Showing posts with label down and out. Show all posts
Showing posts with label down and out. Show all posts

Sunday, April 26, 2020

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Kathy Krevat

"One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest," by Kathy Krevat, in Crossing Borders, edited by Lia Brackmann and Matt Coyle, Down and Out Books, 2020.

Timing is everything, so they say.

I'm sure the editors and author of this book had no idea what was heading at them when this book came out in February.  You see, the narrator of the very first story is a sentient virus.  Specifically an influenza bug.

The virus travels to a nursing home because it is scheduled to kill an old woman who lives there, but someone has already done that.  The virus, out of curiosity, tries to discover the killer.  It has certain abilities: like a lie detector machine it can detect changes in body patterns that might indicate deception.  And it can influence people in subtle ways...

A truly unusual story.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Head Over Heels, by Craig Faustus Buck

"Head Over Heels," by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder-a-Go-Go's, edited by Holly West,  Down and Out Books, 2019.

This is the third appearance here by Craig Faustus Buck.

When a private investigator encounters a woman being bothered by a stalker you can reasonably assume you are about to read a private eye story. But sometimes things take a sudden shift sideways.  In this case we go crashing into noir territory.

Our narrator is a part-time employer of a private detective, which means she mostly serves summons.  When she meets and falls for a woman at the golf course she agrees to put the papers on the creepy ex-boyfriend.  Of course, she is hoping, in classic noir fashion,  to get closer to this femme fatale. And she does.

But her lover isn't quite over the creepy boyfriend.  So it becomes problematic:  Who is the stalker?  And who the femme fatale?

This one was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Righter Side, by Reed Farrel Coleman,

"The Righter Side," by Reed Farrel Coleman, in Down to the River,  edited by Tim O'Mara, Down and Out Books, 2019.

This is Coleman's third appearance in this space.  Here is how it starts.


Most places in this state, it’s the wrong side of the tracks. Not in Brixton, no sir. In Brixton it’s the wrong side of the river. That’s funny on its face, ’cause any sane fool’d be hard-pressed to make a case for there being much of a right side in Brixton, neither. Let’s just say that there’s a…righter side. That the folks on the righter side’s got access to better crank.



So we know right away this story isn't going to be about tea parties in an English village.


The narrator is Pete Frame and his best friend is Jack Clooney.  Jack explains that his own family are "a bunch of born scumbags in charge of what we got comin'."


One of the reasons the two guys get along so well is that Pete and his girlfriend Becki provide a beard for Jack who pretends to be dating her, but is really interested in her brother.  That is something Jack's father would never be able to accept and "He has a lot less trouble expressing his will than our Lord and Savior.  He or one of his clan lay hands on you, there ain't no room for spiritual interpretation."


I am quoting a lot because the language is what makes this story so special and enjoyable.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Catch and Release, by Chris Knopf

"Catch and Release," by Chris Knopf, in Down to the River,  edited by Tim O'Mara, Down and Out Books, 2019.

Thanks to Kevin Tipple for a correction.

When I started reading this story I had a strange sense of deja vu.  Not that I had red the story before, but something similar.

But don't call the plagiarism police just yet.  The story I was thinking of was also written by Chris Knopf.  In fact, this is his third appearance on this page.

Our nameless character is a pretty cheerful guy but he has some problems.  Take Harry, for instance.  Harry isn't a problem, exactly, but a symptom of one.  You see, he is our protagonist's only friend, and he happens to be from another dimension, and not visible to anyone else.

So, yeah, the guy has problems.

Right now he is living in his summer home, a tarp next to the river in Old Lyme, Connecticut.  His neighbors are a big squatter he calls the Grouchy Witch, and a newly arrived woman is younger and attractive.

But now he has a new problem, because the Witch doesn't like the newcomer.  And she has a big knife... 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Chasing the Straight, by Trey R. Barker

"Chasing the Straight," by Trey R. Barker, in The Eyes of Texas, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2019.

It is fashionable today for private eyes (and a lot of other protagonists) to have personal problems that affect their cases.  Derrick Kruse has them, in spades.  And that last part was an unintentional pun, as you shall see.

Kruse appears to be autistic and has OCD, which manifests as an obsession ith numbers.  He is bad at poker because he is so desperate for straights, five numbers in a row.  No doubt contributing to his problems is the fact that his father was an abusive monster who, naturally, picked on the kid who was different.

When Kruse spots a burglar in the middle of the night he encounters a woman with an abusive husband who has made off with her daughter, his stepchild.  Naturally, this is not a case he can leave in the hands of the cops. 

There are some unexpected twists an turns in this one.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Click, by Dana Haynes

"Click," by Dana Haynes, in Denim, Diamonds, and Death, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2019.

Here's a pro tip for all you professional criminals out there: When an old buddy tells you that a crime is so easy that "This thing steals itself," you probably want to get the hell out of there.

But our narrator, Rush, is visiting an old friend who is dying of emphysema, and he permits Jack to tell him about a crime he planned but doesn't have the time/strength to commit.

The crime may be easy but it isn't simple.  It involves stealing the retirement plan of a Mafiosi after he turns it over to a crooked FBI agent in return for a get-out-of-prison free card.  And to do that Rush will have to con another mobster, kill a bodyguard, and sweet-talk somebody's ex-girlfriend.  Easy, no?

Anyone who reads this kind of stuff is already saying: No.

You will enjoy the twists and turns.
 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Black Cow, by Linda Joffe Hull

"Black Cow," by Linda Joffe Hull, in Die Behind the Wheel, edited by Brian Thornton, Down and Out Books, 2019.

