Showing posts with label AHMM. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AHMM. Show all posts

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Night Train to Berlin, by WIlliam Burton McCormick

"Night Train to Berlin," by William Burton McCormick.  Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2020. 


This is McCormick' fourth appearance here, and it's quite a change.  The others were humorous stories but this one is sheer suspense.

It is 1939 and Stalin and Hitler are playing footsie.  As part of their nice-making the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are exchanging prisoners.

Our narrator is a German-born Communist named Moller.  He has lived in the USSR since its origin but is now  being shipped back to his homeland in exchange for some unfortunate Russian the NKVD wants to get their hands on.  He knows that the vehicle he is about to board "might as well be my funeral train."  The Gestapo will soon torture him death.

But there are plots within plots on board that choo-choo, and an unlikely ally might be able to help him out.

I read this in one sitting, because I had to know it ended...

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Bride of Torches, by Kenneth Wishnia

"Bride of Torches," by Kenneth Wishnia, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazine, March/April 2020.

Haven't the AHMM covers been great the last couple of years?  And the recent redesign is fine as well.  My compliments to the design staff.


My friend Ken Wishnia has told a lovely story here.  I should say retold because he is working from the story of Yael in the Book of Judges.  He has filled in the brief biblical tale with a lot of context about the Iron Age.  (Does that sound dull?  It isn't.)

The Kanaanites blocked the roads and barred any contraband iron goods from coming up from the coast.  There were no blacksmiths in the land in those days, so there was no sword or spear made of iron to be found in the land of Yisra'el, and the people had to rely on migrant metalworkers to sharpen their pitchforks...

Ya'el is the wife of one such metalworker and she commits the crime (?) which is the centerpiece of our story.  The main thing Wishnia adds to the Bible tale is giving her a motive.  In fact, he offers two, one of which feels very modern without being anachronistic.

I liked this very much indeed.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Mistaken Identity, by Wayne J. Gardiner

"Mistaken Identity," by Wayne J. Gardiner, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, January/February 2020.

Gary Hoffman is the senior half of a small town police force.  One night he is called out to a bar where a stranger has snatched up the owner's shotgun and told him to call the cops.  In the fracas that follows Hoffman kills the stranger.

I'm not giving anything away, I should point out.  This is, as they say, the premise of the story.  And it's a wittily written tale.  Take this bit of conversation between Hoffman and his receptionist.

Marie gave him a pat.  "Take all the the time you need," she said.  "I can keep up with the little things."
"Can't take too long," Gary said.  "People might realize this whole operation can run without me."
Marie had issued as much sympathy as she could muster.  "Don't worry about it.  It won't come as a surprise to anybody."

But there will be other surprises in store, as Hoffman tries to figure out why a stranger wanted to kill him.  And whether there may be more danger ahead. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Thanksgiving Eve, by Mark Thielman

"Thanksgiving Eve," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November/December 2019.

This the fourth appearance in my space by Mark Thielman. It is very silly.  Not that that is a bad thing.

Our hero -- well, narrator, anyway -- is about to celebrate Thanksgiving in the bosom of his family.  That's a bit of luck because he is on probation "for that unfortunate  incident where Mr. Thompson's car accidentally ended up in my possession."  Apparently that sort of thing happens to him a lot.

He decides he needs to buy some weed to make it through "life's vagaries.  They didn't teach me what a vagary was, but I think it's bad."

Which might not be a problem except that his sister Eve unexpectedly shows up for the dinner with her boyfriend Bill.  And Bill is an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency.  Suddenly that bag of weed is very much on our guy's mind.

Funny stuff.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Miss Starr's Good-bye, by Leslie Budewitz

"Miss Starr's Good-bye," by Leslie Budewitz, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November/December 2019.

It was just last month that I wrote in this space about mysteries that feature historical figures.  Naturally enough such tales are usually about well known people: Samuel Johnson, Weegee, Eleanor Roosevelt...

