Showing posts with label 2017. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2017. Show all posts

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Last Evil, by David Vardeman

"The Last Evil," by David Vardeman, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, November 2017.

Hooboy.  What to say about this week's entry?  It reminded me of Shirley Jackson, John Collier, maybe some shadowy corners of Flannery O'Connor and even James Thurber.  In other words, we are in the strange part of town.

Our protagonist is Mrs. Box, who believes that suffering is good for the soul.  Hence she wears flannel lined with canvas, because parochial school taught her "the value of chafing."

She also believed in doing "a lot of good in the world. But there  was another tinier but just as important point, and that was to get the leap on people.  In her own life she felt a lack of people leaping out at her.  In the past forty days and forty nights, not one soul, nothing, had given her a good jolt.  Mr. Box certainly had not."

Which is why she keeps a live tarantula in her purse, which she pulls out to shock people.  As a good deed.  Or does she do that? 

One thing she does do is meet a man on a train who has something in his briefcase even more frightening than a live tarantula.  Or does he? 

Enough. Read the thing and find out.  It's worth the trip.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Precision Thinking, by Jim Fusilli

"Precision Thinking," by Jim Fusilli, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2017.

Last week I wrote about a story that felt like it belonged in Black Mask Magazine.  By coincidence I am now covering a story that appears in the Black Mask department of Ellery Queen.  Go figure.

World War II has just started and the German owner of Delmenhorst Flooring has just died.  The business is in Narrows Gate, a fictional town which strongly resembles Hoboken, NJ.  The Farcolini family decide to take over the flooring  business, replacing the German employees  with "locals, mostly Sicilians and Italians who couldn't spell linoleum on a bet but had a genius for theft."

It's a cliche, I suppose, that gangsters take a successful business and turn it crooked, even though it was making good money on the up and up, because they can't imagine not doing it crooked.  See the fable of the scorpion and the frog.

But in this case there is a low-level mobster who discovers he likes laying linoleum, and he's good at it.  Can he find a way to keep the crooks from ruining a good thing?

Fusilli captures the tough guy tone perfectly, in a fun tale.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"The Black Hand," by Peter W.J. Hayes

"The Black Hand," by Peter W.J. Hayes, in  Malice Domestic: Murder Most Historical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly, Simmons.

It seems like every year or so I have to chide some editors who don't know what a noir story is supposed to be.  Today I feel like I have the same problem in reverse. Sort of.

I am not sure of the definition of a "Malice Domestic" story, but I know this one is not what I expected, or what the rest of the anthology (so far) led me to anticipate.  Hayes' story is not cozy.  It would, on the other hand, would feel quite cozy between the pages of Black Mask, circa 1928, which is around the time it is set.

Brothers Jake and David fought over a girl named Bridgid and Jake left Pittsburgh for logging work in the midwest.  David became a very successful mobster, until his body shows up in a river.

The story begins with Jake coming home to try to discover how his brother died and who is responsible.  The first thing he learns is that Bridgid was murdered a few weeks before, and a lot of people think David killed her.  Is there a connection between the deaths?  Can Jake stay alive long enough to find out?

This is an excellent salute to a classic subgenre of pulp fiction.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

PX Christmas, by Martin Limón

"PX Christmas," by Martin Limón, in The Usual Santas,  Soho Crime, 2017.

Martin Limón writes exclusively about Asia and most of his novels and stories are set in South Korea in some vague part of the 1970s.  His heroes, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, are investigators for the CID of the American Eighth Army.  

This story involves two events that come together.  The Army decides that suicides brought on by holiday depression are bad publicity so the cops are assigned to collect soldiers suspected of being depressed and making sure they are cared for. 

"They'll be locked up," Ernie said.
Riley glared at him.  "Not locked up.  They'll be provided extra care.  And extra training."

And not allowed to leave until after the holidays.

Meanwhile the CID has also been ordered to crack down on the black market.  Specifically Korean wives of GIs using their PX privileges to pick up subsidized goods which they can then sell.  Sueño thinks this campaign has less to do with saving tax dollars and more to do with officers not wanting to see Korean women on the base.

It was my job, and Ernie's to arrest these women for black marketing and thus keep the world safe for Colonels and their wives to be able to buy all the Tang and Spam and Pop Tarts their little hearts desired.

Neither of these cases may sound like they will result in riots, encounters with a man named Mr. Kill, and tying someone to a railroad track, but our heroes have a way of following a trail wherever it leads.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Making It, by Michael Wiley

"Making It," by Michael Wiley, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.

Last week I had the privilege of being on a panel at Bouchercon in Toronto.  One of the questions was: How do you find new authors to read?  I responded that every new short story is an author auditioning to be your latest favorite.  And Michael Wiley certainly did a job here.  I will definitely try one of his books.

