Showing posts with label 2018. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2018. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sorority House, by Eve Fisher

"Sorority House," by Eve Fisher, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, #3, 2018.

A nice story by my fellow Sleuthsayer, Eve Fisher, set as many of her stories are, in South Dakota.

The narrator is a woman in her thirties who has moved into an apartment house filled mostly with older people and thinks that's just fine.  Then a wave of new divorcees come in and, alas, they are the "mean girls" from high school.   Lots of requests for favors and "Is your husband out of prison yet?"
  
One of them disappears rather scandalously and then her body is discovered even more so.  The obvious suspect turns out to have an alibi.  Can our hero spot the killer before somebody else gets tagged?

I can't remember the last time an actual whodunit made it onto my best of the week page.  Well done.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Beached, by Ray Daniel

"Beached," by Ray Daniel, in Low Down Dirty Vote, edited by Mysti Berry, Berry Content, 2018.

This is an anthology of crime stories about voter suppression, with the profits going to the ACLU Foundation.  It starts out with this light piece set in Massachusetts.

Our narrator is Thomas Coffee, a private eye who is hired by a rather obnoxious woman to find her father who vanished a few hours earlier.  In fact, a whole segment of the town has disappeared.  On the very day of the traditional New England town meeting.  Hmm...

Here is a bit of the flavor of  the place and the story:

In 1903 the Joppa Town Meeting accepted, by a vote of 128 to 126, a twenty-thousand dollar library grant from Andrew Carnegie.  The close vote showed that the only thing flinty New Englanders trusted less than outsiders was outsiders with money.

They may have a point.  Fun story anyway. 



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Uncle Sam, by Leye Adenle

"Uncle Sam," by Leye Adenle, in Lagos Noir, edited by Chris Abani, Akashic Press, 2018.

This is Adenle's second appearance in this column.

Many is the time I have kicked myself for not seeing the ending of a story coming.  This time I should have seen the subject coming.

This is a book of crime stories about Nigeria.  Of course there had to be a story about the 419 scheme.  You may know that better as the Nigerian Prince scam.  "I am the widow of the head of an oil company and I need the help of some honest foreign stranger to illegally smuggle zillions of bucks out of Nigeria..."  419 refers to the section of the Nigerian criminal code which (attempts to) ban such things.

Which brings us to Dougal, newly arrived at the airport in Lagos, and terrified that he may have gotten himself into a you-know-what.  Apparently an uncle he didn't know he had has died, leaving him a ton of money.  He has to come to Lagos in person to collect it.  Someone who claims to represent his uncle's law firm has even provided the money for him to fly there. What could possibly go wrong?

There are bad guys in Lagos, but there are good guys too.  Can Dougal tell them apart?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Made Men, by Timothy O'Leary

"Made Men," by Timothy O'Leary, in  Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018.

Catterly never pictured himself going out this way; standing in some godforsaken heat sink, clad in the official old man's uniform of big-butt cargo shorts and a Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirt, guzzling white wine...

Not that Catterly is in imminent danger of checking out.  He's just miserable about having to leave his Montana farm to winter in Arizona.  But his wife Gracie has put up with 45 winters up north and he acknowledges she is due for a change.  Doesn't mean he has to like it.

Things get more, well, interesting, when he catches another old codger cheating at gin. Thomas DeVito does not take it well.  And DeVito, as it turns out, is a retired Mafiosi.  The other retirees say Catterly is now in danger and he has to apologize.  Our hero doesn't see it that way. You might say the threat of death gives him something to live for...

Nicely written and amusing.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Joy, by Wale Lawal

"Joy," by Wale Lawal, in Lagos Noir, edited by Chirs Abani, Akashic Press, 2018.

Third person narrative is the norm.  First person has advantages and limitations.  Second person is a gimmick. (And here is the best second-person story I have ever read.)


This story tells (in second person) about a pregnant wife who hires a house servant named Joy.  It is clear that the master-servant relationship in Nigeria would not be acceptable in the U.S. (Displaying all her possessions when she arrives?  Kneeling when she speaks?)

But the protagonist begins to suspect that Joy has nefarious intentions, especially about her husband.  Is this a pregnant woman with a dangerous delusion, or is something worse happening here? Somebody is going to get hurt...

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Isaac's Daughters, by Anita Page

"Isaac's Daughters," by Anita Page, in Malice Domestic Presents: Murder Most Geographical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Wildside Press, 2018.

