Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Four-Nine Profile, by Richard Helms

 "The Four-Nine Profile," by Richard Helms, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2024.

 This is the eleventh appearance in this blog by Richard Helms.

Write what you know; so the experts tell us.  Helms is following that advice here. He used to be a forensic psychologist, like his protagonist.

Helms makes an interesting choice for opening the story: Nathan Lake is interviewing a man who has pled guilty to sexual assault but denies he has done it. This turns out to be unrelated to the main plot, but we learn a lot about Lake's character, job and methods.  And the story does circle back to one part of that interview.

But after we see Lake in his milieu he is rudely forced out of it.  A serial rapist has turned to murder and the police chief wants him to analyze the unknown assailant before he strikes again.  Lake protests that he has no training as a profiler, could even lose his license for trying, but he is left with no choice.  Adding to the pressure, he is forced to work with a cop he doesn't trust.

A nice and suspenseful procedural.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

I Remember it Well, by Wayne J. Gardiner

 "I Remember it Well," by Wayne J. Gardiner, in Black Cat Weekly, #134, 2024.

 This is the third story by Gardiner to get reviewed here.

It may be related to the aging of us baby-boomers but I have detected an increase over the last decade of stories about people with memory problems.   Seems like a theme better fit for shorts than novels, I think.

Charlie Hackett is an aging ex-cop and his memory has been failing for a while - in fact that's why he became an ex-cop.  At a funeral for a fellow veteran he spots a woman a decade younger and he is certain he knows her from somewhere.

Joanne Harner is sure she knows him and doesn't suspect that he can't recall the details of their previous encounter - one that was life-changing for her. 

Charlie, and the reader, slowly piece together his connection to Harner, and then Charlie -- for the second time -- has a decision to make.

A nice story about a man with interesting dilemmas.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

No One Will Believe You, by Paul Ryan O'Connor


"No One Will Believe You," by Paul Ryan O'Connor, in Mystery Magazine, 2024.

Ayden is not a very lucky guy.  He's  a dishwasher at a restaurant in the South Bronx and shares an apartment with four people (since he provides the least rent money, he gets the couch).

But his troubles really begin when he gets mugged at gun point by the most famous actor in the world, Ted Pace.  (You won't have any trouble guessing who O'Connor was thinking of when he created this character.) 

“You can’t get away with this,” Ayden said . “You’re a movie star . I know who you are . Everyone knows who you are .”

“No one will believe you,” Ted Pace said...

And of course, he's right.  Telling the cops he was mugged by a movie star only gets Ayden in deep trouble.  Understandably, he finds it hard to let bygones be bygones, especially when something in his very empty stolen wallet turns out to be valuable.

Can our risk-averse hero find a way to beat the risk-loving celebrity?  With a little bit of luck in this very clever story, he will.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

What is Your... by Mat Coward


"What is Your..." by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January/February 2024.

This is the eighth story by Coward to appear in this blog.

Sometimes a writer faces the challenge of finding something new in a formula.  But sometimes there is no formula and the writer is producing something sui generis, belonging to no category. Not for the first time, Coward has done the latter.

Our protagonist is an actor, not as young or successful as he would like to be, but with enough fame that he is occasional asked to fill out the type of questionnaires  that show up in popular magazines.  What is your chief failing?  Where are you at your happiest?

He is tired of filling them out and says he is always tempted to answer What is your guilty pleasure? with "Child molestation and fox hunting."

This story takes the form of such a questionnaire and his dry comments on each query and the answers he would like to give.

Is there a crime involved?  Oh yes, and the nature will slowly reveal itself in this charming, witty, tale.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Who Wants to Kill Someone? by Michael Mallory


"Who Wants to Kill Someone?" by Michael Mallory, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2024. 

This is the sixth appearance in this blog by my friend Michael Mallory. He is also an actor and, as is often the case, his show biz experience shows in this story.  

Last year I wrote here about "if this goes on" stories, the subgenre of science fiction which looks at a current trend and considers where it might be leading.  In this case the trend is reality TV.  

Bruce Locklear was a casting director until a disastrous mistake got him blackballed from the business.  In  desperation he signs up for a TV show called Who Wants to Kill Someone?  The cast is flown to a Central American country and one member is assigned the role of murderer and is then actually expected to kill a fellow performer.  Not surprisingly, the show has been a huge hit.

