Showing posts with label 2020. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2020. Show all posts

Monday, January 18, 2021

Just A Little Before Winter's Set In, by Larry Tyler

"Just A Little Before Winter's Set In," by Larry Tyler, in Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2020.

Let's start with a little whining, shall we?  First, as I say every time I recommend a story from this series, to call an anthology the "best" implies that its contents are selected from already published stories, which these are not.  Second, should there really be an apostrophe-S in that title?  I don't see it myself.

Okay, moving on.

In most stories you want the structure to be transparent.  By this I mean that the reader shouldn't be aware of how the tale is organized; it should flow as much like reality as possible.  But some stories are translucent: the structure filters the events.  Think of William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily," in which the narrator is we, the whole community.  Tell the tale differently and it would be a very different story. It's not that one way is better than the other; just a different choice.

This story is translucent.

The narrator is essentially a hermit (although that word never appears), living alone in the Maine woods.  After describing his life he switches to third person, describing an encounter  a hermit (hmm...) named Teddy Seay  has with Elliot Kayman, a wealthy banker.

Kayman is fleeing (or flying) from the law, hoping to get to Canada as the first step in his escape to no-extradition land.  Alas, his plane crashes and no one is around to help him but the greedy Teddy Seay who won't help him without being paid and paid often.

One suspects where this story is going but you will definitely want to find out for sure.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Cahoots, by C.C. Guthrie

"Cahoots," by C.C. Guthrie, in Cozy Villages of Death, edited by Lyn Worthen, Camden Park Press, 2020.

Alan Peterson is a banker, and son of the wealthiest man in a small East Texas town.  The story opens with him running into Beulah's diner in a panic because his beautiful wife TeriLyn has disappeared.  

Scary stuff but things don't seem to add up.  She's only been gone a few hours.  And isn't Alan supposed to be out of town?  And why is he claiming she has been having mental problems?

Very suspicious.  Beulah tells us the details of the search that goes on for weeks, and the reaction of the town's residents.  My favorite are the two gossips known  as the mover and the shaker.

A well-structured story with a very satisfactory climax.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Camberwell Crackers, by Anthony Horowitz

  "Camberwell Crackers," by Anthony Horowitz, in California Schemin', edited by Art Taylor, Wildside Press, 2020.

This is a very silly story.  That's certainly not a demerit as far as I'm concerned.  More problematic for some readers might be that the subject is Christmas crackers, a British holiday custom which, like pantomimes, has never really caught on on this side of the pond (south of the Great Lakes at least).

Camberwell Crackers is a long-established family company that manufactures these novelties.  It seems a very cheerful place to work.  But a man named Osborne was planning to take over the company, and now he has been murdered.  The inexperienced Detective Inspector is hoping to make his reputation by solving the crime, but he can't seem to make sense of the clues.  And, oh, there are clues...

I think I'll stop there.


Monday, December 28, 2020

Clickbait, by Mark R. Kehl

"Clickbait," by Mark R. Kehl, in Mickey Finn, volume 1, edited by Michael Bracken, Down & Out Books, 2020.

The night of the home invasion, Bobby Lyon was busy jabbing a seventy-three-old index finger at his smart phone, reading reactions to the day's auction.

 That's how we start.  Lyon is a washed-up action movie star, now in a wheelchair, waiting to be moved into a senior home after his possessions were sold to pay ex-wives, the IRS, etc.  But now he may be getting more action than he wants...

I guessed where this story was going, but not every good tale needs a surprise ending.  This one is mostly about heightened language.

The despair that had grown familiar since the world had started tearing away his life in increasingly larger and bloodier chunks embraced him like a ravenous ghost.

Another sound, heavy but muffled, like Frankenstein's monster in bunny slippers.

...words and low laughs, both respectful and irreverent at the same time, like atheists in church.

Mr. Kehl is a master of similes.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Mailman, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

 "The Mailman," by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, in Mickey Finn, volume 1, edited by Michael Bracken, Down & Out Books, 2020.

This is the author's third appearance on this page.  

When was the last time I reviewed a good 'ol suspense story?  Been a while, I think.

The nameless protagonist is a deliveryman.  He tells his contact that he has never lost a package.

"A package?" his contact replies.  "Jesus Christ, we're talking about a woman.  A mother and child."

As the story goes on we learn more about why the couple is on the run, and the danger they face.  Because some of the rules get broken the deliveryman finds himself in deep trouble: one small man with no gun up against two bigger, heavily armed toughs.  