Let's see how he starts:

When Skylar Ricks carjacked Gerald Johannson's Ford Taurus on a February morning in Chicago, climbing into the passenger seat at the corner of Granville and Clark, his hand wrapped neatly around a .44 Smith & Wesson, an unlighted Marlboro between his lips, Gerald said, "Oh, now you're in trouble."

Well, that took an unexpected turn, didn't it?  As the story goes on we will learn the reason for Skylar's rash act and a good deal about the personality of Gerald.  He is an older man, missing his late lover, and remarkably imperturbable.  Even when being carjacked.

Gerald has some definite views on life.  Later in the story he offers another character some, well, I won't call it wisdom.  Advice.

"When a man cares enough about you to shoot your boyfriend, you owe him kindness."

Somewhat later Gerald is being pursued on the highway by some bad guys.  He manages to get behind them and, rather than escaping, he decides to chase them.  "To break their spirit."

I don't know what he does to their spirit, but he certainly raises mine considerably.  It seems unlikely that there will be more stories about Gerald but I would certainly like to read one. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017

e-Golem, by S.J. Rozan

"e-Golem," by S.J. Rozan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.

This is the fourth appearance here by my old pal S.J. Rozan, and a doozy of a tale she has chosen to tell.

Judah Loew runs a used bookstore on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.  Most similar stores have been killed by the Internet but Loew's specialties - including Judaica and mythology - have kept him holding on.  Not much longer, alas.

But then a newly arrived book claims to offer a spell for creating a golem , the clay humunculus that a medieval rabbi, also named Judah Loew, built out of dust to save the Jews of Warsaw.  Of course, the results back in the middle ages were disastrous.

Can our modern Loew have better luck?  Can a medieval invention cope with the Internet?  Just remember that bookstore dust is special dust so you can't expect an ordinary golem.  If such a thing exists...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Pie to Die For, by Meg Opperman

"A Pie to Die For," by Meg Opperman, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue 1.

I have been asked recently about my policy so it may be time to repeat this.  Most of the publications I review I either purchase or borrow from libraries.  You can send me a free copy of an anthology, collection, or magazine if you want, as long as it is published this year.  I promise to start reading each story.  If it is the best I read that week I will review it here.

First of all, congratulations to Wildside Press for the first issue of their new baby.  Long may Black Cat Mystery Magazine prowl the mean streets.

This is Opperman's second appearance in my column.

It's Thanksgiving and newlywed Annie is supposed to be preparing a feast for her doting husband and his ungrateful mother.  But then she gets a phone call from Benedict, who she hasn't heard from since before the wedding.

Ah, Benedict, who makes her skin flush and her heart race...  He tells her to be at the Palisades apartments in half an hour and she is eager to oblige.

That means she has to find an excuse to slip out. Which turns out to be tougher than you might expect. And...

And I have to stop there.  But, boy, I never guessed what was coming.  Nice light writing, lovely ending.


 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Do Not Pass Go, by James Blakey

"Do Not Pass Go," by James Blakey, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, September 2017.

I admit it.  I am a sucker for this sort of thing.  Your mileage may vary.

The narrator has just arrived in a town and quickly discovers that the cops are corrupt, the wealthy run things to suit themselves, and the employers rip off the workers.

Yeah.  Thousands of crime stories start like this.  What makes this one stand out?

Well, he gets a job at the Water Works where people get paid in brightly colored scrip.  He doesn't earn enough to rent one of the identical houses on New York or Kentucky Avenues. He almost gets sent to jail for not paying the poor tax.   There's a casino on Boardwalk and gambling everywhere  in town.  Everybody loves to roll those dice...

And the Parker Brothers run everything.  It's like they've got a -  What's that word again?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Aramis and the Worm, by Michael Mallory

"Aramis and the Worm," by Michael Mallory, in ALfed Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017.

My friend Michael Mallory is making his fourth appearance in this space, his second time this year.  Being an actor he often writes about show biz and this is the case today.

Adrian Keel used to star in a lot of Grade-B movies filmed in exotic locations.  Key phrase is "used to."  He is ninety years old, lives in an apartment in London, and has all kinds of medical problems.  He wears adult diapers.

But he is called back to duty once more.  Not because of his acting talents, but because of his other job.  You see, he worked for MI-6, taking parts in terrible movies so he could go to trouble spots and report back.  Now his old boss has set him up in a movie that is filming in Cuba, so he can spot the Russian spy

"The Cold War is coming back, Adrian, and worse than ever."
"You believe Putin to be that dangerous?"
"Vladimir Putin is dead."
Adrian set down his wineglass.  "I've heard nothing of that."
:Nor has anyone else on the outside.  That bald, glowering, bare-chested man you see on the television is not Vladimir Putin., it is a brilliant double."

