Sunday, February 27, 2022

Red Flag, by Gregory Fallis

"Red Flag," by Gregory Fallis, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2022. 

This is the second appearance in this column by Gregory Fallis.

There are many ways to tell a story.  First things first is not always the best approach.  Fallis starts in the middle of the action and then fills in the backstory; a very common method these days.

But it leaves the critic in an awkward position, doesn't it?  I have to explain some of the backstory so you know what's going on.

Porter moved from Michigan to Los Angeles and had a relatively successful acting career, which was interrupted when he was injured during a mass shooting.

Back in Lansing he leads a quiet life until one day his financial advisor asks him to talk to a client's son. Seems the son has expressed an interest in committing mass murder.  Maybe Porter can talk him out of it? 

Porter talks to the young man, a terrifying and depressing encounter.  Then he talks to the cops who explain that there is basically nothing they can do until the man buys a gun and starts shooting.

Which leaves Porter holding the bag.

A fascinating story.  The ending is not a surprise, but it is a satisfactory one.


Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Case of the Colonel's Suicide, by Rafe McGregor


"The Case of the Colonel's Suicide," by Rafe McGregor, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 29, 2022.

A pastiche is a story written in the style and characters of another author, attempting to add to the existing corpus of those works.  Fan fiction, if you like.

A homage, on the other hand, uses  elements of the original author's universe in a new way. 

You could call this story a homage since it name-checks two characters by a well-known author. But that would be a stretch, because the tale would work just as well if those two names were replaced by Smith and Jones.

We are in Victorian England and the narrator is Chief Inspector Langham of the Metropolitan Police.  A retired colonel has committed suicide and Langham, himself a former military man, is asked to examine the scene.

What he sees convinces him that the colonel, although burdened with debts and other serious problems, was murdered.  And so Langham begins to delve deeper into the man's troubled past.

What makes this story stand out for me is its use of detail.  My knowledge of 19th century English military customs is nil, but I am convinced that McGregor knows his stuff, and he makes it fascinating.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Bad News, by Steve Hockensmith

"Bad News," by Steve Hockensmith , in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January.February 2022.

This is the fifth appearance here by my friend and former SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith.  It is the second showing by the characters who star in his highly original novel series.

For those of you who are new to the tales, these are westerns starring Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer, better known as Old Red and Big Red.  Big Red narrates the tales with a breezy sense of humor.  His older brother is a sour pessimist who, after discovering the reports on Sherlock Holmes's adventures, has determined to become a detective.  He has the brains but his big liability is that he never learned to read.

In this story the brothers, now running the A.A. Western Detective Agency, arrive in Little, Colorado to help a publisher who has been held up and robbed of a whole edition of the paper - apparently by a lone Ku Klux Klansman.  The obvious suspect is a rival publisher who hails from the south.  

But Old Red is no sucker for obvious solutions.

Half the joy in these tales is Gustav's deductions.  The other is Otto's witty asides.   "I'd say I know my brother like the back of my hand even though it's another kind of backside he more often brings to mind."

The story is a treat. 


Monday, February 7, 2022

Everybody's Business, by Ken Teutsch

 "Everybody's Business," by Ken Teutsch, in Mystery Magazine, February 2022.

When Karl gets out of prison he returns to his hometown.  Most of his neighbors want nothing to do with him but the exception are two brothers. Far from being turned off by Karl's record, Tommy and Randall are thrilled to know  a genuine convict.  As you may guess, they are not the brightest knives on the tree.

One night they come to Karl with an exciting deal: a grouchy old lady wants them to kill her neighbor.  Karl can split the money with them if he is willing to help.  And by help they mean doing the, well, killing part.

Karl agrees, but he has a plan of his own.  And what could possibly go wrong?  

Some fun twists in this one.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Best of 2021


Over at SleuthSayers I have just posted my list of the best short mystery stories of 2021.  Congratulations to all the writers, and thanks for many hours of pleasurable reading.