Saturday, September 23, 2023

Never Enough, by Liza Cody


"Never Enough," by Liza Cody, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2023.

This is Liza Cody's third appearance in this column.

Among the rules decreed to new writers of fiction is this one: Create a likable protagonist.

Cody seems to have missed the memo. Sheena, the narrator of this tour-de-force novella, is a horrible person and I can't remember the last tine I rooted so hard for the main character of a tale to lose.

How bad is she?  Well, she never refers to her only child  as anything but "the annoying kid."  She has nothing but insults for her only two friends, one of whom she says "I don't like much."

But worse, when she decides that "the marriage was worn as thin as the hall carpet," she set her sights on an artist.  The fact that he had been in a  relationship for decades only made it more of a challenge. She describes the long process of joining up with the artist. 

Sheena is a scary, narcissistic, probably delusional, menace.  You wouldn't want to meet her, but she makes a fascinating protagonist.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Lavender Diamond, by Edward Sheehy


"Lavender Diamond," by Edward Sheehy in Crimeucopia: Boomshakalaking! Modern Crimes for Modern Times, Murderous Ink Press, 2023.

This is one of those mysterious books that came into existence without an editor.  And this is, I believe the first story from Crimeucopia to make my best of the week list.

What is the difference between comedy and farce?  Farce is the extreme end of the spectrum, clowning, no suspension of disbelief necessary.  Neil Simon's The Odd Couple is comedy, his Murder by Death is farce.

And what Sheehy offers us today is farce.  Here's how it starts:

I'm done writing first-person point-of-view stories.  My latest saga of a modern family stretching back several generations, voiced by 72 first-person characters including pet dogs and cats and a crow circling the narrative dispensing omniscient commentary, had been soundly rejected by dozens of publishers.

Can't say that I blame them.  But my first question: is this meta?  Is this Sheehy telling us something about his writing?

No, as it turns out this is his character, who is a writer.  But now it gets confusing, because our hero, still writing in first person, visits a library where he encounters...

A tall dude, six-feet-four with a shaved head, wore a gold chain over a tight turtleneck that showed off a thick musculature gained from years of pumping iron at Cumberland Correction on a narcotics charge.  Inside the joint the dude known as Craz had been the leader of a brutal and murderous prison gang.

Wait a minute!  How does our character know all this?  Have we wandered into third person omniscient narration?

Strap in.  It's going to be a wild ride.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Last Shot, by Dave Waskin


"The Last Shot," by Dave Waskin, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2023.

I don't usually notice a theme in issues of AHMM or EQMM but this one is  centered on  games.  Last week I wrote about a boxing story.  This week it's basketball.  There's also baseball, computer games, and I haven't finished it yet.

But let's get to Waskin's tale.

Connor is a college ball player but he knows he isn't good enough to make it  to the NBA.  That's just the tip of the iceberg of his problems: his father's in prison, his girlfriend seems to be out of his league, and he's having trouble with his classes.

And then the team's star player tries to drag him into a point-shaving scam with some very nasty gangsters.

But that's just the surface.  There are layers within layers here, wheels within wheels.I won't go further except to say Connor has enemies and allies you won't expect.  I enjoyed this one a lot.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Doing Business, by Mark Hannon


"Doing Business," by Mark Hannon, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2023.

Foreshadowing in a story can take many forms.  This tale starts deep into the action and then goes back to the beginning.  I don't usually think of that as a form of foreshadowing, but it feels like it here, partly because that first scene is just a few paragraphs long.

But there is another type of foreshadowing through the story, a kind of trouble coming at the protagonist.  It is obvious to the reader but it is not at all clear whether the hero, who is also the narrator, sees it.  And that makes for a lovely bit of suspense.

Kelvin is a boxer, about to go into the biggest match of his career.  His manager, sparring partner, and the inevitable hangers-on are all providing well-meaning contradictory advice. Ah, but is all the advice well-meaning?  And will Kelvin see the spider in the web?

A very nicely written first story.