Monday, September 16, 2019
A charming historical mystery this week. Let's read the first paragraph...
The summer of 1927 was as idyllic as ever remembered in the South of England. Old John Ayres had decided to retire to spend more time with his family in Dorset and so the council of Lower Dunston was forced to choose a new village policeman; by popular opinion, George Mahoney was the first name suggested. Fred Hurst nominated himself, of course, but this was quickly discarded because of the obvious reasons that nobody talked about...
And there is the gaff, the hook. Are we going to find out "the obvious reasons" or is this just a casual element thrown in to suggest that the village knows too much about its residents?
It turns out to be the former.
The new copper is found dead two days later and Fred Hurst, obvious reasons and all, finds himself a rookie officer struggling with a murder. He isn't getting a lot of help from the higher-ups who, when he asks for immediate help, respond "basically, that Mr. Mahoney would not be any deader tomorrow."
And he gets no respect from his fellow villagers, who are at least willing to tell him what he's doing wrong.
Will Fred solve the crime? And if he does, considering those annoying "reasons," will he even remember the solution?
Monday, September 9, 2019
Lillian de la Torre was the pioneer, as far as I know. In the 1940s she started writing stories about "Samuel Johnson, detector." This was the earliest example I am aware of of mystery writers using real people as their protagonists. Nowadays you can find everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Barack Obama starring in crime novels.
In this case the main character is Weegee the Famous, who was indeed a famous photographer, specializing in street scenes of New York City.
Unlike de la Torre's Johnson, Weegee is not shown as a detective here. His connection to crime is photographing it, and in the era of Murder, Inc., there is plenty of death to document. In fact, that is the problem he faces in the story. Jaded reader are getting tired of his photos of countless thugs and gangsters shot to death. Editors have stopped buying? What to do?
Weegee finds a solution. It is perfectly legal, and as near as I can surmise, it doesn't even violate journalistic canons (unlike his habit of rearranging props at the murder scene to make a more interesting shot). But boy, it does seem unethical in the extreme.
I have no idea whether Most is describing something that actually happened to Weegee or making it up. But it's an interesting story that makes you think.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
This is Mangeot's fourth appearance here.
Tori is the mayor of a small town in the Florida Panhandle, and she has had some bad luck. Not that it was her fault, of course. How could she know, when she stole city funds to buy some land, that the state would cancel the project they were planing to build on it?
Obviously there is only one possible solution: convince her useless brother to dress up as a swamp ape and use her female wiles to persuade a local reporter to come out where said monster can be witnessed, thereby bringing a storm of tourists to the site.
Simple, really. What could possibly go wrong?
Mangeot is one of our foremost writers of funny short crime stories.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
I like surprises. Not in real life, I hasten to add, so put down that seltzer bottle. But surprises in fiction are definitely a good thing.
The main reason that this story made my page this week is that twice I thought Well, I see where this is headed, and both times I was wrong. That's nice.
Phil's family moved to an inner city neighborhood that is gentrifying. Great house, nice neighbors. But then the old man across the street dies and his house is inherited by a jerk who parties all night The jerk is a huge guy who "reminded me of one of those men featured on cable shows taking viewers inside America's roughtest prisons."
When this guy takes an unhealthy interest in Phil's teenage daughter things seem really desperate. But then Phil meets Deke, a motorcyclist and a proud one-percenter. This does not refer to the one-percent who own so much of our country; it's an older term referring to the supposed one percent of motorcyclists who are criminals.
Phil helps Deke with a problem. Will Deke help Phil with his? Or, hint hint, will something different happen?
By the way, not all surprises are created equal. If a meteor struck the bad guy, that would be surprising but not satisfying. But the twists in this tale are nicely foreshadowed. There is a flaw in the plot (let's just say it's better to be lucky than to plan well), but it didn't stop my enjoying the story.
Another complaint, which you've heard me make before. There are not a lot of characters in this story, so why do three of them need to be named Amy, Allison, and Anderson?
Sunday, April 8, 2018
I don't go looking for western stories, because that's not what I'm in the business of reviewing, but this one showed up in Mystery Weekly Magazine, and it has plenty of the right elements. Plus it's a good story.
In a cliched western when two gunfighters face off one usually ends up dead and the other unhurt. But as our tale begins the two antagonists are both gut shot and dying.
Deadeye Danny is a "a skinny rumor of a man," so narcissistic that he refers to himself by his self-anointed nickname and talks like a character out of a dime novel.
Harris is a trick shooter, both laconic and sardonic. At one point he asks the doctor if his wound is going to be fatal. The doctor assures him that it is and begins to explain what damage was done.
“Was only asking what time it was, Doc,” Harris said. “No need to explain how the clock was built.”
As the two enemies sit, more or less abandoned, waiting for the end, they try to settle a question: how exactly did they wind up fighting each other in the first place? And there is the mystery, a clever one at that.