Showing posts with label 2019. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2019. Show all posts

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Duelist, by David Dean

"The Duelist," by David Dean, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019.

My friend and fellow SleuthSayer, David Dean, is making his fifth appearance here with a fine historical tale.

The time is pre-Civil War and the place is Natchez, Mississippi.  Captain Noddy has a habit of taking offense at innocent remarks by country bumpkins, and then taking their lives in duels.

Now a down-on-his-luck gambler named Darius LeClair has arrived in town and seems quite careless in talking to the dangerous captain.  Is he foolish or is he doing it on purpose?  Is he in fact a gambler or something quite different?


There are wheels within wheels here and the secrets keep unraveling right  to the end.  I enjoyed it a lot.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Private Justice, by Steven Gore

"Private Justice," by Steven Gore, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019.


Viewpoint is character.  That seemed like such a logical statement that I just went looking for a source for it other than my overheated brain.  I found one: a blogger named SensibleShoes who wrote in 2014:  "Viewpoint is character. A character doesn’t just have a point of view (often called “POV” in writerspeak). A character is a point of view. Viewpoint can be presented without mentioning the character at all."

The nameless narrator of Gore's story is a retired Philadelphia Homicide cop, newly installed as chief of detectives in a small town. A retired professor has been stabbed to death in his office and it looks like a lot of people may be involved in a cover-up.  As our hero investigates, he is constantly revealing his viewpoint which is all we known (or need to know) about his personality.

Throughout the story he sees what other people miss, not in the sense of smudged-footprint-in-the-flowerbed, but in the possible meaning of people's behavior.  Why is one suspect involved in self-harm?  Why is the university lawyer constantly smiling during a murder investigation?

Another aspect of viewpoint is that the cop is keenly aware that people in this small town are treated very differently than they would be back in the big city.  Speaking of a plea deal for homicide: "Defendants in Philadelphia were getting more time for selling a couple of rocks of cocaine."

A nicely done story.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Our Man in Basingstoke, by Sabrina Case

"Our Man in Basingstoke," by Sabrina Case, in Fiction River: Spies, 2019.

Pity Sir Almsley.  He gave his estate to the War Office to help fight the Nazis, not expecting that he would be put in charge of a project to create new espionage techniques.  He has no skills in that field, his mission is underfunded, and his staff consists of what the sergeant calls "a human scrap metal drive."

But that's not all.  Peter Tilling, an enthusiastic and imaginative child, has been sent to a nearby farm to protect him from the blitz in London.  He is eager to slip into Almsley's estate to see the top-secret devices being built there.  Good luck with that, young Peter.

Clever soul that you are, you have probably deduced that each of Almsley's problems contains the solution to the other.  Right as rain.  But it's great fun to watch the story unfold.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Use of Landscape, by Robert Boswell

"The Use of Landscape," by Robert Boswell, in Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance reader copy of this book.

I want to start by acknowledging the cleverness of editor Zepeda.  These noir city books are always divided into three or four sections and the editor has to come up with names for them, which are often subtle or less subtle references to Crime, Money, Sex, etc.  Here are the dividers Zepeda used: Desirable Locations With Private Security, Peaceful Hamlets Great For Families, Minutes From Downtown and Nightlife, and Up-and-Coming Areas Newly Revitalized. 

And deep in Desirable Locations, Robert Boswell has offered us a charming story about sociopaths.  Cole is the planner.  We are told he loves no one.  Doesn't care much about sex although he will use it to get what he wants, which is money.  Not much interested in buying things with it; money is just a way of keeping score.

His girlfriend is Herta.  They met when she tried to rob him.  She says he will eventually try to kill her, but hey, she's not perfect either.

Tariq rounds out the crew.  He's a bartender and an expert on cleaning crime scenes. Tariq has pointed Cole to a young woman, rich in money, poor in personality and brain power.

"Did I tell you what happened at Affirm today?" Madelyn asked.  Affirm was her gym.  She described the days activities in excruciating detail, a saga that lasted nearly twenty minutes.  Summary: she exercised.

You will be mightily entertained as the trio the narrator calls the Criminal Element plot their nastiness while discussing women's underwear and the books of Virginia Woolf.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Kaddish for Lazar, by Michael Wuliger

"Kaddish for Lazar," by Michael Wuliger, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance copy of this book.

"You're Jewish, aren't you?" the editor of Blitz Magazine asked me.
"Yes, I am." I felt uncomfortable.  "Why do you want to know?" That kind of question coming from Germans irritates me.  It runs in the family, I guess.
"Then you must have known Mark Lazar well," he said.

Because obviously all 30,000 of the Jews in Berlin must know each other, right?

Great opening for this story in which a freelance journalist is asked to look into the death by drowning of a prominent politician.  Suicide, accident, or something else?  Could his death be related to his immigrating from Russia after the Soviet Union fell?  Or to his plans to run for mayor?

The investigation is very interesting, the effect it has on the narrator even more so.  This is a very cynical story, which makes it very noir indeed.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Dora, by Zöe Beck

"Dora," by Zöe Beck, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

Big typo corrected.  Apologies.

