Sunday, April 19, 2020
On occasion I have judged contests which involved reading stories without knowing the identity of the author. Reading this one, I wondered if my experience would have been different if I hadn't known who the author was.
The reason? Well here is the first sentence:
Since Sloan's retirement, he has spent his fall and winter months in a remote villa in the village of Ilse-Sur-La-Sorgue in Provence in the south of France, and the spring and summer months in a comfortable and well-hidden flat in Paris.
My question: If I hadn't known that DuBois was the author, would I have instantly known that Sloan is an ex-spy? Not that DuBois writes primarily about espionage. Maybe it''s just that he writes well enough to set the mood immediately. By the way, this is his eighth appearance in this column, which puts him in the lead ove rthe rest of the mystery-writing world, for now.
Back to Sloan who is, indeed, an ex-spy. If one can ever stop being a spy. He is constantly on watch for clues about his major concern:
...what really occupies his time is wondering if this is going to be the day when he will finally be killed.
And indeed on this day there is a threat on the horizon. Watching how he deals with it is intriguing. A nicely written story.
Sunday, March 25, 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.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
The June issue of AHMM is awfully good, making it hard for me to pick winners. That's a better problem than the occasional weeks when I can't find a story I enjoy, so I won't complain.
This marks DuBois' sixth appearance in this space, tying him with Terence Faherty for first place.
It's 1946 in Boston. Billy Sullivan is a private eye with a guilty conscience because, as an Army MP, he spent most of the war out of harm's way, while his brother died in the infantry.
His client, Ronny Silver, is also having trouble with dealing with his war memories. But he recently spotted someone he knew from his time in Europe, a war correspondent who had promised to send the G.I.s photos. Ronny thinks if he can get those pictures he won't forget his buddies who died. Can Sullivan help him find the reporter?
If you have read any private eye fiction it won't be a spoiler if I tell you there is more going on than what appears on the surface. Interesting twists, interesting characters...
Sunday, February 8, 2015
So a trio of mobsters decide to slip out of the country a few hours ahead of an indictment. A seaplane lands them on an island on a lake by the Canadian border. Now they just have to wait for their friend to arrive with a boat to slip them across.
Sure, there is a resident on the island, but she's just a beautiful young woman, grading papers. Surely she can't cause any trouble for three armed hoodlums.
What could possibly go wrong?
This is Mr. DuBois's fifth appearance in my best-of-the-week column. I guess I like his stuff.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Hard time choosing between two very different stories this week, both in Ice Cold, and both excellent. Sara Paretsky's "Miss Bianca" is about intrigue in a biological research lab, as seen through the eyes of a child. "Crush Depth" is a look back at a genuine mystery of American military history, offering a possible explanation. The first is cute, the latter is grim. What finally decided me was their surprise endings. Paretsky's seemed tacked on, while Dubois's was a genuine twist, putting a new light on everything that went before.
In "Crush Depth" it is a year after the Soviet Union collapsed and an intelligence agent named Michael is hanging around the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, naval yard, trying to make contact with someone who knows the truth behind a naval tragedy from the 1960s.
Michael thought it ironic that his work and the work of so many others was still going on, despite peace supposedly breaking out everywhere.
Cold war or hot war, there was always plenty of work to be done...
True and sad enough.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Very nice piece opens the new issue of EQMM. Zach Ford is a mild-mannered accountant in a small town in Maine. His beloved daughter goes off to a party at the home of a millionaire and dies. The millionaire's son is whisked out of the country, far from the possibility of justice.
In some stories the next step would be a whole lot of guns and blood, but Mr. Ford has a different idea. He studies up on the millionaire, and then he studies the state and local ordinances. And starts plotting a completely legal vengeance.
DuBois' story reminds me of one of my all-time favorites, "Privilege," by Frederick Forsyth. Both are about a "little man" who uses lateral thinking to go after a foe who seems to powerful to attack. Good piece.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Henry Conway has a somewhat eccentric plan for his retirement. He wants to move to a small town in New Hampshire, buy a dog for company, and plow people's driveways. Seems easy enough, but he runs into a couple of problems, especially a man who beats his wife, a problem Henry isn't willing to ignore.
But Henry has an interesting skill set. Did I mention what work he retired from? Neither does he, exactly.
