Saturday, April 30, 2011

Little Big News: Arthur Ellis Award Nominees

The Crime Writers of Canada have announced their nominees for the year. Congrats to all! Here are the short story finalists:

"In it Up to My Neck" Jas R. Petrin, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

"So Much in Common" Mary Jane Maffini, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

"The Big Touch" Jordan McPeek,

"The Piper's Door" James Powell, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

"The Bust" William Deverall, Whodunnit: Sun Media’s Canadian Crime
Fiction Showcase

Little Big News: Edgar Winner

Congratulations to Doug Allyn for winning the Mystery Writer of America Edgar Award for best short story of the year.

"The Scent of Lilacs" –

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Doug Allyn (Dell Magazines)

Sunday, April 24, 2011


“Loaded” by Ken Bruen. London Noir, edited by Cathi Unsworth. Akashic Press. 2006.

Didn’t run across any new stories I liked this week so I went digging through older books in my collection I hadn’t read yet. Found this older Akashic noir book.

Here’s a doctorate dissertation waiting for somebody to write it: the classic noir story is an example of the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell.
Specifically, it starts with what Campbell calls the Call to Adventure, in which an average joe runs into something extraordinary. Little girl meets talking frog. Man opens bottle, finds genie.

In the classic noir story the hero (or at least protagonist, cause noir characters ain’t generally heroic) meets a stunningly beautiful woman. From this encounter all his trouble springs.

Leroy is a smart, high-level, drug dealer. The beautiful enticement is an Irish woman named Kelly: “A woman in her late twenties, dressed in late Goth style, lots of black makeup, clothes, attitude… Her face wasn’t pretty, not even close, but it has an energy…”

Leroy is too smart to use his own dope but pretty soon he is hooked on Kelly. This being noir, things are going to end badly for somebody, maybe everybody.

This material could produce a tired, generic story, but it doesn’t because Bruen is a very good writer. He gives Leroy an attitude that keeps us reading. Here are his first words: “Blame the Irish. I always do.” Of course, Bruen is as Irish as Kelly, so who’s side is he on?

Leroy keeps his snotty attitude up right through the bitter end of the story. It’s a good read.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Appointment

"The Appointment:" by Maynard Allington. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. June 2011.

Since Afghanistan, I think a lot about death, as if I were being billed for a broken appointment.

If I wrote that nugget of a sentence I would have probably started the story with it. Allington puts it at the end of a long opening paragraph. But it sets the tone, doesn't it?

Danny Malone got back from the war with brain damage that effects his memory and temper. Now he is wandering through Death Valley because someone has been sending him photographs of the park and he thinks, vaguely, that he is supposed to meet someone there.

And meet someone he does. The man wears a hooded parka - in the desert heat - and appears to have suffered severe burn damage.

"Don't you remember me? We met once in Afghanistan. I got to know some of the men in your platoon. I knew your best friend, Robinson. He spoke highly of you."

"Robbie's dead."

"So I heard..."

So who is the mysterious hooded figure? What does he have in mind for Danny? And, more importantly, is the explanation of what happens criminal, psychological, or even supernatural?

The answers come at the end of this elegant, finely detailed story. Allington is a former military man and he writes well about the troubled veteran.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Little Big News: Thriller Nominations

The International Thriller Writers have announced their nominations for the best of the year. Here are the short stories noms. Congrats to all you thrillerers!

Mike Carey – "Second Wind." The New Dead, St. Martin's)
Michael Connelly – "Blue on Black." The Strand Magazine
Richard Helms – "The God for Vengeance Cry" Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
Harley Jane Kozak – "Madeeda." Crimes By Midnight
Nicolas Kaufman – "Chasing the Dragon" ChiZine Magazine
Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins – "Long Time Dead" The Strand Magazine

Little Big News: Women of Mystery

Greetings to any new readers who come here from Women of Mystery. Terrie Farley Moran was kind enough to write about LBC there. It is amazing how many blogs are out there in our field, and so many good ones, too!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Man Changes Mind

"Man Changes Mind," by Jason Armstrong. Thrillers, Killers, 'n Chillers. January 4, 2011.

This week I have been surfing the web for fiction (possibly because I just gave in and bought an iPad... and yes, it is very cool.) Most of the stories I looked at were free - both to me and to the publisher, meaning the author didn't get nothin' but fame and glory. Would I find something at that end of the field that was worth sharing with you?

I sure did.

I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to be a serial killer.

