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 sizable a big 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.

 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mr. Private Eye Behind the Motel with a .38, by Michael Bracken

"Mr. Private Eye Behind the Motel with a .38," by Michael Bracken, in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down & Out Books, 2017.

What a long story title.  This, by the way, is Bracken's third appearance in this column. It takes place in Waco, Texas, where Blake is a former cop (he arrested the son of the wrong millionaire) turned private eye.  Mrs. Watkins hired him to get proof that her fat rich husband is cheating on her.  She might want more from Blake than just that.

And so might Ashley, a wealthy blond he meets in downtown,  near the food trucks.  For one thing, she would like to accompany him on a case... We will leave it there, I think.  It's a good story.

But let's talk about the art of building an anthology.  There is a story earlier in this book that, shall we say, runs from Point A to Point B, with B being the revelation of a particular plot device.

Bracken's story includes the same device, but it runs past it to Point C.  (Which does not automatically make it a better story, by the way.)

If the editors had put Bracken's story earlier on than the other tale would be a disappointment.  But by running it first the alert reader says "Ah, I see where Bracken is going" - and is pleasantly surprised when he goes past it.  So, good job, editors.





Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Hawaii Murder Case, by Terence Faherty

"The Hawaii Murder Case," by Terence Faherty, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2017.

This is  the seventh appearance here by fellow SleuthSayer, Terence Faherty.  He remains the World Champeen in my blog.

Let's talk about pastiches.  Again.  It seems like there is something in the air, or the zeitgeist that is pulling htem at a high rate and high quality.

Last week it was Jonathan Turner's mash-up of characters created by Steve Hockensmith and Arthur Conan Doyle. Faherty himself has written clever send-ups of Doyle's work.  And Evan Lewis dazzled us with a reboot of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories.

But today's story more closely resembles another series of Mr. Lewis: those about state legislator David Crockett who is the unfortunate bearer of the consciousness of his ancestor Davy Crockett.

Mr. Faherty introduces us to Kelly and David, a married couple who visit Hawaii.  David has some annoying habits, wanting to tell his wife everything he knows, especially about whatever book he is reading.  (Why no, I am nothing like that myself. Just ask my wife.  Or better yet, don't.)

But David is reading one of S.S. Van Dine's novels about that most irritating of Golden Age amateur sleuth's, Philo Vance.  (Ogden Nash wrote that he needed a kick in the pance.)  And when David suffers a concussion he becomes convinced that he is the great and annoying detective.  Bad for his wife, but good for justice since a mysterious death has just occurred...

Very funny and clever.




Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Case of the Disapppearing Passenger, by Jonathan Turner,

"The Case of the Disapppearing Passenger," by Jonathan Turner, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2017.

Boy.  Where to start with this one?

I am on the  record as not being a fan of fan fiction, where people just write yet another story about Sherlock Holmes, or another novel about the characters of a dead author.

I feel differently about pastiches, where someone rethinks a familiar character or plot and does something different with it.  (Hey, I've done that myself.)

And this one falls in between the stools, you might say.  Jonathan Turner has used (with permission) Steve Hockensmith's characters Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer, and combined them with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

If you aren't familiar with the Amlingmeyer brothers, they are cowboys around the turn of the century.  Old Red is illiterate but is a huge fan of Holmes and wants to be a detective, and he's good at it.  Big Red is the narrator, as witty as his brother is grumpy.  They have appeared in several short stories and five novels. (And I have illustrated one above, rather than using the cover of the same EQMM two weeks in a row.)

This story takes place not long after the most recent (but I hope not last) novel in the series.  The first half is a letter from Big Red to Holmes explaining a case the brothers encountered in New York, which ends with the villain escaping on a ship to London (as Old Red deduces).  The second half consists of Holmes and Watson figuring out which passenger is the bad guy.

If I were Hockensmith I'd be surprised and maybe a little nervous about the uncanny way Turner captures the voices of my characters - better than he did Conan Doyle's, I think.  Here is an example.  (Gus is another name for Old Red.  His brother is talking to King Brady.)

"Enjoying things ain't what you'd call Gus's strong suit," I told him.  "You may be the King of the New York dicks, but he's the Ace of Curmudgeons."
"That makes you the Jack of Asses," Gus retorted. 

A lot of fun. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Little Big News: Agatha Nominations

The Agatha Award nominations have been announced.  Winners will be crowned at Malice Domestic in the spring.  Congrats to all!