And then things get complicated.  A wild ride.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cabin Fever, by David Edgerley Gates

"Cabin Fever," by David Edgerley Gates, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  September/October 2017.

This is the fifth appearance in this space by David Edgerley Gates, which ties him with James Powell, and leaves him topped only by Terence Faherty.  It is his second showing here since he joined SleuthSayers where I also blog.

Somebody said the essence of story is this: throw your hero in a hole and drop rocks on him.  Let's count how many rocks fall on Montana deputy Hector Moody.

His truck breaks down in the mountains miles from anywhere.  No phone reception.  A thunderstorm approaching fast.  And oh yes, unknown to him, to prisoners have escaped from prison and they have already killed to stay free...

That's just the set-up. The situation will get much  worse.

A real nail-biter, with terrific dialog.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sure Thing, by David Rich

"Sure Thing," by David Rich, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

If a leopard had strolled up the stairs and into the big room, or a giggling leprechaun had slid down a light beam, the reactions of the patrons at Sports Haven could not have been any stronger.  

Nice writing, that.  The cause of the shock was a beautiful actress named Addie walking into the sports bar.  Not a very classy place, apparently.

"What kind of wine do you have?"

"The kind that used to be red when I opened it three weeks ago and the kind that used to be white."

The bartender delivering that bad news is Pete, and Pete has a secret or two.  He helps Addie out of a messy situation and some secrets are revealed.  The result puts both of their lives in danger.   

Very satisfactory story.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Crossing Harry, by Chris Knopf

"Crossing Harry," by Chris Knopf, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

Knopf is making his second appearance here.

I am very fond of what I call heightened language, which simply means that the words do something more than get us from the beginning of the story to the end.  It doesn't have to been high-falutin' fancy words.  Hemingway's monosyllabic language told us a lot about the world he was describing.

This story has a good plot but it is the language that puts it over the top.  Here is our nameless protagonist, a homeless man, explaining his love of biology.

I'd loved it since I was a kid.  I'd absolutely be hunched over a lab counter right now if I hadn't had that little hiccup with the voices in my head and the collusion of the Yale Board of Trustees, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the Satanic Monks of Aquitaine to deprive me of my undergraduate position.

Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

But our hero is pretty cheerful.  He likes his "house [which] is this nice little spot under the railroad tracks that mostly keeps out the rain and snow."

Of course, some conflict must occur even in this paradise, and it takes the form of a very strange man at Union Station whom no one notices except the homeless man and Harry.  Did I mention Harry?  No one can see him except our narrator, because he's from another dimension.  But Harry isn't the problem.  It's the elegantly dressed man with a canvas bag full of-- well, nothing nice.

Don't worry, though.  Our guy and Harry are on the case.  And a terrific case it is.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Playing Games, by Elaine Togneri

"Playing Games" by Elaine Togneri, in Noir at the Salad Bar, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017

When Mai was thirteen she was kidnapped from the docks in VIetman.  For the last three years she has been  a slave, working long hours in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in the United States, sleeping six in a room. She dreams of escaping, but caan that ever happen?

Noir at the Salad Bar is what the title of this book promises.  Ms. Togneri brings the noir very well.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Bubble, by Jennifer Harlow

"The Bubble," by Jennifer Harlow, in Atlanta Noir, edited by Tayari Jones, Akashic Press, 2017.

I have started reading the Akashic Press Noir City volumes for 2017, so it must be time for my annual rant: Noir does not mean gloomy.  Noir fiction must involve crime or the threat of crime.  Okay?

That's essential, but we can expand.  Ideally, noir involves this: A nobody tries to become somebody.  For this effrontery they are curb stomped by the universe.  Crime in involved.   Often the nobody is led to disaster by a love/lust interest.

Jennifer Harlow certainly understands all of that.  Her story involves not only noir but another French term: femme fatale.  That would be Maddie, a teenager in Peachtree City, who is sick to death of her privileged life among snobs, absentee parents, and the self-medicated.  She decides to commit murder, just for excitement, and power, and, let's face it, because she is evil.

But she isn't working alone.  Her reluctant partner in crime is Emma, who is not as smart, not as pretty, and desperately in  love with Maddie.  Is Maddie willing to use her sexuality to manipulate Emma into crime?  Oh, yes.

Does our tale of thrill killers meet the definition of classic noir?  To some degree that depends on whether you think Emma has interpreted events correctly. I'll let you decide.  But I'll tell you for free that it's a very good story.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Sleeping Beauty," by Gerald Elias.

"Sleeping Beauty" by Gerald Elias, in Noir at the Salad Bar, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.


A long way from noir, but an interesting piece of work.  The nameless narrator is a classical musician and, while eating at an elegant restaurant in  Manhattan, he witnesses a woman attacking a waitress for no obvious reason.  It turns out that she is a former star ballerina.

