Monday, March 25, 2019

The Passenger, by Kirsten Tranter

"The Passenger," by Kirsten Tranter, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book which opens with a pastiche of, or homage to, a well-known crime novel.  It's a very clever piece of work.

Robert has just arrived home after years overseas.  He reluctantly attends a birthday party for an acquaintance named Fred.  The reason for his reluctance is that Fred's daughter is Robert's former lover, who cheated with, and then married, Julian, a friend of Robert's.

Fred confides that Julian has disappeared with a trace.  Perhaps Robert can inquire among their mutual friends? It turns out that that bunch had been pushers and users and Robert doesn't want to get involved with them.

But he gets drawn in and discovers some terrible stuff going in.  You might say that the biggest difference between this story and the book that inspired it is the question of nature versus nurture: Which is responsible for the catastrophe that has occurred?


Monday, March 18, 2019

The Girls in the Fourth Row, by Doug Allyn

"The Girls in the Fourth Row," by Doug Allyn, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,March/April 2019.

This is Allyn's fourth appearance here.

I don't know if I would call it a subgenre exactly but there is a type of crime story known as the didactic mystery, in which the setting becomes part of the story.  Dick Francis, for example, taught you something about horseracing in every book, but especially in the latter novels he would also inform you about a different industry: glassblowing, liquor, investment banking.

Doug Allyn is a form rock-and-roller and this story is about Murph, leader of an over-the-hill heavy metal, struggling to keep them all alive, functional, and headed down the road to the next paycheck.  This gets complicated when, during a gig in Detroit, someone fires three shots at the lead guitarist, wiping out his Stratocaster and almost taking him with it.  Or maybe the guitarist wasn't the intended target...

To get his band back on the road Murph needs to help the lieutenant dig into the past to find a potential killer, before he strikes again.  A satisfying story.




Monday, March 11, 2019

Murder In The Second Act, by William Burton McCormick

"Murder In The Second Act," by William Burton McCormick, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2019.

This is the second appearance in my blog by McCormick.  It is his third story about Tasia and Eleni, two young women who, with their mother,  run a lodging house in Odessa at the turn of the century.

At the moment their only lodger is an actor named Oleg Olehno.  He wants to hire the women as claquers, that is, members of the audience secretly paid to raise enthusiasm for a certain actor. Tasia, our narrator, doubts the ethics of such an occupation, but her sister is delighted to get paid to attend a show.

The complicating factor is the arrival of a giant - truly, an eight foot tall man - who is hunting for Oleg.  Fee fie fo.  Oleg explains that he borrowed money from the claquers guild in Moscow and this monstrous debt collector has been chasing him all over Russia.

Ah, but this is theatre, and theatre is all about illusion...  This story is a lot of fun.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What Invisible Means, by Mat Coward

"What Invisible Means," by Mat Coward, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March/April 2019.

I believe this is the second time this has happened, but please don't expect me to find the other example. 

I refer to the fact that the same author is appearing in this space two weeks in a row.  That would make sense if I was reading a collection of the author's stories, but instead he just happened to have tales in two magazines I have been reading. 

This is Mat Coward's fifth appearance on my little list.  As I said, his fourth was last week.  Here is his winning opening:

Tuesday was a great day.  Wednesday less so, of course, because that was when he got the letter saying that someone was planning to murder him, but Tuesday went better than Des could have hoped.

Apparently in England if the police have reason to believe someone is planning to kill you they are required to send you what is called an Osman letter.  As D.C. Vicki explains "the Osman letter is basically to cover ourselves if your widow decides to sue us."

But in the case of Des, it is a fake letter.  Someone is trying to intimidate him.  Or warn him?

I'm not going into the plot here, a convoluted tale of a terrible cribbage team, a cigarette smuggler, and a perilous taxi ride.  What makes Coward's work so delightful is the language.

For example, here is Vicki dealing with her very serious partner.

"How can they charge for this coffee?" [Abi] added.  "I mean legally?  We should be charging them for getting rid of it.

Vicki laughed.  Whenever Abi said something which Vicki thought might be intended to be humorous she made a point of laughing.  Which on one occasion had led to Abi not talking to her for seventy-two hours.  Vicki hadn't blamed herself for that one, thought, because to be fair, "I knew she had a drink problem, I just didn't know she had a machete," doe SOUND like a joke.

Indeed it does.  Very funny story.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Shall I Be Murder?, by Mat Coward

"Shall I Be Murder?", by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

A lot of good stories in this issue, by the way. 

This is the fourth appearance on this site for Mr. Coward. Sometimes it is difficult to define what subgenre a story belongs to. Not in this case.  Here is the first sentence:

"As for myself, I belong to that delicious subgenre, the self-confessed unreliable narrator."

This remarkable tale-teller then tells us his tale but how much of it are we to believe?  Certainly some of it is a lie, but how much of it? 

He explains that a doctor told him he needed to take walks for his health and, since he is allergic to dogs, he wound up walking to a self-storage facility.  There he rented two units, giving up one after setting up a hidden camera in it.  Then he waits for the right type of people to rent that facility.

That much of his story is probably (?) true.  Well, part of it, at least.  But what follows is a riddle stuffed into an enigma.  Is he a blackmailer?  A killer?  Something else entirely, as a police officer suggests?

It is not just that he is lying but that doing so, publicly and deliberately, is part of his plan.  Which he cheerfully admits.  One imagines the prosecutor tearing out his hair, but the reader will have fun.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Stranger Inside Me, by Loes den Hollander

"The Stranger Inside Me," by Loes den Hollander, in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2019.

