Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Cancun Game, by Tosca Lee

 "The Cancun Game," by Tosca Lee, in Infinity: A Suspense Magazine Anthology, edited by Catherine Coulter, Suspense Publishing, 2023.

I received a free copy of this book from an author.

I read a lot of stories that claim to be set in the present yet show no sign of knowing about recent developments.  Consider the thousands of protagonists who go off to meet bad guys without bringing a cell phone.

So I appreciate a story that is firmly rooted in a recent trend.

Piper is an online influencer.  She gets free clothing, jewelry, and trips, just for posting pictures of herself with all these luxuries.

Sounds like the good life, right?

Well, there's a downside.  It takes a support team of two of her friends plus the occasional hairdresser or make-up artist to make it work. And a lot of the pictures are faked.  (Pictures of two free days at a resort are stretched out to look like two weeks, etc.)

Still, things are looking up.  Piper is moving up toward the top of the influencers on the social media channel.  But then, someone starts killing whoever gets to the top...

I figured out where this was going, but I enjoyed the trip a lot.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Kimchi Kitty, by Martin Limón


"Kimchi Kitty," by Martin Limón, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2023.

This is the seventh story by Limón to make it onto my list.  

His work reminds me of the TV show MASH.  Both involve the U.S. military and Korea, of course, but I am thinking of an odder coincidence.  The cast of that show spent, I think, eleven years portraying a war that lasted just over three.  

Limón's characters have filled more than a dozen novels and many short stories in South Korea without ever escaping from the early 1970s.  

George Sueño and Ernie Bascom are CID officers, U.S. Army detectives and their stories are police procedurals, showing in meticulous detail how they track down bad guys in Seoul and other points.  The stories are believable, nuanced, and fascinating.

In this one our heroes are chasing a mugger, probably an American serviceman, who is attacking GIs and getting more violent with each attack.  Sueño guesses that he is obsessed with Kimchi Kitty, a Korean national who sings in a country band.

The cops hope to use her as bait to catch the bad guy before things get even worse. But Kitty, frightened as she is, turns out to have more agency than expected...

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Margo and the Yachting Party, by Terence Faherty

"Margo and the Yachting Party," by Terence Faherty, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2023.

This is the ninth appearance in this space by Terence Faherty and the second for these characters.

It's 1941.  Margo Banning is an assistant on a radio show in New York City.  One of the stars of the show is criminologist Philip St. Pierre.  He is an odd duck with elaborate tastes in clothing and a new hobby of sorts: he is hunting for Nazi spies.

On the show he announces that "Certain German sympathizers here in our fair city have hatched a scheme to resupply the German U-boats operating off our coast."  He urges everyone to be on the lookout for a "pirate yacht."

After the show an FBI agent arrives with the bad news that a Nazi courier St. Pierre had caught earlier had escaped.  The detective refuses to help the Feds, being determined to hunt for his mystery ship.

It seems like St. Pierre knows more than he is telling (as usual).  And Margo gets caught up in the mess (also as usual).

A light and fun historical.


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Crime and Convenience, by Steve Shrott

 "Crime and Convenience," by Steve Shrott, in Hook, Line, and Sinker: The Seventh Guppie Anthology, edited by Emily P.W. Murphy, Wolf's Echo Press, 2023.

"Look, I never told you, but I have a bit of a record.  I can't get mixed up in something like this."

"I ask when you hired if have record.  You say no."

"That could be interpreted many ways."

Dialog is character.  

The first speaker is Cathy. She has a bit of a problem with honesty.

The second speaker is Amir, who owns the convenience store where she works.  He is a very honest man and he has a bit of a problem with Cathy.  

When the story starts Amir has discovered that she stole a man's wallet.  He insists that they go together to return it.  This leads to the discovery of a corpse and a lot of trouble.  It's almost like honesty is not the best policy.

A funny story.

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Puzzle Master, by David Morrell

"The Puzzle Master," by David Morrell, in Playing Games, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2023.

 This is the second story by Morrell to appear here. 