Not surprisingly, fiction being what it is, Bruce is given the role of murderer.  And that's when things get complicated because not everyone is who they appear to be and the actual plot of the show is different than it seems - but no less dangerous.  

A clever concept and a fun, suspenseful story.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Come On Eileen, by Joseph S. Walker

 "Come On Eileen," by Joseph S. Walker, in (I Just) Died in Your Arms, edited by J. Alan Hartman, White City Press, 2024.

Minor correction made.  My apologies.

This week continues my embarrassing fanboy status with my friend  Joseph S. Walker, since this is his twelfth appearance here.

 Liam Walsh grew up in a neighborhood called Little Dublin, ruled over by Patrick Flynn.  His father worked for Flynn, and he adored Flynn's daughter, Eileen.

Then, at a off-to-college party for Eileen, Flynn shot Liam's parents, killing his mother and crippling his father.  Obviously Liam's life is changed forever. I won't reveal the many layers of what happens next. It's a terrific and suspenseful story.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Mall Cop Christmas Parade, by Joslyn Chase

 "Mall Cop Christmas Parade," by Joslyn Chase, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February  2024.

'Tis the merry season in California and Bradford Hines has a ticket to get back to his family in Maryland.  But he's in a busy mall and before he can grab that plane he wants to grab a wallet out of a man's jacket.  

That part's easy, but Brad is not as  smooth a pickpocket as he thinks and a female security guard catches him in the act.  But is she really a security guard? 

This is a wonderfully convuluted story full of wrong turns, twists, and back flips. I enjoyed it a lot.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Mexican Radio, by Pete Barnstrom

 "Mexican Radio," by Pete Barnstrom, in Mystery Magazine, February 2024.

I have to start by offering my thanks to Mystery Magazine.  When they told me my story would be on the cover they offered to send me an e-copy.  I didnt ask for one since I already had an e-subscription, if that's a word.  But after I read the issue and was ready to write this review, through the miracle of technology and no doubt my own carelessness, the magazine had e-vanished.  I wrote to the publishers and in less than two hours, on a Sunday afternoon, no less, I had the copy I needed. Fast work!

Now, onto the story.

Marteens is a Los Angeles private eye in the 1950s.  He has flown to Michigan to meet a possible client, a disc jockey named Herb Campuss.  Herb works for (or possibly owns) one of those stations that can be heard virtually coast to coast.  It broadcasts from Mexico where stations are allowed a slightly louder signal.

Herb wants Marteens to drive to El Paso and give an envelope apparently full of cash to the love of his life, who  happens to be married to another man, a man who also may own the radio station.  Is this about love?  Or money? Or are there other motives involved?

Barnstrom has weaved a very tangled web and you will enjoy getting tangled in it. 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Destroyer of Worlds, by dbschlosser


"Destroyer of Worlds," by dbschlosser, in Black Cat Weekly, 127.

Tanner is a homicide cop with an enviable record of clearing cases.  Unfortunately a lot of that is due to his partner.  Not his official partner, but the unofficial one who has embedded herself in his life.  Her name is Vishnu or, if you prefer, Death.

Yes, Death, in the form of a beautiful woman, shows up every time Tanner starts on a case.  Why? She won't explain.  In fact, she says if she told him too much it would mean the end.  The end as in, well, notice the title of the story.

I feel like I may be making this sound comic.  It isn't.  The story is serious and the explanation of what's going on is more logical, less fantastical than you might expect.  I enjoyed it a lot.   

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Better Than A Dating App, by V.S. Kemanis

 "Better Than A Dating App," by V.S. Kemanis, in Mystery Magazine, February 2024.

Sum up a mystery story in one word: Suspenseful. Intriguing.  Amusing. Outrageous. 

In this case the word is: charming.

Benny is a pickpocket, and probably has other nefarious habits as well.  He has decided to move to New York and boards a plane, where he encounters a woman who, well, let's say they share certain interests.  Could this be the start of a beautiful if criminous relationship?

It's not my job to suggest titles to authors but... As I read this story I had somehow decided that the title of this one was just plain "Dating App."  I actually liked that more.

I enjoyed the gamesmanship very much.


Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Best of 2023


Over at SleuthSayers today I review the best short mysteries of the year, all selected from the ones I reviewed here.  