This is Anita Page's second appearance on this blog.

There is a TV series called Penn & Teller Fool Us in which magicians from around the world try to outsmart the titular wizards.  This spring there was an extra episode called the April Fool Us Special, which looked back at some of the highlights.

They mentioned a kind of viewer feedback they sometimes get.  I am going to make up the details but it goes like this:

How could you be fooled by that man making an elephant appear?  If you look at the tape you can clearly see him tuck the elephant up his sleeve!

To which Penn replied, approximately, We didn't know in advance that it was an elephant we should be looking for, and we don't get to roll the tape back for a second look.

Which is sort of like foreshadowing in literature.  Once you finish the story it is easy to see the one clue tucked in among a thousand details.  But when you're reading it, not knowing where the story is going, you can't tell which of those details is the crucial ones.

I don't think I have given away the store by telling you that Page has some clever foreshadowing in here.  You still won't spot the elephant before she reveals it.

The narrator is an old woman, relating  how she came to America from Russia at the age of fourteen in 1911.  The reason for the voyage is that her mother has just received a message that "your Isaac has taken up with a whore from Galicia."  Is it just me or does it seem like Galicia is the most offensive part of the whole thing?

So our narrator's mother wants to find her husband and reunite the family.  They start out on the difficult voyage, and things happen.

One of the reasons I started this review by talking about magic is that it matters in this story.  The family is divided between the father and narrator who you might describe as new-world rationalists, and the mother and sister who are subject to old-world superstitions, believing in demons and lucky charms.

A question that comes up in the story more than once is: Does magic work if you don't believe in it?  Page offers an answer to that in this excellent tale. 


Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Black Drop of Venus, by Mark Thielman

"The Black Drop of Venus," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018.

The Black Orchid Novella Award is co-sponsored by the Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  It is intended to promote the sort of fair play detective stories illustrated by Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novellas.

The rules do not require that the story follows the structure of Stout's work, but most of the winners have done that.  (Full disclosure: mine did.)  Here's what I mean by that structure: the narrator does the legwork of investigating a crime, bringing back clues to an older and wiser character, who solves the crime, usually by bringing all the suspects together for a chat.

Thielman has followed that pattern, as he did with his 2015 winner, which also made my best-of list.  Both of his novellas use actual historical figures.

It is 1769, deep in the South Pacific.  Our narrator is Joseph Banks, chief naturalist on the HMS Endeavour, which has been sent on a scientific investigation to observe the Transit of Venus.  When one of Banks's assistants is found with his throat cut just as they arrive at Tahiti, Banks is ordered to investigate the crime by none other than Captain James Cook.  He is handicapped by his lack of knowledge of navy ways and nautical  vocabulary, but he brings back the facts which allow Cook to cleverly determine the identity of the murderer.

Cook is a wonderful character here.  Witness his comment on another character:

I wished I had the opportunity to have spoken more with the man.  Of course, I may have ended up ordering him hanged, but up to then, he would have proved a fascinating man with whom to converse.  A pity I missed the opportunity.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hateful in the Eyes of God, by Eric Rutter

"Hateful in the Eyes of God," by Eric Rutter, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018.

This is a terrific story, full of historic detail, plot twists, and much to reflect on.

It is London in the 1830s.  John Alcorn is a freelance reporter, a "penny-a-liner."  His specialty is the criminal courts because, then as now, scandal is always popular.  He is in the gallery when Charles Stanbridge is brought into the courtroom.  This fine, outstanding married gentleman has been accused of indecent assault, which is a reduced version of the charge of "the infamous crime,"  alias, homosexuality.  That greater offense could get a man sentenced to exile or even death.

Alcorn offers to sell his story on the case to the defendant, rather that to the press, a form of extortion which is perfectly legal.  But when Stanbridge apparently kills himself the reporter feels guilt and tries to learn more about the case.

And so he, and we, find out a good deal about the secret life of what we would call gay men, but what in this era were called sods or Mary Anns.  As I said there are plot twists I never saw coming, but the whole story is fascinating.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The End of the World, by Susan Breen

"The End of the World," by Susan Breen, in Malice Domestic Presents: Murder Most Geographical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Wildside Press, 2018.

Cosima Bell lived in the thrall of her father, a pianist who became obsessed with the music of Liszt and dedicated his life to mastering the complex music.  (Cosima was named after the composer's daughter... creepy.)