Not so today.  This is (at least) the second story by Leslie Budewitz about Stagecoach Mary, a former slave who moved to Cascade Montana in 1885 to take care of a member of the family she had worked for back east who was now the head of a Catholic school. 

This story is not about a nun; far from it.  (Although one character makes an innocent comparison between the women, causing Mary to have a coughing fit.  Miss Starr is a prostitute, apparently the only one in Cascade.  Her brother has arrived, wanting her to return to civilization.

Her reply: "If you want to take me back to Philadelphia, you might as well kill me first.  Because a life in a gilded cage would be the death of me."

Someone does die and Mary needs the help of a young Indian girl to solve the puzzle.  Most of the story is told from Josie's viewpoint which makes it all the more intriguing, since we understand much of what she does not. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Niall Nelson is on my Flight, by Jim Fusilli

"Niall Nelson is on my Flight," by Jim Fusilli, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September/October 2019.

This is the second appearance here by Jim Fusilli.

Betty's point: You don't send money back.  You don't negotiate out of insecurity.  You push hard.  You demand.
My question: Do they really want me?

Paul has written a treatment for a movie based on the life of musician Nick Drake and now he is flying to France to talk to a studio interested in  making the flick.  He is afraid he is not good enough.  His much-younger wife Betty clearly thinks he is not ambitious enough.  (He suspects she only stays married to him to provide a father figure for her son.)  And it turns out a famous A-list actor is on their flight, someone Betty thinks he should find a way to talk to...

That's all I will tell you about the plot.  There are two things that made this story stand out for me.

One is Fusilli's use of real people and institutions.  I think most writers would have had their fictional characters fly on Paris Airlines to talk to executives at Seine Studio, but he just flat out says Air France and Canal+.  And Nick Drake too, was a real-life person.  Niall Nelson, of course, is not real, but you don't have to be an addict of Hollywood gossip shows to guess what sixty-ish Irish action star Fusilli is invoking.

The second element is a very blunt form of foreshadowing.  Early twentieth-century crime writer Mary Roberts Rinehard is credited/blamed with being the queen of the "Had I But Known" school of writing, in which suspense is created by lamenting bad decisions.

Fusilli doesn't do the lamenting but he simply warns us that bad things are about to happen.  It was one of those men, I later learned, who set out to harm us.  That's the first of several notes.

I feel like it shouldn't work but it certainly does.  Good story.






Monday, August 26, 2019

The Surrogate Initiative, by Brian Cox

"The Surrogate Initiative," by Brian Cox, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2019.

One of the many things I like about AHMM is that they are willing to push genre boundaries.  They occasionally publish a western, science fiction, or even fantasy story if it has a strong crime element.

Take this tale as an example.  It tells of the first criminal case decided by a jury of AI surrogates.  Nobody wants to be called to jury duty so computer programs are developed with the personalities of potential jurors.  Unlike their real life counterparts they never get sick, or bored, they automatically understand all the technical jargon of expert witnesses and their biases can be tuned by the judge. 

Could it ever happen?  Probably not.  But it's fascinating to think about it, and Cox's story provides several twists along the way to what might be justice.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice, by Mark Bruce

"Minerva James and the Goddess of Justice," by Mark Bruce, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  July/August 2019.

I have a fondness for the Black Orchid Novella Award, and not just because I won it once.  Co-sponsored by AHMM and the Wolfe Pack, it is intended to honor and promote the novella genre used by one of my favorite authors, Rex Stout. The rules do not require you to copy Stout's format, but most of the winners do.  (Typically that means a mastermind detective, a narrator/legman, and a final gathering of suspects.)

Let's get to Mark Bruce's winning entry.  In 1962 Carson Robinson is a private eye in Sacramento, California.  He was recently in the army, in "a place you never heard of called Vietnam... I was an advisor."  They didn't like his advice, which was "to get out of that godforsaken jungle as fast as we could..."

He is hired by Minerva James, a famous defense lawyer.

Why would a high-class act like Minerva James summon a beaten veteran like me?  I had only just obtained my license after two years of struggle and an initial failure to pass the licensing exam.

