Sunday, April 1, 2012

In Brightest Day, by Toni L.P. Kelner

"In Brightest Day" by Toni L.P. Kelner, in Home Improvement: Undead Edition, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner.  Ace.  2011.



Now that the voting for the Derringer Awards are over I can report that my favorite nominee, among those I didn't read last year, was this novella by an author I have long admired, Toni Kelner.  Apparently this whole book is full of "surreal estate," horror stories related to do-it-yourself.  (This makes good sense.  All of my attempts at home repair have turned into horror stories.)

“Rebound Resurrections,” I said in my best business voice. “How can I help you?”
“Dodie? It’s Shelia Hopkins. Gottfried is dead.”
“Well, yeah.” He’d been dead for a couple of weeks.
“I mean he’s dead again.”

The best fantasy and science fiction tales create a world with its own rules and logic and that's what we have here.  Dodie  Kilburn is a hougan in a reality in which these zombie-creators have their own professional organization and code of ethics.  It turns out you can only bring someone back from the dead if the deceased was obsesses about an uncompleted task.  In the case of Gottfried he wanted to finish retrofitting a house, so that's all well and good.  But someone doesn't want the house finished and is willing to keep killing Gottfried over and over to get his way...



An added treat here is Dodie's conflict with the hougan guild which disapproves of her methods.  Fun story.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

House Rules, by Libby Fischer Hellmann

"House Rules," by Libby Fischer Hellmann, in A Woman's Touch, Sniplets Publishing.  2010.



I've been reading the e-anthology,  A Woman's Touch. So far this is my favorite.  Marge and Larry Farley take a vacation in Las Vegas, but Larry isn't much impressed.  First, he loses a bundle in a casino, then he finds the great outdoors "too hot.  And dusty.  Let's go back."   His view changes when  he finds a mysterious box in the sand. When he brings it back to the hotel all hell breaks loose.  Turns out somebody ditched the box in the desert for a reason. Turns out a whole lot of people want it back.  No one is who they seem and Marge, who is a self-help book kind of person, may or may not be able to rescue Larry from the mess he has gotten them into.

A fun read.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Come Back, Come Back, by Donald E. Westlake

"Come Back, Come Back," by Donald E. Westlake, in Levine, 1984.


Well, it has happened again.  For the second time in fifteen months I haven't read any new stories I liked enough to write about here, so I am going to review one of my all-time favorite stories.

I actually read this one as a teenager in one of those Alfred Hitchcock paperback story collections.  It was my first introduction to Donald E. Westlake, and while I always remembered the story, it was many years before I connected this tale with the author of so many comic crime classics.

In the early sixties Westlake wrote a series of stories about Abe Levine, a New York City cop with one distinguishing feature: he has a heart condition which he quite reasonably fears will kill him.  So each of his cases is colored by this, you might say, existential lens.

Take this story.  Levine and his partner are rushed to a skyscraper where a businessman is threatening to jump off a high ledge.  See the ironic contrast: a young, healthy, successful man who apparently wants to die and Levine, a middle-aged, broke, cop with a heart condition who desperately wants to live.  Can these two guys teach each other anything?

A stunning piece of work and a demonstration of the unusual things that can be done in the name of crime fiction.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Turkey Hill Affair, by Warren Bull

"The Turkey Hill Affair," by Warren Bull, in Murder Manhattan Style, Untreed Reads, 2012.

Warren Bull was kind enough to send me a proof of his new e-book.  Most of the stories are historical mysteries, and most are set in either Manhattan, New York, or Manhattan, Kansas.  Quite a difference between those two locations, huh?

Being a contrary sort, I suppose, my favorite is set in Iowa, although it is a sequel to one of the stories set in New York.  Roxie was a showgirl there who fled to Turkey Hill, Iowa with new sweetheart Bob, because her old boyfriend Frank was a mobster who "took advantage of my loving nature and snapped some photos of me loving some well-known people."

By the time this story starts Roxie and Bob have split up and she is astonished to discover an old friend named Bennie trying to rob a bank in Turkey Hill.  He's not very good at it but with her help - who ever heard of a hostage picking up the robber's gun for him? - he manages to escape.

After that she has a somewhat revealing discussion with the sheriff, who turns out to be a bit of a surprise for post-war Iowa, and she solves a crime worse than bank robbery.  A very amusing tale.

I should add that the best idea  for a story in the book was "Heidegger's Cat," but I thought it needed another round of editing.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mr. Crockett and the Bear, by Evan Lewis

"Mr. Crockett and the Bear," by Evan Lewis, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2012.



The annual humor issue at AHMM is very good this year (says the guy with the cover story), including tales by my friends John M. Floyd and R.T. Lawton.  But I have to say the story I admired the most was by Evan Lewis.

