Sunday, April 22, 2018
This is an example of a Shared Universe book, a concept which I am not going to discuss in detail here because I think I will probably write about it at length in SleuthSayers one of these days.
The short version is this: In the small western Pennsylvania town of Everton, Maggie Wilbourne murdered the men she said raped her. For this she was executed. As revenge, a group of feminist terrorists called the Daughters blow up the dam, flooding Everton. Each story in this book, written by different authors, takes place on the night of this event. Some move the main story line, about the Daughters. Some have no connection to it except for the flood event. This witty story is one of the latter.
Ed and Rhi are Britons, moved to the small town of Everton, PA to dodge what they believe is a curse. It seems that Rhi met a demon named Frank (Frank?) who offered her a winning lottery ticket in return for a horrible deed to be done later. After they have spent most of the money Frank calls up and demands they do the unspeakable thing he wants. When they refuse he threatens them with a curse.
And suddenly their life is burdened with bugs, and boils, and a fire. So they escape to America and encounter, naturally, a flood. In the anarchic night of crime and looters they can probably get away with what Frank demands, but are the willing to do it?
More importantly, is there really a demon named Frank? I'm not the one to tell. But let me remind you of something a very wise man said last week in this very space:
By the way, not all surprises are created equal. If a meteor struck the bad guy, that would be surprising but not satisfying.
The ending of this story is straight out of left field, but I found it completely satisfying.
Sunday, December 24, 2017
It's just my luck to get locked in a trunk of a car so old there's no emergency latch.
Some people will whine about anything, won't they? That opening sentence stole my heart, in part because I know that if I had been writing this story I would have gone for the cliche: I was trapped in the trunk of a car, on my way to certain death, or the like.
Instead our hero is griping about the lack of modern conveniences. That's just lovely.
Marcus is, as he admits, a screw-up. In and out of jail. Now a bad guy gives him a simple job: pick up this 1969 Ford Fairlane and drive it to a specific spot. Collect five grand out of the glove compartment and walk away clean. Easy peasy, no?
Except that on the drive over Marcus hears strange noises from the trunk, like someone trying to get out...
I love stories about a guy who is ashamed of himself for what he sees as weakness, namely having done the right thing.
By the way, the publisher sent me this magazine for free.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
This is Simmons' second appearance in this blog. "Burnt Orange" is a fresh tale, by which I mean it went in directions I did not expect at all.
Shelby is a teenager with a problem. She likes to burn things.
Her mother is driving her to a reform school. Her mother, by the way, is a narcissist and a bit of a fabulist, which is no doubt is connected to the roots of Shelby's problems.
So I was expecting a story about a troubled kid, and I suppose in a way that's what I got.
But there are worse people out there than Shelby and her mother, and folks with worse problems. And if Shelby thinks fast enough she may be able to save a few lives. She may even get to use her, well, special talents to do it.
A clever tale.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
This is Davidson's second appearance in this column.
Usually when I point out that I might not be objective about a story it is because I am friends with the author (like last week). This week the reason is different: I have visited most of the places she describes.
Suzanne is visiting Israel for the first time. It would be a great visit except for the people she is traveling with, a group from her church. Well, not exactly her church. Husband Bobby made them join it because it is the road to promotion at his company.
And the head of the church, Pastor Ted, is a major jerk. He's the one who brings up Jerusalem Syndrome -- and let's talk about that for a moment. It refers to a mental derangement in which the patient, typically an American or European Christian visits the Holy Land and freaks out. Suddenly they are out on the streets of Jerusalem, wrapped in bed sheets, proclaiming themselves John the Baptist or Mary Magdalene.
I understand why it occurs. People have heard about these places since they were toddlers and suddenly each one is real. The road you take to Jericho is the same one in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's sort of like visiting the Black Forest and the tour guide casually pointing to a decaying cabin and says "That's where Goldilocks met the Three Bears." Except more so, because this is about your religion. Some people's heads just explode.
When I read the story I thought it was odd that Pastor Ted describes something much more minor as Jerusalem Syndrome, but it actually makes perfect sense. He is a control freak and part of that is attacking any sign of rebellion.
And Suzanne is beginning to rebel... I enjoyed this story a lot.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
This is the fourth time my friend and fellow SleuthSayer has made it into this column.
Raymond Wilde is a private eye in a small town in Connecticut where high school football is a big thing. His client is Harold Bain, a wealthy and abrasive man, who wants Ray to prove that the school quarterback is a ringer, not really living in the town. He says that he's concerned about the taxpayers being ripped off, but he really wants to get the outsider out of the way so his own son can move up to quarterback.
