Sunday, February 14, 2016
This is the sixth appearance in this space by my former fellow-SleuthSayer, Terence Faherty. That puts him ahead of all the other writers in the universe. No doubt he is thrilled.
And this is the third winner in this bizarre series. You see, Faherty claims to have found Dr John Watson's notebooks, containing the original drafts of the Sherlock Holmes stories, explaining what really happened. And they are pretty hilarious.
You may remember that in Doyle's version someone has stolen the precious jewel of the title from the Countess of Morcar. A plumber is arrested but then Peters, a hotel commissionaire, gets involved in a street fight and ends up with a goose which, turns out to contain the precious bauble. Now let's look at a passage from Faherty's tale:
"Until now," Holmes added as he tossed the paper aside. "The question before us is how the stone got out of the jewelry case and into the goose."
"Excuse me for saying so," Peters interrupted, "but who gives a tinker's tintype? We don't need to explain how it got in the goose to collect the reward."
"What was I thinking?" Holmes said. "Right you are. Case closed. Drinks all around."
Which might have been an amusing place to end the story, but Faherty has other, uh, geese to roast. In fact he is about to skewer one of the great mystery tales of all time, and it is not by Doyle. I will stop right here except to say the whole piece is very funny and clever.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
This is embarassing. I am in danger of being labeled a Faherty fanboy.
For the first time since I started these reviews I am featuring the same author two weeks in a row. Is it my fault that Terence Faherty has stories in both AH and EQ, and that both are fine?
The title of the story is, no doubt, familiar. This is a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, which brings me to an old rant. As I have said before some people use the word pastiche to mean a story about a character written by someone other than the original author. To me, that is something different (how about "fan fiction?").
I argue that to create a pastiche the author has to re-think the original stories in some way, not just add another one to the series. And a pastiche is not a parody either , which is simply making fun of the original. To use a popular recent term, a pastiche is a reboot.
Bringing us to Faherty. He begins by referring to "the recent discovery of the notebooks of Dr. John H. Watson," which allow us to see the rough draft of this famous story, including Watson's editorial notes to himself. The result is a hilarious fresh look at the "real" story of the famous partnership.
"And now to work. Are you willing to break a law or two and perhaps even land yourself in the jug?"
"In a just cause."
"We're helping a serial defiler of women recover evidence of same from a blackmailing prostitute, so you can work out the justness of our cause at your leisure. the venture does, however, ensure you an evening out of the house."
"Then I'm your man."
Sunday, February 5, 2017
This is the seventh appearance here by fellow SleuthSayer, Terence Faherty. He remains the World Champeen in my blog.
Let's talk about pastiches. Again. It seems like there is something in the air, or the zeitgeist that is pulling htem at a high rate and high quality.
Last week it was Jonathan Turner's mash-up of characters created by Steve Hockensmith and Arthur Conan Doyle. Faherty himself has written clever send-ups of Doyle's work. And Evan Lewis dazzled us with a reboot of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories.
But today's story more closely resembles another series of Mr. Lewis: those about state legislator David Crockett who is the unfortunate bearer of the consciousness of his ancestor Davy Crockett.
Mr. Faherty introduces us to Kelly and David, a married couple who visit Hawaii. David has some annoying habits, wanting to tell his wife everything he knows, especially about whatever book he is reading. (Why no, I am nothing like that myself. Just ask my wife. Or better yet, don't.)
But David is reading one of S.S. Van Dine's novels about that most irritating of Golden Age amateur sleuth's, Philo Vance. (Ogden Nash wrote that he needed a kick in the pance.) And when David suffers a concussion he becomes convinced that he is the great and annoying detective. Bad for his wife, but good for justice since a mysterious death has just occurred...
Very funny and clever.
Sunday, May 28, 2023
"The Incurious Man," by Terence Faherty, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2023.
This is the tenth appearance in this column by Faherty, which ties him at the tippy-top with Mark Thielman. Mark is a fellow SleuthSayer while Faherty is a SleuthSayer alum.
I think it was Michael Mallory who predicted that most crime fiction in the future would be set in the days before smart phones and the Internet made certain kinds of research (and calls for help) inconveniently convenient. This story is an example. It is set in the 1990s and if it were written about the world of today it would have to be quite different.
Owen Keane is a private detective and he is starting a job at a law firm. Well, not much of a job. He has been hired on a temporary basis mostly to provide company for a friend who has reluctantly taken over the family business.
