Showing posts with label EQMM. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EQMM. Show all posts

Monday, October 29, 2018

Jenny's Necklace, by O.A. Tynan

"Jenny's Necklace," by O.A. Tynan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November/December 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.

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.

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, April 1, 2018

The Wedding Ring, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"The Wedding Ring," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.

This is Rusch's sixth appearance on this site.

I try to treat all my little darlings equally, rooting the same for every story I read but I admit that sometimes a concept or opening is so strong I find myself cheering the author on:  Keep going!  Don't screw this up!  

Rusch didn't screw it up.  Here is the concept I liked so much: Serena is a classics professor and after a bad breakup she goes to Las Vegas for what she calls her Liberation Vacation.  There she meets the man of her dreams.  Shortly after that they are married.  Shortly after that he disappears, taking her cash, self-confidence, and so much more.

One cop says about the crooks: "They're not in it for the money.  They're in it to destroy their marks."

Serena replies.  "They didn't destroy me...  I'm right here. And I'm going to destroy them right back."   To do that all she has to do is become a completely different person.  Hell hath no fury, and all that...

There's a lot of thoughtful detail in this novella.  For example: the title does not refer to a piece of jewelry.  Or consider the name: Serena.  Or the final moniker the bad guy chooses.  (It tolls for thee, baby.)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Submarine of Walker Lake, by Brendan DuBois

"The Submarine of Walker Lake," by Brendan DuBois, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.

Correction made, thanks to Kevin Tipple.

Great title, huh?  This is DuBois' seventh appearance in this blog, which ties him with Terence Faherty.  It's not a typical DuBois story, being funnier and shorter than I am used to from him.

Sean Sullivan, our narrator, is an ex-Bostn cop, having lost his job in a reshuffle after a scandal.  The only job he could find was as a patrolman in a small town called Walker, New Hampshire.  He is still getting used to the place and the pace, and when some odd assignments come in he isn't sure whether someone is pranking the new boy.

For example Lon Kotkin claims he has seen a submarine in Walker Lake.  Is he nuts, Sullivan asks the chief.  "Compared to what?" is the reply.

I won't spoil the best line in the story by repeating it here, but it involves a bad guy asking a classic question and getting a rather startling reply.

It's a fun tale.

Monday, February 19, 2018

There Are No Elephants in Peru, by Margaret Maron

"There Are No Elephants in Peru," by Margaret Maron, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2018.

Typo corrected.  Sorry.

Interesting title, no?  Reminds me of the young adult novel by Paula Fox, Blowfish Live In The Sea, with which it has nothing else in common.

This is the second appearance here by MWA Grand Master Margaret Maron.  It is set in North Carolina in 1977.  Dr. Ellen Webster is an archaeologist teaching at a small women's college, and she has been summoned to meet a potential donor who-- Well, let Webster introduce her:

Victoria Hoyt Gardner was as delicate as her china: very thin, very old, very expensive.

Very, very nice writing, that.  Mrs. Gardner is the last of a wealthy family which has donated extensively to the college.  Now she wants to leave her house as a museum.  Her father and grandfather were hunters and the house is full of stuffed animals.

Dubious historic interest, no doubt, but Grandpa also collected trinkets all over the world on his hunting expeditions.  Trinkets like an Egyptian mummy, and pre-Columbian burial jars from South America.  Ellen gets the summer job of beginning to assess the contents of the collection, although there are obviously years of work ahead for someone.  She makes what might be a historic find, but that's not the problem.

The first problem is Mrs. Gardner's obsessive and eccentric demands.  The second is the return of the father of her three-year-old daughter (Ellen is, gasp, an unmarried mother in the 1970s).  He is now married to a rich woman and apparently he wants custody of their child.  Or is the sleazy creep after something else?

All shall be revealed.  The last paragraph is the best I have read in quite some time.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Burg's Hobby Case, by Matthew Wilson

"Burg's Hobby Case," by Matthew Wilson, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January/ February 2018.

This is a first story?  Wow.  In  my experience first mystery stories tend to be short and rooted in the author's immediate experience (and nothing wrong with that).  This one is a novella, or pretty close to it, and set forty years ago in a foreign country.  Although, to be fair, Wilson spent six years in the city where it is set.

So, we are in Bad Kissingen, a German spa city near an American military base.  It is the late 1970s, and Hans Burg has just been assigned an important murder case, a young woman shot to death.  That's surprising because he is  a drinker and a screw-up.

