Showing posts with label 2014. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2014. Show all posts

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Juba Good, by Vicki Delany

"Juba Good" by Vicki Delany, Rapid Reads, Orca Book Publishing, 2014.

A terrific novella about the thankless task of policing in one of the world's newest nations, South Sudan. 

Ray Robertson is a Canadian cop finishing a year as an advisor to the new police force of the city of Juba.  His routine is shattered by the serial killings of  several prostitutes.  Ray is a patrol sergeant with no experience as a detective, but he is the best they have.  Complicating matters: such modern techniques as DNA analysis are beyond the local labs, so if the bad guy is going to be caught it's going to take interrogations, fingertip searches of crime scenes, and plain old cop-thinking.

And the bad guy knows Ray is a threat, and is taking steps of his own...


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Hit-Man, by Roger Angle

"The Hit-Man," by Roger Angle, in Murder At The Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology, edited by Dana Cameron, Down & Out Books, 2014.

The good news is that Amanda's little shop in Venice, California is doing well.

The bad news is that some bad guys want to buy her building at a fraction of its worth.

The good news is that her father is a hit-man with an arsenal in his car trunk, all ready to wreak havoc on her enemies.

The bad news is that he's actually a retired hit-man, half-blind, limping, and his hearing isn't so good either.

The good news is that he remains determined to do anything necessary for his little girl.

And that's also the bad news...

Very funny story.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Little Big News: Black Orchid winner

Somehow I missed this news.  The Wolfe Pack announced the winner of the 2014 Black Orchid Novella Award.  K.G. McAbee's "Dyed to Death" will appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine later this year.  As a former BONA winner I want to add my congratulations.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Ice Cream Snatcher, by Bryan Paul Rouleau

"The Ice Cream Snatcher," by Bryan Paul Rouleau, in Thuglit, issue 13, 2014.

Thuglit has upped its game since the last time I looked in at it.  Lot of good stories here.

But lets talk about Mr. Rouleau's contribution.  I have said I am a sucker for stories in which a character is offered a chance at redemption, whether or not he takes it.  And that's what this tale is all about.

Sunrise thinks he's beyond such things.  All though he doesn't have the vocabulary to say it, he feels he's doomed, predestined to crime.  You see, someone told him you never recover from bad things that happened to you before you turn three, and really bad stuff happened to him.  And that, he figures, is why he keeps ending up in jail.

On this particular occasion he had his friend Pedro steal a Maserati.  They get away clean but they don't notice that there's somebody in the back seat.

A three-year-old boy. 

What I love about this story is that Sunrise interprets what happens so differently than the reader is likely to.  If there is doom here, I suppose that his attitude is it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Killing of General Patton, by William E. Chambers

"The Killing of General Patton," by William E. Chambers, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, issue 12, 2014.  

Burton Wells is a veteran of World War II, during part of which he served as an aid to General George Patton.  In current times he is haunted by nightmares about Patton's death in a jeep accident shortly after the war attended.  And he has reasons for those nightmares.

Things get worse when a young Ukrainian shows up at Wells' apartment.  He has a fat file of KGB secrets and a plan to get rich with them... 

Mr. Chambers has written an intriguing story.  I wonder if he was aiming for the MWA anthology of cold war stories?  It would have been a good fit there.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Their Little Secret, by Anita Page

"Their Little Secret," by Anita Page, in  Murder New York Style: Family Secrets, edited by Anita Page, Glenmere Press, 2014.

Full disclosure: The editor of this book sent me a free copy.  The editor, as it happens, is the author of my favorite story in the book.  So you have to decide whether I can be bought off with a free paperback.  (Hint: I generally refuse to sell my soul for less than a new hardcover.  Inflation.)

This anthology, by the way, was created by the New York/Tri State Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

The story is about a disfunctional family and focuses on fifteen-year-old Cassie, the only child.  Her parents don't get along so well.

Cassie, expert reader of moods and body language, figured they were minutes away from the Sunday  night fight.

Cassie's mother - drunken, mean, and blatantly unfaithful - has decided that she and her daughter are going off to Long Island for the summer, even though her husband can't get away.  Cassie ain't thrilled.  "I call this hell."

Things get bad.  Then they get worse.  The whole story is good but what makes it a winner for me is one sentence on the last page.  I wouldn't call it a twist ending, but it is a neat sting that gives us a new persective on what has gone on before. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Stoning Before Breakfast, by Azardokht Bahrami

"A Stoning Before Breakfast," by Azardokht Bahrami, in Tehran Noir, edited by Salar Abdoh, Akashic Books, 2014.