I chose my retirement home like I was planning for an overseas op. Oops, I meant to say, setting up a budget spreadsheet. Or a request for proposals. Or something innocent like that.
Oddly enough, I enjoyed the story more before the inevitable conflict came along. Henry is an interesting fellow and, honestly, the bad guy just wasn't enough of a challenge for him. But the writing is lovely.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Boy, I don't know if it's just the dog days of summer affecting my mood but I can tell you I have just loved the last three stories I chose for this column. Real stand-outs.
Beth knew in a flash that she was outgunned. This man before her had traveled the world, knew how to order wine from a meny, wore the best clothes and had gone to the best schools, and was prominent in a campaign to elect a senator from Georgia as the next president of the Untied States.
She put the tissue back in her purse. And her? She was under no illusions. A dumpy woman from a small town outside Manchester who had barely graduated from high school and was now leasing a small beauty shop in a strip mall.
That's not the opening of the story but it is the core of it. Ms David, meet Mr. Goliath.
Beth's daughter was brutally attacked by a son of the senator/candidate. The man-of-the-world described above is the problem solver. "In other words, I'm the senator's bitch." He offers her two choices which he insists on calling "avenues." She can pursue prosecution of the senator's son, guaranteeing herself years of being stripped naked by the press, attacked by his supporters, dragged out as a symbol by his enemies... or she can agree to let the culprit get psychological treatment and accept financial aid from the senator to cover her daughter's long-term medical needs.
I won't spoil it by telling you what happens next. But two old sayings apply: Never fight with someone who has nothing to lose. And: the most dangerous place in the world is between a mother and her children.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
"The Ladies of Wednesday Tea," by Michael Bracken, in Bullets and Other Hurting Things, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2021.
This is the eighth appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken, which ties him with Brendan DuBois for first place.
Florence Quigly owns a florist shop in a small Texas town. Her best friends are three other older women. When her useless grandson gets in trouble with some local bad guys Flo and friends prove that you don't want to mess around with four old ladies.
Over the years each had lost a spouse or a significant make figure, though LOST might not be the appropriate term. They knew where the bodies were...
It's fun seeing how their skills and history complement each other.
Sunday, August 26, 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.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Eric Beetner — “The Business of Death” UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS (Down & Out Books)
Laura Benedict — “The Peter Rabbit Killers” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Brendan DuBois — “The Man from Away” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Joyce Carol Oates — “Big Momma” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Art Taylor — “Parallel Play” CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: STORM WARNING (Wildside Press)
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Last week I noted that Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Brendan Dubois were tied for first place with five appearances in my best-of-the-week list. By coincidence, a third writer enters that august rank today.
My former co-blogger Terence Faherty has come up with a great gimmick. He claims to have discovered Dr. John Watson's notebooks, containing the rough drafts of Sherlock Holmes adventures, before they were "cleaned up for publication." This is the fourth such publication and I consider it a significant improvement of the oroginal, which was not one of Doyle's masterpieces.
Both versions begin with a woman calling at the home of Watson and his wife, desperate because her husband has disappeared. In Doyle's version the man is a drug addict and has vanished into an opium den. In Faherty's tale the same man is a serial philanderer and is apparently staying in a hotel of bad repute. In both tales Watson finds Holmes there in disguise but what he is seeking is different - although the solution has some amusing similarities.
I won't go into detail. Watson correctly notes that the story has the elements of a French farce and Holmes says he is just trying to prevent it from turning into a Greek tragedy.
"My husband returns!" Rita exclaimed.
"Not a moment too soon," Holmes said.
"You don't understand. He's insanely jealous. And violent. If he finds me in here--"
Holmes sprang up. "Watson, I bow to your experience. Under the bed?"
Heresy of the best kind. And it provides an answer to one of the eternal questions debated by players of the Game.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
This is Rusch's fifth appearance on my best-of-the-week list, which I believe puts her in a tie for first place with Brendon Dubois.
It is Christmas eve and Rachel and her little girl are on the run. Many pages will pass before we find out from who, and about the shadowy support system that is helping them.
Rachel is terrified, not sure who to trust, and desperately trying to keep up an appearance of normality for her daughter who, heartbreakingly, seems mostly concerned about Santa Claus.
And that's enough from me. Rusch carries the story off with great audacity. I am sure it will appear in holiday-themed anthologies for years to come.