More surprisingly, he seems to have no interest in solving this big opportunity.  Instead he is pursuing his "hobby case," a search for certain Nazi memorabilia, banned in West Germany.  Obviously Burg is up to something, but you will have to follow his steps to find out.  Along the way I learned about some nuggets of post-war history that were new to me.

A very satisfying and believable tale.  YOu can read the first few pages for free here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Precision Thinking, by Jim Fusilli

"Precision Thinking," by Jim Fusilli, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2017.

Last week I wrote about a story that felt like it belonged in Black Mask Magazine.  By coincidence I am now covering a story that appears in the Black Mask department of Ellery Queen.  Go figure.

World War II has just started and the German owner of Delmenhorst Flooring has just died.  The business is in Narrows Gate, a fictional town which strongly resembles Hoboken, NJ.  The Farcolini family decide to take over the flooring  business, replacing the German employees  with "locals, mostly Sicilians and Italians who couldn't spell linoleum on a bet but had a genius for theft."

It's a cliche, I suppose, that gangsters take a successful business and turn it crooked, even though it was making good money on the up and up, because they can't imagine not doing it crooked.  See the fable of the scorpion and the frog.

But in this case there is a low-level mobster who discovers he likes laying linoleum, and he's good at it.  Can he find a way to keep the crooks from ruining a good thing?

Fusilli captures the tough guy tone perfectly, in a fun tale.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Making It, by Michael Wiley

"Making It," by Michael Wiley, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.

Last week I had the privilege of being on a panel at Bouchercon in Toronto.  One of the questions was: How do you find new authors to read?  I responded that every new short story is an author auditioning to be your latest favorite.  And Michael Wiley certainly did a job here.  I will definitely try one of his books.

Let's see how he starts:

When Skylar Ricks carjacked Gerald Johannson's Ford Taurus on a February morning in Chicago, climbing into the passenger seat at the corner of Granville and Clark, his hand wrapped neatly around a .44 Smith & Wesson, an unlighted Marlboro between his lips, Gerald said, "Oh, now you're in trouble."

Well, that took an unexpected turn, didn't it?  As the story goes on we will learn the reason for Skylar's rash act and a good deal about the personality of Gerald.  He is an older man, missing his late lover, and remarkably imperturbable.  Even when being carjacked.

Gerald has some definite views on life.  Later in the story he offers another character some, well, I won't call it wisdom.  Advice.

"When a man cares enough about you to shoot your boyfriend, you owe him kindness."

Somewhat later Gerald is being pursued on the highway by some bad guys.  He manages to get behind them and, rather than escaping, he decides to chase them.  "To break their spirit."

I don't know what he does to their spirit, but he certainly raises mine considerably.  It seems unlikely that there will be more stories about Gerald but I would certainly like to read one. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017

e-Golem, by S.J. Rozan

"e-Golem," by S.J. Rozan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.

This is the fourth appearance here by my old pal S.J. Rozan, and a doozy of a tale she has chosen to tell.

Judah Loew runs a used bookstore on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.  Most similar stores have been killed by the Internet but Loew's specialties - including Judaica and mythology - have kept him holding on.  Not much longer, alas.

But then a newly arrived book claims to offer a spell for creating a golem , the clay humunculus that a medieval rabbi, also named Judah Loew, built out of dust to save the Jews of Warsaw.  Of course, the results back in the middle ages were disastrous.

Can our modern Loew have better luck?  Can a medieval invention cope with the Internet?  Just remember that bookstore dust is special dust so you can't expect an ordinary golem.  If such a thing exists...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hard to Get, by Jeffery Deaver

"Hard to Get," by Jeffery Deaver, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

It's a classic concept of the espionage story: an amateur is forced to into the spy game to play against the deadly professionals.

In Deaver's variation Albert Lessing is not a complete amateur.  He is an analyst for the CIA; a desk jockey.  But when an agent dies in an accident while preparing for a vital mission, Lessing is the only person with the language and academic abilities to fill the gap.

So all of a sudden he is in a small town in Poland trying to attract the attention of the deputy to the Russian spymaster who is running a ring of seditionists in the United States.  But he has to attract the man subtly.  If he is too obvious they will know hit's a trap.  Play hard to get, he is told...

And Lessing turns out to be very good at this new trade.  Or is he?  Or isn't he?  As in a lot of the best spy stories its hard to tell for a while.  And there are plenty of plot twists, one of which made me laugh out loud.  A most enjoyable trip through eastern Europe. 


