Monday, September 16, 2019

Stumped, by Gary Pettigrew

"Stumped," by  Gary Pettigrew, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, September 2019.

A charming historical mystery this week.  Let's read the first paragraph...

The summer of 1927 was as idyllic as ever remembered in the South of England.  Old John Ayres had decided to retire to spend more time with his family in Dorset and so the council of Lower Dunston was forced to choose a new village policeman; by popular opinion, George Mahoney was the first name suggested.  Fred Hurst nominated himself, of course, but this was quickly discarded because of the obvious reasons that nobody talked about...

And there is the gaff, the hook.  Are we going to find out "the obvious reasons" or is this just a casual element thrown in to suggest that the village knows too much about its residents?

It turns out to be the former. 

The new copper is found dead two days later and Fred Hurst, obvious reasons and all, finds himself a rookie officer struggling with a murder.  He isn't getting a lot of help from the higher-ups who, when he asks for immediate help, respond "basically, that Mr. Mahoney would not be any deader tomorrow."

And he gets no respect from his fellow villagers, who are at least willing to tell him what he's doing wrong. 

Will Fred solve the crime?  And if he does, considering those annoying "reasons," will he even remember the solution?


Monday, September 9, 2019

The Dead Man in the Pearl Gray Hat,by Bruce W. Most

"The Dead Man in the Pearl Gray Hat," by Bruce W. Most, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 2019.

Lillian de la Torre was the pioneer, as far as I know. In the 1940s she started writing stories about "Samuel Johnson, detector."  This was the earliest example I am aware of of mystery writers using real people as their protagonists.  Nowadays you can find everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Barack Obama starring in crime novels.

In this case the main character is Weegee the Famous, who was indeed a famous photographer, specializing in street scenes of New York City.

Unlike de la Torre's Johnson, Weegee is not shown as a detective here.  His connection to crime is photographing it, and in the era of Murder, Inc., there is plenty of death to document.  In fact, that is the problem he faces in the story.  Jaded reader are getting tired of his photos of countless thugs and gangsters shot to death.  Editors have stopped buying?  What to do?

Weegee finds a solution.  It is perfectly legal, and as near as I can surmise, it doesn't even violate journalistic canons (unlike his habit of rearranging props at the murder scene to make a more interesting shot).  But boy, it does seem unethical in the extreme.

I have no idea whether Most is describing something that actually happened to Weegee or making it up.  But it's an interesting story that makes you think.   

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Niall Nelson is on my Flight, by Jim Fusilli

"Niall Nelson is on my Flight," by Jim Fusilli, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September/October 2019.

This is the second appearance here by Jim Fusilli.

Betty's point: You don't send money back.  You don't negotiate out of insecurity.  You push hard.  You demand.
My question: Do they really want me?

Paul has written a treatment for a movie based on the life of musician Nick Drake and now he is flying to France to talk to a studio interested in  making the flick.  He is afraid he is not good enough.  His much-younger wife Betty clearly thinks he is not ambitious enough.  (He suspects she only stays married to him to provide a father figure for her son.)  And it turns out a famous A-list actor is on their flight, someone Betty thinks he should find a way to talk to...

That's all I will tell you about the plot.  There are two things that made this story stand out for me.

One is Fusilli's use of real people and institutions.  I think most writers would have had their fictional characters fly on Paris Airlines to talk to executives at Seine Studio, but he just flat out says Air France and Canal+.  And Nick Drake too, was a real-life person.  Niall Nelson, of course, is not real, but you don't have to be an addict of Hollywood gossip shows to guess what sixty-ish Irish action star Fusilli is invoking.

The second element is a very blunt form of foreshadowing.  Early twentieth-century crime writer Mary Roberts Rinehard is credited/blamed with being the queen of the "Had I But Known" school of writing, in which suspense is created by lamenting bad decisions.

Fusilli doesn't do the lamenting but he simply warns us that bad things are about to happen.  It was one of those men, I later learned, who set out to harm us.  That's the first of several notes.

I feel like it shouldn't work but it certainly does.  Good story.






Monday, August 26, 2019

The Surrogate Initiative, by Brian Cox

"The Surrogate Initiative," by Brian Cox, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2019.

