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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking, by Sheena Kamal

"Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking," by Sheena Kamal, in Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, Akashic Press, 2018.  

Mags is writing a note to her boss whom she does not like very much.  Since he does a lot of public speaking and is not so good at it, she offers him some friendly advice.  Well, maybe not so friendly.

2. Use the stage, but don't pace.  It makes you look like an asshole when you do that.  All those years you spent dodging the homeless and the addicts on Hastings has [sic] made you surprisingly agile for a man your age but you don't need to advertise this during your speeches.  Plus, your fashion sense can't hold up to that kind of scrutiny... 

Turns out her boss has a whole lot of dirty secrets.  Turns out Mags, his much mistreated executive assistant, knows all of them.  And the worm has begun to turn.

A charming tale of revenge. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

There's an Alligator in my Purse, by Paul D. Marks

"There's an Alligator in my Purse," by Paul D. Marks, in Florida Happens, edited by Greg Herren, Three Rooms Press, 2018.

The latest Bouchercon anthology is all about that most interesting state in our southeast.  This tale is by my fellow SleuthSayer, Paul D. Marks.

Our narrator is Ed, a cheerful professional.  He likes to satisfy his customers, so he takes lots of photos of the corpses.  Corpses the clients wanted dead, obviously. 

In this case that client is Ashley Smith - the lady with the titular pocket book reptile.  She had expected to inherit a lot of money when her elderly husband died happily due to her enthusiastic ministrations.  When she fond out the dough was going to the first wife, she went looking for someone with Ed's skill set.  It wasn't really his photographic skills that she was interested in...

A breezy tale of multiple conspiracies.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Problems Aren't Stop Signs, by Robert Mangeot

"Problems Aren't Stop Signs," by Robert Mangeot, in  Mystery Weekly Magazine, September 2018.

This is Mangeot's fourth appearance here.

Tori is the mayor of a small town in the Florida Panhandle, and she has had some bad luck.  Not that it was her fault, of course.  How could she know, when she stole city funds to buy some land, that the state would cancel the project they were planing to build on it?

Obviously there is only one possible solution: convince her useless brother to dress up as a swamp ape and use her female wiles to persuade a local reporter to come out where said monster can be witnessed, thereby bringing a storm of tourists to the site.

Simple, really.  What could possibly go wrong?

Mangeot is one of our foremost writers of funny short crime stories.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rozotica, by R.M. Greenaway

"Rozotica," by R.M. Greenaway, in The Dame Was Trouble, edited by Sarah L. Johnson, Halli Lilburne, and Cat McDonald, Coffin Hop Press, 2018.

This is a weird story.  By that I do not mean it is science fiction, or supernatural, or falls into all those bins we label "experimental fiction."  It just goes in many unexpected directions.  And that's a good thing.

It's 1973 and Heather is a waitress in Vancouver, B.C.  In fact she has been a waitress since tenth grade, and a virgin for much longer than that, and nothing seems likely to change.

Except for Milestone.  He's a hippy.  He likes her and he has a plan.  "You're the key.  It's your face.  It's perfect."

This is not a compliment, as it turns out.  Milestone has a scam in mind: convincing a bunch of investors that he has the latest thing in sex toys, a female-looking robot straight from Japan.  And Heather's not-quite-normal features make her the ideal prototype.  "You're kind of cold and synthetic looking," Milestone explains.  What girl could resist a come-on like that?

And so, having taken care of the virginity problem, they meet with a gang of pathetic men who are more interested in getting a realistic sex doll than they are in investing a bundle.  What could possibly go wrong?

While you are make a no doubt lengthy list of possible answers to that question, I will explain that several of them are about to happen.  But what makes the story truly interesting is what happens after things go pear-shaped.  I especially enjoyed the conversation near the end by two people trying to make sense of it all.

A fun and imaginative piece.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Rats, by Tom Savage

"Rats," by Tom Savage, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Mystery, September/October 2018.

Are you familiar with the term logline?  Think of the one sentence description of a movie or a TV show you see in TV Guide or Netflix.

