here, he insists,  merely balancing the books.  And that's a subject  of importance to any loanshark.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Little Big News: Derringers announced

It's that time of year when you can't turn around without more well-deserved mystery awards being bestowed.  Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 Derringer Awards, just announced by the Short Mystery Fiction Society!




Best Flash Story (1 - 1,000 words)
 Herschel Cozine
“The Phone Call” 
(Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2016)

Best Short Story (1,001 - 4,000 words)
Linda Barnes
“The Way They Do It in Boston”
(Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016)

Best Long Story (4,001- 8,000 words)
Victoria Weisfeld 
“Breadcrumbs”
(Betty Fedora: Kickass Women In Crime Fiction, Issue 3, September 2016)

Best Novelette (8,000 to 20,000 words)
Terrie Farley Moran 
“Inquiry and Assistance”
(Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2016)

Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer (Lifetime Achievement)
Robert Randisi

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Little Big News: Art takes home Agatha

Congratulations to Art Taylor who won the Agatha Award at last night's Malice Domestic banquet.  The prize was for "Parallel Play," hist story in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warnings. 

A Clown at Midnight, by Marc Bilgrey

"A Clown at Midnight," by Marc Bilgrey, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, #22.

I have talked before about the characteristics my favorite stories tend to have in common.  One is "heightened language," by which I mean that the words do something more than just get you from the beginning to the end of the tale.  Usually that means high-falutin' talk, but in this case, it is the flat, declarative sentences that Bilgrey uses to ground us in a bizarre tale.

Stevens asked Jack if he knew what time it was.  Jack shrugged and said that he thought it was about ten thirty.  Stevens told him it was eleven and that the store opened at ten.  Stevens frowned and said that had this been an isolated incident...

 Jack dreams of a creepy clown.  He has done it all his life: a recurring nightmare of a clown who chases him and tries to strangle him.  This has ruined his life, destroying his sleep, which loses him jobs, ruins relationships, etc.   Various treatments have been no help at all.

A friend suggests a hypnotist who helps him find the root of the problem: an actual assault when he was seven.  With some clever research he figures out who that clown had been.  Now, what to do about it?

It might be time to remember the old saying, supposedly from Confucius, about what you should do before you seek revenge...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Little Big News: Another Edgar for Lawrence

Congratulations to Larry Block who receive dthe Edgar for Best Short Story tonight. 

“Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (from In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block; Pegasus)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Double Slay, by Joseph D'Agnese

"Double Slay," by Joseph D'Agnese, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2017.

For some reason suspense and humor go very well together.  Ask Alfred Hitchcock or my friend Joseph D'Agnese.

This story is about Stan and Candace, a cheerful retired couple traveling through Canada towards Alaska.  They pick up a hitchhiker who informs them that he is a serial killer.

Uh oh.

But don't despair.  Turns out he's not a very good serial killer.  In fact, if he manages the job this may be his first successful killing.  And that's a big if...

Made me laugh.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Game, Set, Match, by Zoe Burke


"Game, Set, Match," by Zoe Burke in Bound by Mystery, edited by Diane D. DiBiase, Poisoned Pen Press, 2017.

Macy Evans is a middle-aged woman who has just been kidnapped by a younger man.  He has locked her in his basement and his plans for her future seem vague, or rather changeable. They seem to involve his wife and Macy's husband, and one or more persons leaving this mortal coil.  And you can bet that will happen.

This story has a sizeable  plot hole (unless I am missing something).  But I liked the style and suspense.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bleak Future, by MItch Alderman.

"Bleak Future," by Mitch Alderman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.

I am very fond of Mitch Alderman's stories about Bubba Simms, the best and largest private eye in Winter Haven, Florida.  (His hobbies are eating and working out.)

 His client this time is a wealthy heavy equipment dealer named Hank Langborn, who is dying of cancer.  "I've been putting my ducks in a row before flying south for the long winter."

Someone is threatening Hank's grandchildren and he wants Bubba to find the bad guy.  Bubba is afraid if he does Hank will kill the villain.  What does a dying man have to lose?

There are surprises in store, both in terms of the bad guy's identity and how the case is resolved.  Bubba is always an enjoyable comanion.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Little Big News: ITW Thriller Award nominees 2017

The International Thriller Writers have named their nominees for 2017.  Congrats to the short story finalists:
Eric Beetner — “The Business of Death” UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS (Down & Out Books)
Laura Benedict — “The Peter Rabbit Killers” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Brendan DuBois — “The Man from Away” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Joyce Carol Oates — “Big Momma” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Art Taylor — “Parallel Play” CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: STORM WARNING (Wildside Press)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Just Like In The Movies, by Kate Thornton

"Just Like In The Movies," by Kate Thornton, in Inhuman Condition, Denouement Press, 2010.