Mr. Lewis is one of those unique minds.  I could see him developing into the next Jack Ritchie or James Powell.  He won the MWA Robert L. Fish Award for his first story, "Skylar Hobbs and the Rabbit Man," which was about a guy who thought he was the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

This issue features the story of a direct descendent of Davy Crockett, whose gift/burden is having the legendary frontiersman as a conscience.   Sort of a Jiminy Crockett, sorry.

The modern narrator is a lawyer and he is trying to defend a zoo whose prize black bear is accused of attacking a keeper.  Obviously he needs to consult the bear.  Fortunately his great-greaty-great-grandfather Davy knows how to do a little "bear whispering." The solution, when it comes, is decidedly non-supernatural, I am happy to report.

Sparkling language in the story as well.  I love the report that a couple were "close enough to share the same toothpick."  I hope we will more from the Crocketts, and from Skylar Hobbs as well.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Little Big News: Hitchcock and I, together again


Feast your eyes on the above.  This is the second time I have been on the cover of a magazine, both times on Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  I am happy to report that my brother SleuthSayers bloggers, John Floyd and R.T. Lawton are also in the issue.  Maybe later this year the SleuthSayers can take over a full magazine!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Little Big News: Derringer Nominees

Congrats to all the 2012 Derringer Awards nominees!  Now the members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society (me included) have to read all of these stories and vote....

Finalists for Best Novelette:

Jeffrey Cohen, "The Gun Also Rises: an Aaron Tucker Mystery," Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, January/February 2011

Toni L. P. Kelner, "In Brightest Day," Home Improvement: Undead Edition, August 2011

Doug Allyn, "A Penny for the Boatman," Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2011

David Dean, "Tomorrow's Dead," Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July 2011

Earl Staggs, "Where Billy Died," Untreed Reads, August 2011

Finalists for Best Long Story

Art Taylor, "A Drowning at Snow's Cut," Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May 2011

Trina Corey, "Facts Exhibiting Wantonness," Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November 2011

Trey Dowell, "Ballistic," Untreed Reads, July 2011

Karen Pullen, "Brea's Tale," Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November 2011

William Burton McCormick, "Blue Amber," Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2011

Finalists for Best Short Story:

Elizabeth Zelvin, "Death will Tank Your Fish," Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, 2011

B.V. Lawson, pen name of Bonnie Vanaman, "Touch of Death," Absent Willow Review Online Magazine, April 2011

Ruth M. McCarty, "Sisters in Black," Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm, November 2011.

Cathi Stoler, "Fatal Flaw." Beat to a Pulp Online, April 2011

Adam Renn Olenn, "Coronation," Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm, November 2011.

Finalists for Best Flash Fiction Story:

Warren Bull, "Company Policy," Yellow Mama, August 2011

John Kenyon, "Countdown," Thrillers, Killers, and Chillers, April 2011

Al Leverone, "Lessons Learned," Shotgun Honey, July 2011

Melodie Campbell, "The Perfect Mark," Flash Fiction Online Magazine, July 2011

Kathleen Ryan, "Heat of Passion," A Twist of Noir, February 2011

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Devil to Pay, by David Edgerley Gates

"The Devil to Pay," by David Edgerley Gates, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2012.

If you like Elmore Leonard's casserole's fo good guys/bad guys plotting against each other, you should enjoy this story.  Tommy Meadows, fresh out of jail, is just what the FBI needs to find out what happened to a shipment of guns and ammo intended for the Army.  All he has to do is stay alive long enough to outsmart the Russian mob.  Good luck with that, Tommy boy.

I think the main reason this story made my weekly hit list is the two words a femaie fed makes after shooting someone.  Hilarious.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wrecked, by Therese Greenwood

"Wrecked" by Therese Greenwood, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2012.
 
Some stories are about plot.  Some are about suspense, or language.  This one is all about character.

The narrator is Rosie, who runs a small-town auto wrecker.  She's interesting in her own way, with her fatalism about her business and her pride in her nephew the cop who was "the grade-two knock-knock joke champion of St. Paul's school."  And there is her mechanic Gary, who can't stop being snotty to that same cop, no matter how ill-advised his attitude is, or how bad his jokes are.

But the star of the show is Floyd the Buddhist, a senior citizen Vietnam vet, who makes his living delivering Vietnamese food and constantly babbles karma-speak.   Why is he always scrounging used car parts?  "My vehicle strives for rebirth."

When a murdered man is found in the car crushing machinery Rosie will need help from all these characters to catch the bad guy.

Fun story.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

LIttle Big News: Agatha Nominees

Congratulations to all, especially the short story nominees!