But on his first day, taking the train from New Jersey to New York City, he encounters something very strange. Every day for a week a woman near Rahway has held up a sign for people on the train to see. The signs seem ominous, if not threatening, and refer to Giovanni and Elvira, whoever they are.
Everyone on the train is fascinated by the signs except one man who ignores them. And that attitude fascinates Keane, and makes him suspicious, because he is a curious man. His lawyer friend says: "It might be dangerous for you two to come together. Like matter meeting antimatter. There could be an explosion."
Of course Keane ignores his advice and discovers a particularly cruel scheme. Terrific story.
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, October 17, 2021
"The Big Store," by Terence Faherty, in Monkey Business:Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers, edited by Josh Pachter, Untreed Reads, 2021.
I have a story in this book.
This is the eighth appearance in this space by my fellow SleuthSayer Terence Faherty.
Last week I wrote about a story in this book that gave us a view of the Marx Brothers as they might have appeared in real life Today we go to the opposite extreme with a story that could be a sequel to the movie in question - and it's odd that such a bad movie could lead to such a good story.
Our narrator is private eye Wolf J. Flywheel. Groucho's character. Based on his success in saving Martha Phelps' department store in the movie he now has an office in her shop and is pursuing his detective business while also pursuing the boss.
"Martha, Martha, Martha. I could say her name a million times. Once for every greenback she has in the bank."
If his motives are less than pure, his language is pretty hilarious, and convincingly Marxist.
"The department store business is one tough racket. Machine Gun Kelly once tried to return a violin case to Macy’s without a receipt and ended up kissing the sidewalk."
I won't go into the plot. Let's just say mischief is afoot and Flywheel has to rush to the rescue with the assistance, if that;s the word I'm searching for, of an Italian blackmailer and a silent harpist. Good times.
Sunday, March 5, 2023
"Margo and the Yachting Party," by Terence Faherty, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2023.
It's 1941. Margo Banning is an assistant on a radio show in New York City. One of the stars of the show is criminologist Philip St. Pierre. He is an odd duck with elaborate tastes in clothing and a new hobby of sorts: he is hunting for Nazi spies.
On the show he announces that "Certain German sympathizers here in our fair city have hatched a scheme to resupply the German U-boats operating off our coast." He urges everyone to be on the lookout for a "pirate yacht."
After the show an FBI agent arrives with the bad news that a Nazi courier St. Pierre had caught earlier had escaped. The detective refuses to help the Feds, being determined to hunt for his mystery ship.
It seems like St. Pierre knows more than he is telling (as usual). And Margo gets caught up in the mess (also as usual).
A light and fun historical.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Last week I saw All Through The Night, a weird movie with an amazing cast (Bogart, Lorre, Phil Silvers, Jackie Gleason, etc.) that starts out as a pretty good comedy and sort of devolves into the Bowery Boys versus the Nazis. I bring this up because Faherty's plot hits similar territory: a Nazi plot against New York harbor in the days before Pearl Harbor. I like his story better than the movie, though.
Margo Banning is an ambitious career woman, working as associate producer on a Sunday radio show. One of the stars is Philip St, Pierre, a self-proclaimed "radio detective." And in this week's show he announces that next week he will be revealing the identity of a top German spy. What follows is a lot of fun and amusingly written. Take this conversation regarding one of the other performers on the radio show.
"You are not a radio detective?"
"That question takes us into the realm of philosophy. Or do I mean psychology? Are we who we decide to be or who the world tells us to be? For example, I work with a woman who has forced her will upon the world. She's become a former Broadway star despite the inconvenience of never having been a current one."
"Mamie Gallagher," Edelweiss said a little wistfully. "She has a very attractive voice. I imagine her blonde."
"So does she."
The ending clearly hints at more adventures to come. I look forward to them.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Keane is a troubled guy with a murky past, explored in previous Faherty tales, and when the current story opens he is accompanying a friend to the wedding of a couple he doesn't know. The minister's familiar sermon on weddings creating a new community gets him thinking about people in his past, but a few days later the new couple is killed on their honeymoon, and that's what really gets him thinking.