When the story begins dear old Dad has just been convicted of murdering several young men in the basement.  Cosima insists to the press that she had no idea what he was up to but, well, let's say she isn't out trying to prove him innocent either. 

She has enough money to start a new life which she does by heading to a resort in Tahiti.Very peaceful and beautiful, except the couple a few cottages down keeps arguing about money.  Nothing unusual about that, except that the quarrels are about ten million dollars.  And the quarrels are getting nasty. 

If another crime occurs, will Cosima be trying to explain she didn't know anything about this one too?

A tricky tale that caught me by surprise.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Kyiv Heat, by Alex Shaw

"Kyiv Heat," by Alex Shaw, in Noirville, Fahrenheit Press, 2018.

 Gennady Dudka is a top director of the Ukraine's Security Service.  He is too set in his ways to cope with new technology.  "Dudka's radio, like him, was old and refused to retire."  Just before the Kyiv Day holiday he receives a disturbing package from as it turns out, an old friend who is a retired KGB agent.

Dudka is under pressure to find out who set a bomb that killed a reporter.  His friend's information suggests it was Ukrainian spies working for the Russians.  But can the information be trusted or is someone being set up?  And if so, who is the schemer and who is the potential victim?

A neat little tale of the world in which the back of every cloak is targeted by a dagger.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Where the Strange Ones Go, by Steve Hockensmith

"Where the Strange Ones Go," by Steve Hockensmith, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May/June 2018.

This is Hockensmith's second appearance here.

It's 1995 and a young and naive college student gets a job as a receptionist at a video matchmaker service.  (The story is peppered with sad and hilarious ads, like the woman who prefers lizards to other pets, or the man who offers to take you on a tour of Ed Gein's farm, the inspiration for the movie Psycho.)  

She quickly figures out that her main job is providing  a layer of protection between her slime devil boss and his dissatisfied customers.  But things have a way of turning around and the ending is full of clever twists.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Fast Bang Booze, by Lawrence Maddox

"Fast Bang Booze," by Lawrence Maddox, Shotgun Honey, 2018.

Lot of housekeeping to get through today, so bear with me.

1. My friend Lawrence Maddox is making his second appearance in this column.  He sent me a free e-copy of this book, which includes the title piece and another story.

2. If you published (or were published in) a book of mystery stories this year, you can send me a free copy if you want, just like Maddox.  I promise to start reading it.  If it's the best story I read that week I'll review it here.  Contact me for instructions.

3.  Is this a short story?  What's the defining factor?  The classic definition is fiction that you can read in one sitting.  It would take a lot of sitzfleisch to read some of the stories at the end of this list in one round.  Another definition used to be that it was something too short to publish as a book, but e-books can work at any length.  This one is 25,000 words, which is long for a novella, short for a novel.  I'm going to review it.  If you disagree with my verdict, as I have said before, get your own blog.

4.  (Trust me, we're getting closer.)  I'm sure you have heard or read someone say that in a dangerous situation it felt like time slowed down.  A few years ago a scientist decided to test this concept.  How could he do that?  Well his hypothesis was that when it felt like time was slowing down what really happened was that the brain sped up.   He found a clever way to test that and alas, found that it wasn't true.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because for Frank, the narrator of Fast Bang Booze, it's true.  His nervous system really does work faster than everyone else. For example, he can see a punch coming and get out of the way.   That makes him a heck of a driver, and good in a fight.  Unfortunately it also makes his voice come out as a "schizoid turkey gobble."

He can slow his brain down with a depressant, i.e. alcohol,  which allows him to talk like a normal person.  But then he loses his, well, super powers, too.  What a dilemma.

As this tale starts, he is being discovered by Popov, a Russian gangster who decides such a fast fighter would be a useful addition to his crew.  Popov is arranging  that noir cliche, One Last Job, in this case a drug deal which will make him or break him.  This being noir, a whole lot of people and things will get broken, shot, tied up, crashed, stolen, drugged, whipped, etc.  It's a wild ride and it reads a lot faster than 25,000 words sounds.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

10,432 Serial Killers (in Hell), by Emily Devenport

"10,432 Serial Killers (in Hell)," by Emily Devenport, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2018.

Let me start out by saying the last few issues of AHMM have had outstanding cover art.  Truly.