One of the many things I like about AHMM is that they are willing to push genre boundaries.  They occasionally publish a western, science fiction, or even fantasy story if it has a strong crime element.

Take this tale as an example.  It tells of the first criminal case decided by a jury of AI surrogates.  Nobody wants to be called to jury duty so computer programs are developed with the personalities of potential jurors.  Unlike their real life counterparts they never get sick, or bored, they automatically understand all the technical jargon of expert witnesses and their biases can be tuned by the judge. 

Could it ever happen?  Probably not.  But it's fascinating to think about it, and Cox's story provides several twists along the way to what might be justice.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Do Not Disturb, by Steve Hockensmith

"Do Not Disturb," by Steve Hockensmith, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July/August 2019.

This is the fourth appearance in this column by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith.  And it's a very different story from him. I expect shorter,usually comic pieces but this is a straight-forward novella. And while he often writes about the old west this is, I think, the first time I have read him delving into the 1940s.

In fact it is 1940 in New York.  Colleen Flynn, a former cop, is an assistant hotel detective at the Grand American, a second-string house.  "The guys from Ford and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and General Foods stayed elsewhere.  The Grand American got Studebaker and Republic Pictures and Dr. Ross's Dog and Cat Food."

And the hotel also got a death.  Longtime guest Laurence Kaufman hung himself in the shower.  Except one of the maids, a Polish refugee, informs Colleen that he was probably murdered.  Colleen investigates although her boss points out that her boss points out that bringing bad guys to justice is no longer her job.

Actually, the boss is one of the pleasant surprises in this story, since he goes quite against type.

I wonder if this is to be part of a series because we are definitely left wondering about our heroine.  What's her backstory?  Why did she leave the force?

Ah, so many mysteries.




Monday, August 12, 2019

Get a Life, by Judith Janeway

"Get a Life," by Judith Janeway, in Fault Lines: Stories by Northern California Crime Writers, edited by Margaret Lucke, 2019.

This is a books of stories by members of the Northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Our narrator is an identity thief and she cheerfully explains all the tricks of her trade.  She's verygood at it but she gets a little too obsessed with her latest conquest, if I may use that term.  She not only steals Nadine Gale's credit cards and steals her money, but she starts dressing like her.  Even though, she insists, it's nothing personal.

Nadine, the original Nadine, oddly enough, gets quite grumpy about all this.  She even tracks her copy down but is unable to get any restitution.  But she doesn't quit easily.

Watch out, Nadine.  Nadine is on your trail.  I didn't see what was coming in this twisty tale.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Black Cow, by Linda Joffe Hull

"Black Cow," by Linda Joffe Hull, in Die Behind the Wheel, edited by Brian Thornton, Down and Out Books, 2019.

All the stories in this book are inspired by Steely Dan songs.  I must confess I am not a huge fan of the band, having their greatest hits album and no more.  Had never heard "Black Cow" as far as I know.  But the story is good.

In French black is noir, and this story certainly qualifies.  To review: in essence noir is the American Dream curdled and spoiled.  A person of no importance tries to Make Something of Himself (could be a herself, but it usually isn't), but his plan is inherently flawed, since it involves robbing a bank, or killing his girlfriend's husband, or...  Bad things happen.

So, this story is classic noir.  It is also in second person singular, which I find annoying.  As I have said before, first versus third is a choice.  Second is always a gimmick.  But it didn't bother me this time.

Our protagonist, "You," meets Debra in a bar.  She is an attractive woman, and very upset because she just discovered her husband Kenny is cheating on her.

You should be asking yourself why you're willing to exploit a woman in such a fragile state, but instead find yourself wondering how Cheatin' Kenny makes bank.

So, You are in the market for a little adulterous fun and it turns out Debra is too.  It would be wise if You left it at that but noir doesn't work like that.  Instead You become obsessed and arrange to meet Debra again. And again...

If you have read much noir you can already list a few ways this story can turn out.  If any of the classic angles  had been used this story would probably not be my pick of the week.  Hull has found a new and original hole to drop her protagonist into and I liked it a lot.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

I'll Be You, by Travis Richardson

"I'll Be You," by Travis Richardson, in The Desperate and the Damned, edited by Sandra Ruttan, Toe Six Press, 2019.