"Disarming" by Dana Cameron, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - June 2011
"Dead Eye Gravy" by Krista Davis, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology
"Palace by the Lake" by Daryl Wood Gerber, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology
"Truth and Consequences" by Barb Goffman, Mystery Times Ten
"The Itinerary" by Roberta Isleib, WMA Presents the Rich and the Dead

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rolling Rivera, by Steven Torres

"Rolling Rivera," by Steven Torres, in The Precinct Puerto Rico Files.  2012.

I am not the first to notice that detective fiction tends to flourish only in democracies.  In fact, I think you could make a case that the popularity of different genres of crime stories gives you a sort of national temperature.  When World War I and Prohibition made us cynical about the powers that be, we stopped reading classical mysteries (in which the bad guy was brought to governmental justice) and turned to hard-boiled (in which the law is corrupt and the good guy is on his own).  Nowadays we seem to have thrillers (confirmation for the paranoids among us) and noir (nourishment for nihilists).

I was pondering this as I read The Precinct Puerto Rico Files, an e-book that Steven Torres was kind enough to send me.  His hero usually solves the crime, but he can't solve the underlying economic social problems that caused the mess, and will cause more.  So justice becomes a little, shall we say, ad lib.

I should explain that the hero, Luis Gonzalo, is the sheriff of Angustias (the anguishes) a small mountain town in Puerto Rico.  The time is the 1970s.

A good example of my thesis is "Rolling Rivera."  Abraham Rivera, an abusive husband and father, lives in a wheelchair because of an earlier drunken folly.  He is found dead, run over on a road.  The legal question is: was it another booze-soaked accident, or did someone set him up to be killed?  And the bigger question is: if the latter, should we prosecute or celebrate?

Another very good story in this book is "The Driver," in which a small mistake builds up, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, into a pointless disaster.  One more thing I really liked about the book was the brief note Torres placed after each story explaining where he got the idea.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Little Big News: Barry Nominations

Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine has announced the nominees for the Barry Award.  Congratulations to the short story nominees!

“Thicker Than Blood,” by Doug Allyn (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine [AHMM], September 2011)
“The Gun Also Rises, by Jeffrey Cohen (AHMM, January-February 2011)
“Whiz Bang,” by Mike Cooper (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], September-October 2011)
“Facts Exhibiting Wantonness,” by Trina Corey (EQMM, November 2011)
“Last Laugh in Floogle Park,” by James Powell (EQMM, July 2011)
“Purge,” by Eric Rutter (AHMM, December 2011)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wood-Smoke Boys by Doug Allyn

"Wood-Smoke Boys," by Doug Allyn, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2012.



When I was ten years old, my favorite uncle murdered my favorite aunt.

Thus begins a wonderfully-written story of country folk versus city folk in the north woods of Michigan.  Dylan LaCrosse is the narrator and his back woods family suffers some terrible times, but they don't suffer quietly, which leads to the local warning: "Never cross a LaCrosse."

Now Dylan is a cop and state police are coming in to investigate the murder of a state legislator who caused tragedy to the LaCrosse family.  Can Dylan stay alive and solve the puzzle?  And whose side is he on?

Two more wonderful lines from the story:


In the deep woods, amid the shadows and feral silences, man's place atop the food chain is still up for debate.

The kid's mentally challenged.  His rat-bastard brothers use him for a guard dog to save the price of Alpo.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Grace, Period by Graham Powell

"Grace, Period," by Graham Powell, in Bad Men.


Graham Powell was kind enough to send me a copy of this e-collection of short stories.  As you probably guessed, the protagonists are not quite heroes.  Most of them come to bad, if very interesting, ends.

Take Tommy Roccaforte, the main man in our current story.  The witness protection program has just dumped him far from his home in Staten Island, supplying with a nothing job in a second-hand bookstore.  But -- and here is what I love -- Tommy approaches the business like the wise guy that he is.  Who is the competition?  And how can we destroy them?  So the big box chain bookstore had better watch out. The story is witty, with big hints of Elmore Leonard.

Having said that, I have to register a big complaint: I don't buy the ending at all.  Some of the choices made by people around Tommy don't make any sense to me, and one of those characters is just too paper-thin for the role.

You can find a better ending in Powell's "The Leap," in the same collection, but it doesn't have a concept as dazzling as  "Grace."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Out There, by Zoe Beck

"Out There," by Zoe Beck, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2012.



Among the other changes that e-mail has wrought in the world is an improvement in epistolary fiction.  It is possible to exchange letters a lot faster than when DIego de San Pedro wrote the first epistolary novel in the fifteenth century.

And that's what German author Zoe Beck presents with, a story written entirely in e-mails.  Most of them are written by Gil Peters, who is a successful author despite having agoraphobia so fierce that she hasn't left her apartment in eight years.  But that's okay, she has adjusted to it, and with her computer and her shrink on tap she is doing fine.

Then her doctor goes on vacation just when an unacceptable change happens to her home.  Things start to go rapidly out of hand...