If I were picking the best story titles of 2014, a big chunk would come of this book.  "Fear is the Best Keeper of Secrets."  "A Woman's Geography is Sacred."  "The Shelf Life of Revenge."  "The Whitest Set of Teeth in Tehran."

And today's entry. 

The narrator is a prostitute.  Her friend Elika is being stoned to death for adultery - although the actual reasons are more complicated than that.  While this story makes no reference to the obvious Christian analog - "let he who is without sin..." - Elika's customers are in the crowd, very reluctant to participate.

This is not a standard crime story, more a slice-of-death piece, but powerfully written.

One of the women asks out loud why they haven't covered her face.  she insists that this is the law.  It's as if she's some kind of Minister of Stoning.

Kati insisted there was not a man on earth who would stay faithful for long.  Except maybe the prophet Adam, and that was only because in his particular sad case there wasn't a second option.

This boy's a natural.  They should bring him to every stoning within driving distance.

Another fine story in the collection is "Not Every Bullet is Meant for a King," (another great title) by Hossein Arkenar, a sort of textual Pulp Fiction about people who get involved in a bank robbery.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wehrkraftzersetzung, by Stephen D. Rogers

"Wehrkraftzersetzung," by Stephen D. Rogers, in Rogue Wave,: Best New England Crime Stories 2015,  edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, and Leslie Wheeler, Level Best Books, 2014.

We must begin with my annual complaint about the titles of the books in this series.  Since the book is published in 2014, clearly these aren't the anything stories of 2015.  And since they are published here for the first time, who the heck has decided they are the best of the year?

Having gotten that out of the way, let's discuss Mr. Rogers contribution.  This is a traditional detective story, in the sense that a murder is committed and solved, and I don't remember the last time one of those made my best-of list.  Not because I have a prejudice against them (as I admitted last week concerning fan fiction) but because they are a small percentage of the field these days.

One problem with the traditional formula in short story form is that it can fall into the category of eeny meeny murder mo,  in which the killer was either A, B, or C and you have no particular reason to care which of them did it because the characters are not much more than letters of the alphabet.

There is some of that in this story, but it is so unusual in its setting that Rogers easily overcomes that limit.  The story takes place on the Russian front during World War II.  Steiner, the narrator, is a German soldier.  In the middle of a very bad situation one of four new replacement soldiers has been killed - not by the enemy but by one of his comrades.  Steiner has apparently acquired a reputation for investigation and his commander orders him to figure out whodunit.  The search is short and cleverly done.  The conclusion is a logical extension of what happens in war.  A good, tough, story.
Best New England Crime Stories,” edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at: http://www.capecodonline.com/article/20141215/News/141219634#sthash.wsLDakNf.dpuf
Best New England Crime Stories,” edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at: http://www.capecodonline.com/article/20141215/News/141219634#sthash.wsLDakNf.dpuf
Best New England Crime Stories,” edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at: http://www.capecodonline.com/article/20141215/News/141219634#sthash.wsLDakNf.dpuf
edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at: http://www.capecodonline.com/article/20141215/News/141219634#sthash.wsLDakNf.dpuf
edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at: http://www.capecodonline.com/article/20141215/News/141219634#sthash.wsLDakNf.dpuf

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dr. Watson's Casebook, by Alan Grant

"Dr. Watson's Casebook," by Alan Grant, in In The Company of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Laurie R. King, and Leslie Klinger, Pegasus Crime, 2014.

I admit to a prejudice against fan fiction, the attempt to add a new work to some other author's corpus.  To make my best list such a story would pretty much have to be better than the original.

Pastiches, on the other hand, are a different animal. 

While there are different interpretations of the word, I define a pastiche as a work that uses a previous author's work but doesn't attempt to reproduce it.  A reboot, in other words.  Television's Sherlock and Elementary both qualify, but you don't have to switch to modern times to qualify.  My friend James Lincoln Warren's "Shikari," which imagines Dr. Watson as an agent of British Intelligence, is a perfect example.

This book contains examples of both categories, plus some modern stories with more or less reference to Doyle's character. 

My favorite is solidly in the pastiche camp, with tongue firmly in cheek.  Quite simply, Alan Grant has retold The Hound of the Baskervilles as it might have appeared through social media.

Dr. John Watson has shared a link to the London Meteorological Serivce - Likelihood of Severe Fog: 90%.
* The Hound likes this.
* Sherlock Holmes does not like this.

Very silly.  Very enjoyable.

My other favorite in this book was "By Any Other Name," by Michael Dirda, a clever example of the "Great Game," scholarship that assumes Holmes was real.  But, alas, it is not a crime story, so it does not qulaify here.