The author gave me this book two years ago and I have been shamefully slow about getting around to reading it. 

Are you familiar with cryptic crosswords?  These are popular in England; never caught on much here.  Each clue is a puzzle in itself.  Wikipedia gives the example of: Very sad unfinished story about rising smoke (8) which is a clue for the word "Tragical."  Go to the article if you want to see how that works.  It baffles me.

Which has nothing to do with Thornton's story, but have faith.  We will get there.

Years ago I read about one of the famous setters (i.e. creators) of cryptic crosswords who created a puzzle in which the first clue could lead to two possible answers, one correct and one almost correct.  Whichever of those you chose you could answer all the clues successfully - until the very last one.  If you started down the wrong path, you wound up with one one final clue you could not answer.

And that almost  brings us to Thornton's story.  The narrator is a teenage girl who compares herself to Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.  She has been watching a lot of movies because she can't leave the house.  Not because of a broken leg like Jimmy, but because of a monitoring device on her ankle.  Seems she brought a knife to school for protection, and they accused her of some other stuff she denies.

When she's not watching the TV she watches her neighbors the Blatniks, who fight a lot, often about the wife's brother, Norm.  Mr. Blatnik clearly doesn't want his brother-in-law around, for some reason.  Like maybe he's done something worse than bring a knife to school.  And now Norm is interested in our narrator...

At one point in the story there is a sentence that can be read two ways, just like that first cryptic crossword clue, and if you interpret it the wrong way (trust me, you will), Thornton will lead you merrily in the wrong direction.  And that's a very enjoyable trip.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Little Big News: 2017 Derringer finalists announced

The Short Mystery Fiction Society has announced the finalists for the 2017 Derringer Awards. The members will vote this minth and the winners will be announced in May. Congrats to all!

For Best Flash (up to 1,000 words)

"Aftermath" by Craig Faustus Buck (Flash Bang Mysteries, Spring 2016)

"The Phone Call" by Herschel Cozine (Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2016)

"A Just Reward" by O'Neil de Noux (Flash Bang Mysteries, Winter 2016)

"The Orphan" by Billy Kring (Shotgun Honey, March 18, 2016)

"An Ill Wind" by R.T. Lawton (Flash Bang Mysteries, Spring 2016)

For Best Short Story (1,001 to 4,000 words)

"Beks and the Second Note" by Bruce Arthurs  (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 2016)

The Way They Do It in Boston by Linda Barnes (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016)

"YOLO" by Libby Cudmore (BEAT to a PULP, May 2016)

The Woman in the Briefcase by Joseph D'Agnese (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2016)

The Lighthouse by Hilde Vandermeeren (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2016)

For Best Long Story (4,001 to 8,000 words)

"Swan Song" by Hilary Davidson (Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns ed. Eric Beetner, Down & Out Books, April 2016)

"Effect on Men" by O'Neil De Noux, (The Strand Magazine, Issue XLVIII, Feb-May 2016)

"The Cumberland Package" by Robert Mangeot (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2016)

"Murder Under the Baobab" by Meg Opperman (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 2016)
"Breadcrumbs" by Victoria Weisfeld (Betty Fedora Issue Three: Kickass Women In Crime Fiction, September 2016)

For Best Novelette (8,000 to 20,000 words)

"Coup de Grace" by Doug Allyn (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016)

"The Chemistry of Heroes" by Catherine Dilts (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2016)

"Inquiry and Assistance" by Terrie Farley Moran (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2016)

"The Educator" by Travis Richardson (44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul, and Payback ed. Gary Phillips and Robert J. Randisi, Moonstone, December 2016)
"The Last Blue Glass" by B.K. Stevens (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2016)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Underground Above Ground, by Robert Tippee,

"Underground Above Ground," by Robert Tippee, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.

So, when do you know you are reading a terrific story?

Sometimes there's a knock-em-dead opening paragraph and you spend the rest of the story thinking: Don't blow this.

Sometimes a story starts slow and builds and builds.

And some stories take your breath away with a great twist ending.

But maybe the rarest is the story that catches you later, because you can't stop thinking about it.  You read it again, not because you want to figure out how a trick ending worked, but because you want to savor the nuances, admire the architecture.

In other words: I had to sit with this one for a while, as the saying goes.

The nameless narrator is a young man who has mastered the art of disappearing.  He dresses in black, with a stocking cap that hides his face.  And as the story begins, it is after ten PM and he is sitting in the darkness near a city tennis court, watching a young man and his beautiful girlfriend as they volley the ball, flirt, and discuss Facebook.