Third appearance here by Richardson.  Chris met Kevin when they were both playing hockey in high school.  Kevin was trouble back then, dealing drugs, doing worse things.  Now its twenty-years later and he sees only one way out of his difficulty.  Swap faces, and lives, with Chris.  Chris isn't in favor of this but, hey, he doesn't get a vote.

Highly implausible but as fast moving as a hockey game.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Stealth, by Merrilee Robson

"Stealth," by Merrilee Robson, in The Desperate and the Damned, edited by Sandra Ruttan, Toe Six Press, 2019.

I wonder if the aging of the baby-boomers is going to result in a glut of crime fiction about dealing with dementia, incontinence, and nursing homes?  Or are we already there?

Enid suffers from dementia.  Can't really speak.  Wonders why an adult woman is claiming to be her little daughter.

But when a man slips into her room and starts rifling through her belongings she knows he doesn't belong there.  Turns out he's a neighbor.  Turns out she's the only one who knows what he's up to, and other people are getting in trouble for his crimes.

Can Enid find a way to reveal the truth?  Her solution, very clever indeed, is actually quite biblical.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice, by Mark Bruce

"Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice," by Mark Bruce, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  July/August 2019.

I have a fondness for the Black Orchid Novella Award, and not just because I won it once.  Co-sponsored by AHMM and the Wolfe Pack, it is intended to honor and promote the novella genre used by one of my favorite authors, Rex Stout. The rules do not require you to copy Stout's format, but most of the winners do.  (Typically that means a mastermind detective, a narrator/legman, and a final gathering of suspects.)

Let's get to Mark Bruce's winning entry.  In 1962 Carson Robinson is a private eye in Sacramento, California.  He was recently in the army, in "a place you never heard of called Vietnam... I was an advisor."  They didn't like his advice, which was "to get out of that godforsaken jungle as fast as we could..."

He is hired by Minerva James, a famous defense lawyer.

Why would a high-class act like Minerva James summon a beaten veteran like me?  I had only just obtained my license after two years of struggle and an initial failure to pass the licensing exam.

There is a murder case but she makes it clear that their job is not to catch a killer but to  find evidence to exculpate her client.

"Mr Robinson, if I asked you to do something dirty and underhanded, would you do it?"
"No," I said.  She looked at me in surprise.
"II thought you needed work," she said.
"I need a soul too."

It's going to be an interesting relationship.  Makes for a good story.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Three Camillas, by William Burton McCormick

"The Three Camillas," by William Burton McCormick, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  July/August 2019.

This is the third appearance here by McCormick and the second for Quintus the Clever.  But our hero, if that's the right word, takes a while to arrive.

The story is set during the rule of Caligula the mad in the Roman empire.  The narrator is Camilla Tertia, which is to say, the third Camilla.  ("Siblings with identical names, especially amongst girls, were common in conservative and affluent families...")

Tertia is twelve and, she reports proudly, "already considered far and wide the scoundrel and gossip of the family."  Reports have not been exaggerated.

Her sister Secunda is about to make an unhappy marriage.  Tertia decides it can be prevented if her expensive engagement ring is lost - a bad omen!  And who better to make it disappear than the luckless thief she meets after he is caught and whipped?

Quintus is clever enough to want nothing to do with her - what's Latin for hellcat? - but she doesn't give him much choice.  The best part of the story is their conversations.

"Be an honest man, Quintus, and rob my sister!"

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Tourist, by B.K.Stevens

"The Tourist," by B.K.Stevens, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2019.

This is the second appearance on this page by my fellow SleuthSayer,the late B.K. Stevens.


They'd brought him no joy, those first three murders...

So the story begins.

Where do you hide a leaf?  In a forest.  And of there is no forest?  You create one.  G.K. Chesterton had Father Brown say that that was a fearful sin. Ecologists might disagree, but now we are scrambling our metaphor.

Charles has decided to kill his annoying wife.  He want to disguise it as the work of a serial killer.  That means killing several other women first, creating his own forest, so to speak.

Of course, if you have read a few hundred crime stories you know something is going to go wrong with this clever plot.  The question is: what will the fatal problem be?  I certainly didn't see it coming.

My favorite part is that the event I expected to be the climax is tossed off in a sentence. Hell, in a clause.  Lovely bit of misdirection there,.