Sunday, December 7, 2014

Swirl, by Siljie Bekeng


"Swirl," by Siljie Bekeng, in Tel Aviv Noir, edited by Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron, Akashic Press, 2014.

Hmm.  You need to sue a spoiler warning if you reveal the plot, but do you need one if you reveal there is no plot? 

This story is so light on the plot side that it could pass for mainstream, but there is crime in it, and excellent writing, which is how it happened to end up being my best-of-the-week. 

When I read a story on my tablet I mark interesting passages that I might want to quote on this page.  In this story I marked seven which is a record, I think.  But we will get to that.

The narrator describes herself as an expat.  Her husband is an executive of an international corporation and they live on Rothschild Boulevard in downtown Tel Aviv.  She is isolated in many ways, including having no knowledge of Hebrew.  But worse, there are protests going on in the city and the corporation keeps urging employees to avoid a certain area -- the place where she lives. 

But that's not the scary part.  When she does go out she sometimes comes back to find evidence that someone has been in the apartment.  Apparently Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has a habit of leaving these little reminders for expats: we are watching you.  But our narrator suspects that this is more personal, that the watcher has taken a particular interest in her.

If this were a straight crime story you know how it would go, but as I said already, it isn't.  And the ending, well, it descends into mainstream coyness, but the rest is very good. And here are a few of those lines I highlighted:

Those single socks that never return from the washing machine?  Shin Bet has a storage room full of socks lifted from diplomats, lobbyists, and international aid workers.  On casual Fridays the Shin Bet people wear the mismatched socks themselves, for fun.

There is something embarrassing about listening in to someone else's social protest, like getting stuck at the table during someone else's family argument.

We are the kind of people they send in helicopters for.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Sweet Angel of Death, by Hilary Davidson

My Sweet Angel of Death, by Hilary Davidson, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, December 2014.

The narrator of this story has just arrived in South America on a one-way ticket.  We don't know her story at first, just that there is a tragedy in the background.  Was she victim, villain, or something else? 

While we ponder that we meet the other vacationers at the hacienda in rural Peru where she is staying.  One is a sleazy actor, on the make.  But the others may bear watching as well.  And our protagonist just wants to be left alone to fulfill a grim promise...

This is one of those stories that sneaks up on you.  I like a story in which a character has a second chance, as happens here, but I had no idea it would be my best of the week until I got to one sentence that made my jaw drop.  If I had come up with that bit of plot I would have spent at least a page on it; Davidson fires it off in ten well-chosen words.  Hammett and Stark would be proud.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Disco Donna, by Shari Randall

"Disco Donna," by Shari Randall, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley, Wildside Press, 2014.

Following last week's grim story of a disappearing child in Sweden, here is a much lighter story of a murdered teenager in Maryland.  Go figure.

The narrator and her two friends are high school girls preparing to dress as hippies for Halloween.  In a used clothing store they find a box of leftovers from Disco Donna, the town's legendary unsolved murder victim.  (Her former home had just been renovated.)  This leads to a second box that had been donated to the town library, and in that box they find a clue to the murderer.

The main pleasure here is the language of the teenagers.

People cracked.  That happened on Lifetime all the time, too.

We OMG'ed up the stairs.

She reverted to Korean, which she did only when she was completely unhinged or in gym class.

Fun stuff.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Day and Night My Keeper Be, by Malin Persson Giolito

"Day and Night My Keeper Be," by Malin Persson Giolito, in A Darker Shade of Sweden, edited by John-Henri Holmberg, Grove-Atlantic, 2014.

Sorry this review is late; I was at Bouchercon.

Now we are back in Sweden again, literarily speaking, for a much grimmer story than last week.  (But if the subject as I describe it might scare you away from reading the story, please read the SPOILER I put at the end of this review.)

Petra is a single mother and after a long December day is at the end of her rope, so she decides to take her children to the Christmas market.  And - boom - her four-year-old daughter disappears.  And the tension rockets.

She presses a few buttons, shakes it, but it's pointless.  Her daughter is gone and the phone won't ring and fear has to duck because now terror runs up her back, with sharp talons and pointed teeth.

Evetually the cops arrive and Officer Helena Svensson becomes the viewpoint character.  She is trying to lead the investigation, while judging whether Petra's reactions are normal -- and what's normal in a situation like this?  And she is keenly aware that in Stockholm in December a child who falls asleep outside could die of exposure.

At Bouchercon a panel was debating enthusiastically whether a crime story needed a surprise ending.  This tale doesn't have one.  It ends with the cop - and the reader - asking a set of plaintive questions.  Not at all a standrad crime story, but a doozy nonetheless.