This is the second appearance here by Beck.

Take a look at her.  Even if it's hard.
You won't want to look at her because she stinks and is filthy from head to toe.  You think you know what you'll see but take a look anyway.

That's how the story starts.  It seems like a bit of sociological fiction, an analysis of a mentally ill homeless person.  But there's a lot more going on here.

The narrator is Dora's brother.  He explains in detail how his sister's life has slowly derailed and  the damage it has done to the whole family.

And then, well, things happen.  Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, once said, as I recall, that she likes stories that turn out to be something different than they appear.  I suppose that is almost but not identical to a twist ending.  Read "Dora" for an excellent example.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

In The Court of the Lion King, by Mark Dapin

"In The Court of the Lion King," by Mark Dapin, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book.

I have read novels with less plot than this story.  Somehow Dapin manages to keep all the balls in the air.

The narrator, Chevy, is a half-Laotian architect.  He is on remand - that is, in prison awaiting trial  - because the police think he killed his best friend, Jamie.  A security camera caught them fighting, and Jamie hasn't been seen since.

Fortunately, Chevy has a lawyer.  Jesse is his former lover and a very complicated person.  ("I used to say that I only loved for people -- two of them were Jesse...")  Unfortunately, no aspects of  her personality involve legal skills.

And then there are the Vietnamese in the prison that want him dead, apparently because he is Laotian.

I haven't even mentioned the Lion King, a gang boss who runs the cell block.  He is a truly disgusting person and is taking an unhealthy interest in our hero.

If I listed all the other threads in this tale you would think it was some kind of postmodern experimental fiction, all bits and pieces that don't connect.

Don't worry.  The author knows what he's doing.  But does Chevy?




Monday, March 25, 2019

The Passenger, by Kirsten Tranter

"The Passenger," by Kirsten Tranter, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book which opens with a pastiche of, or homage to, a well-known crime novel.  It's a very clever piece of work.

Robert has just arrived home after years overseas.  He reluctantly attends a birthday party for an acquaintance named Fred.  The reason for his reluctance is that Fred's daughter is Robert's former lover, who cheated with, and then married, Julian, a friend of Robert's.

Fred confides that Julian has disappeared with a trace.  Perhaps Robert can inquire among their mutual friends? It turns out that that bunch had been pushers and users and Robert doesn't want to get involved with them.

But he gets drawn in and discovers some terrible stuff going in.  You might say that the biggest difference between this story and the book that inspired it is the question of nature versus nurture: Which is responsible for the catastrophe that has occurred?


Monday, March 18, 2019

The Girls in the Fourth Row, by Doug Allyn

"The Girls in the Fourth Row," by Doug Allyn, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,March/April 2019.

This is Allyn's fourth appearance here.

I don't know if I would call it a subgenre exactly but there is a type of crime story known as the didactic mystery, in which the setting becomes part of the story.  Dick Francis, for example, taught you something about horseracing in every book, but especially in the latter novels he would also inform you about a different industry: glassblowing, liquor, investment banking.

Doug Allyn is a form rock-and-roller and this story is about Murph, leader of an over-the-hill heavy metal, struggling to keep them all alive, functional, and headed down the road to the next paycheck.  This gets complicated when, during a gig in Detroit, someone fires three shots at the lead guitarist, wiping out his Stratocaster and almost taking him with it.  Or maybe the guitarist wasn't the intended target...

To get his band back on the road Murph needs to help the lieutenant dig into the past to find a potential killer, before he strikes again.  A satisfying story.




Monday, March 11, 2019

Murder In The Second Act, by William Burton McCormick

"Murder In The Second Act," by William Burton McCormick, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2019.

This is the second appearance in my blog by McCormick.  It is his third story about Tasia and Eleni, two young women who, with their mother,  run a lodging house in Odessa at the turn of the century.

At the moment their only lodger is an actor named Oleg Olehno.  He wants to hire the women as claquers, that is, members of the audience secretly paid to raise enthusiasm for a certain actor. Tasia, our narrator, doubts the ethics of such an occupation, but her sister is delighted to get paid to attend a show.

The complicating factor is the arrival of a giant - truly, an eight foot tall man - who is hunting for Oleg.  Fee fie fo.  Oleg explains that he borrowed money from the claquers guild in Moscow and this monstrous debt collector has been chasing him all over Russia.

Ah, but this is theatre, and theatre is all about illusion...  This story is a lot of fun.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What Invisible Means, by Mat Coward

"What Invisible Means," by Mat Coward, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March/April 2019.

I believe this is the second time this has happened, but please don't expect me to find the other example. 

I refer to the fact that the same author is appearing in this space two weeks in a row.  That would make sense if I was reading a collection of the author's stories, but instead he just happened to have tales in two magazines I have been reading. 

This is Mat Coward's fifth appearance on my little list.  As I said, his fourth was last week.  Here is his winning opening:

Tuesday was a great day.  Wednesday less so, of course, because that was when he got the letter saying that someone was planning to murder him, but Tuesday went better than Des could have hoped.