Will he find a way to deliver the goods?  I'm rooting for him.  You will find the outcome satisfactory.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Tell Him No, by Scott Turow


"Tell Him No," by Scott Turow, in California Schemin', edited by Art Taylor, Wildside Press, 2020.

What kind of work can an 81-year-old private eye do?  Running and fist-fighting seem to be out of the question.  High-tech is a non-starter.  

But one thing an old dude can do easily is be ignored.  And that's a very good thing for surveillance.

Tim Brodie, ex-cop, is following Dykstra, a man who wants to sell his business to Tim's employer.  Listening in on his conversations turns out to be easy because Dykstra "was the kind who thought they'd invented the cellphone so everyone in the vicinity would know he was important."  Boy, do I know that guy.  

It's fun watching Brodie watching his target, and then learning what he figured out, and how his boss could use it.  An entertaining tale.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Underneath it all Runs the River of Sadness, by Oto Oltvanji

"Underneath it all Runs the River of Sadness," by Oto Oltvanji, in Belgrade Noir, edited by  Milorad Ivanovic, Akashic Press, 2020.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."  So said Ralph Waldo Emerson.  

I wanted to begin with that because I have often criticized the fine folks at Akashic Press - who sent me a free copy of this book - for including stories in their Noir Cities series that are not noir.  But here I am about to praise a story that also misses the noir mark.

I'm inconsistent.  So sue me.  But this is a fine, sweet, story.

Ranko and Kozma are neighbors and old friends.  Kozma is the troublemaker.  As a cop he did little but paperwork and now, in retirement, he is desperate to actually solve a crime for once.  His attempts to find villainy where there may be none has gotten him into hot water with the police and the neighborhood.

But now, just maybe, he could be onto something.  There's a man on the fourth floor, he tells Ranko, who keeps bringing young women to his apartment.  Nothing wrong with that, except they never come out.  

So the two old men start spying on the young man, and things get complicated.  There is a crime involved, no doubt about that, but what makes the story so charming is the way seemingly unrelated pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to make a satisfactory whole. 


Monday, November 23, 2020

Death of Another Hero, by Susan Daly

"Death of Another Hero," by Susan Daly, in Ellen Hart Presets: Malice Domestic 15: Murder Most Theatrical, edited by Verona Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Wildside Press, 2020.

This is the second appearance in this space by Susan Daly. 

Once upon a time a local theatre group did a new version of Much Ado About Nothing to celebrate the town's hundredth anniversary.  Twenty-five years later they decide to do it again.  Some of the people involved have gone on to fame, none greater than  Gary Mortimer, now a slowly fading star  named Gareth Caulfield.  

But whatever you call him, he is an unpleasant person, and someone is after revenge. The question is: what kind?

The problem with an anthology with this narrow a focus is that a lot of the stories tend to resemble each other.  (Deaths on stage; ambitious understudies...)  Daly manages to break the pattern in interesting ways.  And the title is very clever indeed.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Woodstock, by Michael Bracken

 "Woodstock," by Michael Bracken, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2020.

This is the seventh appearance in this space by my fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken.  That puts him close to the top of the list of repeat offenders.  This time he is a long distance from his usual territory, both geographically and thematically.

It's August 1969 and Shirley Warner picks up a hitchhiker who explains he is on his way to a music festival near Woodstock, New York.  The hitcher, a hippie, decides she looks like a Shirley.  "A housewife.  Her old man takes the train into the city five days a week, expects dinner on the table and a fresh martini waiting when he gets home.  Most exciting thing a Shirley does is watch Wild Kingdom Sunday nights to see if Him Fowler gets mauled by something." 

Shirley's response?  She throws her wedding rings out the window.

And that is how the story proceeds.  Shirley's reaction to the famous Three Days of Peace and Music, tells us all we know (or need to know) about her immediate past.  By the time it is over her life is moving in a new direction.

A well-written story.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Handed, on a Gold Plate, by Robert Mangeot


"Handed, on a Gold Plate," by Robert Mangeot, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, November 2020.

This is the fifth appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer, the very funny Robert Mangeot.  

Wade is an auditor and  he is about to achieve his life's ambition by representing the accounting firm on a lottery draw.  

It’s where a star auditor ride gets launched intro flash by intro flash if the auditor is poised enough, debonair enough, the public assured enough.

Perhaps he can work his way up to award shows!

But among the obstacles he faces are the lotto guy who doesn't want to hear a peep out of him.  "I’ll know a peep is coming because your brains will smoke cranking into peep mode."

