"Character is Everything," by Jon McGoran, in Unloaded Volume 2, edited by Eric Beeetner and A.Y. Aymar, Down and Out Books, 2018.
And today we are in science fiction territory. At least, I hope it remains SF for a few more years.
Roscoe Boyer is an endangered species. He is the last employed writer in the world.
had started out writing honest-to-God books, but he'd changed with the
times -- video games, social media micro shorts, story interactives.
is creating character outlines for robots. And now Roscoe is being
fired from even that job. Ah, but Roscoe has a trick up the old
sleeve... A clever story.
Monday, December 10, 2018
Monday, December 3, 2018
The theme of these collections is simple: crimes without guns. Certainly this story has plenty of plot. Here is the first sentence:
The adolescent bonobo named Bingo escaped from the zoo in the early hours of an October morning.
Animal lovers may be glad to know that Bingo is not a crime victim. Human beings are not so lucky.
Bingo is spotted on the property of Mitch and Fiona Hirsch. Mitch is a bleeding heart liberal who annoys his law firm by working on pro bono cases. His wife Fiona is the daughter of wealth and doesn't seem to do much except drink her way through book club meetings. And then there is Evelio, their gardener. He is, not surprisingly, illegal.
When Bingo shows up unexpectedly all their lives are changed dramatically, forever....
Monday, November 26, 2018
This is the second appearance here by Richardson.
Sometimes it is 10% tale and 90% telling. This is a simple story of three guys who "decide to up their game from B&E and liquor stores." We don't learn much more about Ted, Greg, and Hector than what position they used to play back in Little League.
So this piece is not big on plot or character development. What it does have is a wonderful way of unwrapping the adventures of our unlucky trio. You see, Plan A is to rob a cash-checking joint. They throw that over for Plan B which is an armored car that Greg's Uncle Arnie drives.
But Arnie gets fired, leading to Plan C. Except Arnie shows up, drunk and demands to participate, which brings on Plan D...
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
This is the second appearance in this space by Chen.
Imagine being an illegal immigrant in this country.
Now imagine you have murdered your sister's abusive husband.
Now imagine that said husband was a gangleader, so now both cops and mobsters are chasing you and your sister.
Sounds like enough trouble for one man to bear?
Now imagine your sister has Alzheimer's...
And you think you've had a bad year... A very moving and suspenseful tale.
Monday, November 5, 2018
To the best of my knowledge I have never read any work by the late William E. Wallace, reporter and mystery writer. But I have read enough of this book to get some sense of what his writing may have been like. Pretty noir stuff.
The narrator of this tale, Michael Roth, also used to be a reporter. Or maybe we should say he is currently a reporter without a job, struggling to survive as a freelancer, writing Internet clickbait. (See the title of this story.)
He gets a call from somebody named Brack who used to be a hitman. Would he like to meet and talk about Brack's illustrious career?
He would. But Brack, as it turns out, has another, more dangerous offer to make...
Monday, October 29, 2018
We writers prattle on endlessly about the importance of the right opening, but sometimes they matters more than others. Sometimes it would be a completely different story without the proper beginning.
The last time I saw Jenny, she was lying unconscious in the sandy hollow at the foot of Danagher's Head...
That's the first sentence. The rest of the paragraph describes Jenny's appearance, and ends with a "sudden hoarse shout as someone found us."
So as the story progresses we have a good idea of what the climax will be. We are watching for clues as to what causes Jenny's fate.
The narrator explains: "That was long ago, in the summer of 1961. I was nine years old at the time..." This is Ireland and she belongs to a wealthy family with a summer home on the coast. Jenny is a naive country girl, and more fun than all the governesses the girl has ever had.
But something results in innocent Jenny crashing off that cliff. Was the narrator's distant but chivalrous father up to no good? Was her sinister mother jealous? What about Jenny's mysterious boyfriend who supposedly gave her the beautiful necklace?
Maybe you will guess the answer. I sure didn't.
Monday, October 22, 2018
I should say I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. Thanks much.
Some stories start off so strongly that I am rooting for them. This one started so slowly I didn't really expect it to go anywhere. Obviously I was wrong.
The narrator is a Hong Kong native, a gay man, who has just returned after breaking up with his lover in England. Something else happened back there, something bad, but we won't get the details for a while.
He is living on Cheung Chau, a small island off the main part of Hong Kong. For some reason a lot of people go there to die. His parents have made a lot of money investing in the resulting depressed prices: "Investing in Suicide Island took a certain sangfroid unique to the Chinese. [Mom] was a bank manager. Death could be lucrative."
Then there are his two uncles who are doing well, but the source of whose money is not clear. And a young woman he meets drowns herself.
How does all this connect to our protagonist, and his very much alive ex-lover back in Britain? All shall be revealed and it shall be surprising...
Monday, October 1, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.