Apparently in England if the police have reason to believe someone is planning to kill you they are required to send you what is called an Osman letter.  As D.C. Vicki explains "the Osman letter is basically to cover ourselves if your widow decides to sue us."

But in the case of Des, it is a fake letter.  Someone is trying to intimidate him.  Or warn him?

I'm not going into the plot here, a convoluted tale of a terrible cribbage team, a cigarette smuggler, and a perilous taxi ride.  What makes Coward's work so delightful is the language.

For example, here is Vicki dealing with her very serious partner.

"How can they charge for this coffee?" [Abi] added.  "I mean legally?  We should be charging them for getting rid of it.

Vicki laughed.  Whenever Abi said something which Vicki thought might be intended to be humorous she made a point of laughing.  Which on one occasion had led to Abi not talking to her for seventy-two hours.  Vicki hadn't blamed herself for that one, thought, because to be fair, "I knew she had a drink problem, I just didn't know she had a machete," doe SOUND like a joke.

Indeed it does.  Very funny story.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Shall I Be Murder?, by Mat Coward

"Shall I Be Murder?", by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

A lot of good stories in this issue, by the way. 

This is the fourth appearance on this site for Mr. Coward. Sometimes it is difficult to define what subgenre a story belongs to. Not in this case.  Here is the first sentence:

"As for myself, I belong to that delicious subgenre, the self-confessed unreliable narrator."

This remarkable tale-teller then tells us his tale but how much of it are we to believe?  Certainly some of it is a lie, but how much of it? 

He explains that a doctor told him he needed to take walks for his health and, since he is allergic to dogs, he wound up walking to a self-storage facility.  There he rented two units, giving up one after setting up a hidden camera in it.  Then he waits for the right type of people to rent that facility.

That much of his story is probably (?) true.  Well, part of it, at least.  But what follows is a riddle stuffed into an enigma.  Is he a blackmailer?  A killer?  Something else entirely, as a police officer suggests?

It is not just that he is lying but that doing so, publicly and deliberately, is part of his plan.  Which he cheerfully admits.  One imagines the prosecutor tearing out his hair, but the reader will have fun.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Stranger Inside Me, by Loes den Hollander

"The Stranger Inside Me," by Loes den Hollander, in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2019.

You could call this a ghost story but you probably won't.  The narrator is a troubled young man who gets regular nightly visits from Ted Bundy.  The deceased serial killer (we never read his actual words) wants him to carry on the tradition by killing women who resemble ones who got away from Bundy.


This disturbs our protagonist enough that his arguments with said killer wake his mother who brings in a social worker.  He isn't very fond of the caseworker.  He doesn't seem to get along with anyone, really...


A very creepy story, although thankfully not filled with gore and horror.  Many surprises along the way.

 

Monday, February 11, 2019

My Christmas Story, by Steve Hockensmith

"My Christmas Story," by Steve Hockensmith, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

This is the third appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith.  I am rather surprised that it is the first one I have listed concerning his series characters the Amlingmeyer brothers.  Old Red and Big Red are cowboys at the end of the nineteenth century. Old Red is illiterate but a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes.  His younger brother Big Red is his long-suffering Watson.

When this story opens Gus and Otto (to give them either more formal names)  have just settled in Ogden, Utah, where they have opened a detective agency. Due to Big Red's big mouth they find themselves out in the hills searching for a pine tree to help their landlady celebrate Christmas.  This being a crime story, other stuff happens.

What makes these tales a treat is a combination of great characters and fine language.  For example, our heroes meet three children and here is a bit of conversation with two of them.

"We were out looking for a Christmas tree," the boy said, "and we spotted a bear and-"
 "I spotted it," the girl -- Sariah -- interjected.  
Her brother ignored her.
"--we think it might be dead, but if it's alive we thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town--"
"I thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town," Sariah said.
Ammon kept plowing on.
"--but we don't have a gun, so we sent our little brother to find somenoe who did--"
"I sent our little brother..." Sariah began...

You can picture them, can't you?

By the way, if you want to know what happens to the brothers next, you can find out in Hockensmith's new book The Double A Western Detective Agency.  I can testify that it is, as Big Red, would say, a real ripsnorter.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Devil's Island, by Mensje van Keulen

"Devil's Island," by Mensje van Keulen, in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2019.

To get the Full Disclosure bit out of the way: Akashic Press sent me this book for free, for which I am grateful.  One of the editors, Josh Pachter, is a friend of mine.  Now on to the main course.

And what a treat it is.  The narrator is trying to be helpful to his friend, Jacob, who is becoming a real pain.  Jacob's girlfriend has left him and he can't seem to get over it.  On one bad night he even says "I'd sell [the devil] my soul if he'd make Martha come back to me."

Later that evening they are standing among the cigarette puffers outside a pub when a stranger comes out of the smoke and asks Jacob for a light.  He says that he prefers the old-fashioned wooden matches called lucifers.  "I like the smell of them, though, that momentary blast of sulfur..."


This is a story built on details, cleverly used.