I mean, I'll probably just finish up with school and get a good job in management but it just seems like I should be doing something bigger with my life. But I think every young man has this conversation with himself at some point. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather be a superhero. I've had that dream since I was five but there's no such thing as superheroes.

That's the start of this wonderfully quirky tale by Jason Armstrong. The publisher, Thrillers, Killers, 'n Chillers, described it as flash fiction, which astonished me because I thought it was longer than that. (When I say a story seemed longer than it was I don't usually intend it as a compliment, because I like short fiction, but in this case I mean the story packs a lot into a small space.)

Which is not to say a lot happens. As the title implies, it is just a meditation inside the character's brain. But the story manages to be authentically funny and creepy at the same time, a good trick, and leave you wondering: is this guy just a not-bright doofus thinking idle thoughts, or exactly the kind of person who goes off the deep end one day?

It just seems like the best way to be famous; it seems like the best way. I mean, everybody knows who Charles Manson is. But can you name one movie with Sharon Tate?[...] But serial killers have it easy. Just stab your way to success.

Definitely worth a read.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dark Horizons

"Dark Horizons" by Rex Burns. Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. June 2011.

I'm no expert on mainstream fiction but it seems to me that the folks on the other side of the fence are not as fond of series characters as us genre people. There is a lot to be said in favor of using one character in a lot of short stories, letting him or her develop through a set of different situations.

Our current subject is part of a series by Rex Burns about Constable Leonard Smith, a half-Aborigine police officer in Western Australia. And that brings up another characteristic of mystery fiction: the tale that informs us about a different culture.

In this case Constable Smith is assigned to visit a small aboriginal settlement where three teenagers have recently committed suicide. What strange plaque is eating up the future of the community?

It turns out to be a very old and familiar evil. The most interesting part is watching Smith adapt standard police techniques to the morés of this society where certain things can't even be spoken of - like religious mysteries or the names of the deceased.

What I would like to see in future stories is more about Smith himself. As I said, story series should let us learn more about the character, and so far he is pretty two-dimensional. But the story itself is fascinating, and an excellent read.

Little Big News: Spinetingler Nominees

Spinetingler Magazine has listed their nominees for many awards, including the Best Online Crime Story of 2011. You can vote here. Congratulations to all.

Times Past by Matthew C. Funk from All Due Respect

Hold You by Steve Weddle from A Twist of Noir

Pillow Talk by Jodi MacArthur from Beat to a Pulp

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson from Mysterical-E

Secretario by Catherynne M. Valente from Weird Tales

Ghostman on Third by Chad Eagleton from The Drowning Machine

By Lily Childs from Thrillers, Killers ‘N’ Chillers

How to Jail by Dennis Tafoya from Crime Factory

Home Invasion by Jen Conley from Thuglit

Beat on the Brat by Nigel Bird from The Drowning Machine

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Little Big News: Derringer Winners

The Short Mystery Fiction Society has just announced the winners of the Derringer Award for 2011. Congratulations to all!

Best Flash Fiction Story (under 1,000 words)
"The Book Signing," by Kathy Chencharik, in Thin Ice: Crime Stories by New England Writers. Edited by Leslie Wheeler, Mark Ammons, Barbara Ross, Kat
Fast, Level Best Books, November, 2010
"The Unknown Substance" by Jane Hammons, A Twist of Noir December 27,

Best Short Story (1,001-4,000 words)

"Pewter Badge," by Michael J. Solender, Yellow Mama, August, 2010

Best Long Story (4,001-8,000 words)
"Care of the Circumcised Penis" by Sean Doolittle, in Thuglit
Presents: Blood, Guts & Whiskey
Edited by Todd Robinson, Kensington
Publishing Corp., May, 2010
"Interpretation of Murder" by B. K. Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery
, December, 2010

Best Novelette (8,001-17,500 words)

"Rearview Mirror" by Art Taylor,
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine March, 2010

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Calling the Shots

"Calling the Shots" by Karen Dionne. in First Thrills, edited by Steve Berry. Forge, 2010.

WARNING: Spoiler alert.

Jason just broke up with his pregnant girlfriend. Now he's in the forest, cutting firewood alone, which he knows is a foolish and dangerous thing to do...

Let's talk a little bit about context. In an ideal world we would come to each short story fresh, and see it as the unique work of literature it is. But on our less-than-perfect planet we sometimes notice the frame around the artwork.

Most of the stories in First Thrills would fit just fine into a magazine of mystery stories. But this particular tale is much better off in a collection of thrillers.

