Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Beastly Trial, by Mark Thielman

"A Beastly Trial," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2020.

Oh, what a lovely cover.  This is the fifth appearance in this space by Mark Thielman.  Of his previous successes I count two historical mysteries and two comedies.  This time he combines the two.

The tale is set in sixteenth-century France.  Bernard de Vallenchin is an advocat, essentially a defense attorney, and he has his work cut out for him.  His client, together with her six offspring, committed the unprovoked murder of a small child and the community is demanding vengeance.  But what makes the case particularly challenging--

No.  I can't tell you that.  Major spoiler.

I had no idea where this story was going but I read some hilarious passages to a friend who seldom reads mysteries and she figured it out immediately.  That tells you something about me or about her, I suppose. 

This story is based on an actual trial that took place in France hundreds of years ago.  Thielman makes it clear that it is firmly rooted in a view of the universe that seems more foreign to us than the medieval French language.  But that is part of what makes it a fun story.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Chin Yong-Yun Sets The Date, by S.J. Rozan

"Chin Yong-Yun Sets The Date," by S.J. Rozan, in Deadly Anniversaries, edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, Hanover Square Press, 2020.

This is the fifth appearance here by my friend S.J. Rozan and the second by the formidable Chin Yong-Yun.  She is the mother of Rozan's private eye Lydia Chin, and quite a character herself.  This aging resident of New York's Chinatown combines the modesty of Poirot, the indecisiveness of Holmes, and the lack of curiosity of Marple. 

In this story she notices that Chu Cai, the son of a friend, seems unhappy, even though he has just gotten engaged. Listen to the way she rationalizes her behavior after seeing the Chu family in a restaurant:

I stood on the corner enjoying the warm day.  Eventually the Chu family emerged from the Wo Hop.  I took a few steps over, to the shadows...  I hurried to catch up with Cai.  Since he had been such a good friend of Am-Zhang's, it was only polite that I greet thim.
"Chu Cai!" I said. "Can this be you?"

 She cleverly arranges for him to come to her apartment to tell his problem to Lydia -- who, alas, is not there.  Perhaps, Mrs. Chin says, he can tell her the problem and she can do the groundwork, although she is not quite sure what ground has to do with detective work.

A wonderful character, a charming story.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

If You Want Something Done Right..., by Sue Grafton

"If You Want Something Done Right...," by Sue Grafton, in Deadly Anniversaries, edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, Hanover Square Press, 2020.

The Blogger software is having one of its periodic breakdowns and won't let me put up a picture of the book cover.  I will try to fix this later.

Sue Grafton was one of the finest authors of private eye short stories.  I don't recall ever reading one of your tales that was not about PI. Kinsey Milhone before. But this one is terrific as well.

It falls into the familiar category of spouse-versus-spouse.  Lucy Burgess has reason to think her hubby is planning to get rid of her.  So she plans a preemptive strike, so to speak.

A lucky mistake puts her in touch with a hit man, and this fellow's way with words is a good deal of the charm of the story.

"Keeping my remarks entirely famatory, every matrimonial association is defeasible, am I right?  ...So what I hear you saying is that you and him are engaged in a parcenary relationship of which you'd like to see his participation shifted to the terminus."

Great fun.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Seat 9B, by Luke Foster

"Seat 9B," by Luke Foster, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, June 2020.

How much coincidence can a story stand?  An old rule of thumb is that a coincidence can be the premise of a story but not the climax.  You can start with two old schoolmates meeting by accident after ten years, but you had better not have that meeting happen at the end and the old schoolmate provides our hero with an alibi.  Another rule of thumb is that a story can tolerate one coincidence but not two.

The premise of this story is a huge coincidence.  A second one occurs later in the story, but it is a small, reasonable gimmick and I had no trouble forgiving it.  Okay, on to the plot.

The narrator, Garrison Dallas, is an investigative journalist, covering true crime for TV news shows.  On a flight from Los Angeles he suddenly realizes that the man he is sitting next to is the unknown serial killer the country's cops have been looking for.  And because Dallas has "the world's worst poker face," the killer immediately knows he knows.  And doesn't plan to let him get off the plane alive.

That's what you call a coincidence.

In my opinion this is where a lot of suspense stories get into trouble.  They come up with some limp reason for the hero not to scream for help, call the cops, do something logical which would stop the story in its tracks.

But i fact, this is the best part of our story.  Foster has come up with a strong reason our hero can't ask for help and it not only works, it makes other parts of the story seem more plausible.  A terrific and very suspenseful piece of work.