Here's a logline for a short story:

A senior citizen combats the bad element that is taking over the neighborhood.

I  have probably read a dozen stories that fit that line. Of course, there are no new plots, just new things to do with the old ones.  Is the senior alone or does he have allies?  What kind of plot does he dream up?  Does he succeed or fail?  I remember decades ago reading a story in which an older woman, tired of having her purse snatched, carried a hand grenade in the purse with a string tied from her wrist to the pin.  A mugger grabbed the purse and three seconds later, BOOM. 

But that's not Savage's idea.  Alice lives in New York City.  She still teaches a few days a week at a middle school.  She lives in a co-op which has always been  neighborly and well-maintained, but recently a dozen apartments were purchased by a Russian mobster.  Worse, he has moved his nephew, "a huge, unkempt, unfriendly, leather-jacketed hell-raiser named Georgi," into one of the apartments.  Things start to go downhill.  Alice's friend Marco, a retired circus performer gets robbed and beaten, and that's not the worst of it.

But when Alice sees the janitor putting out rat poison she gets an idea on how to solve the Georgi problem.  If only she can get Marco to go along with it.

I did not see the ending of this one coming.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Unity Con, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"Unity Con," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2018.

Rusch is one  of my favorite writers of mystery short stories.  She has appeared on this blog seven times, which ties her for first place with Brendan DuBois and Terence Faherty.  I believe she is more prolific in science fiction, which relates to this story.

It is strictly down-to-earth, but it is set in the world of science fiction fandom, and reflects on some events which have damaged that community in recent years.

Her series characters (making their third appearance in this blog) are dedicated members of the world of fandom.  The narrator, Spade, is a six-foot-six 400 pound Microsoft millionaire who uses his spare time and financial savvy to help with the money side of science fiction conventions.  His friend (and he wishes she were much more) is Paladin, a beautiful but brittle young private eye who specializes in fandom crimes and missing children.

Science fiction fandom is famous for tolerating or even embracing people lacking in social skills and these two have found happy homes in that world.  But the conflicts of recent years are threatening it now.  Although Rusch does not mention it by name she is clearly referring to the Sad Puppies debacle which reached its climax (or nadir, if you prefer) at the World Science Fiction convention in Spokane in 2015.  I happened to attend that event and you can read my interpretation of it here. To oversimplify, there was a group of people who felt that the wrong people were getting awards, and those wrong folks seemed to be mostly women and people of color.

Spade gets a call from the eternally-testy Paladin who demands that he rush to a distant ranch in Texas where some SF writers decided that they know how to run a science fiction convention better than the SMoFs (Secret Masters of Fandom) like Spade.  Their product is Unity Con which they were confident could settle the dispute between differing factions. 

Instead one controversial writer, rumored to be a neo-Nazi, is dead under mysterious circumstances.  Money from the con's account is vanishing.  Can Spade, who despised the writer, solve both crimes before irreparable harm is done to his beloved community?

This is not a fair-play whodunit.  The emphasis is on the characters, whom Rusch makes you care about, and that raises the stakes for the world that they care about as well.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Cold Hunt, by Ken Brosky

"The Cold Hunt," by Ken Brosky, Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 2018.

I tend to think of didactic mysteries as being limited to novel-length, but they don't have to be.  The term simply means a piece of fiction that attempts to teach something, rather than just entertain.  Think of Dick Francis's novels that usually explore some industry or other field of endeavor: painting, trucking, glassblowing, investment banking...

Brosky's excellent story has an element of that.  He wants to tell you about the life of tigers in Siberia.

Roxy is a young American biologist.  She and her mentor, Dr. Siddig, have been called to investigation what appears to be a killing by a big cat.  The evidence of footprints and corpse show that the tiger had a big meal of the flesh of a local man.  But the evidence does not prove that the man was alive when the tiger arrived.

The villagers are ready to hunt and kill the beast.  Can the scientists prove it is innocent of the killing - if indeed it is?

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.