Sunday, December 29, 2019

Hard Return, by Art Taylor

"Hard Return," by Art Taylor, in Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman, Wildside Press, 2019.

This is the second appearance by my fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor on this page.

All the stories in this book involve crime and time travel, as you can probably guess from the title.  If you are going to write about time travel the first thing you may need to decide is the method involved: science or some form of magic?  Of course, you don't need to go into detail; when he was trying to sell Star Trek Gene Roddenberry pointed out that a starship captain doesn't need to explain his vehicle's propulsion system anymore than the star of a Western needs to describe the anatomy of a horse.  But it's nice if you indicate whether your hero has built a machine, or has supernatural powers, or is simply in the right (?) place at the right (ahem) time.

In Taylor's story the transportation system is a deep psychological truth.  In fact, I think the whole story is a metaphor for certain human interactions.  But hey, no spoilers.

The man and the woman had reached that stage where their relationship would either turn more serious or slowly begin to dissolve.  The seriousness wasn't about sex, a threshold they'd already crossed, but a step into some deeper, more emotional intimacy.

That's how our story begins.  Nice style, isn't it?  We never find out the names of the characters, because those don't matter.

What does matter is that the man asks his lover to tell him something special about herself.  And she does, about something that hurt her badly, a long time ago...

This fine story gives you a lot to think about.


Monday, December 23, 2019

See Humble and Die, by RIchard Helms

"See Humble and Die," by Richard Helms, in The Eyes of Texas, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2019.

Helms is making his fourth appearance on this page, with a pretty straight-forward private eye story.

Huck Spence retired after thirty-some years in the Texas Rangers, got bored, and applied for a PI license.  Most of his work turned out to be serving subpoenas.  Usually not a very challenging gig.

One day he goes to Humble, not far from Houston,  to serve a guy named Ralph Oakley who skipped out on jury duty on the very day that "the district judge's diverticulitis was flaring up.  Judge was in the mood to knock broomsticks up some asses."

Our hero tracks luckless Ralph down and then somebody gets murdered and Huck's Ranger instincts take over.  He wants to know whodunit and whether he was partly responsible.

A neatly plotted little tale.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Chasing the Straight, by Trey R. Barker

"Chasing the Straight," by Trey R. Barker, in The Eyes of Texas, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2019.

It is fashionable today for private eyes (and a lot of other protagonists) to have personal problems that affect their cases.  Derrick Kruse has them, in spades.  And that last part was an unintentional pun, as you shall see.

Kruse appears to be autistic and has OCD, which manifests as an obsession ith numbers.  He is bad at poker because he is so desperate for straights, five numbers in a row.  No doubt contributing to his problems is the fact that his father was an abusive monster who, naturally, picked on the kid who was different.

When Kruse spots a burglar in the middle of the night he encounters a woman with an abusive husband who has made off with her daughter, his stepchild.  Naturally, this is not a case he can leave in the hands of the cops. 

There are some unexpected twists an turns in this one.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Click, by Dana Haynes

"Click," by Dana Haynes, in Denim, Diamonds, and Death, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2019.

Here's a pro tip for all you professional criminals out there: When an old buddy tells you that a crime is so easy that "This thing steals itself," you probably want to get the hell out of there.

But our narrator, Rush, is visiting an old friend who is dying of emphysema, and he permits Jack to tell him about a crime he planned but doesn't have the time/strength to commit.

The crime may be easy but it isn't simple.  It involves stealing the retirement plan of a Mafiosi after he turns it over to a crooked FBI agent in return for a get-out-of-prison free card.  And to do that Rush will have to con another mobster, kill a bodyguard, and sweet-talk somebody's ex-girlfriend.  Easy, no?

Anyone who reads this kind of stuff is already saying: No.

You will enjoy the twists and turns.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Blue Skies, by Keith Snyder

"Blue Skies," by Keith Snyder, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #5, 2019.

Tom Krol put out an ad for some land-moving equipment he wants to sell.  He also advertised for someone to kill his wife.  The man who shows up at his doorstep is interested in both ads, which is a bit disturbing since no one was supposed to be able to tie him to the second one.

But the gentleman in the red shirt is not your standard customer. Or hit man.  He wants to explain to Krol why hiring an assassin is a bad idea and he has a better plan to recommend.  At some points it's hard to tell whether he's offering the deal of a lifetime, or threatening the other guy's life.  Maybe a little of both...

There are many layers in this cheerfully convoluted story.  I detect a few holes in the plot as well, but they didn't keep me from enjoying it.