I don't know if this will be B.K.'s last published piece.  If so, it is a good note to go out on.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Spirit River Dam, by Susan Daly

"Spirit River Dam," by Susan Daly, in The Best Laid Plans, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk, Superior Shores Press, 2019.

There is art forgery, of course, but there is also art fraud.

What would you do if you found a painting that appears in every way to be a fine example of a painting by a famous (and profitable) artist - except for the tiny detail that it is dated a few years after his death?  What if that date is in pencil and easy to erase?

That's the dilemma faced by art dealer Imogen when her ex-husband shows up with a painting he inherited from his late mother.  Just a little erasure will make the painting a treasure!  What could possibly go wrong?

For an answer, please see the title of the anthology.

The story has a very clever surprise.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ladies Day at the Olympia Car Wash, by Andrew Nette

"Ladies Day at the Olympia Car Wash," by Andrew Nette, in A Time For Violence, edited by Andy Rausch and Chris Roy, Close to the Bone, 2019.

Welcome to Australia.  The narrator works at a car wash, a job his friend Buddha got him as a reward for not fingering him after an unsuccessful robbery.  Buddha wants to try another crime but our hero, having been burned with a term in prison is shy about trying again.  Then a woman comes to the car wash, needing some special treatment for her vehicle...

This story is mostly about mood.  For example:

Just after nine and already the temperature is in the early thirties according to the announcer on the classic hits radio station that gets piped through the speaker on the office wall.

"Going to be a hot one today," I say, trying to change the subject.

"Yeah, suppose so."  Buddha drops his half-smoked nail on the ground next to the grey tray of dirty sand labelled Please deposit cigarette butts here.


Sunday, June 9, 2019

'Mocking Season, by Christi Clancy

"'Mocking Season," by Christi Clancy, in Milwaukee Noir, edited by Tim Hennessy, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance reading copy of this book.

This is a disturbing story, and I mean that as a compliment.  Here is how it starts:

Back when there were still trees in Whitefish Bay, the boys started sleeping in the hammocks they hung from them.

All sorts of things are foreshadowed in that simple sentence.

Whitefish Bay is apparently a pleasant bit of suburbia until it disturbed by the arrival of Erin, who we might perhaps call a middle-aged hippy.  She lived in the one home that was not visible from the street, which disturbs the keepers of community norms, "the mothers," who feel that "It didn't seem right to live where you couldn't be seen."

More importantly, her son Leif was so charismatic that all the boys in the neighborhood start to copy him - including 'mocking, or sleeping outdoors in hammocks.  They also take up marimba, an instrument at which Leif is expert.

But what disturbs the mothers even more is that Erin lets her yard run wild.  While everyone else is battling bugs and weeds with ever increasing doses of of chemicals, she listens to her boyfriend Cody, a horticulturalist who takes a more organic route.  This leads to conflict which leads to, well. other things.

You may say that the reactions of some of the characters are unrealistic, but that is precisely what makes the story so disturbing.   It reminded me of a certain novel and a certain short story, but that would be giving away too much.

A fine story.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Up Day Down Day Deadly Day, by Ellen Larson

"Up Day Down Day Deadly Day," by Ellen Larson, in Murder Most Edible, edited by Verona Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, 2019.

This is Larson's second appearance here.

I have written here before about didactic mysteries, tales which teach you about some subject as you enjoy the story.  This is a good example.

The narrator is the police chief of a small town in New York.  He has joined a group called the Slim Janes, not for professional reasons, but to watch his diet.  Oops!  Don't call it a diet.  They call it a Way of Eating, or WOE. 

And he is learning so much about WOEs that his head is swimming, but then he is called away on a case.  Becca, one of the groups leaders, is hospitalized after a bad reaction to food.  Allergy?  Poison?  Shoddy vegan supplements?

To get to the bottom of it all the chief has to learn a lot about how different diets work.  It's clever, informative, and best of all, the solution really does depend on what he learns.




Monday, May 27, 2019

My Companion, by Janice Law.

"My Companion," by Janice Law, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,May/June 2019.

Before we get to the main event, I want to point something out.  This issue contains a story by  William Burton McCormick The introductory note points out that McCormick "made the  SleuthSayers list for Best Short Stories of the Year in 2016."  I believe that is the first time an editor made note in writing of my annual best fest.  Nice to be noticed.

