Sunday, August 30, 2020

No Body, by Clea Simon

"No Body," by Clea Simon, in Shattering Glass, edited by Heather Graham, Nasty Women Press, 2020.

Before she even spoke she knew her body was gone. It had been a struggle, losing it. 

At first I thought the protagonist was a ghost, but no, she is a person in trauma experiencing, as some people do in such a situation, the sensation of being outside her own body. In fact, she was drugged and is being raped. 

None of the characters in this story are named, and the protagonist is never "the woman," but simply "she." It is a stylistic choice that keeps the story as intimate and claustrophobic. And this story is strong on style. 

The main character is a college student and the rapist is a popular student who lives right down the hall. He doesn't stop tormenting her, either, joking with his friends about her. But then... 

 I said this story is mostly about style, so honestly I was not expecting a clever and unexpected plot twist. But that's what you get.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Nicking Votes, by Stephen Buehler

"Nicking Votes," by Stephen Buehler, in Low Down Dirty Vote 2, edited by Mysti Berry, Berry Content Corporation, 2020.

I have a story in this book, by the way.

It's the summer of 1974 and con man Nick Townson is having a bit of hard luck.  His (stolen) car is overheating so he has to pull into a small desert town named Promise.  He will have to wait overnight for repairs and figures to while away the time by conning the locals out of some money with bar bets and similar tricks.

But it turns out there is an election going on, with two candidates for mayor: a sleazy developer and the attractive owner of the bar where Nick is playing his sneaky games.  Nick has no interest in politics but he may have no choice but to get involved.

A lot of clever twists in this one.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Law of Local Karma, by Susan Dunlap

 "The Law of Local Karma," by Susan Dunlap, in Berkeley Noir, edited by Jerry Thompson and Owen Hill, Akashic Press, 2020.

The publisher sent me an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

When Sergeant Endo Maduri talked about the case later he'd start off, "That was the last time Shelby and I rode together.  It made some of the guys on the force uncomfortable, but Maduri didn't care.

That is the opening paragraph, and it sets the hook nicely.  Is it the last time because Shelby dies, or retires, or because the two cops decide they can't work together?  It certainly made me want to turn pages and find out.

It's a winter afternoon in Berkeley and someone has killed a real estate flipper.  That means there are tons of suspects because lots of people had reasons to hate the guy, including police officer Shelby  and their only witness, a college kid named Janssen.  Maduri and Shelby get the witness in their car for a search around the neighborhood and he manages to include Lisa, a woman who is way out of his league, but would like the excitement of a trip in a police car.

Maduri is trying desperately  to keep the kid's attention on possible suspects while Janssen is much more interested in Lisa.  And Shelby, nearing retirement age and grumpy as hell, seems to have lost interest in the whole deal.  There are some clever twists here.

I must say this story almost lost me on the first page.  Maybe it's just me but I had a hell of a time figuring out who was who.  Is Shelby Callahan's first name?  Is one or both of them the patrolwoman?  Who is the suspect that everyone loses interest in but leaves face down on the sidewalk?  

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Only the Desperate Come Here, by Michael Mallory


"Only the Desperate Come Here," by Michael Mallory, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 2020.

I made a huge embarassing gaffe in an earlier version of this review.  My apologies.

 This is the fifth appearance here by my friend Michael Mallory.

When a client goes to attorney Scott Turley they know they are scraping the bottom of the barrel.  He lives in a room at the Y and his dinner is whiskey.

So it is a surprise when Carl Bone the Third, son of a city councilman, comes to him.  Seems he killed an old college buddy in the alley next to the bar where he worked.  Turley knows the ropes and has some tricks up his sleeves, but fate has a few aces he will need to deal with...

My favorite line: "While confession might be good for the soul, it was terrible for billable legal fees."

Clever stuff.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

What Brings You Back Home, by Michelle Richmond

"What Brings You Back Home," by Michelle Richmond, in Alabama Noir, edited by Don Noble, Akashic Press, 2020,

The publisher sent me a free copy of this book.

This is a sly one.  I enjoyed it a lot.

The nameless protagonist has returned to her childhood home of Mobile.  If anyone asks she leads them to think that her work is "as innocuous as it is forgettable.  She's in marketing, right?  Or is it advertising?"

Neither one, as it turns out.  She's up to something else, but maybe not entirely unrelated to those professions mentioned above.  And maybe they aren't as innocuous as they seem...

Twice I thought I knew where this story was going.  Twice I was fooled. Midway through we realize what is going on and the trajectory changes, becomes more, shall we say, polemic.  That wouldn't have worked nearly so well if Richmond hadn't set it up with the first-half.

Title is a nice choice. And here is my favorite bit of writing for the week:

"When you come from poor, poor is always in your head..."