But the bigger problem is his suspicion that the lottery draw has somehow been fixed.  If he doesn't speak up he is a failure as an auditor, but if he squeals and is wrong... hoo boy.


Sunday, November 1, 2020

My Simple Plan, by Ariel Gore


 "My Simple Plan," by Ariel Gore, in The Nicotine Chronicles, edited by Lee Child, Akashic Press, 2020.

The publisher sent me a free copy of this book.  Much appreciated.

All the stories in this book are about tobacco; not all are about crime.  This one definitely qualifies.

Our nameless narrator is stuck in a tiny village in Tuscany. The residents scorn him as a homosexual and, worse, an American.  But he has a plan for making big bucks.

The Italian tobacco workers are on strike and our hero has two backpacks full of precious ciggies.  He plans to wait a few days for desperation to build up and then sell individual smokes at a boomed-up price.

One tiny problem: someone who arrives in town with black market cigarettes is murdered.  And that means: 1. Someone in town is willing to kill for a smoke, and 2. Anyone with cartons of cigarettes is an obvious suspect for the killing.  So, that's two problems, really, and neither of them are tiny.

I saw one plot twist coming but another one delighted me.  Very clever story.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Goon #4, by Tod Goldberg

 "Goon #4," by Tod Goldberg, in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2020.

It makes sense that this story appears in an anthology edited by Lawrence Block because the main character reminds me of Block's meditative hitman, Keller.

Goon #4 (his mama named him Blake) is an ex-military thug, now specializing in high-risk assignments, bodyguarding bad guys or making bad guys wish, in one final moment, that they had hired bodyguards.

Blake has made enough money to retire.  But what to do now?  He decides to go to college and winds up, more or less by accident, in a class on radio performing.  Here he is pondering the building in which the class is taught:

Whole place was maybe 2,500 square feet and could be attacked from about twenty-nine different angles.  A totally unsafe spot to conduct an op... but Blake guessed it was probably fine for learning.

So Blake may be has a little trouble separating his past life from his current one.  And when a professor gives him an assignment, rest assured that he takes all assignments seriously.  Perhaps too seriously...

A fun and quirky story.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Alt-AC, by Warren Moore

 "Alt-AC," by Warren Moore, in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2020.

This is the second appearance here by Warren Moore.  It ranges between the amusing and startling.

I may be prejudiced in favor of this tale because I am both an academic and the father of an academic, so I sympathize with both generations represented here.

Roger Patterson possesses a newly minted PhD. in medieval English.  He has been in Kalamazoo for the annual conference on medieval studies and he offers a Senior Scholar a trip to the airport.  Beggs, the Senior Scholar, turns out to be a historian, with a comfy job of the kind Patterson will probably never get.

Patterson is on the market (a phrase that  "made him feel like a haunted house.  Or a slightly bruised avocado") at a time when there are over a hundred people applying for every position.  He is likely to wind up teaching at  "the Swamp County School of Mortuary Science and Transmission Repair."   Or worse he may need to find an alternative to academia, the dreaded "Alt-AC."

The writing is hilarious but I found myself thinking: this is a book of crime stories.  So somebody has to get naughty, right?  Don't worry.  Somebody does.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Whole Story, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins


"The Whole Story," by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue 7, 2020.

This is the second appearance here by this author.

Hayes is a private eye with a strange assignment.  Bobby Putnam is in prison for driving drunk, resulting in the death of his daughter.  He doesn't deny the crime but he wants Hayes to confirm his impression that the driver whose truck he hit was not looking at him.  His eyes, Putnam insists, were on a man across the street,  man who vanished before the cops arrived.

Not that it would have changed Putnam's guilt.   But he is desperate to know if he's right about this one niggling detail about the event that destroyed his life.

Of course there turns out to be more to this clever story.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Chum in the Water, by Lori Roy

 "Chum in the Water," by Lori Roy, in Tampa Bay Noir, edited by Colette Bancroft, Akashic Press, 2020.

Ms Roy knows her noir, no doubt about that.

Dale is a building contractor and house flipper and he has run into a bad season made worse by bad luck and bad choices.  One of those choices was borrowing a ton of money from Chum Giordano.  Chum has a reputation for not taking kindly to deadbeats.

But on the positive side of the ledger Dale has two items.  His house is about to sell, which will take care of his debt.  And there is an attractive new bartender in his favorite bar who is showing an interest in him.  

Sounds good!  What could possibly go wrong?

Oh yeah.  This is noir...