This is the sixth appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer.

Jess is a poor little rich girl.  What she really wants is a puppy but her very busy parents say a real dog is too much trouble, so they get her a fake canine from a company called My Companions.
 
Mom explains: "My Companion has a repertoire of phrases that come loaded, but the neat thing, Jess, is that this toy learns.  As you talk to it, it learns and responds!  Now, isn't that better than a puppy?"

Meh.  But after a particularly bad day at school Jess talks to the fake dog whom she names Piper. 

And Piper talks back.  Sure enough, his personality does develop. In particular, he takes a deep interest in Daddy's collection of fine and expensive art...

Jess is lonely and depressed but she isn't dumb.  She sees what is going on, but what should she do about it?  A haunting little tale.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Duelist, by David Dean

"The Duelist," by David Dean, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019.

My friend and fellow SleuthSayer, David Dean, is making his fifth appearance here with a fine historical tale.

The time is pre-Civil War and the place is Natchez, Mississippi.  Captain Noddy has a habit of taking offense at innocent remarks by country bumpkins, and then taking their lives in duels.

Now a down-on-his-luck gambler named Darius LeClair has arrived in town and seems quite careless in talking to the dangerous captain.  Is he foolish or is he doing it on purpose?  Is he in fact a gambler or something quite different?


There are wheels within wheels here and the secrets keep unraveling right  to the end.  I enjoyed it a lot.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Spy Who Walked Into The Cold, by Ron Collins

"The Spy Who Walked Into The Cold," by Ron Collins, in Fiction River: Spies, 2019.

Not a very short story this week.  A novella, I believe, and quite a thoughtful one.

It's 1969 and Radner has mostly recovered from the injuries he received in Viet Nam, although he still has nightmares.  He has joined the Chicago Police Department and has been given a special assignment. He is working with Mitchell, an FBI agent who has an informer in the Chicago branch of the Black Panthers.

O'Neal, the informant, had the choice of helping or going to jail.  He tells them what the Panthers are up to and where they have their guns.  He always points out that all the guns are perfectly legal.  the FBI prefers not to hear that part.

Every time Panthers are killed by the cops - and it keeps happening - there are two versions of the event, and the cops' version doesn't seem to match the evidence.  Radner isn't sure that this is what he was fighting for in Viet Nam.  But what can he do about it?  And what will it cost him if he does?

Very satisfying tale.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Private Justice, by Steven Gore

"Private Justice," by Steven Gore, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019.


Viewpoint is character.  That seemed like such a logical statement that I just went looking for a source for it other than my overheated brain.  I found one: a blogger named SensibleShoes who wrote in 2014:  "Viewpoint is character. A character doesn’t just have a point of view (often called “POV” in writerspeak). A character is a point of view. Viewpoint can be presented without mentioning the character at all."

The nameless narrator of Gore's story is a retired Philadelphia Homicide cop, newly installed as chief of detectives in a small town. A retired professor has been stabbed to death in his office and it looks like a lot of people may be involved in a cover-up.  As our hero investigates, he is constantly revealing his viewpoint which is all we known (or need to know) about his personality.

Throughout the story he sees what other people miss, not in the sense of smudged-footprint-in-the-flowerbed, but in the possible meaning of people's behavior.  Why is one suspect involved in self-harm?  Why is the university lawyer constantly smiling during a murder investigation?

Another aspect of viewpoint is that the cop is keenly aware that people in this small town are treated very differently than they would be back in the big city.  Speaking of a plea deal for homicide: "Defendants in Philadelphia were getting more time for selling a couple of rocks of cocaine."

A nicely done story.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Our Man in Basingstoke, by Sabrina Case

"Our Man in Basingstoke," by Sabrina Case, in Fiction River: Spies, 2019.

Pity Sir Almsley.  He gave his estate to the War Office to help fight the Nazis, not expecting that he would be put in charge of a project to create new espionage techniques.  He has no skills in that field, his mission is underfunded, and his staff consists of what the sergeant calls "a human scrap metal drive."

But that's not all.  Peter Tilling, an enthusiastic and imaginative child, has been sent to a nearby farm to protect him from the blitz in London.  He is eager to slip into Almsley's estate to see the top-secret devices being built there.  Good luck with that, young Peter.