And now: SPOILER ALERT: For some readers the death of a child is taboo, so: No childen die in this one.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

An alibi for Señor Banegas, by Magnus Montelius

"An alibi for Señor Banegas," by Magnus Montelius, in A Darker Shade of Sweden, edited by John-Henri Holmberg, Grove-Atlantic, 2014.

Funny story: when I heard about this book I went to a big ebook store to buy it.  The store was convinced I wanted to buy a different book with shades in the title.  Something about the color grey.  Eventually we worked that out.

The Swedes and I seem to have a disagreement about what constitutes a good ending.  Several times I would be enjoying a story, thinking, this could be the best of the week, and then it would end and I would think, don't call us, we'll call you.

That's not a problem with the story my Mr. Montelius.  It is also the lightest story I have come across so far in this intentionally dark collection.  That may have helped it in my evaluation.

Adam works for a company that wants a contract from the Honduran government, and so he is playing host to an official, Señor Banegas, who is visiting Stockholm in December.  The problem is, Banegas has fallen in love and wants to spend the week with his sweetheart, not his wife.  To arrange that, he has created an elaborate schedule, supposedly Adam's work, that fills all of his daylight hours.

But here's the catch.  Banegas' wife is so suspicious - God knows why! - that she might well check up on him.  So he wants Adam to tell his wife the same story, and stay away from home for most of Christmas week.

An outrageous demand, but there is a twist -  Adam is delighted to cooperate because his loathsome inlaws are visiting.  He can slip away, claiming he is visitng Banegas, and spend the day in a museum or coffee shop, far from the annoying relatives.

What could possibly go wrong?

The fact that the story begins with Adam talking to a defense attorney gives you a hint...



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Male Leary Comes Home, by Michael Guillebeau

"Male Leary Comes Home," by Michael Guillebeau, in The Anthology of Cozy Noir, edited by Andrew MacRae, Dark House Books, 2014.

First things first: I have a story of my own in this anthology, so that may affect my objectivity.

And let's talk about the theme of this anthology: what the heck is cozy noir?  Besides an oxymoron, I mean.

Cozy has been defined as "a mystery in which people get killed but no one gets hurt."  Noir, as I said a few weeks ago, is fiction in which a nobody tries to be somebody and gets stomped for it.  There isn't really much overlap between those two fields.  Most of the authors I the book (so far as I have read) have interpreted it more or less this way: Something violent and nasty happens in a relatively idyllic place.  Fair enough.

We are almost to this story, the second by Mr. Guillebeau that has made my column this year.  But first, we have to talk its subgenre.

There are two ways to build a piece of historical fiction: external and internal.  (They are not exclusive, by the way).  External means you bury yourself in the details of the time and place you are writing about, so that the reader is convinced that you know (even if you don't tell) who built every conestoga wagon, Byzantine chariot, or Ford Flivver your characters rush to the rescue in.

Internal means that you create characters who talk, speak (within reasonable limits) and most importantly, think like people of that time and place.  That's much harder than figuring out what an eighteenth-century policeman would have had for breakfast.  One reason it's hard is that, if we are honest, a lot of people in the past are going to have opinions we find unpleasant or unacceptable.  Do you really want your protagonist to talk about African-Americans like a real cop in the forties might have done?

And so you may get the feeling that under that Roman toga the hero is wearing modern Fruit-of-the-Looms.

The reason I like this story so much is that (while it is not offensive to modern eyes) it reads like the author grew up on Black Mask magazines, fought in World War II, and came back to write about what he found at home.

Which brings us to the Leary guy in the title.  He was baptized Robert T.  His birth certificate calls him Male.  His friends call him Mister.

Under any name, he was in the Navy during the War and then joined the merchant marine.  When the story opens he's back from sea and learns that the father of his girlfriend is having trouble with a gang boss.   Leary and a friendly bar owner get involved and - something violent and nasty happens in a relatively idyllic place..

The last few paragraphs, with Hammett-esque irony, illustrate the cozy-noir theme so well that they might have been written with this book in mind.  In any case, the story is a treat.




Sunday, October 26, 2014

Milk and Tea, by Linda Michelle Marquardt

"Milk and Tea," by Linda Michelle Marquardt, in Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Press, 2014.

We are back for a second helping of Prison Noir.  Last week was about a clever concept, skillfully executed.  This week is all about heightened language.  One advantage of using an e-reader is you can mark interesting passages, and in this story I highlighted too many to review here.

The story begins with a description of a suicide in the prison.  Then:  Damn!  I was jealous.

