Sunday, April 30, 2023

Brick Fiend, by Joseph S. Walker

"Brick Fiend," by Joseph S. Walker, in Die Laughing: An Anthology of Humorous Mysteries, edited by Kerry Carter, Mystery Weekly Magazine, 2021.

I usually review stories in the year in which they are published, but I did not get my hands on this book (in which I have a story) until a few months ago. 

This story, by the way, marks Walker's seventh appearance in this blog. It reminds me of a New Yorker casual, since it begins with (and was no doubt inspired by) clippings from two articles.  They refer to a "massive LEGO theft ring," stealing sets of the popular toys to sell at a sizable markup.

The narrator is a brick fiend, shamefully addicted to LEGO games, "that sweet space where all that matters is the next brick and the rest of the world just gently detaches itself and drifts away."

When his pusher's supply dries up our hero gets desperate.  Worse, he is being pursued by a cop: "Partner of mine stepped on a loose pile of two-by-two bricks one of you animals left laying around." Very funny stuff.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Drinking in the Afternoon, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


"Drinking in the Afternoon," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2023.

This is the eighth appearance on this blog by Rusch.

Here is a proposition I would hate to have to defend: Maybe writing a compelling low-key story requires more skill than writing a fast-paced action tale.  I think bullets and mayhem may tend to keep me turning pages more than subtle psychological stuff.

On the other hand, come back next week and I may disagree with myself.

This is a low-key but compelling story that caught my attention immediately and never let go.  Here is how it starts:

When it was all over, he didn't count how many friends he had lost.  He just walked out of the hospital into the thin sunlight on that hot August afternoon, tossed his uniform in the nearest bin, and did not look back.  He left his car in the employee parking lot.

Good writing?  Oh yes.  And so many questions we want answers to.  When what was all over? Did his friends die or simply cease to be his friends?  What type of job did he have that required a uniform?  And why would he abandon his job, his car, and presumably the life he has been living?

On the side of avoiding spoilers I will fail to answer these questions but I will say that Quinn (like everything else going forward, his name is brand new and almost randomly chosen) is not a criminal and is not on the run from anything except bad memories.

He winds up in the southwest, a thousand miles from his past, and starts to build a new life, totally different from the one he left.  Then there is the possibility of a crime, and a puzzle that needs solving.  And oddly enough, the solution may connect to the choice he made...


Saturday, April 15, 2023

Of Average Intelligence, by O'Neil De Noux

 "Of Average Intelligence," by O'Neil De Noux, in Black Cat Weekly, #85.

This is the second appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer. De Noux is a retired police officer so it is not surprising that many of his stories feature cops.  As does this.

Let's look at the opening:

"No offense, Office Kintyre.  But I'm smarter than you."

Have you already taken offense?  I certainly have.  Attorney Matt Glick is the speaker and he has recently killed his wife.  The cops have a ton of circumstantial evidence against him and he has a ready explanation for every bit of it.

Blood in the bathtub?  She cut her hand on an X-acto knife.  Hair in the trunk of his car?  She borrowed it and had to change a tire. And so on.  

In fact the only thing Glick doesn't have  a ready work-around for is his own smug superiority, and you know darn well that that is what is going to bring him down.  Which it does. 

You will enjoy the process.


Monday, April 10, 2023

The Boys Were Seen, by Patrick Whitehurst

 "The Boys Were Seen," by Patrick Whitehurst, in Trouble in Tucson, edited by Eva Eldridge, 2023,

I have written here before about the opportunities in tropes (or if you prefer, cliches) of our field.  The private eye being visited in his office by the mysterious femme fatale.  The nice suburbanite who wants to kill a spouse.  Etc.

There are obvious dangers here. Not another story about a crook being double-crossed by his partners!

But there are wonderful opportunities as well, simply because the reader thinks they know what is coming.  If you can subvert that, you may have something good.

Terry Carson is a hit man for Alan, a crime boss.  Alan calls him in because some of his thugs were seen committing a crime and now they are about to kill the witness.  Carson is to be the backup in case anything goes wrong.  But it turns out he knows the witness, quite well...

Well, there's your cliche.  Bad guy has to decide what to do when his job conflicts with his personal life.  We've all seen that one before.

But Whitehurst takes it in an unexpected direction.  Quite a treat.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Steer Clear, by Mark Thielman

 "Steer Clear," by Mark Thielman, in Reckless in Texas: Metroplex Mysteries, Volume 2, edited by Barb Goffman, North Dallas Chapter of Sisters in Crime, 2023.

This is the tenth appearance in this space by my fellow SleuthSayer, Mark Thielman, which I believe makes him the current record-holder.

Any story that makes me laugh out loud several times has a good chance of making this list. And this story is even a locked room mystery.  

Okay, a locked barn mystery.

 Detective Alpert of the Fort Worth Police has been assigned to look into the disappearance of a steer.  Yes, it's a famous piece fo beef, but does it really deserve the attention of a Major Case Division cop?

Maybe it wouldn't except that the night before Alpert left a party with the ex-wife of his boss.  "[H]e should have ignored those whispers emerging from his glass of Jim Beam.  Jim had made sure he had noticed Brittney's leather pants..."  

Funny story with a satisfying solution.