There is a murder case but she makes it clear that their job is not to catch a killer but to  find evidence to exculpate her client.

"Mr Robinson, if I asked you to do something dirty and underhanded, would you do it?"
"No," I said.  She looked at me in surprise.
"II thought you needed work," she said.
"I need a soul too."

It's going to be an interesting relationship.  Makes for a good story.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Three Camillas, by William Burton McCormick

"The Three Camillas," by William Burton McCormick, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  July/August 2019.

This is the third appearance here by McCormick and the second for Quintus the Clever.  But our hero, if that's the right word, takes a while to arrive.

The story is set during the rule of Caligula the mad in the Roman empire.  The narrator is Camilla Tertia, which is to say, the third Camilla.  ("Siblings with identical names, especially amongst girls, were common in conservative and affluent families...")

Tertia is twelve and, she reports proudly, "already considered far and wide the scoundrel and gossip of the family."  Reports have not been exaggerated.

Her sister Secunda is about to make an unhappy marriage.  Tertia decides it can be prevented if her expensive engagement ring is lost - a bad omen!  And who better to make it disappear than the luckless thief she meets after he is caught and whipped?

Quintus is clever enough to want nothing to do with her - what's Latin for hellcat? - but she doesn't give him much choice.  The best part of the story is their conversations.

"Be an honest man, Quintus, and rob my sister!"

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Tourist, by B.K.Stevens

"The Tourist," by B.K.Stevens, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2019.

This is the second appearance on this page by my fellow SleuthSayer,the late B.K. Stevens.


They'd brought him no joy, those first three murders...

So the story begins.

Where do you hide a leaf?  In a forest.  And of there is no forest?  You create one.  G.K. Chesterton had Father Brown say that that was a fearful sin. Ecologists might disagree, but now we are scrambling our metaphor.

Charles has decided to kill his annoying wife.  He want to disguise it as the work of a serial killer.  That means killing several other women first, creating his own forest, so to speak.

Of course, if you have read a few hundred crime stories you know something is going to go wrong with this clever plot.  The question is: what will the fatal problem be?  I certainly didn't see it coming.

My favorite part is that the event I expected to be the climax is tossed off in a sentence. Hell, in a clause.  Lovely bit of misdirection there,.

I don't know if this will be B.K.'s last published piece.  If so, it is a good note to go out on.

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, 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, 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, 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.

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, March 11, 2018

High Explosive, by Martin Limon

"High Explosive," by Martin Limón, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March-April 2018.

This is Martin Limón's fourth appearance here.  I am a big fan of  his stories about George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, two Army CID officers in South Korea sometime in the mid-seventies, combating deadly soldiers, corrupt civilians, and bosses more concerned with the chain of command than the chain of evidence.

In this case the National Police's chief investigative officer, Mr. Kill,has called them in because a cab driver was robbed and badly beaten by three young American men. Who could they be but some of the G.I.'s in the country?  Worse, the cabbie's passenger was kidnapped with the car: a young woman.   

And so Sueño and Bascom are on a desperate search to find three soldiers out of 50,000, before something terrible and terminal happens to their victim.  

Limón spent ten years in the army in Korea - although not a cop like his heroes a and as they think through the problem (Who would have had access to diesel to burn up the cab?  Which of the dozens of army bases were large enough to hide a woman on but small enough that the guards might let you get away with it?) it is clear that he knows his subject matter thoroughly.

A terrific story.



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Night Walker, by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg

"Night Walker," by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March-April 2018.


This is Pronzini's second appearance here.

Brevity is not an obstacle to greatness in a short story, but it sure can make it hard to write a review that doesn't give away the store.  This story is under 2,000 words so I won't have much to say about it, good as it is.

Henry Boyd's life changed forever when a moment of his own carelessness destroyed his family.  He hoped to be sent to prison but the courts thought otherwise.  He can't face the thought of suicide so now he walks through the night, hoping some criminal will do to him what he lacks the courage to do to himself.

Instead, what happens is... See?  This is where I have to stop.  But the last sentence is sheer poetry.