That's our first indication that the story is in first person.  The protagonist is a woman who killed her abusive partner.  (And I should say that the abuse is described pretty graphically; this is the most violent tale I have read so far in this book.)

Love of her children keeps her from reaching for death, although I crave it like iced tea on a summer day.  See what I mean about heightened language?

Here she deals with the ever-recurring question: why does a woman stay with a bad man?

Apparently, if you're an educated person, this can be held against you, as if there is some Abuse 101 course in college that prepares you to recognize the waring signs.  There isn't.


This is a powerful piece of writing.

Ms. Marquardt, like her protagonist, is incarcerated at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Michigan.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Message In The Breath Of Allah, by Ali F. Sareini

"A Message In The Breath Of Allah," by Ali F. Sareini, in Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Press, 2014.

My problem with thematic anthologies is that I usually like the theme better than most of the stories.  Take, for instance, this book which has a brilliant plan: invite current or former guests of the American correctional system to write fiction about it.  Great idea.  And some of the stories are fine.

But so far, most of the ones I have read aren't crime stories.

Yes, I know.  Prison implies crime.  But if your subject is surviving in a hostile environment, the fact that a felony got you into the place doesn't by itself make it a crime story.

And then there is the whole noir thing.  Merely being violent and gloomy does not qualify a piece of fiction as noir.  As I have said here, too often, a noir story ideally has three elements: 1) a nobody, who 2) tries to be somebody, and 3) gets stomped on by fate.  Why are those the elements of noir?  For the same reason a sonnet has fourteen lines.

Having whined sufficiently for one day, let me address this masterful story by Ali F. Sareini, who recently finished a term for second degree homicide.

Ali (the character, not the author, I hope), has been praying to Allah for decades to be released from prison.  A weaker spirit might feel a twinge of doubt after all that time, but Ali concludes that his prayers are simply  the wrong media to get his message across.

He decides he needs to send a messenger directly to Allah.  Fortunately, he is working as a helper in the part of the prison full of elderly and ill inmates. "I reverently called the unit 'the messengers' home.'" So all he has to do is explain clearly the plea he wants delivered and then, immediately, send the astonished courier off to the afterlife.

That's the creepiest motive for murder I have run across in a long time.

(By the way, should I have included a spoiler alert?  No, because this isn't the plot of the story: it's the premise.)

So, does this story have crime?  Check.  Does it have a nobody trying to be somebody?  I would say trying to negotiate directly with Allah counts.  As for whether the ending counts as noir, telling that would need a spoiler alert.

By the way, this is a story with its theme showing.  (The theme is what the story is about, other than the plot and character.  Some people like it visible and some don't.)  The theme, repeated in several contexts is this: Why do we take care of each other?

Much to ponder in this great story.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pit Stop, by Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay

"Pit Stop," by Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay, in Face-Off, edited by David Baldacci, Simon and Schuster, 2014. 

Still enjoying this collection of pairing-ups by members of the International Thriller Writers.  This week, my first encounter with  two authors.

Glen Garber is not your hero for a series of thrillers.  He's a builder, not a spy or criminologist.  And rather being a ladies' man, he's a widower with a ten-year-old daughter.  All he wants to do is bid on a farmhouse renovation when, well, he gets thrown into thriller territory.

Glen Garber had been given his coffee, but was still waiting for an order of chicken nuggets for his daughter, Kelly, when a woman raced into the restaurant screaming that some guy was on fire in the parking lot.

Well, that would get your attention.

Turns out the man on fire was just a distraction to help a bad guy get away from Sean Reilly, who is much more your standard thriller hero: the kind of FBI agent who doesn't let a little thing like a fresh concussion stop him from pursuing a maniac with a biological bomb.  And, did I mention he just kidnapped Glen Garber's daughter?

And that turns out to be a very bad idea, for the bad guy...
 


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Red Eye, by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly

"Red Eye," by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly, in Face-Off, edited by David Baldacci, Simon and Schuster, 2014.

The International Thriller Writers came up with a clever idea for an anthology: pair up top writers in stories in which their characters meet each other.  I'm enjoying it, so far.

My favorite at this point is the first story, in which Michael Connelly's L.A. cop Harry Bosch travels to Boston to get a DNA sample from a suspect in an old open case.  He "meets cute" as they say in Hollywood, with Dennis Lehane's private eye Patrick Kenzie, who suspects the same guy is involved in a current kidnapping.

So why aren't the Boston police leading the search for the missing teenager?  Kenzie explains: "She's the wrong color, the wrong caste, and there's enough plausible anecdotal shit swirling around her situation to make anyone question whether she was abducted or just walked off."

Lucky for her there are two men willing to break the rules to find her.