Was it, as it appeared to be, a meaningless mugging death, or is something even more sinister going on? Keane cleverly traces the roots back to an event that happened fifty years ago, and then forward again to the present day. The story is well-written with nice characterization of the minor players, which help Keane reach the final deduction. A nice piece of work.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
"When I first heard 'Mayan rite,' I thought it might involve a human sacrifice. Maybe even the removal of a beating heart."
Anya's smile died. "Every wedding requires a human sacrifice," she said. "And often the removal of a beating heart."
Well, I don't know about you, but that exchange certainly got my attention. It happens deep in the middle of this story, which is largely a character study. My co-blogger Faherty has a great talent for characterization through dialog. See Anya above, for instance.
The protagonist, Robert, is a middle-aged guy, down in Mexico for a family wedding. We don't learn a lot about him (not coincidentally he's the one who talks the least, a very reserved sort of guy). His brother, on the other hand, is more outgoing: "Before we're done, Mexico's gonna be sending out for more tequila!"
But Robert is the one who notices what appears to be an unhappily married couple. And he notices some bad stuff... There is clever deduction in here too. A lovely piece of work.
Sunday, June 20, 2021
"Capes and Masks," by Richard Helms, Mystery Weekly Magazine, June 2021.
And except for quality, they couldn't be more different. Last week I critiqued a war-and-crime story. Today we have a quirky tale of a superhero, Captain Courageous:
"You know the story. Stolen by aliens who crashed my fourth birthday party. Returned when I was seventeen, but I was somehow... different than when I left. Well, duh, I was thirteen years older, had all this weird hair growing where it never had, and my voice sounded like I was shaving a cat with a cheese greater."
If that sounds a bit... hardboiled... for a superhero it is no accident. His cover identity is Eddie Shane, private eye. He mostly deals with divorce work but when a caped dude named Sunburst is found mysteriously dead, this is no job for a superhero. We need a detective to save the day.
Very funny and clever.
Monday, August 14, 2023
"Making the Bad Guys Nervous," by Joseph S. Walker, in Black Cat Weekly, #102.
This is Walker's third appearance in my column this year. It is his tenth overall, which ties him with Terence Faherty and Mark Thielman at the top of the pantheon, for the moment.
Tim Chadwick is a disgraced ex-cop who sometimes fills the times between drinks by doing some unlicensed private eye work. (cough cough Scudder? cough cough).
A client is worried that his mother's suburban neighborhood is being plagued with porch pirates - people stealing packages left by delivery workers. He wants the bad guys caught before they escalate to violence and he is willing to pay Tim to put a week into it.
So Tim finds himself sitting in the living room of Sandy, the client's mother, peering out the window, eating her sandwiches, and listening to her attempt to play the piano.
"Is that Springsteen?"
"If you're feeling generous."
It's a low-key story that shifts to a low-key sort of violence. Very clever.
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.
Sunday, November 19, 2023
"Spear Carriers," by Richard Helms, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November/December 2023.
As far as I can tell, this is only the second time an author has appeared in my best-of column twice in the same month. Even more impressive (to me, at any rate), this is Helms' tenth story to make it here, which puts him in a tie for first place with Mark Thielman, Joseph S. Walker, and Terence Faherty.
Dave and Sam have bit parts in a Broadway play, as policemen. They only show up at the very end which leaves them with a lot of time on their hands. One night Dave goes out for a bite and the clerk gives him his food for free. "Thank you for your service."
This happens because Dave is wearing his costume - which is to say, something that looks very much like a police uniform.
Dave reports this to Sam who is the imaginative type. I'll bet you can think of some of the plans he comes up with. And being brighter than Sam you can probably foresee some of the things that could go wrong.
But not all of the ones Helms dreams up.
Clever plot and very funny writing.
"If we're caught, we'll be fired!" I yelled.
"We're actors!" Sam yelled back. "Getting fired is part of the deal!"
Sunday, September 17, 2017
This is the fifth appearance in this space by David Edgerley Gates, which ties him with James Powell, and leaves him topped only by Terence Faherty. It is his second showing here since he joined SleuthSayers where I also blog.
Somebody said the essence of story is this: throw your hero in a hole and drop rocks on him. Let's count how many rocks fall on Montana deputy Hector Moody.
His truck breaks down in the mountains miles from anywhere. No phone reception. A thunderstorm approaching fast. And oh yes, unknown to him, to prisoners have escaped from prison and they have already killed to stay free...
That's just the set-up. The situation will get much worse.
A real nail-biter, with terrific dialog.
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...