Ray investigates but quickly gets distracted by another house on the same block where mysterious goings-on are, uh, going on. Some of them involve Harold Bain, Jr.
What I liked best about this story is the ending, in which several characters show unexpected sides of their personalities. You might even call it a happy ending.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
What a long story title. This, by the way, is Bracken's third appearance in this column. It takes place in Waco, Texas, where Blake is a former cop (he arrested the son of the wrong millionaire) turned private eye. Mrs. Watkins hired him to get proof that her fat rich husband is cheating on her. She might want more from Blake than just that.
And so might Ashley, a wealthy blond he meets in downtown, near the food trucks. For one thing, she would like to accompany him on a case... We will leave it there, I think. It's a good story.
But let's talk about the art of building an anthology. There is a story earlier in this book that, shall we say, runs from Point A to Point B, with B being the revelation of a particular plot device.
Bracken's story includes the same device, but it runs past it to Point C. (Which does not automatically make it a better story, by the way.)
If the editors had put Bracken's story earlier on than the other tale would be a disappointment. But by running it first the alert reader says "Ah, I see where Bracken is going" - and is pleasantly surprised when he goes past it. So, good job, editors.
Monday, November 14, 2016
This story reminds me of a classic by Jack Ritchie, "For All The Rude People." Both start a guy getting ticked off at inconsiderate folks and deciding to fix the problem. The solutions they come up with are very different, and of course, that's the wonderful thing about fiction: two writers can take the same idea in two wildly different directions.
Morrell's star is Barry Pollard and what he likes to do is beat up rude people; put them in the hospital. He figures this attitude adjustment is good for people and they ought to be grateful for it. So one tipsy night he puts an ad on the internet offering to punish anyone who is suffering from a guilty conscience.
If you are brighter than Barry - not a high bar - you can see where that plot is going to wrong, and so it does.
The victim winds up in the hospital but his wife's best friend, Jamie Travers and her husband Cavanaugh, are in the protecting business and they set out to figure whodunit and whopaidforit.
My one complaint about the story is that the solution to that last problem feels unearned and a bit week. But the tale is definitely worth a read.
Monday, April 25, 2016
Clever concept for an anthology: crime stories without guns. Profits will go to States United to Prevent Gun Violence.
As for Mr. Hart, making his second appearance in this space, while his story features a violent crime, it feels more mainstream than genre. It's a sort of character study or slice-of-life (slice-of-death?) piece about the titular character.
The big man they call Creampuff has a job that could only exist in a city as big and crazy as New York. He is a bouncer in a bakery. You see, the chef has come up with a baked treat so popular that people line up before opening to buy one, and they are all gone before nine A.M. And since they are so trendy, a whole of Important People feel they should be able to cut in line to get theirs.
Creampuff disagrees. And he can make it stick because "[h]e was huge, like a recurring childhood nightmare."
Here is our hero at work:
There were the Richie Riches who would stride up to him and wave a bill under his nose. Usually a twenty, sometimes a hundred. Creampuff would take it, stick it in a pouch on his belt that read "donations for charity," and cross his arms.
No one ever asked for their money back.
An enjoyable and well-written piece.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
I have a story in this anthology. This photo, taken by Gigi Pandian and used with permission, shows me sitting with Toni Goodyear at the mass signing for the book at the Bouchercon. We happen to be next to each other in the book, and therefore sat together on the assembly line.
Last week I wrote about a tale in it that I described as sweet and twisted. You might say we're back in that territory again.
Greta is an eighty-year-old widow with a problem: Andy Griffith keeps trying to arrest her.
That's right, the dead actor. He's dressed as Sheriff Andy Taylor from the old sit-com, but Greta realizes that that was only a character he was playing. Heck, she's not crazy.
So naturally she had to set her sofa on fire to escape him. Wouldn't you have?
The doctor says she is suffering "transient paranoid disturbances," but she is more bothered by what she calls "occasional invisibility," as cops, doctors, and relatives find it convenient to talk over and around her.
Okay, Greta clearly has a clinker in her thinker, but this is a crime story. What crime could involve a sweet old lady who empties into her .22 Ruger into the wall of the laundry room, gunning for the sheriff of Mayberry?
A wild and satisfying ride.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
I have a story in this anthology.
Ms. Pullen's tale is a heartwarming story of disease, robbery, blackmail, and other disasters. Trust me.
Martha Sue's life is a mess. Failing business, runaway husband, furious ex-best friend. Everything changes when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her neighbors, all of whom have financial problems of their own, come through in a big way for her.
So, it seems like the least she can do for them is rob a few banks. After all, what's the worst the law can do to her: Put her in prison and give her free medical care?
Funny and sweet, in a twisted way.