Clever soul that you are, you have probably deduced that each of Almsley's problems contains the solution to the other.  Right as rain.  But it's great fun to watch the story unfold.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Use of Landscape, by Robert Boswell

"The Use of Landscape," by Robert Boswell, in Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance reader copy of this book.

I want to start by acknowledging the cleverness of editor Zepeda.  These noir city books are always divided into three or four sections and the editor has to come up with names for them, which are often subtle or less subtle references to Crime, Money, Sex, etc.  Here are the dividers Zepeda used: Desirable Locations With Private Security, Peaceful Hamlets Great For Families, Minutes From Downtown and Nightlife, and Up-and-Coming Areas Newly Revitalized. 

And deep in Desirable Locations, Robert Boswell has offered us a charming story about sociopaths.  Cole is the planner.  We are told he loves no one.  Doesn't care much about sex although he will use it to get what he wants, which is money.  Not much interested in buying things with it; money is just a way of keeping score.

His girlfriend is Herta.  They met when she tried to rob him.  She says he will eventually try to kill her, but hey, she's not perfect either.

Tariq rounds out the crew.  He's a bartender and an expert on cleaning crime scenes. Tariq has pointed Cole to a young woman, rich in money, poor in personality and brain power.

"Did I tell you what happened at Affirm today?" Madelyn asked.  Affirm was her gym.  She described the days activities in excruciating detail, a saga that lasted nearly twenty minutes.  Summary: she exercised.

You will be mightily entertained as the trio the narrator calls the Criminal Element plot their nastiness while discussing women's underwear and the books of Virginia Woolf.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Kaddish for Lazar, by Michael Wuliger

"Kaddish for Lazar," by Michael Wuliger, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance copy of this book.

"You're Jewish, aren't you?" the editor of Blitz Magazine asked me.
"Yes, I am." I felt uncomfortable.  "Why do you want to know?" That kind of question coming from Germans irritates me.  It runs in the family, I guess.
"Then you must have known Mark Lazar well," he said.

Because obviously all 30,000 of the Jews in Berlin must know each other, right?

Great opening for this story in which a freelance journalist is asked to look into the death by drowning of a prominent politician.  Suicide, accident, or something else?  Could his death be related to his immigrating from Russia after the Soviet Union fell?  Or to his plans to run for mayor?

The investigation is very interesting, the effect it has on the narrator even more so.  This is a very cynical story, which makes it very noir indeed.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Dora, by Zöe Beck

"Dora," by Zöe Beck, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

Big typo corrected.  Apologies.

This is the second appearance here by Beck.

Take a look at her.  Even if it's hard.
You won't want to look at her because she stinks and is filthy from head to toe.  You think you know what you'll see but take a look anyway.

That's how the story starts.  It seems like a bit of sociological fiction, an analysis of a mentally ill homeless person.  But there's a lot more going on here.

The narrator is Dora's brother.  He explains in detail how his sister's life has slowly derailed and  the damage it has done to the whole family.

And then, well, things happen.  Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, once said, as I recall, that she likes stories that turn out to be something different than they appear.  I suppose that is almost but not identical to a twist ending.  Read "Dora" for an excellent example.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

In The Court of the Lion King, by Mark Dapin

"In The Court of the Lion King," by Mark Dapin, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book.

I have read novels with less plot than this story.  Somehow Dapin manages to keep all the balls in the air.

The narrator, Chevy, is a half-Laotian architect.  He is on remand - that is, in prison awaiting trial  - because the police think he killed his best friend, Jamie.  A security camera caught them fighting, and Jamie hasn't been seen since.

Fortunately, Chevy has a lawyer.  Jesse is his former lover and a very complicated person.  ("I used to say that I only loved for people -- two of them were Jesse...")  Unfortunately, no aspects of  her personality involve legal skills.

And then there are the Vietnamese in the prison that want him dead, apparently because he is Laotian.

I haven't even mentioned the Lion King, a gang boss who runs the cell block.  He is a truly disgusting person and is taking an unhealthy interest in our hero.

If I listed all the other threads in this tale you would think it was some kind of postmodern experimental fiction, all bits and pieces that don't connect.

Don't worry.  The author knows what he's doing.  But does Chevy?




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.