It's hard enough to write a good crime story.  Some people  choose to increase the degree of difficulty by adding fantasy elements.  Now you're trying to satisfy the strictures of two genres, and you know some people will reject your tale because they only enjoy one of them.  So if you try it, you better know what you're doing.

Devenport, obviously, does.

The story begins with a bus driver spotting a "white lady hurrying toward her empty bus at eleven thirty night.  The lady had pajamas on under her bathrobe and big, fat slippers on her feet, which explained why she couldn't break into a run."  She also had a small dog under one arm, and a cat under the other.

Obviously a comic situation.  But Katie Thomas is in a serious mess.  She is running away from "the serial killer in my apartment."  His name, she says, is John Fogus and they met in Hell.

Say what?

Katie explains to an officer: She had been in a car accident two years earlier and was dead for thirty seconds.  She spent that time in Hell, where she met 10,432 serial killers.

"That's a lot of people, Katie."
"They were all in one place together."
"Kind of like a stadium setting?"
"Kind of."

So Katie is obviously crazy.  Except someone did break into her apartment and left hints that tied him to unsolved killings.

A fun story which even offers an interesting take on Hell. 



Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Icing on the Cake, by Russell Day


"The Icing on the Cake," by Russell  Day, in Noirville, Fahrenheit Press, 2018.

This is a tasty piece of work and I can't do justice to it in a plot summary.  But here goes.

The narrator, Gareth, is a gofer for Mr. Driscoll, a British crime boss.  Today his mission is to drive a Jaguar down to a prison where the car's owner, Harry the Spider Linton, is being released after  seven years for robbing a post office.  Although, as it turns out, Harry thinks he owes his incarceration to the stupidity of Mr. Driscoll.

Harry's rage is so feverish that it seems like it might end the trip prematurely.  Gareth might me in danger.  What is going to happen if/when Harry gets to his old mate's mansion, and encounters the man he now sees as the cause of his lost years?

Well, I can't tell you that.  But I will say that the ending sent a shiver down my spine, and it is a rare story these days that gives me a spinal freeze.  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Canary Islands Crime Boss, by Glenda Young

"The Canary Islands Crime Boss," by Glenda Young, in Noirville, Fahrenheit Press, 2018.

Poor Jimmy.  An accountant isn't supposed to get in this sort of trouble.  Yes, when he married Linda he knew her brother was in organized crime.  But he never guessed Larry would rope him in to do the books.  And once you're in that business the severance package is... severe.

Larry has called them down to the Canary Islands so Jimmy can help with his latest project, which is a little odd.  "We'll be the baked bean underbelly of Britain," he declares, and, no, I won't attempt to explain that.

But Larry has enemies.  Maybe Jimmy does too.  Maybe his wife is jealous of his assorted affairs.  Maybe things aren't as sunny in the islands as the tourist brochures would have you believe...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Curse, by Mark Edwards

"The Curse," by Mark Edwards, in Night of the Flood, edited by E.A. Aymar, and Sarah M. Chen.  Down and Out Books, 2018.

This is an example of a Shared Universe book, a concept which I am not going to discuss in detail here because I think I will probably write about it at length in SleuthSayers one of these days.

The short version is this: In the small western Pennsylvania town of Everton, Maggie Wilbourne murdered the men she said raped her.  For this she was executed.  As revenge, a group of feminist terrorists called the Daughters blow up the dam, flooding Everton.  Each story in this book, written by different authors,  takes place on the night of this event.  Some move the main story line, about the Daughters.  Some have no connection to it except for the flood event.  This witty story is one of the latter.

Ed and Rhi are Britons, moved to the small town of Everton, PA to dodge what they believe is a curse.  It seems that Rhi met a demon named Frank (Frank?) who offered her a winning lottery ticket in return for a horrible deed to be done later.  After they have spent most of the money Frank calls up and demands they do the unspeakable thing he wants.  When they refuse he threatens them with a curse.

And suddenly their life is burdened with bugs, and boils, and a fire.  So they escape to America and encounter, naturally, a flood.  In the anarchic night of crime and looters they can probably get away with what Frank demands, but are the willing to do it?

More importantly, is there really a demon named Frank?  I'm not the one to tell.  But let me remind you of something a very wise man said last week in this very space:

By the way, not all surprises are created equal.  If a meteor struck the bad guy, that would be surprising but not satisfying.

The ending of this story is straight out of left field, but I found it completely satisfying.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Kindness, by Tom Hallman, Jr.