Facebook.  They ought to call it "Gutspill."  I don't do Facebook.  Somebody like me can't.  But why would anybody?

This is a guy with nobody to "friend" on Facebook anyway.  It's clear that there are bad things in our narrator's past, although it is not clear at first whether they were done to him, by him, or both.

And then the story takes several unexpected twists, which is all I can say.  Except this: I loved it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Renters, by Tim L. Williams

"Renters," by Tim L. Williams, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.

It's rural Kentucky in the mid-eighties, a hard time in a hard place.  Davy is fifteen years old.  His father, a Vietnam vet, lost his job years ago and now puts food on the table hunting and fishing.  Dad has what we might call anger issues.  When his wife said something he didn't like he: "grabbed her by her hair, dragged her to the back door, and threw her into the yard.  'Come back in when you find a cure for stupid.'"

The fourth character in this situation is the family's landlord, Ben Daniels, the richest man in the county.  Daniels wants to bring rich tourists to hunt on his land, which means he has to stop Davy's dad from hunting there for the pot.  Oh, did I mention that Davy's mother is young and beautiful and when she is around the good-looking landlord has "busy eyes?"

So we have all the makings of a tragedy here.  The only question is who is going to end up doing what to whom.  And there Williams offers us some surprises, which is what I liked best about this well-written story.

  "There are some things that need killing..."


Monday, March 13, 2017

Gold Digger, by Reavis Z. Wortham

"Gold Digger," by Reavis Z. Wortham, in Bound by Mystery, edited by Diane D. DiBiase, Poisoned Pen Press, 2017.

Most of this story takes place in May 1934, on the night Bonnie and Clyde died, although that has nothing to do with the story.  (Well, now that I think of it, it might explain a bit of one character's motivation.  Subtle, that.)  It's rural Texas and our narrator is a ten year old boy at a barn dance, with no less than Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys performing. He witnesses a murder, a pointless killing involving that ancient cause of trouble, an older husband a younger wife.

Then we jump to the same guy in World War II, and then many years later to his old age.  And only at that point does he, and do we, figure out exactly what was going on back in 1934.  I didn't see the twist coming at all. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Farmer and His Wife, by Earl Staggs

“The Farmer and His Wife,” by Earl Staggs,  Mystery Weekly Magazine, March 2017.

Ever notice that private eye fiction is full of missing daughters?  Ross Macdonald did.  One of his books begins: "It was a wandering daughter job."

 Earl Staggs seems to have noticed, too, but he does a neat role reversal.  His P.I. is hired to find a missing son.  Oh, by the way, here is Staggs' opening sentence:


"She had me from the first teardrop."

Aw, the big sentimental lug.

"She" is the mother. Her son disappeared while working on a farm to earn college money.   And we won't go any farther, although, naturally, the hero does.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mad Still, by Andrew Davie

"Mad Still," by Andrew Davie, in Mystery Weekly, February 2017.

If you took a Bob Dylan song full of surreal imagery, say "Desolation Row" or "Just Like Tom Thumb Blues," and turned it into a crime story the result might be a bit like "Mad Still."

The anonymous narrator is a retired boxer (mostly a sparring partner).  He is newly arrived in New Orleans and he is meeting with the Clown.

The Clown is the leader of a group of street performers and they are having a problem with a human statue, the one nicknamed Mad Still because he can stand unmoving all day, hogging one of the best places to attract crowds.  "He doesn't even take tips."  The Clown and his associates want him moved by any means necessary.

But it turns out there is a rival group of performers that want Mad Still to stay where he is.  They are the ACTors, movie star look-alikes who earn their daily bread posing for photos with tourists. There leader is Clint Eastwood, more or less.  Both groups want our boxer hero to enforce their will.

Violence happens.  Someone is kidnapped.  Golems are invoked.  Then things turn weird.

What I am saying is, if you want a straight road to a logical conclusion you shouldn't be on Highway 61 in the first place.

I enjoyed this story a lot.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The House on Maple Street, by Janice Law

"The House on Maple Street," by Janice Law, in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down & Out Books, 2017.

This is the fourth time my friend and fellow SleuthSayer has made it into this column.

Raymond Wilde is a private eye in a small town in Connecticut where high school football is a big thing.  His client is Harold Bain, a wealthy and abrasive man, who wants Ray to prove that the school quarterback is a ringer, not really living in the town.  He says that he's concerned about the taxpayers being ripped off, but he really wants to get the outsider out of the way so his own son can move up to quarterback.

Ray investigates but quickly gets distracted by another house on the same block where mysterious goings-on are, uh, going on.  Some of them involve Harold Bain, Jr.

What I liked best about this story is the ending, in which several characters show unexpected sides of their personalities.  You might even call it a happy ending.