The only thing I love better than a twist ending is multiple twists, and Beck provides them.  I thought I knew where the story was going.  Then I thought I saw the new direction.  Nope.  No wonder it won the Glauser prize.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

LIttle Big News: Edgar Nominations

Congrats to all:

BEST SHORT STORY

"Marley’s Revolution" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by John C. Boland (Dell Magazines)
"Tomorrow’s Dead" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by David Dean (Dell Magazines)
"The Adakian Eagle" – Down These Strange Streets by Bradley Denton (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" – Down These Strange Streets by Diana Gabaldon (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"The Case of Death and Honey" – A Study in Sherlock by Neil Gaiman (Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Books)
"The Man Who Took His Hat Off to the Driver of the Train" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Peter Turnbull (Dell Magazines)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shikari, by James Lincoln Warren

"Shikari," by James Lincoln Warren, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2012.


My friend James goes from strength to strength, as the saying goes.  This novelette is the best Sherlock Holmes pastiche I have read since Nicholas Meyer turned the field on its ear with The Seven Percent Solution.

James explains in an introductory note that the idea came when he read that during the nineteenth century the British intelligence service used doctors as spies in Asia.  Of course, Dr. Watson was an army doctor in Afghanistan.  And who was the head of British intelligence?  Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft.  If Watson was one of Mycroft's spies, than surely it was no coincidence that he wound up in a position to keep an eye on his boss's eccentric brother...

Wait a minute, the purists cry.  Watson could never have been a spy!  He was too innocent, too open,  and not nearly observant enough.

And how do we know that?  From the books and stories written by Dr. Wat-  Oh.  Hmm...

But Watson could never have fooled Holmes!  Holmes was far too shrewd, too perceptive, and we know that from the books and stor-  Hmm....

You may think I'm giving away the plot.  Actually this is just the premise.  All I will tell you about the actual plot is that it is told by two minor characters in the canon, and it retools some of the Holmes saga, while solving some of the great puzzles of the works (like Watson's famous wandering wound, for instance.)

And the writing sparkles.  Here is one of the narrators: "I had known Lucky Jim Moriarty in India.  We shared a common interest in embezzling from our regiments."

A treat from beginning to end, with some genuine shocks along the way.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dog Days of Summer, by John Kenyon

"Dog Days of Summer," by John Kenyon, in All Due Respect, January 2012.

Great photo there...  I wonder why I have never seen it on the cover of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine?  Okay, back to our point.

Janice and I were just getting into bed when I remembered I still had Lenny’s body in my trunk. You’d think you wouldn’t forget something like that, but it had been a long day.


So begins our story.  We can guess that Tommy is not the sharpest shooter on the target range, so to speak, and this is proven out.   He works for his uncle, a mobster, the man who ordered him to arrange a burial for the late Lenny.

Alas, Tommy keeps making bad choices, like burying poor Lenny in his yard, right next to the property of a deputy...

Dark and funny.




Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Hedgehog, by Ferdinand von Schirach

"The Hedgehog" by Ferdinand von Schirach, in Crime: Stories, Alfred A. Knopf.

Something very different this week.  Von Schirach is a defense attorney in Germany and these stories are apparently based on true cases, to what degree one can't tell.  The Library of Congress Cataloging in Print says "Fiction," and who am I to argue?  Another odd thing is that all the stories begin with what seems to be a third-person omniscient narration, but at some point a first person speaker arrives, an anonymous defense attorney, whom I assume is supposed to be von Schirach.

The writing style is flat, deliberately plain (or so the translation makes it appear). But now, let's go on to "The Hedgehog."

Once upon a time there were several brothers, all of whom thought they were smart and strong. They all thought the youngest was a fool and a good-for-nothing.  But when an emergency occurred it turned out that the despised youngest brother was the cleverest of them all...

Does that sound familiar?  It should; it is the plot of countless fairy tales.  Von Schirach gives us a modern take in the story of  Karim Abu Fataris.  He is the youngest of nine brothers from Lebanon, part of an extended family of criminals.

When Karim started school, the teachers groaned -- "Yet another Abu Fataris" -- and then treated him like an idiot.  He was made to sit in the back row, and his first-grade teacher told him, at age six, that he wasn't to draw attention to himself, get into fights, or talk at all.

Karim is no idiot but he is willing to let the world, brothers included, think so.  By age ten he is deliberately get C- grades while teaching himself calculus with a stolen textbook.  By the time he leaves school he has an apartment of his own, a girlfriend, and an illegal business, all of them unknown to his family.

But when his favorite brother goes on trial for robbery Karim pits himself against the German legal system.  Who wins?  Well, it can be a great advantage to be underestimated by your enemy...

By the way, "Self-Defense," in this same book, came in a close second this week.