You could call this a ghost story but you probably won't.  The narrator is a troubled young man who gets regular nightly visits from Ted Bundy.  The deceased serial killer (we never read his actual words) wants him to carry on the tradition by killing women who resemble ones who got away from Bundy.


This disturbs our protagonist enough that his arguments with said killer wake his mother who brings in a social worker.  He isn't very fond of the caseworker.  He doesn't seem to get along with anyone, really...


A very creepy story, although thankfully not filled with gore and horror.  Many surprises along the way.

 

Monday, February 11, 2019

My Christmas Story, by Steve Hockensmith

"My Christmas Story," by Steve Hockensmith, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

This is the third appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith.  I am rather surprised that it is the first one I have listed concerning his series characters the Amlingmeyer brothers.  Old Red and Big Red are cowboys at the end of the nineteenth century. Old Red is illiterate but a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes.  His younger brother Big Red is his long-suffering Watson.

When this story opens Gus and Otto (to give them either more formal names)  have just settled in Ogden, Utah, where they have opened a detective agency. Due to Big Red's big mouth they find themselves out in the hills searching for a pine tree to help their landlady celebrate Christmas.  This being a crime story, other stuff happens.

What makes these tales a treat is a combination of great characters and fine language.  For example, our heroes meet three children and here is a bit of conversation with two of them.

"We were out looking for a Christmas tree," the boy said, "and we spotted a bear and-"
 "I spotted it," the girl -- Sariah -- interjected.  
Her brother ignored her.
"--we think it might be dead, but if it's alive we thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town--"
"I thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town," Sariah said.
Ammon kept plowing on.
"--but we don't have a gun, so we sent our little brother to find somenoe who did--"
"I sent our little brother..." Sariah began...

You can picture them, can't you?

By the way, if you want to know what happens to the brothers next, you can find out in Hockensmith's new book The Double A Western Detective Agency.  I can testify that it is, as Big Red, would say, a real ripsnorter.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Case of The Truculent Avocado, by Mark Thielman

"The Case of The Truculent Avocado," by Mark Thielman, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

This is the third appearance in this space by Mark Thielman.  The first two were somber  tales featuring actual historical personages.  The current entry is not like that, as you can probably guess from the title.

The narrator is a part-time private eye who makes most of his living dressed as a potato, promoting the cause at various supermarkets.  He says the Potato Board calls him the "Spud Stud."

Lately he's been doing his thing at Uncle Bob's Natural Food Emporium, but someone murdered Charlie, the produce manager, who was dressed as, yup, an avocado.  The deputy suspects our hero.  His only ally is an actress dressed as Babs the Baguette.

No, not somber this time.  But enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It Follows Until It Leads, by Dillon Kaiser

"It Follows Until It Leads," by Dillon Kaiser, in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

We are very noir today, with a sense of doom hanging over every page of this story.  Here is the opening paragraph:

My papa died when I was a baby, shot in the crossfire between the cartel and the police.

Our narrator grows up to be a soldier for the cartel but he swears to get his family out of the life and into the United States.  He succeeds, but how long can a good thing last.

At one point there is a gun in his house and he says "eso infecta."  It is infected.  He isn't referring to anything as natural as a germ, just a very human illness.

Grim and moving.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Treasure island, by Micah Perks

"Treasure island," by Micah Perks, in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

I admit I may be prejudiced about this story because I just finished watching The Kominsky Method on Netflix and in my head I can hear Alan Arkin reciting the whole tale. 

In any case Perks has come up with something delightful and hilarious.

Mr. Nowicki is, he tells us, "a seventy-two-two-year-old retired middle school assistant principal who has lived in Grant Park for forty years."  He is furious about what is happening in his neighborhood so he has gone to a website called Good Neighbor!(tm) to report what he sees.

And he has strong opinions about that.  For example he has a problem with his neighbor who is (the internal quotation marks are his): "a 'writer' who 'works' from home.  ('Writer' always takes morning tea on his porch in his pajamas and at five p.m., takes cocktail on porch, still in his pajamas.  You've probably seen him on your way to and from actual work.)"

Then there is a young woman, possibly a thief, possibly something else, who claims to be named Jim  Hawkins.   Takes Mr. Nowicki a while to figure out why. 

One more quote from our hero, after he has seen "three apparently Hispanic males, ages approximately eight or nine years old," putting trash in said neighbors "Little Library."

I descend, which takes some time due to bum hip, retrieve plastic bag and 'trash grabber' ($6.47, Amazon Prime, you can read my review, three stars because the sharp tongs are dangerous), exit house, open gate, cross street to nieighbor's 'Little Library" (a glassed-in cabinet painted a glaring aqua, plunked onto a post).

Glad you're taking an interest, Mr. Nowicki.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Milquetoast, by Olaf Kroneman

"Milquetoast," by Olaf Kroneman, in  The Strand Magazine, October 2018/January 2019.

Chances are you have met someone a bit like Colin Anderson.  Chances are you didn't enjoy it much.  He's the kind of middle-aged guy who invites you to dinner and makes you look at pictures of his championship college lacrosse team.  Oh joy.

Colin is now a successful surgeon but he isn't interested in working hard.  He prefers to spend his time being tennis and golf champion at the country club, and spending his wife's money.

But when she finds out what - or who - he is spending the money on, his life takes a sharp sudden turn. 

This is a clever story that involves a phenomenon so strange I had to look it up to see if it is real.  It is.  The delightful twists keep coming straight to the end.