Why? Because in a mystery magazine you would know that before the story is over there will have to be a crime, or the threat of a crime, or the memory of a crime. Otherwise it wouldn't be in the magazine, right? But in this book the story is justified by its thrilling content before anything criminal appears. So the surprise works better here than it would in the other context.

Having said all that this is a terrific tale, with the coldest ending line I have read since the last novel by Richard Stark. If I had read it in 2010 it would be on my best of the year list. Karen Dionne apparently specializes in ecothrillers, and she seems to know her woods and her woodsmen very well.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Dead Club

"The Dead Club" by MIchael Palmer and Daniel James Palmer, in First Thrills, edited by Steve Berry. Forge. 2010.

I have temporarily run short of 2011 stories to read (if you have had one published this year and you want me to read it with the possibility of reviewing it, contact me at lopresti AT Published stories only, please). So I have been reading First Thrills, published last year by the International Thriller Writers.

This brings up the question: what's a thriller? Unfortunately the only definition the book provides is this from David Morrell "If a story doesn't thrill, it's not a thriller." Yeah, and if a statement is not tautological, it's not a tautology.

So, here's my effort: a thriller is an action-oriented suspense story. (And before you ask: a mystery is focused on a crime in the past; suspense focuses on crime yet to come.)

Enough definitionizing. Let's get to the story at hand.

Dr. Robert Tomlinson is a distinguished General Practioner. Bobby Tomlinson is an obsessive gambler. They happen to be the same person, and that leads to trouble when there is a medical conference in Las Vegas.

Bobby plays hooky from the conference to hit the casinos, where he meets a fellow-minded doctor named Grove who tells him about the Dead Club. Using the Internet doctors from around the world read the medical histories of terminally ill patients and bet on how long they will live. It's not illegal, Grove assures him, because all identifying information has been removed. What could go wrong?

This is a very twisty tale. I made several guesses as to where it was going, but the authors, Palmer and Palmer, managed to stay several curves ahead of me.

By the way, "The Thief" by Gregg Hurwitz in the same book, came a damned close second. If I had read these stories in 2010 they would have both made my Best of the Year list.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Guest Review: The Awareness

"The Awareness" by Terrie Farley Moran. in Crimes By Midnight: Mysteries from the Dark Side. Edited by Charlaine Harris. 2010.

When I started this blog I invited you readers to send me reviews of favorite stories. I now have my first bite. Leigh Lundin is an author of excellent short stories and my brother blogger at Criminal Brief. By coincidence he sent me a review on the same subject I chose this week: a story from a book on occult crime. Different story, different book, as it happens. What a coicncidence! Ooh, spooky!

"The Awareness" by Terri Farley Moran.
Reviewed by by Leigh Lundin

I received a surprise gift, Crimes by Moonlight, the latest MWA anthology edited by Charlaine Harris. This volume is unusual in that each story combines traditional mystery with the paranormal.

I flipped through its contents looking for authors I might know. The first name that leaped out at me was Terrie Farley Moran.

That's right, my tease-mate over at Women of Mystery, plunked in the middle of the book. I turned there first.
Another surprise: Terrie isn't so much an author as an artist. She doesn't write– she paints with words. She sketches and shades and sometimes sculpts. Characters emerge in bas-relief. Single sentences become miniature portraits and landscapes.

Terrie's story, "The Awareness", is unusual in another regard. Rather than recycle vampires and werewolves, she cast a banshee as her heroine. The female fairies of the hills, the keening bean-sídhe, sing at the death of those of their clan. Terrie's immortal, living in New York City, realizes the object of her lament was murdered. She sets about to solve– and avenge– the murder.

"The Awareness" is a satisfying story, not the least because of Terrie's artistry and attention to mythological detail. Terrie's selection is all the more impressive because she was up against 240 or so tough competitors.

This is where I need to make full disclosure: I not only submitted a story to the anthology, but I critiqued four others that were so good, I was surprised they didn't make it. The selection committee made difficult decisions and I didn't envy them.

I next took up Mark Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane's story, "Grave Matters", an unusual Mike Hammer Frankensteinisch horror story. Following on my list is Toni Kelner's "Taking the Long View", after which I'll read the stories from the beginning.

Crimes by Moonlight is a hit and I can assure fretting readers of traditional mysteries (like me) that Crimes by Moonlight does not fall back on deus ex machina. Realism and ratiocination trump the psychic aspects.
Get the book: The first three stories I devoured are all winners. Like me, you'll enjoy Terrie Farley Moran's 'The Awareness'.

You Heard It Here First!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Spirit of the Thing

"The Spirit of the Thing" by Simon R. Green. in Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives edited by Justin Gustainis. EDGE. 2011.

