Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Golden Coffin, by Emory Holmes II


"The Golden Coffin," by Emory Holmes II, in South Central Noir, edited by Gary Phillips, Akashic Press, 2022.

The publisher sent me a free copy of this book.

I occasionally lament the lack of historical mysteries in Akashic's Noir Cities series.  This is a good one.

It's 1935.  Prometheus Drummond, a young teenager, has hopped freight trains from his collapsed home in hopes of living with his Uncle Balthazar, the manager of a high-class Negro hotel in Los Angeles.  His uncle gives him the post of factotum. "That mean, every damn thing I say is a fact.  And if I point to a heap of satchels yonder but the elevator, I expects you to hop up and tote 'em where they needs to go.  Fact-tote-um -- get me?"

Dialog is one of the strengths of the story. Another is the depth of detail Holmes gives us about life in South Central in the time.

As for crime, someone is murdering young Black women. Prometheus discovered one of the victims.  The city and the police force isn't much interested, but a smart Negro cop named Kimbrow has figured out the pattern.  Can they catch the bad guy before he kills again?

I have written enough historical mysteries to know how hard it is to avoid anachronisms but I have to say: according to the Google Ngram Viewer the phrase "media outlet" didn't arrive until decades after the time this story is set in.  But that's about the only criticism I can make of this fine tale.


Monday, September 19, 2022

Cold Case, by Bev Vincent


"Cold Case," by Bev Vincent, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue 12, 2022.

This is the second story by Vincent to make my best-of list.

I think it might have been my friend Michael Mallory who predicted that an increasing number of mysteries would be set in the pre-cell phone era, because those modern marvels make so many tropes of our field ridiculous.  (It's bad enough for the hero to enter the villain's lair without back-up, but when he can get help just by reaching into his pocket...)

Bev Vincent, on the other hand, demonstrates how you can make use of recent technology (and current events) to build a story.

Roger is a retired chemist living in Texas in the recent record-breaking cold spell.  One frosty morning he finds a dead man sitting on his porch. When the police arrive he refuses to let them into the house, due to COVID fears, which does not endear him to the shivering constabulatory.  So Roger, with plenty of time on his hands, decides to investigate.

Let's try to count the tech involved in this tale: cell phones, Google, Zoom, video doorbells, NextDoor... I may have missed some.  Not bad for a retired guy.

On top of that the story is witty. When a neighbor comes over dressed for the cold weather we get this:

"Is that really you in there?" he asked.

"I can see you," she said. "Undressing me with your eyes."

"That'd be a job," Roger said, hoping she couldn't see him blush.

The story is  a treat.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Deconstruction, by David Dean

"Deconstruction," by David Dean, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September/October 2022.

 This is the sixth appearance by my fellow SleuthSayer on this page. 

Bruce is terribly excited to get his first permanent job as an electrician for a construction company.  But problems start piling up.  His coworker/roommate is a pothead who seems to only keep his job because the boss is his uncle.  And then there is a lot of equipment from other contractors going missing.  By the way, whatever happened to the guy Bruce replaced?

From the very beginning you can guess where this story is going but you will enjoy the trip.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

For a Better City, by Peter W.J. Hayes

"For a Better City," by Peter W.J. Hayes, in Mystery Magazine, September 2022.

 This is the second appearance in this space by Mr. Hayes.

Charlie is six months out of prison, and six months sober.  He is living in a halfway house and trying to deal with some decisions he regrets.  

Into his life wanders Ivan who is somehow allowed to hang around the halfway house and claims that he wants to help the residents.  But Charlie is wisely skeptical.  Ivan asks him for a favor and he is willing to pay for it, but Charlie realizes there are strings attached.  Nevertheless he figures he has no choice but to say yes.

The strings, when they arrive, are very tangled indeed.  A nice noirish tale.