Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Curse, by Mark Edwards

"The Curse," by Mark Edwards, in Night of the Flood, edited by E.A. Aymar, and Sarah M. Chen.  Down and Out Books, 2018.

This is an example of a Shared Universe book, a concept which I am not going to discuss in detail here because I think I will probably write about it at length in SleuthSayers one of these days.

The short version is this: In the small western Pennsylvania town of Everton, Maggie Wilbourne murdered the men she said raped her.  For this she was executed.  As revenge, a group of feminist terrorists called the Daughters blow up the dam, flooding Everton.  Each story in this book, written by different authors,  takes place on the night of this event.  Some move the main story line, about the Daughters.  Some have no connection to it except for the flood event.  This witty story is one of the latter.

Ed and Rhi are Britons, moved to the small town of Everton, PA to dodge what they believe is a curse.  It seems that Rhi met a demon named Frank (Frank?) who offered her a winning lottery ticket in return for a horrible deed to be done later.  After they have spent most of the money Frank calls up and demands they do the unspeakable thing he wants.  When they refuse he threatens them with a curse.

And suddenly their life is burdened with bugs, and boils, and a fire.  So they escape to America and encounter, naturally, a flood.  In the anarchic night of crime and looters they can probably get away with what Frank demands, but are the willing to do it?

More importantly, is there really a demon named Frank?  I'm not the one to tell.  But let me remind you of something a very wise man said last week in this very space:

By the way, not all surprises are created equal.  If a meteor struck the bad guy, that would be surprising but not satisfying.

The ending of this story is straight out of left field, but I found it completely satisfying.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Kindness, by Tom Hallman, Jr.

"Kindness," by Tom Hallman, Jr., in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2018.

I like surprises.  Not in real life, I hasten to add, so put down that seltzer bottle.  But surprises in fiction are definitely a good thing.

The main reason that this story made my page this week is that twice I thought Well, I see where this is headed, and both times I was wrong.  That's nice.

Phil's family moved to an inner city neighborhood that is gentrifying.  Great house, nice neighbors.  But then the old man across the street dies and his house is inherited by a jerk who parties all night The jerk is a huge guy who "reminded me of one of those men featured on cable shows taking viewers inside America's roughtest prisons."

When this guy takes an unhealthy interest in Phil's teenage daughter things seem really desperate.  But  then Phil meets Deke, a motorcyclist and a proud one-percenter.  This does not refer to the one-percent who own so much of our country; it's an older term referring to the supposed one percent of motorcyclists who are criminals.

Phil helps Deke with a problem.  Will Deke help Phil with his?  Or, hint hint, will something different happen?

By the way, not all surprises are created equal.  If a meteor struck the bad guy, that would be surprising but not satisfying.  But the twists in this tale are nicely foreshadowed.  There is a flaw in the plot (let's just say it's better to be lucky than to plan well), but it didn't stop my enjoying the story.

Another complaint, which you've heard me make before.  There are not a lot of characters in this story, so why do three of them need to be named Amy, Allison, and Anderson? 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Gunfighters, by Michael Cebula

"The Gunfighters," by Michael Cebula, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2018.

I don't go looking for western stories, because that's not what I'm in the business of reviewing, but this one showed up in Mystery Weekly Magazine, and it has plenty of the right elements.  Plus it's a good story.

In a  cliched western when two gunfighters face off one usually ends up dead and the other unhurt.  But as our tale begins the two antagonists are both gut shot and dying.

Deadeye Danny is a "a skinny rumor of a man," so narcissistic that he refers to himself by his self-anointed nickname and talks like a character out of a dime novel.

Harris is a trick shooter, both laconic and sardonic.  At one point he asks the doctor if his wound is going to be fatal.  The doctor assures him that it is and begins to explain what damage was done.

“Was only asking what time it was, Doc,” Harris said. “No need to explain how the clock was built.” 

As the two enemies sit, more or less abandoned, waiting for the end, they try to settle a question: how exactly did they wind up fighting each other in the first place?  And there is the mystery, a clever one at that.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Wedding Ring, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"The Wedding Ring," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.

This is Rusch's sixth appearance on this site.

I try to treat all my little darlings equally, rooting the same for every story I read but I admit that sometimes a concept or opening is so strong I find myself cheering the author on:  Keep going!  Don't screw this up!  

Rusch didn't screw it up.  Here is the concept I liked so much: Serena is a classics professor and after a bad breakup she goes to Las Vegas for what she calls her Liberation Vacation.  There she meets the man of her dreams.  Shortly after that they are married.  Shortly after that he disappears, taking her cash, self-confidence, and so much more.

One cop says about the crooks: "They're not in it for the money.  They're in it to destroy their marks."

Serena replies.  "They didn't destroy me...  I'm right here. And I'm going to destroy them right back."   To do that all she has to do is become a completely different person.  Hell hath no fury, and all that...

There's a lot of thoughtful detail in this novella.  For example: the title does not refer to a piece of jewelry.  Or consider the name: Serena.  Or the final moniker the bad guy chooses.  (It tolls for thee, baby.)