Monday, May 31, 2021

The Case of the Brain Tuber, by Mark Thielman


"The Case of the Brain Tuber," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2021.

This is the sixth appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer Mark Thielman, and the second by his unlikely hero.

Sheer silliness here.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The narrator is a private eye whose side gig is dressing up as a potato for marketing events at supermarkets.  They call him the Spud Stud.

But this time he gets to appear as a normal person for a special event at the Idaho Potato Museum. They are celebrating the newest inductees to the Potato Hall of Fame.  So get ready for tater-based humor.

The band is called the Twice-Baked.  The name tags were "shaped like small packages of freeze-dried hash browns." They are serving vodka (of course) but you can also get a sparkling wine called Potateau.

Like I said: silly.  But when one of the guests of honor dies and the cops are delayed the Spud Stud has to solve the crime. His method is clever.      

Monday, May 24, 2021

Brain Damage by Tom Leins

 "Brain Damage," by Tom Leins, in Coming Through in Waves: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Pink Floyd, edited by T. Fox Dunham, Gutter Books, 2021.

Rey is out of prison but he visits Barrett there because Barrett saved his life once.  Of course Barrett wants a favor: "My wife's sister is missing."  She was thrown down the stairs by her ex-boyfriend resulting in brain damage.  

Rey finds out that the wife used to work at sex parties for a crooked lawyer named Thorgerson and Thorgerson used to take an interest in the little sister.  Maybe too much interest...

A hard-boiled private eye-type story with an unusual protagonist. A lot to recommend it.

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Witches of Endor, by Janice Law


"The Witches of Endor," by Janice Law, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2021.

Janice Law is one of my favorite contemporary short storyists, as demonstrated by the fact that this is her seventh appearance here.  She is also my friend and a fellow SleuthSayer.

Edie and Cynthia are older women, two sisters with an unusual occupation.  They create highly detailed dioramas of crime scenes.  Usually they are commissioned by forensic conferences to show actual murders or create training puzzles.

But their current assignment is different.  A private client has asked them to reconstruct the scene of an unsolved murder.  What's his motive?

"It was an article of faith with [Cynthia] that a really complete reconstruction held the solution..."

The ending cleverly ties the title in.  I wonder how many readers will understand that part?

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Frank Scarso Finds His Life, by Doug Crandall


"Frank Scarso Finds His Life," by Doug Crandall, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May/June 2021.

Walter Mosley, who knows a thing or two about writing fiction, said "Story is what happens. Plot is when the reason it happens or the reasons that it happens are revealed to the reader."

In other words, you don't necessarily want to have the beginning, middle, and end of your story in that order.  

The first thing we learn in this tale is that whatever occurs in it  lands our protagonist in prison. And he doesn't seem to be too upset about that.

Frank Scarso was  in prison before because of a tragic mistake he made.  Now, in his sixties, he is looking for a chance to do a little good. In a word, he is hunting for redemption.

He gets a job in a home for kids with serious problems and finds himself oddly bonding with an autistic boy whose life has been one horror after another.  Frank thinks he can maybe help, and if that brings him grief, so be it...     

What does Crandall gain by putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, telling us how Frank's story will end?  I will paraphrase another author, Jean Anouilh, who said the difference between tragedy and melodrama is that we know how tragedy will end, so the struggle to survive takes on a sort of nobility. We know where this is going but it is a fascinating trip...  

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Relative Stranger, by Amanda Witt


"Relative Stranger," by Amanda Witt, in When A Stranger Comes To Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Hanover Square Press, 2021.

This is your basic suspense story, nice and simple.  Protagonist in danger.  High stakes.  Nothing extra needed.   

Glory Crockett lives on a farm and one day a stranger knocks on the door.  What's disturbing is that he resembles her husband, Owen.  Turns out his name is also Owen Crockett.  He's the bad-news cousin she has heard about but never met, largely because he has spent most of his life in prison: "a one-man crime spree."  Now here he is, with a glib charm that rings completely false.

And somewhere outside the farmhouse is Glory's husband and her four young sons.

Anything else to mention?  Oh yes. When the cousin comes in he leaves a spot of fresh blood on the door.  But he's not the one bleeding...

You'll read this tale in one sitting.