This week I have been reading an anthology of occult crime tales which Justin Gustainis, the editor, was kind enough to send me.

I am not usually a big fan of occult mysteries, although I only object strongly when a supernatural element is thrown in gratuitously (what I call the "ooh! spooky!" gambit). Bad, but not quite as bad, is the story where you only find out about the supernatural element at the end (and he was a GHOST!). Full disclosure: I wrote a story of that ilk once, but it was in another century, and beside, the magazine is dead.

In any case, no danger of that type of story in this book which promises in advance that each story will feature werewolves, demons, fairies or the like. These tales are all new but each also is part of a series of novels and/or stories by the authors.

I tend to like the tales best that play with the cliches and expectations of the mystery genre. For example, my favorite story is Simon R. Green's "The Spirit of the Thing," in which private eye John Taylor is drinking in a seedy bar when he meets a beautiful woman who wants to hire him. How many times have we read that scene? But here is how it plays in Green's world:

"You have to helo me. I've been murdered. I need you to find out who killed me.

Not every private eye gets hired by a ghost. But Taylor is not your average dick. He works in the Nightside, "the secret hidden heart of London, where it's always the darkest part of the night and the dawn never comes..." Am I the only reader who finds himself picturing Diagon Alley?

Taylor solves the crime without leaving the bar and the bad guy comes to a suitable noir and supernatural end.

Other good stories in the book include "Dusted" by Laura Anne Gilman and "Under the Kill and Far Away" by Caitlin Kittredge.

If you like occult stories this book is worth picking up. And by the way, we will have a special feature at this site later in the week about another book of spooky tales.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

LIttle Big News: Derringer Nominees

The Short Mystery Fiction Society has listed their nominees for best stories of 2010. Congratulations to all!

Flash Story (-1000 words)

"Blues in the Night," by Carol Kilgore, *Dark Valentine*, May 2010

"Homeless," by Patricia Morin, *MYSTERY MONTAGE*, 2010

"Stick a Needle in My Eye," by Julia Madeleine, *Powder Burn Flash*No. 302, May 5, 2010

"The Book Signing," by Kathy Kencharik, *THIN ICE: CRIME STORIES BYNEW ENGLAND WRITERS*, 2010

"The Unknown Substance," by Jane Hammons, *A Twist of Noir*, Dec.27, 2010

Short Story (1001 - 4000 words)

"My Asshole Brother" by Eric Beetner, *A Twist of Noir,* May 7, 2010

"Seventy-hours of Less" by Michael J. Solender, *A Twist of Noir,* April 23, 2010

"Broken Down on the Bonneville Flats" by Jack Bates, *Beat to a Pulp,* October 17, 2010

"Angel of Mercy" by David Price, *Beat to a Pulp,* Jan. 31, 2010

"Pewter Badge" by Michael J. Solender, *Yellow Mama," August, 2010.

Long Story (4001 - 8000 words)

"A Tour of the Tower," by Christine Poulson, *Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine*, March/April 2010

"Care of the Circumcised Penis," by Sean Doolittle, *THUGLIT PRESENTS: BLOOD, GUTS, AND WHISKEY*, 2010

"Interpretation of Murder," by B. K. Stevens, *Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine*, December 2010

"Silicon Kings," by Richard Helms, *The Back Alley Webzine*, April 2010

" The Little Nogai Boy," by R. T. Lawton, *Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine*, September 2010

Novelette (8001 - 17,500 words)

"Deserters," by Chris Muessig, *Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine*, March 2010

"Rearview Mirror," by Art Taylor, *Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine*, March 2010

"The Gods for Vengeance Cry," by Richard Helms, *Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine*, November 2010

"The Man With One Eye," by Stephen Ross, *Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine*, December 2010

"The Scent of Lilacs," by Doug Allyn, *Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine*, September/October 2010

Jim Limey's Confession

"Jim Limey's Confession" by Scott Loring Sanders. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. May 2011.

I'm a sucker for historical stories. This one is a special case, taking the form of a deathbed statement the main character made to his granddaughter in 1993.

One issue with historical stories is making the setting believable, leaving out anachronisms and making us suspend disbelief about the time and place of the tale. This story has a special concern because we have to believe in the voice of a southern African-American, talking about his youth in the early twentieth century. It is very believable, to my eye/ear.

The day after Daddy went in the ground, it was time for me to get to work. I was the man of the family then and it was yp to me to take over the business. I'd been gong around with Daddy some anyway, so I knew most everything there was to know about it. I hitched Miss Annabelle to the wagon, loaded up the barrels of lime, then headed to town.