"Kindness," by Tom Hallman, Jr., in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2018.

I like surprises.  Not in real life, I hasten to add, so put down that seltzer bottle.  But surprises in fiction are definitely a good thing.

The main reason that this story made my page this week is that twice I thought Well, I see where this is headed, and both times I was wrong.  That's nice.

Phil's family moved to an inner city neighborhood that is gentrifying.  Great house, nice neighbors.  But then the old man across the street dies and his house is inherited by a jerk who parties all night The jerk is a huge guy who "reminded me of one of those men featured on cable shows taking viewers inside America's roughtest prisons."

When this guy takes an unhealthy interest in Phil's teenage daughter things seem really desperate.  But  then Phil meets Deke, a motorcyclist and a proud one-percenter.  This does not refer to the one-percent who own so much of our country; it's an older term referring to the supposed one percent of motorcyclists who are criminals.

Phil helps Deke with a problem.  Will Deke help Phil with his?  Or, hint hint, will something different happen?

By the way, not all surprises are created equal.  If a meteor struck the bad guy, that would be surprising but not satisfying.  But the twists in this tale are nicely foreshadowed.  There is a flaw in the plot (let's just say it's better to be lucky than to plan well), but it didn't stop my enjoying the story.

Another complaint, which you've heard me make before.  There are not a lot of characters in this story, so why do three of them need to be named Amy, Allison, and Anderson? 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Gunfighters, by Michael Cebula

"The Gunfighters," by Michael Cebula, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2018.

I don't go looking for western stories, because that's not what I'm in the business of reviewing, but this one showed up in Mystery Weekly Magazine, and it has plenty of the right elements.  Plus it's a good story.

In a  cliched western when two gunfighters face off one usually ends up dead and the other unhurt.  But as our tale begins the two antagonists are both gut shot and dying.

Deadeye Danny is a "a skinny rumor of a man," so narcissistic that he refers to himself by his self-anointed nickname and talks like a character out of a dime novel.

Harris is a trick shooter, both laconic and sardonic.  At one point he asks the doctor if his wound is going to be fatal.  The doctor assures him that it is and begins to explain what damage was done.

“Was only asking what time it was, Doc,” Harris said. “No need to explain how the clock was built.” 

As the two enemies sit, more or less abandoned, waiting for the end, they try to settle a question: how exactly did they wind up fighting each other in the first place?  And there is the mystery, a clever one at that.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Wedding Ring, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"The Wedding Ring," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.

This is Rusch's sixth appearance on this site.

I try to treat all my little darlings equally, rooting the same for every story I read but I admit that sometimes a concept or opening is so strong I find myself cheering the author on:  Keep going!  Don't screw this up!  

Rusch didn't screw it up.  Here is the concept I liked so much: Serena is a classics professor and after a bad breakup she goes to Las Vegas for what she calls her Liberation Vacation.  There she meets the man of her dreams.  Shortly after that they are married.  Shortly after that he disappears, taking her cash, self-confidence, and so much more.

One cop says about the crooks: "They're not in it for the money.  They're in it to destroy their marks."

Serena replies.  "They didn't destroy me...  I'm right here. And I'm going to destroy them right back."   To do that all she has to do is become a completely different person.  Hell hath no fury, and all that...

There's a lot of thoughtful detail in this novella.  For example: the title does not refer to a piece of jewelry.  Or consider the name: Serena.  Or the final moniker the bad guy chooses.  (It tolls for thee, baby.)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Submarine of Walker Lake, by Brendan DuBois

"The Submarine of Walker Lake," by Brendan DuBois, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.

Correction made, thanks to Kevin Tipple.

Great title, huh?  This is DuBois' seventh appearance in this blog, which ties him with Terence Faherty.  It's not a typical DuBois story, being funnier and shorter than I am used to from him.

Sean Sullivan, our narrator, is an ex-Bostn cop, having lost his job in a reshuffle after a scandal.  The only job he could find was as a patrolman in a small town called Walker, New Hampshire.  He is still getting used to the place and the pace, and when some odd assignments come in he isn't sure whether someone is pranking the new boy.

For example Lon Kotkin claims he has seen a submarine in Walker Lake.  Is he nuts, Sullivan asks the chief.  "Compared to what?" is the reply.

I won't spoil the best line in the story by repeating it here, but it involves a bad guy asking a classic question and getting a rather startling reply.

It's a fun tale.