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Cough, by Lynn Chandler Willis

 "The Cough," by Lynn Chandler Willis, in Writers Crushing COVID-19, edited by Lawrence Kelter, LightSpeed Books, 2020.

There's been a sort of race going on this year and, as far as I know, Willis is the winner.  She is the first person to get a story published in which COVID masks are used by robbers as a disguise.  You knew it had to be coming. 

That's not why this story is my best of the week, of course. The reason is that it is an amusing story of incompetent criminals.

Marty and Dwayne are hoping to rob a bank but the virus lockdown means that only drive-thru's are open. Foiled again!

Marty is the brains of the operation (and that is a low bar).  Dwayne seems as happy to score some toilet paper as he would be with the contents of a bank safe.

But our hero thinks of a way to rob the WalMart.  You my not be astonished that things don't go perfectly.  You may be even less astonished that COVID is involved.

My favorite line: When the two guys get separated and complain someone asks Marty: "You his emotional support animal or something?" 


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Golden Lives, by Joseph S. Walker


"Golden Lives," by Joseph S. Walker, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, September, 2020.

Annalee Lincoln left the army due to an accident that removed her foot.  Three months later she is home because her brother Ike died, in another accident.  This one happened while he was attempting to commit a rather stupid felony.

Annalee has trouble grasping that, because Ike was the smart one.  They were raised by their worthless uncle and Annalee feels the guilt common of older siblings who escape from a toxic home and have to leave the younger ones to cope without them.  

She can't bring him back but can she figure out what happened?  And maybe find love along the way?

Very satisfactory story.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

No Body, by Clea Simon

"No Body," by Clea Simon, in Shattering Glass, edited by Heather Graham, Nasty Women Press, 2020.

Before she even spoke she knew her body was gone. It had been a struggle, losing it. 

At first I thought the protagonist was a ghost, but no, she is a person in trauma experiencing, as some people do in such a situation, the sensation of being outside her own body. In fact, she was drugged and is being raped. 

None of the characters in this story are named, and the protagonist is never "the woman," but simply "she." It is a stylistic choice that keeps the story as intimate and claustrophobic. And this story is strong on style. 

The main character is a college student and the rapist is a popular student who lives right down the hall. He doesn't stop tormenting her, either, joking with his friends about her. But then... 

 I said this story is mostly about style, so honestly I was not expecting a clever and unexpected plot twist. But that's what you get.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Nicking Votes, by Stephen Buehler

"Nicking Votes," by Stephen Buehler, in Low Down Dirty Vote 2, edited by Mysti Berry, Berry Content Corporation, 2020.

I have a story in this book, by the way.

It's the summer of 1974 and con man Nick Townson is having a bit of hard luck.  His (stolen) car is overheating so he has to pull into a small desert town named Promise.  He will have to wait overnight for repairs and figures to while away the time by conning the locals out of some money with bar bets and similar tricks.

But it turns out there is an election going on, with two candidates for mayor: a sleazy developer and the attractive owner of the bar where Nick is playing his sneaky games.  Nick has no interest in politics but he may have no choice but to get involved.

A lot of clever twists in this one.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Law of Local Karma, by Susan Dunlap

 "The Law of Local Karma," by Susan Dunlap, in Berkeley Noir, edited by Jerry Thompson and Owen Hill, Akashic Press, 2020.

The publisher sent me an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

When Sergeant Endo Maduri talked about the case later he'd start off, "That was the last time Shelby and I rode together.  It made some of the guys on the force uncomfortable, but Maduri didn't care.

That is the opening paragraph, and it sets the hook nicely.  Is it the last time because Shelby dies, or retires, or because the two cops decide they can't work together?  It certainly made me want to turn pages and find out.

It's a winter afternoon in Berkeley and someone has killed a real estate flipper.  That means there are tons of suspects because lots of people had reasons to hate the guy, including police officer Shelby  and their only witness, a college kid named Janssen.  Maduri and Shelby get the witness in their car for a search around the neighborhood and he manages to include Lisa, a woman who is way out of his league, but would like the excitement of a trip in a police car.

Maduri is trying desperately  to keep the kid's attention on possible suspects while Janssen is much more interested in Lisa.  And Shelby, nearing retirement age and grumpy as hell, seems to have lost interest in the whole deal.  There are some clever twists here.

I must say this story almost lost me on the first page.  Maybe it's just me but I had a hell of a time figuring out who was who.  Is Shelby Callahan's first name?  Is one or both of them the patrolwoman?  Who is the suspect that everyone loses interest in but leaves face down on the sidewalk?