Sunday, July 24, 2016
In his first published story (!) Mark Thielman seems to have played midwife to the love child of Rex Stout and Lillian de la Torre. Or maybe I have just been infected with his characters' love of metaphor.
"A Meter of Murder" is this year's winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award, which is co-sponsored by AHMM and the Wolfe Pack, dedicated fans of Rex Stout. Often but not always the winner follows the formula of Stout's Nero Wolfe stories: a genius detective who seldom goes anywhere, and a narrator who does the footwork. So it is in Thielman's story.
But this novella is also part of a subgenre which, as far as I know was invented by Lillian de la Torre. I assume she was reading Arthur Conan Doyle one day and noticed that Holmes referred to Watson as "my Boswell." And she thought: If Watson is Boswell why can't Boswell be Watson? And so she created the Samuel Johnson: Detector series, the first mystery stories to make use of a real person as the fictional hero.
And now, at last, we can get to Thielman's story.
London in 1661 was a very dangerous place. King Charles II had just taken the throne and anyone who had been on the Roundhead side in the Civil War, or worked with Cromwell after, had to keep one eye over his shoulder, expecting arrest or worse.
One of those was the blind poet John Milton, not yet the creator of Paradise Lost. The narrator of the novella is Milton's younger friend, Andrew Marvell, who was both a member of Parliament and a poet.
At the beginning of what turns out to be a very long day Marvell comes to tell his friend that a royalist member of the House of Commons has been killed in circumstances that suggest a possible political motive. If someone doesn't find out whodunit, then the people of their party may be chosen as the killer.
And so Milton gets on the case, sending Marvell out to investigate and bring back suspects. Thielman clearly knows his Restoration London and his Rex Stout. I enjoyed this novella a lot.
One line made me laugh out loud. Milton to a suspect: "Sir, don't be pugnacious. Spare us your vehemence."
Doesn't that sound exactly like Nero Wolfe?
Sunday, June 28, 2020
Oh, what a lovely cover. This is the fifth appearance in this space by Mark Thielman. Of his previous successes I count two historical mysteries and two comedies. This time he combines the two.
The tale is set in sixteenth-century France. Bernard de Vallenchin is an advocat, essentially a defense attorney, and he has his work cut out for him. His client, together with her six offspring, committed the unprovoked murder of a small child and the community is demanding vengeance. But what makes the case particularly challenging--
No. I can't tell you that. Major spoiler.
I had no idea where this story was going but I read some hilarious passages to a friend who seldom reads mysteries and she figured it out immediately. That tells you something about me or about her, I suppose.
This story is based on an actual trial that took place in France hundreds of years ago. Thielman makes it clear that it is firmly rooted in a view of the universe that seems more foreign to us than the medieval French language. But that is part of what makes it a fun story.
Monday, May 31, 2021
"The Case of the Brain Tuber," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2021.
This is the sixth appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer Mark Thielman, and the second by his unlikely hero.
Sheer silliness here. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The narrator is a private eye whose side gig is dressing up as a potato for marketing events at supermarkets. They call him the Spud Stud.
But this time he gets to appear as a normal person for a special event at the Idaho Potato Museum. They are celebrating the newest inductees to the Potato Hall of Fame. So get ready for tater-based humor.
The band is called the Twice-Baked. The name tags were "shaped like small packages of freeze-dried hash browns." They are serving vodka (of course) but you can also get a sparkling wine called Potateau.
Like I said: silly. But when one of the guests of honor dies and the cops are delayed the Spud Stud has to solve the crime. His method is clever.
Monday, November 4, 2019
This the fourth appearance in my space by Mark Thielman. It is very silly. Not that that is a bad thing.
Our hero -- well, narrator, anyway -- is about to celebrate Thanksgiving in the bosom of his family. That's a bit of luck because he is on probation "for that unfortunate incident where Mr. Thompson's car accidentally ended up in my possession." Apparently that sort of thing happens to him a lot.
He decides he needs to buy some weed to make it through "life's vagaries. They didn't teach me what a vagary was, but I think it's bad."
Which might not be a problem except that his sister Eve unexpectedly shows up for the dinner with her boyfriend Bill. And Bill is an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Suddenly that bag of weed is very much on our guy's mind.
Monday, February 4, 2019
This is the third appearance in this space by Mark Thielman. The first two were somber tales featuring actual historical personages. The current entry is not like that, as you can probably guess from the title.
The narrator is a part-time private eye who makes most of his living dressed as a potato, promoting the cause at various supermarkets. He says the Potato Board calls him the "Spud Stud."
Lately he's been doing his thing at Uncle Bob's Natural Food Emporium, but someone murdered Charlie, the produce manager, who was dressed as, yup, an avocado. The deputy suspects our hero. His only ally is an actress dressed as Babs the Baguette.
No, not somber this time. But enjoyable.
Sunday, July 1, 2018
The Black Orchid Novella Award is co-sponsored by the Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. It is intended to promote the sort of fair play detective stories illustrated by Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novellas.
The rules do not require that the story follows the structure of Stout's work, but most of the winners have done that. (Full disclosure: mine did.) Here's what I mean by that structure: the narrator does the legwork of investigating a crime, bringing back clues to an older and wiser character, who solves the crime, usually by bringing all the suspects together for a chat.
Thielman has followed that pattern, as he did with his 2015 winner, which also made my best-of list. Both of his novellas use actual historical figures.
It is 1769, deep in the South Pacific. Our narrator is Joseph Banks, chief naturalist on the HMS Endeavour, which has been sent on a scientific investigation to observe the Transit of Venus. When one of Banks's assistants is found with his throat cut just as they arrive at Tahiti, Banks is ordered to investigate the crime by none other than Captain James Cook. He is handicapped by his lack of knowledge of navy ways and nautical vocabulary, but he brings back the facts which allow Cook to cleverly determine the identity of the murderer.
Cook is a wonderful character here. Witness his comment on another character:
I wished I had the opportunity to have spoken more with the man. Of course, I may have ended up ordering him hanged, but up to then, he would have proved a fascinating man with whom to converse. A pity I missed the opportunity.