Quentin has just finished his latest mystery novel and is getting antsy waiting for his editor's reaction.  His wife Beth suggests they kill some time putting a jigsaw puzzle together.  

The illustration on [the box] showed what looked like a square in a New England village, with rustic shops, Victorian houses behind them, and a tree-covered hill in the distance.  A farmer's market was in progress.  Smiling families paused at tables that displayed tomatoes, peppers, apples, and jars of what a sign said was strawberry jam.

Sounds charming, doesn't it?

They have such a good time that they start working on another puzzle, created by the same artist.  Is this the same village?  Are they seeing some of the same people?  And is something... wrong with this picture somehow?

There are seven puzzles and if you work them in the order they were created (you need to put them together because you can't see all the details from the box cover), they seem to tell a story.  Or so Quentin, the mystery writer suspects.  

Clever story, cleverly told.

 I don't usually talk about runners-up, but the proceeding story in the book, "Lightning Round," by Warren Moore, made it hard to choose.


Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Soiled Dove of Shallow Hollow, by Sean McCluskey


"The Soiled Dove of Shallow Hollow," by Sean McCluskey, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2023.

It is rare that a first story makes my best-of-the-week list, rarer still when that first story  is a long, possibly novelette-length piece.  This is one.

And it's a private eye story, of sorts.  What's a private eye story?  If you say a story about a private eye you are clearly unaware of what I call the Scudder exception.

When the Private Eye Writers of America were creating the rules for their Shamus Awards one of the very best characters in the field was Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder.  For most of his career he had no P.I. licence.  So it is not surprising that the rules said, essentially, that a P.I. story had to be about someone who investigates crimes for pay, but doesn't work for the government.  

So a lawyer or journalist would qualify but not  a cop or a spy.  And people like Scudder who, as he put it, did favors for friends who then bought him gifts, was eligible. 

Which brings us to Shane Caine, the narrator of our tale.  One night in a bar in Georgia he brags about some crimes he solved, not a P.I., but as a person who  "just sort of stumble[d] into things."

A man named McDounagh overhears him and is desperate for his help.  He lost his wallet to a couple of con artists in a  badger game.  The wallet contains a top-security I.D. card and if he doesn't get it back by 8 A.M. he will lose his job.

Caine immediately recognizes that  the badger game was not the usual variety.  Something odd is going on, something beyond a casual theft.  What follows is a long but fast investigation that ends in a trail of blood.

I enjoyed the adventure and hope Shane Caine stumbles into some more of them.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Snake, by Mike McHone

 "The Snake," by Mike McHone, in Mystery Magazine, February, 2023.

Certain themes or premises show up so often in any genre that they more or less make up a subgenre of their own.

Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen Mystery magazine, has said that the type of story she sees the most often is someone plotting to kill their spouse.  An overlapping story is the hitman. 

So how do you create something new and original in this category?  As Charles M. Schulz said, drawing a comic strip means doing the same thing every day, but doing it different.

McHone manages it.  

David is hiring a hitman to kill his wife.  Here's the opening:

"I want you to listen because this is the only time I 'm going to say it.  You don't think you can go through with this, you think you're going to crack up when the cops come, I walk.  Hear me?  And before you think to ask, no, you won't get your down payment back.  Period."

That's good writing.  Good dialog is personality and we know a lot about the hitman just from his voice.  This story is something like 80% dialog, more if you count David's inner monologue.

So, the writing keeps us reading, but do we get anywhere interesting?  Most definitely.  McHone has come up with more than one original twist on the classic premise.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Elvis Duty, by Matthew Wilson

 "Elvis Duty," by Matthew Wilson in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2023.

First of all: great title.  

This is Wilson's second appearance in this blog. It is also the second appearance by his main character, although this one takes place a decade before the first.  

Hans Burg is a police detective in Bad Kissington, West Germany, in 1959..  He is trying to solve the death of a doctor who appears to have died of a drug injection in a cheap hotel.  This problem is complicated by another duty he is assigned; helping to protect Elvis Presley, already a music sensation, who is serving his army tour in Germany.