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Best Justice Money Can Buy, by C.C. Finlay

"The Best Justice Money Can Buy," by C.C. Finlay, in The Reinvented Detective, edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek, Caezik SF and Fantasy, 2023. 

Robert A. Heinlein wrote a short story called "If This Goes On---" That title sums up a subgenre of science fiction.  Here is a trend I see in present day society; what if it continues to its logical conclusion?

We already have for-profit prisons.  Some people want to replace most public institutions with private ones.  So, Finlay asks, what if the whole justice system was for-profit?

Crimes would not be investigated unless the victims, or someone else, pay for the police time.  Criminals could shell out dough to get out of prison.  (Well, today we call that hiring a good lawyer, don't we?)  And so on.

Finlay doesn't lecture us.  In the best tradition of the field he shows, not tells.  Detective Chung is not a fan of the for-profit system but today it works in her favor, because she eye-witnessed the son of the wealthiest woman in the country committing a hit and run.  And this gives her leverage, if she can figure out how to use it...


Sunday, January 21, 2024

Hitman Walked Into A Romance, by Roberta Gibson

"Hitman Walked Into A Romance," by Roberta Gibson, in SoWest: Wrong Turn, DS Publishing, 2023.

This is apparently one of those anthologies that came into being miraculously without an editor. At least none is credited.

Some stories from the criminal's point of view are 90% planning and 10% crime.  This is one of the opposite type: 10% crime and 90% getaway. It's not enough to do the nefarious deed; you have to escape afterwards.  See Jim Thompson's great novel The Getaway, for instance.

And that's Ronnie Maul's dilemma. He is, as the title promises, a professional assassin. He quickly disposes of his target, but the cops arrive before he can make his exit.  His only option for a hiding place is a bookstore.  And the only way he can stay in there is by claiming to be part of a book club discussing a romance novel.

Not surprisingly he is the only man in the group.  Not surprisingly the other members take quite an interest in the newcomer.

I guessed where this was going but I had good time getting there. Surely the most charming hitman story I have read in quite a while.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Permanent Lent, by Peter Spiegelman

 "Permanent Lent," by Peter Spiegelman, in Brutal and Strange: Stories Inspired by the Songs of Elvis Costello, edited by Jim Fusilli, Down and Out Books, 2023.

The narrator is the driver and mechanic for a wealthy couple  he refers to sardonically as His Lordship and Her Ladyship.  The (new trophy) wife is a particular pain in the posterior. The teenage kids hate her, with good reason.  The narrator hates her with even more reason.

His efforts to help the daughter only make things worse.  Can he save the situation?  

A lot of unexpected twists in this one.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Freezer Burn by April Kelly

 "Freezer Burn," by April Kelly, in Mystery Magazine, January 2024.

This is the second appearance in my reviews by April Kelly.

Kelly writes funny.  In this case she writes funny about that familiar topic, the incompetent criminal.  Two of them, in fact: Lyle and Pooter Floyd.  These brothers are desperate for money.

Now you may be asking yourself why they didn’t just get jobs, but that would be a dead giveaway you aren’t from around here. Floyds didn’t get jobs; they got married. Once upon a time, their father snagged himself a homely teacher rapidly moving past her sell-by date, walked her down the aisle, and for the next twenty-five years really tested the “for poorer” part of her vows...

Lacking the charm to convince an employable woman to join the family, the brothers have decided to make a living robbing storage units.

"Lyle and Pooter scored enough from their bi-weekly foraging to keep beer in the fridge and porn on the cable," but their ambitions are soon raised to a higher level.

Ah, hubris will come for  us all. A very funny story.

Monday, January 1, 2024

God's Way of Hiding in the Shadows, by Thomas Trang

"God's Way of Hiding in the Shadows," by Thomas Trang, in The One Percent: Tales of the Super Wealthy and Depraved, edited by Roger Nokes, Rock and a Hard Place Press, 2023.

One of the contributing authors send me a free e-copy of this book.

Bannerman is a hit man but his assignment this time is different: figure out which of several men is the biological father of his client,  Luisa Rovayo, a rising superstar in the media business.  Sounds pretty simple but as soon as he establishes the DNA connection for Daddy "the security guards tried to kill him with a wire garrotte."

Turns out Rovayo doesn't want anyone knowing about her paternity and she's willing to kill a lot of people to kill her secret.  

A nice action tale that made my best-of-the-week list because of its clever ending.