Best Short Story
"Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
"The Best-Laid Plans" by Barb Goffman in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)
"The Mayor and the Midwife" by Edith Maxwell in Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)
"The Last Blue Glass" by B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
"Parallel Play" by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Slay Belles, by Marilyn Todd

"Slay Belles," by Marilyn Todd, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Ever drive past a small store with some strange specialty and wonder: "How do they stay in business?"

Marilyn Todd has a helpful suggestion: Maybe they are money launderers!  Get a place with a lot of customers (even if they are tourists who don't actually buy much), and a cash-heavy inventory, and the taxman won't suspect a thing.

Or such was the discovery of sisters Hannah and Lynn who have deep roots in British organized crime.  Their year-round-Christmas store, The North Pole, is doing just fine, cleaning up dirty money from various family businesses.

But the sisters have a special sideline.  The store has Santa's Mailbox where kids can ask the fat man for help.  And while Hannah and Lynn can't promise the latest video game or a pony, if the request is desperate they may be able to offer a special solution...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Little Big New: The best stories of 2016, says Edgar

The MWA has just announced the nominees for the Edgar Awards.  Chngrats to all.  Here are the short story finalists:

"Oxford Girl" – Mississippi Noirby Megan Abbott (Akashic Books)
"A Paler Shade of Death" – St. Louis Noir by Laura Benedict (Akashic Books)
"Autumn at the Automat" – In Sunlight or in Shadow by Lawrence Block (Pegasus Books)
"The Music Room" – In Sunlight or in Shadow  by Stephen King (Pegasus Books)
"The Crawl Space" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazineby Joyce Carol Oates (Dell Magazines)


And the Robert L. Fish Award winner for best first story:

"The Truth of the Moment" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by E. Gabriel Flores (Dell Magazines)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Little Big News: The Best stories of 2016, says me.

Over at SleuthSayers I list the 13 best mystery stories of the year, culled from this page, of course.  Two are from the book at right.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Motive, Opportunity, Means, by Mark Bastable

"Motive, Opportunity, Means," by Mark Bastable, in The Thrill List, edited by Catherine Lea, Brakelight Press, 2016.

Congressman John Fuller left his wife for his secretary.  Said wife did not take it well.  Now she has plotted an elaborate revenge, and Fuller's future depends on the shrewdness and determination of an overworked cop named Pinski who just wants to spend some time with own wife. 

If this description sounds a little sparse, you are right.  I don't want to give away any of the secrets of this marvelous, convoluted plot.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Formula, by Jerry Kennealy

"The Formula, by Jerry Kennealy, in 44 Caliber Funk, edited by Gary Phillips and Robert J. Randisi, Moonstone Press, 2016.

There are some good stories in this book but I have to say: the manuscript should have danced the Hustle one more time with a copy editor.  Spellchecker doesn't catch missing words or spot  when characters  names suddenly change.

Moving on to Kennealy's story: It's 1970.  Private eye Johnny O'Rorke has been hired to find an actress.  Susan Jeffers vanished with a few scenes left to film in a Western which is already snake-bit, seeing how the first star killed himself.

The movie producer is philosophical, which is not the same as being resigned:

"It usded to be so simple.  We had a formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back."
He brought his hands together ina loud snap.  "Now its boy screws girl, girl gets gangbanged by thugs, boy kills thugs, girl decides to become a lesbian."

Which is not exactly what has happened to the actress.  But her fate is a long way from formulaic.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Projectionist, by Joe R. Lansdale

"The Projectionist," by Joe R. Lansdale, in In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block, Pegasus Books, 2016.

A warning: this is not a collection of crime stories, per se.  The connecting thread is that they are all inspired by paintings of Edward Hopper.  No doubt that this story is about crime, though.

The narrator is a projectionist at a movie theatre.  He's naive and not that bright - one character calls him a "retard" but that's not fair.  The job is okay, and then Sally arrives.  Sally is an usherette, and beautiful.

Sounds like we are building up to a classic noir plot, but that's not quite the way it happens.  Instead the theatre gets a visit from The Community Protection Board, a bunch of shakedown artists who threaten the theatre and Sally.

But they underestimate our hero.  He's seen some bad times and knows some bad people.  And soon the Protection Board may need protection...

I must say that of all the stories this one felt most to me like a Hopper painting.