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Summer of the Seventeen Poll, by Aoife Clifford

"Summer of the Seventeen Poll," by Aoife Clifford, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

I like stories of political intrigue (insert joke about current events here).  But I am not used to them taking a noir tone.

...dawn broke as gently as a politician's promise.

Nice, isn't it? 

The narrator who gave us that lovely line is Callan Valient, an operative for the Labor Party in the Australian state of Victoria. Please don't insult her by calling her a spin doctor. 

You see, I'm a "smokejumper."  I get the first phone call from the powers that be, even before they press "s" for spin.  To be able to spin, you need to how the truth.  I find that out, and then it's someone else's job to ensure the public never does.

The particular wildfire Valient is jumping into involves a long-dead corpse discovered in the seldom-used house of the head of the state, who happens to be the unpopular leader of the Labor Party.  Premier Prendergast might be a pig, but he was our pig...

Valient and her boss, Roland "Stainless" Gesink, have their work cut out for them as most of the suspects have the last name Prendergast.  The solution is quite a surprise.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rosalie Marx in Missing, by Robert S. Levinson

"Rosalie Marx in Missing," by Robert S. Levinson, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

This is the second time Levinson has made it into my column.  A lot of his stories are about fixers in Hollywood in the Studio Era.  This time we go to Las Vegas and the 1970s.

Vincent Riverbend is a private eye who works with Joyce Ryan, the daughter of his late partner from his days as a cop.  And their client is a casino mobster named Nick Simone.  Not the ideal customer but he wanted them so they didn't have much choice: "Simone wasn't somebody who ever took no for an answer.  Ask anyone who tried it, if you can find them."

Turns out the granddaughter of Simone's boss has been performing at the casino.  Turns out she's gone missing.  And if Riverbend and Ryan can't get her back a  whole lot of nasty thugs are going to be upset.

But life is not that simple.  There are wheels within wheels, and when the roulette wheel stops spinning there will be a lot of surprises.  Very satisfying tale.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Renters, by Tim L. Williams

"Renters," by Tim L. Williams, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.

It's rural Kentucky in the mid-eighties, a hard time in a hard place.  Davy is fifteen years old.  His father, a Vietnam vet, lost his job years ago and now puts food on the table hunting and fishing.  Dad has what we might call anger issues.  When his wife said something he didn't like he: "grabbed her by her hair, dragged her to the back door, and threw her into the yard.  'Come back in when you find a cure for stupid.'"

The fourth character in this situation is the family's landlord, Ben Daniels, the richest man in the county.  Daniels wants to bring rich tourists to hunt on his land, which means he has to stop Davy's dad from hunting there for the pot.  Oh, did I mention that Davy's mother is young and beautiful and when she is around the good-looking landlord has "busy eyes?"

So we have all the makings of a tragedy here.  The only question is who is going to end up doing what to whom.  And there Williams offers us some surprises, which is what I liked best about this well-written story.

  "There are some things that need killing..."


Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Case of the Disapppearing Passenger, by Jonathan Turner,

"The Case of the Disapppearing Passenger," by Jonathan Turner, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2017.

Boy.  Where to start with this one?

I am on the  record as not being a fan of fan fiction, where people just write yet another story about Sherlock Holmes, or another novel about the characters of a dead author.

I feel differently about pastiches, where someone rethinks a familiar character or plot and does something different with it.  (Hey, I've done that myself.)

And this one falls in between the stools, you might say.  Jonathan Turner has used (with permission) Steve Hockensmith's characters Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer, and combined them with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

If you aren't familiar with the Amlingmeyer brothers, they are cowboys around the turn of the century.  Old Red is illiterate but is a huge fan of Holmes and wants to be a detective, and he's good at it.  Big Red is the narrator, as witty as his brother is grumpy.  They have appeared in several short stories and five novels. (And I have illustrated one above, rather than using the cover of the same EQMM two weeks in a row.)

This story takes place not long after the most recent (but I hope not last) novel in the series.  The first half is a letter from Big Red to Holmes explaining a case the brothers encountered in New York, which ends with the villain escaping on a ship to London (as Old Red deduces).  The second half consists of Holmes and Watson figuring out which passenger is the bad guy.

If I were Hockensmith I'd be surprised and maybe a little nervous about the uncanny way Turner captures the voices of my characters - better than he did Conan Doyle's, I think.  Here is an example.  (Gus is another name for Old Red.  His brother is talking to King Brady.)

"Enjoying things ain't what you'd call Gus's strong suit," I told him.  "You may be the King of the New York dicks, but he's the Ace of Curmudgeons."
"That makes you the Jack of Asses," Gus retorted. 