The two cases come together in ways that are logical and sad.  A well-written story.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Grown-Ups Table, by Steve Hockensmith


"The Grown-Ups Table," by Steve Hockensmith, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2023.

This is my  first review of a story published in 2023.  That seems like a good opportunity to remind you that authors/editors/publishers are welcome to send me books or magazines for consideration, paper or electronic.  I promise to  read at least the start of every story sent and review the best I read each week.

Speaking of which, we have here the seventh appearance by my friend and fellow SluethSayer Steve Hockensmilth.   If I understand this essay correctly he is writing a novel in stories and this is the third chapter. 

All the stories relate to the closing of the Monkeyberry Toy Store in River City.  This particular tale shows us the Christmas dinner of the family that owned the store, and a classically dysfunctional family it is.

We have Uncle Dan who can't stop spouting the philosophy of his favorite right-wing radio host.  And there is Cryptique who, until we turned goth a few months ago, was named Bobby.  (He's drinking coffee because it is "the only available beverage that is black.")

But the main character is Tia who has just graduated to the Grown-Ups Table.  And she is carefully orchestrating the ditnner conversation to reveal who murdered the family matriarch, Gammy Bibi.   

For me the hardest part of writing a story is the plot - as opposed to premise, characters, dialog, etc  This is especially true in the type of story in which clues are revealed.  I admire how Tia/Hockensmith reveal the pieces of the puzzle until only one suspect is left.  Clever and satisfying.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday, by Sean McCluskey

"Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday," by Sean McCluskey,  in Mickey Finn, Volume 3, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2022.

Some stories are mostly about the telling, by which I mean a tale which might seem ordinary if presented in the usual manner takes on extra merit by being given an unusual structure.  As the title of this story implies, we have an example today.

In effect, we are going to find out how the adventure ends and then return to see what led up to it.  I am reminded of Richard Stark's novels about the thief Parker .  Stark's books  are usually told in four parts, three of which are seen from Parker's point of view.  Part Three shifts to another character, often ending with him being fatally surprised by Parker's reappearance.  Then in Part Four we find out what our protagonist had been up to.

Alon Schulman's daughter has been kidnapped by bad guys who want in on his smuggling operation.  (The way he learns of the kidnapping is one of the cleverest parts of the story.)  Schulman contacts a law firm who sends Crenshaw who they  describe as efficient and discreet.  He also turns out to be deadly as heck.

One reason this story is best told out of order is that several people turn out to have schemes of their own, and can't be trusted  But you will enjoy it and you can trust me on that.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Delivery, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

"The Delivery," by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, in Mickey Finn, Volume 3, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2022.

This is the fifth story by Welsh-Huggins to appear on this page, and the third about Mercury Carter.  Mr. Carter is a deliveryman but he doesn't work for Fed Ex.  He's the guy you call when someone else would like to get their hands on the package, and is willing to kill for it.

In that case the clients are an elderly couple and even before he reaches their house he has good reason to suspect the bad guys are waiting for him.  There's several of them and Carter is just one relatively small guy.  The kind people tend to underestimate.  

It's a good suspense story, with one flaw in my opinion: the author gives Carter a convenient ability so unlikely it leans toward super power territory.  I enjoyed it anyway.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Burying Oliver, by John M. Floyd

"Burying Oliver," by John M. Floyd, in Mickey Finn, Volume 3, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2022.

 This is the third appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer.

 When our story begins Bucky Harper is digging what seems to be a grave.  Sheriff Morton arrives and demands to know what he's doing.  Bucky says he is burying his dog Oliver.  The lawman doesn't recall any such dog and thinks Bucky might be doing something quite different, and even suggests a motive.

What follows is more or less the opposite of a twist plot. Instead things happen step by step with the inevitability of Greek tragedy.  And at the center of the tale is calm, phlegmatic, Bucky, just taking it all one shovel-load at a time.

Clever and satisfying.