Monday, June 26, 2023

Concrete Dog, by Stephen Ross

"Concrete Dog," by Stephen Ross, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2023.

This is the third appearance in my column by Stephen Ross, my fellow SleuthSayer. 

It is 1940 in New Zealand (Ross's home turf.)

Frank has enlisted in the army and is about to go off to the war.  But the day before he sails he is considering  something really dangerous: doing a favor for his crooked brother.

Brother offers him fifty pounds to steal concrete dog from a rich man's house.  Brother has health problems and  can't possibly lift the beast, hence the request/offer.  Why is the stone pooch worth that kind of money?  Well, brother offers an explanation which doesn't hold a lot of water.  Of course, there is more going on...

But Frank and his wife really need the money.

Things go in a surprising and satisfactory direction.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Wrong Road to Nashville, by Joseph S. Walker

"Wrong Road to Nashville," by Joseph S. Walker, in
Weren't Another Other Way to Be: Outlaw Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Waylon Jennings, edited by Alex Cizak, Gutter Books, 2023.

Walker hasn't appeared on this page since, um, last month. This is his ninth story to make my best-of-the-week list.  Very different from the last.

Our hero is Caleb, a school custodian, built like a pro wrestler.  His goal is to be a Nashville singer-songwriter and it looks like he may have the talent for it.

But first he has a little problem to solve.  His new girlfriend has been kidnapped by bad guys who want him to drive a load of contraband to... Nashville.  This wasn't the way he planned to get there, but you do what you have to do.

 A nice story of steadily building suspense.



Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Good Neighbor, by Jeff Abbott


"The Good Neighbor," by Jeff Abbott, in Austin Noir, edited by Hopeton Hay, Scott Montgomery, and Molly Odintz, Akashic Books, 2023.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

We're in suburbia where good local schools make a house worth keeping forever, and neighbors have known each other for decades.

Bill dies of a heart attack. leaving behind his much-younger trophy wife Dierdre and resentful college-age son Peyton.  This is not a happy home.

Viv, their neighbor, also a widow, loves the whole family.  The conflict she sees across the cul-de-sac makes her very uncomfortable. Then she discovers something that makes her suspicious and even more uncomfortable. 

The suspense builds nicely as Viv tries to figure out what she can and should do.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

A Flash of Headlights, by Ken Linn

"A Flash of Headlights," by Ken Linn, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2023.

This one is right in my wheelhouse, as they say.   I am drawn to stories about people who screw up and then seek redemption, successfully or not.  

Brody does yard maintenance.  A year earlier he was charged with a DUI.  He has been sober ever since, just barely.

But that's not the issue for which he seeks redemption.

He makes a casual spur-of-the-moment decision to do what he considers a friendly gesture.  This leads to a tragedy - a tragedy which affects people he cares about.  

Many years ago I wrote here: "There is a streak of puritanism running through some noir literature.  Take one step off the straight-and-narrow and you are inevitably doomed.  Things keep getting worse and every attempt you make to correct your path only drags you inexorably toward the pit."

This story doesn't have the feel of noir, but it does have that sense. Every move Brody can make feels like it will make his situation worse.

If there is a moral in this fine story it is this: To achieve your goal you first need to figure out what your goal really is.