Sunday, October 29, 2023

Scariest. Story. Ever, by Richard Van Camp

 "Scariest. Story. Ever," by Richard Van Camp, in Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology, edited by Shane Hawk, and Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr., Random House, 2023.

The first four paragraphs of what I wrote last week apply again to this one.

So: What's a mystery? Most of the world goes by Otto Penzler's definition: A mystery is a story in which crime or the threat of crime is a major element.  It's useful, although a little broad.  (It includes Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and The Brothers Karamazov, for example.) 

When I first read Van Camp's piece I thought: This is a really fine tale.  Too bad it isn't a crime story, because if it was, it would be my choice for the week.

But then I thought about it some more (and this is definitely a story you are likely to think about) and concluded, heck yes, it is a crime story.  Just not one that fits into any of the familiar subgenres. So here we are.

The narrator has just made it to the finals of the Scariest. Story. Ever contest using a story he learned from a village elder.  Tomorrow he will be flown to Yellowknife for the finals.  But he needs to find an even better story to tell, so he goes to another elder, his Uncle Mike. and tries to convince him to tell him a properly horrifying tale.

And Mike obliges.  Sort of.  

How does crime get involved?  And why is there so much to think about?  You'll probably want to read the story twice to sort it all out.  It's worth it.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

White Hills, by Rebecca Roanhorse

"White Hills," by Rebecca Roanhorse, in Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology, edited by Shane Hawk, and Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr., Random House, 2023.

Bear with me.  I have a lot to say before I get to the story today.

Let's start with the subtitle of the book.  Since reading Adam Smyer's book I have tried to avoid using the word "dark" except to mean a level of light or color. Not my place to tell people of color what words to use, but it was the first thing I noticed.

Second, I figured "dark fiction" probably meant crime here, but in this book it generally  means horror.  Horror is not my thing and writing about it is not my mandate here. But I have been working my way through the book, looking for relevant material that rang my chimes.

Third, I did not technically read this book at all. I have an audiobook version so, for the first time in my memory, I am reviewing stories I listened to.  That just means I am less likely to quote passages.

Now, onto the story, which is terrific.  Here is how it starts:

White Hills is everything Marissa ever wanted, right down to the welcome sign by the community mail drop reminding everyone of the HOA rules. Some people don't like HOAs, but Marissa loves them. 

Let's hear some more about our protagonist.

Marissa has many accomplishments. Her body, for one. Tucked and toned and filled to perfection by the best professional surgeons, trainers, and estheticians Houston has to offer. 

So Marissa is perhaps a bit shallow and self-satisfied with  her wealthy new husband.  As the story goes on we watch her rattling off current cliches and mantras with her life.  But does she really fit in in White Hills?

One night she springs two surprises on her husband.  The one she is excited about: she's pregnant.  The one she didn't give a thought to before mentioning: she's part Native American.  And suddenly things change.

You may assume that this is a story about a husband turning violent.  It's not.  It isn't supernatural either.  If there is horror here it is strictly human, and that's the way I like it.


Sunday, October 15, 2023

Shamu, World's Greatest Detective, by Richie Narvaez


"Shamu, World's Greatest Detective," by Richie Narvaez, in Killin' Time in San Diego, edited by Holly West, Down and Out Books, 2023.

Well, you can't argue about truth in advertising.  The title tells you exactly what this story is about.  Shamu is an orca at SeaWorld (the eighteenth to bear that name) and thanks to new technology she is able to communicate with people.  Turns out she is, as the title says, a brilliant detective.  The story is narrated by her assistant, Angie Gomez.

A billionaire who owns a baseball team wants to hire Shamu to find a missing ballplayer.  Shamu turns him down because, she says, his moustache "reminded me of a sea lion with whom I once shared billing.  An unapologetic ham." But when the ballplayer is murdered and his sister comes looking for help, Shamu takes on the case.

One of the pleasures of this story is Shamu's dialog.  Here she is talking to her police nemesis: "I can solve the case in time for you to get home and rest your minuscule human brain." 

I can't help wondering whether this story was an entry for the Black Orchid Novella Award.  It has several winks to Rex Stout fans.  (Shamu's use of the word "flummery, for example.) And it cleverly forces the protagonist to be an "armchair" detective.  Shamu ain't going to the scene of the crime.

Clever and fun.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Dead Even, by J.R. Sanders


"Dead Even," by J.R. Sanders, in Killin' Time in San Diego, edited by Holly West, Down and Out Books, 2023.

A nice private eye story. I can't quite figure out when it takes place, except that Hollywood is swarming with B-movie cowboys. One of them is a friend of our narrator, P.I. Nate Ross, and that friend has a friend and business partner named (all right, nicknamed) Pooter.  Pooter has two things of great interest: a ton of money and a girlfriend named Cassie Plumm.

Nate, "being both by profession and disposition  [a] suspicious guy" thought she might be more interested in Pooter's bankroll than his charming personality.  Then Cassie comes to him for his professional help.  A former boyfriend is threatening her and she wants Nate to eliminate him.  Nate doesn't specialize in the kind of elimination she is hoping for but he is willing to look into the matter.

I won't go into detail about what happens but it hits a lot of the classic hardboiled dick motifs.  And it's a fun read.

Monday, October 2, 2023

The Little Library Thief, by Scott William Carter


"The Little Library Thief," by Scott William Carter, in Mystery, Crime and Mayhem, Issue 15: Library Cases, 2023.

Gavin's retirement is not going the way he hoped.  His beloved wife died just after they moved into their new home.  He isn't functioning well, just going through the motions, and some of those motions involve putting up in his yard the little library Stacey had purchased. A teacher, she had acquired heaps of children's books and wanted to give them away.

Dutifully, Gavin sets up the little library and stocks it with books.  But someone keeps emptying it, stealing all the contents.  Is it Fay, the nice divorcee who has taken an interest in him? Is it some local no-good?  Maybe a kid?

This is a well-written story I enjoyed.  I have to say I wasn't crazy about the ending.  Could have used a little foreshadowing, in my opinion.