Sunday, February 23, 2020
Bride of Torches, by Kenneth Wishnia
Haven't the AHMM covers been great the last couple of years? And the recent redesign is fine as well. My compliments to the design staff.
My friend Ken Wishnia has told a lovely story here. I should say retold because he is working from the story of Yael in the Book of Judges. He has filled in the brief biblical tale with a lot of context about the Iron Age. (Does that sound dull? It isn't.)
The Kanaanites blocked the roads and barred any contraband iron goods from coming up from the coast. There were no blacksmiths in the land in those days, so there was no sword or spear made of iron to be found in the land of Yisra'el, and the people had to rely on migrant metalworkers to sharpen their pitchforks...
Ya'el is the wife of one such metalworker and she commits the crime (?) which is the centerpiece of our story. The main thing Wishnia adds to the Bible tale is giving her a motive. In fact, he offers two, one of which feels very modern without being anachronistic.
I liked this very much indeed.
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Mistaken Identity, by Wayne J. Gardiner
Gary Hoffman is the senior half of a small town police force. One night he is called out to a bar where a stranger has snatched up the owner's shotgun and told him to call the cops. In the fracas that follows Hoffman kills the stranger.
I'm not giving anything away, I should point out. This is, as they say, the premise of the story. And it's a wittily written tale. Take this bit of conversation between Hoffman and his receptionist.
Marie gave him a pat. "Take all the the time you need," she said. "I can keep up with the little things."
"Can't take too long," Gary said. "People might realize this whole operation can run without me."
Marie had issued as much sympathy as she could muster. "Don't worry about it. It won't come as a surprise to anybody."
But there will be other surprises in store, as Hoffman tries to figure out why a stranger wanted to kill him. And whether there may be more danger ahead.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
Murderer Bill, by John Grant
Imagine, if you will, being a single mother with an obstreperous seven-year-old kid. One day you point out a man on the street and tell your son that he is a murderer. "Not just any old murderer, Denny... He's the murderer. Murderer Bill."
You explain that Bill kills children. Only bad ones, of course. So Denny has nothing to fear if he starts behaving.
What do you think would happen after that?
Well, I am pretty sure that one thing that would not happen is the Mayor putting a Mother of the Year medal around your neck. And that isn't what happens in this story.
But when, a few days later, Denny tells his Mom a lie, Murderer Bill shows up in his bedroom. Just a warning this time, but be careful.
So, what the hell is going on? Is Bill imaginary? Supernatural? Or did Mom actually arrange for someone to... Hmm.
This is an intriguing story.
Sunday, February 2, 2020
Deportees, by James Lee Burke
I think we need to begin by talking about years. Notice that the calendar date on this magazine is 2019/2020. So why didn't I review it in 2019? Because it only arrived in my mailbox this week.
So let's call this my first review of a 2020 story, since through January I was still covering 2019, to give myself as much time as possible to cover those tales. My Best-of-the-Year list went up at SleuthSayers on Wednesday.
And "Deportees" is a beautifully written story.
The narrator, Aaron, was a child as World War II started. His father has run off again, and so he has gone with his mother (who was "crazy and had undergone electroshock treatments") to live with his grandfather on a farm in Texas. Grandfather had been a Texas ranger but had lost almost everything to alcohol.
On the first night a group of refugees come across the Mexican border and find shelter in Grandfather's barn. A local lawman named Mr. Watts comes looking, claiming they might be Japanese infiltrators.
Mother notes the local hypocrisy concerning Mexicans. "In good times we bring them in by the truckload. When there's drought, the Mexicans are the devil's creation."
The family has other reasons to despise Watts. For one, he invites Grandfather to church. The old man replies: "I know your preacher well. I saw him at a cross-burning once. He was setting fire to the cross. I was writing down license numbers."
But there are reasons much worse than that. It is worth finding out what they are.
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