By coincidence, our narrator meets the ballerina a few years later and learns the reason for the attack.  This is a subtle little story, more about nuance and emotion than action, which seems somehow fitting for the professions involved.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Smoked, by Michael Bracken



"Smoked," by Michael Bracken, in Noir at the Salad Bar, eidte by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and SHawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.

This is Bracken's fourth appearance in this space, which puts him in the top five repeat offenders, I believe.

Beau James had built a nice life for himself, operating the Quarryville Smokehouse, and living with a girlfriend and her daughter.  When his restaurant is featured in a magazine with his picture he knows that the good times are over.  He is in the Witness Protection Program and the motorcycle gang he turned state evidence against are bound to see the picture...

The story takes place in modern Texas but it has the feeling of an old-fashioned Western, with the bad guys getting closer and the townsfolk having to decide where they stand.  A good story.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Publish or Perish, by Kevin Z. Garvey

"Publish or Perish," by Kevin Z. Garvey, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, July 2017.

Every twist ending is a surprise. Not every surprise ending is a twist.

Stories written in second person are not everyone's cup of espresso, double tall skinny.  This one works pretty well for me.

The main character ("You," obviously) has just kidnapped the editor of a mystery magazine.  You are a frustrated unpublished author.    Frustrated to the point that you are convinced that there is a conspiracy against you.  How else is it possible to explain that no magazines will accept your utterly brilliant stories?

You are determined to get to the bottom of the puzzle, even if you have to do nasty things to the editor.  What's your long-range plan, though?  Well, that's a bit of a mystery.

This story won the prize for the week because of the ending which surprised me, but (see first paragraph) was not a twist.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Monday, July 24, 2017

An End in Bath, by Janet Laurence

"An End in Bath," by Janet Laurence, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

Irene Wootten lives a peaceful, quiet life in Bath, ever since her father died.  One day an extroverted young man arrives, informs her that he is her cousin Rod from Australia, and he wants to stay for a while.  Rather disturbing, but she enjoys his company.

More disturbing is the fact that Rod feels his side of the family was cheated out of their inheritance by Irene's father.  And worse is her discovery of the assorted crimes that led to Rod's grandfather being pushed off to Australia.  Is this a man she can, or should trust?

There is a lot more to this complicated and enjoyable tale of family intrigue.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The False Inspector Lovesey, by Andrew Taylor

"The False Inspector Lovesey," by Andrew Taylor, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

This anthology is s festschrift, if I may get all librarian-y at you, a tribute by the Detection Club to Peter Lovesey on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

My favorite Lovesey novel is Waxwork, the summit of his Victorian series about Sergeant Cribb.  But my second favorite is The False Inspector Dew, about a mild-mannered man who decides to kill his wife and escape disguised as - why not? - the most famous police officer in Britain.

So as soon as I saw the title of this story I was prepared to enjoy it.  I did.

It is England sometime after the war.  1950s, I think?

Our heroine is hired help (not a servant, she says firmly) for the rather dreadful Auntie Ag, who takes in boarders.  Ag is not really her aunt because, well:

The only thing I know for certain about me is that my name is Margaret Rose, like the Queen's sister.

I know that because when they found me in the porch of  St. John's Church I was wearing a luggage label attached to a piece of string around my neck, and the label said 'My name is Margaret Rose.' 

So she has not had the easiest time.  But Margaret Rose has dreams.   To make them come true she will need to get to London.  To get to London she will need money.

Enter the new boarder, Mr. P. Lovesey, with "a droopy face like Mrs. Conway-down-the-road's basset hound."  He says he is a tax inspector, but Auntie Ag and Margaret Rose, both excellent snoopers, soon have reason to doubt that. 

Everyone in this story has their own motives and their own schemes.  But one of them also has a dream... 

A worthy tribute to a master.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hard to Get, by Jeffery Deaver

"Hard to Get," by Jeffery Deaver, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

It's a classic concept of the espionage story: an amateur is forced to into the spy game to play against the deadly professionals.

In Deaver's variation Albert Lessing is not a complete amateur.  He is an analyst for the CIA; a desk jockey.  But when an agent dies in an accident while preparing for a vital mission, Lessing is the only person with the language and academic abilities to fill the gap.

So all of a sudden he is in a small town in Poland trying to attract the attention of the deputy to the Russian spymaster who is running a ring of seditionists in the United States.  But he has to attract the man subtly.  If he is too obvious they will know hit's a trap.  Play hard to get, he is told...

And Lessing turns out to be very good at this new trade.  Or is he?  Or isn't he?  As in a lot of the best spy stories its hard to tell for a while.  And there are plenty of plot twists, one of which made me laugh out loud.  A most enjoyable trip through eastern Europe.