The family business was making lime out of seashells and then using them to clean the outhouses of the white folks. Life isn't easy for a black man in the south in the 1930s, but the focus of the story is a horrific crime and a satisfyingly horrific revenge - and a reminder that there are other uses for lime than making a privy smell better.

I wonder if Mr. Sanders has read Avram Davidson's "The Necessity of His Condition," one of my favorite crime stories? There is a strong plot connection in the sense that if you read them one after the other you would have a good idea of what was going to happen at the end of the second. No matter, if Davidson did inspire Sanders it was a legitimate use of the source material, and a terrific story.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Calculator

Pantip Plaza
Originally uploaded by Mr ATM
“The Calculator” by Mithran Somasundrum” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 2011.

Ah, a good old-fashioned private eye story, all the way from Thailand. Vijay makes his living in Bangkok as a P.I. and a translator. Mostly he deals with divorces but this time his client is Atiya, a young lady worried about an American man she met the day before – a human calculator in town for the world championship. These are the people who can figure out things like the cube roots of long numbers in their heads.

Part of the pleasure of a story like this is the guided tour of a different part of the world. Much of the story takes place at Pantip Plaza, the center for buying consumer electronics. And here's the world outside:

Walking back to Pantip past the mats on the pavement (plastic toys, children’s clothes, mobile-phone cases) and the food carts (fried chicken, gelatin sweets, freshly squeezed orange jouce), I was starting to wonder about Atiya myself.

I was fascinated by the description of the Sois, the long narrow lanes off main streets where motorcyclists make their living carrying people from the bus stops to their homes.

There is humor here, and the plot is clever too, although as is often the case, I have a problem with motive – in this case, an important character who does something important, apparently just to be nice. Actions that are important to the story need clear motivation.

But I still enjoyed the tale.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

LIttle Big News: HItchock and I

I have a story in the current (May) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. "Why" is my seventeenth appearance there, and next month marks thirty years since my first. Time flies.

I wrote a piece about why and how I wrote "Why" and you can find it at Criminal Brief.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When The Time Came

“When The Time Came,” by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis. Copenhagen Noir. Edited by Bo Tao Michaelis. Akashic Press.

I wish this volume came out last year, before my family vacationed in Denmark. It would have made a nicely twisted guidebook. I may be prejudiced in favor of this particular story because it is set in Ørestad, the area where my family had an apartment, and the authors perfectly captured the inorganic brutality of the scenery.

The building looked like every other place out here. Glass and steel. He’d never understood who would want to live in such a place…. The other brand-new glass palaces were lit up as if an energy crisis had never existed, but there was no life behind the windows. Maybe nobody wanted to live this way after all…

Chaltu is a very pregnant African woman, desperate to make it over the bridge to Sweden where she can seek asylum and be reunited with her lover. Unfortunately contractions begin too soon and she is left in an unfinished building in Ørestad. As it happens three Iranian men have chosen the same night to loot fixtures from the empty apartments. On discovering Chaltu one of them calls the “okay secret doctor,” actually Red Cross nurse Nina Borg, the authors’ series character.

By the time Nina arrives the situation has gotten worse , in the form of a murder. (This deserted building seems busier than Tivoli Gardens.) She has to do some fast thinking to get out of the mess.

This is not a true noir story, as I defined it a few weeks ago. And it doesn’t exactly feel like a crime story, in spite of the fact that just about everyone in it is at least technically a criminal. They are breaking the law, but are they evil?

The story is in the book section entitled "Mammon," not the part “Men and Women,” which contains mostly stories related to sex, but in some ways this story is very precisely about men and women. The event of childbirth has a powerful sway over the character's actions and as long as Nina is presiding over the labor she can order the men around, but once the baby is born, “Nina’s reign had ended.”

Powerful stuff.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Little Big News: Agatha Nominations

Malice Domestic has announced the nominees for the Agatha Awards of 2011. Here are story nominations. Congratulations to all.

"Swing Shift" by Dana Cameron, Crimes by Moonlight(Berkley)
"Size Matters" by Sheila Connolly, Thin Ice (LevelBest Books)
"Volunteer of the Year" by Barb Goffman,Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin' (Wildside Press)
"So Much in Common" by Mary Jane Maffini, ElleryQueen Mystery Magazine - Sept./Oct. 2010
"The Green Cross" by Liz Zelvin, Ellery QueenMystery Magazine - August 2010