A lot of fun. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Slay Belles, by Marilyn Todd

"Slay Belles," by Marilyn Todd, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Ever drive past a small store with some strange specialty and wonder: "How do they stay in business?"

Marilyn Todd has a helpful suggestion: Maybe they are money launderers!  Get a place with a lot of customers (even if they are tourists who don't actually buy much), and a cash-heavy inventory, and the taxman won't suspect a thing.

Or such was the discovery of sisters Hannah and Lynn who have deep roots in British organized crime.  Their year-round-Christmas store, The North Pole, is doing just fine, cleaning up dirty money from various family businesses.

But the sisters have a special sideline.  The store has Santa's Mailbox where kids can ask the fat man for help.  And while Hannah and Lynn can't promise the latest video game or a pony, if the request is desperate they may be able to offer a special solution...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Way They Do It In Boston, by Linda Barnes


"The Way They Do It In Boston," by Linda Barnes, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016.

Heightened language.  What does that mean?

To me it means the words in the story do something more than get the story from the beginning to the end.  They tell you something about the characters or the nature of the universe in which they find themselves.

Here is Barnes' omniscient third-person narrator describing the main character's dog:

Gid got his name in the army.  the shredded ear is courtesy of the service as well.  the shelter dude said the dog left the service early because he lost his sense of mission, basically went AWOL and played catch with Afghan kids. As soon as she heard that Drew felt a sense of kinship with the dog, a bond.  She got blown up and put back together in Iraq.  Lost her sense of mission, too, in the desert near Fallujah.  The shrapnel in her left leg sets off screaming alarms in airports.

Yeah.  Heightened writing.

Drew wants to be a cop in Boston but it's hard to make the resident-for-a-year requirement when you are living in your car with your only friend, a beat-up ex-army dog.

So she's working night security on a tow service parking lot, down by the river.  One night a crate of assault weapons washes up on the shore.  Something bad is going on.  Does it involve the lot?  Can she survive long eonough to find out?

Good stuff.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Voices in the Cistern, by William Burton McCormick

"Voices in the Cistern," by William Burton McCormick in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 2016.

This is McCormick's  second story about Quintus the Clever, a thief in the early days of the Roman empire.  And Quintus is having a bad day.

It isn't enough that he is in a city under seige by the Roman's deadly Scythian enemies.  No, he also has to deal with Vibius, a large, nasty, unscrupulous rogue.  The brute has decided Quintus is the perfect co-conspirator to help him with a dangerous scheme.  The last person involved was actually killed by, uh, Vibius.  So, what could go wrong?

At one point they pass through a house whose residents had been killed, supposedly in a Scythian attack.

"Since when do the Scythians use short swords, Vibius?"
"Since I sold them short swords," he grunts.

So things are pretty bad for Quintus.  But don't worry; they will get worse.  And then Quintus has to make a decision and either choice will break his tiny, larcenous heart...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Flight, by Trina Corey

"Flight," by Trina Corey, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in July 2016.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a story featuring amnesia and said that what matters is not that a device has been used before, but what you do with it this time.  This week the device is paralysis

Rachel is in a nursing home.  She can only move a few facial muscles and, on a good day, twitch the fingers of one hand.

At night, some creepy man has been coming into her dark room to cheerfully tell her about his career as a serial killer and his plans to kill another of the residents.  Is he a resident, a staffer, or someone else?  She can't see him.  But clearly he is getting pleasure from telling his plans to a person who can't tell anyone.

Can Rachel find a way to tell someone what is happening?  Will anyone believe her?  A very suspenseful story.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Jaguar at Sunset, by John Lantigua

"The Jaguar at Sunset," by John Lantigua, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2016.

A nice private eye story by Mr. Lantigua. 

A Brazilian couple named the Mattos led the fight against development in their region and are murdered for it.  Now their daughter Constancia has taken up the cause and is supposed to make a speech in the Everglades National Park in Florida.

The bad guys would like to her silence her too but they know that a political assassination in the United States would cause more trouble than it would end.  But they can give a plane ticket to Constanzia's bitter former lover, and set him loose in Florida.  A lover's quarrel ending in tragedy is no cause for an international incident.  Did I mention he is an expert marksman with a rifle and a bow and arrow?

Connie's new lover contacts Mimi P.I. Willie Cuesta, and Willie, trying to provide bodyguard service on a shoestring, gathers some unlikely allies...

A good tale with a strong sense of place.