All the stories in this book are inspired by Steely Dan songs.  I must confess I am not a huge fan of the band, having their greatest hits album and no more.  Had never heard "Black Cow" as far as I know.  But the story is good.

In French black is noir, and this story certainly qualifies.  To review: in essence noir is the American Dream curdled and spoiled.  A person of no importance tries to Make Something of Himself (could be a herself, but it usually isn't), but his plan is inherently flawed, since it involves robbing a bank, or killing his girlfriend's husband, or...  Bad things happen.

So, this story is classic noir.  It is also in second person singular, which I find annoying.  As I have said before, first versus third is a choice.  Second is always a gimmick.  But it didn't bother me this time.

Our protagonist, "You," meets Debra in a bar.  She is an attractive woman, and very upset because she just discovered her husband Kenny is cheating on her.

You should be asking yourself why you're willing to exploit a woman in such a fragile state, but instead find yourself wondering how Cheatin' Kenny makes bank.

So, You are in the market for a little adulterous fun and it turns out Debra is too.  It would be wise if You left it at that but noir doesn't work like that.  Instead You become obsessed and arrange to meet Debra again. And again...

If you have read much noir you can already list a few ways this story can turn out.  If any of the classic angles  had been used this story would probably not be my pick of the week.  Hull has found a new and original hole to drop her protagonist into and I liked it a lot.


Monday, December 31, 2018

Faith, by Stuart Neville

"Faith," by Stuart Neville, in Blood Work: Remembering Gary Shulze: Once Upon A Crime, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2018.

The day I lost my belief was the same day Mrs. Garrick asked me to help kill her husband.

That's the first sentence of this story.  If it doesn't make you want to read the second, my word, why are you reading fiction at all?

The narrator is an Irish clergyman, five years a widower. Mrs. Garrick's husband was brutally maimed in a terrorist attack.  Our protagonist tries to comfort her and one thing leads to another.

But it isn't the request that he help murder Mr. Garrick that causes the clergyman to lose his faith.  It is his conclusion that "There is no sin because there is no God.  There is no God because there is only us and our impulses..."

In that case there is nothing to keep him from killing the invalid and living happily ever after with the widow.  What could possibly go wrong?

A tight and surprising little tale.

 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Character is Everything, by Jon McGoran

"Character is Everything," by Jon McGoran,  in Unloaded Volume 2, edited by Eric Beeetner and A.Y. Aymar, Down and Out Books, 2018.

And today we are in science fiction territory.  At least, I hope it remains SF for a few more years.

Roscoe Boyer is an endangered species.  He is the last employed writer in the world.  

Roscoe had started out writing honest-to-God books, but he'd changed with the times -- video games, social media micro shorts, story interactives.  Finally this. 

This is creating character outlines for robots.  And now Roscoe is being fired from even that job. Ah, but Roscoe has a trick up the old sleeve...  A clever story.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pan Paniscus, by James W. Ziskin

"Pan Paniscus," by James W. Ziskin, in Unloaded Volume 2, edited by Eric Beetner and A.Y. Aymar, Down and Out Books, 2018.

The theme of these collections is simple: crimes without guns. Certainly this story has plenty of plot.  Here is the first sentence:

The adolescent bonobo named Bingo escaped from the zoo in the early hours of an October morning.

Animal lovers may be glad to know that Bingo is not a crime victim.  Human beings are not so lucky.

Bingo is spotted on the property of Mitch and Fiona Hirsch.  Mitch is a bleeding heart liberal who annoys his law firm by working on pro bono cases.  His wife Fiona is the daughter of wealth and doesn't seem to do much except drink her way through book club meetings.  And then there is Evelio, their gardener.  He is, not surprisingly, illegal.

When Bingo shows up unexpectedly all their lives are changed dramatically, forever....

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Curse, by Mark Edwards

"The Curse," by Mark Edwards, in Night of the Flood, edited by E.A. Aymar, and Sarah M. Chen.  Down and Out Books, 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

One at a Time, by Lissa Marie Redmond

"One at a Time," by Lissa Marie Redmond, in Down & Out Magazine, Issue 2.

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

Burnt Orange, by Shawn Reilly Simmons

"Burnt Orange," by Shawn Reilly Simmons, in Passport to Murder, edited by John McFetridge, Down and Out Books, 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

Jerusalem Syndrome, by Hilary Davidson

"Jerusalem Syndrome," in Passport to Murder, edited by John McFetridge, Down and Out Books, 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

The House on Maple Street, by Janice Law

"The House on Maple Street," by Janice Law, in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down & Out Books, 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

Mr. Private Eye Behind the Motel with a .38, by Michael Bracken

"Mr. Private Eye Behind the Motel with a .38," by Michael Bracken, in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down & Out Books, 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

The Attitude Adjuster, by David Morrell

"The Attitude Adjuster," by David Morrell, in Blood on the Bayou, edited by Greg Herren, Down and Out Books, 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

Creampuff, by Rob Hart.

"Creampuff," by Rob Hart, in Unloaded, edited by Eric Beetner, Down and Out Books, 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

Down Home, by Toni Goodyear

"Down Home," by Toni Goodyear, in Murder Under The Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, edited by Art Taylor, Down and Out Books, 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

#grenadegranny, by Karen Pullen

"#grenadegranny," by Karen Pullen, in Murder Under The Oaks, Bouchercon Anthology 2015, edite by Art Taylor, Down and Out Books, 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.