Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Scandal in Bohemia, by Terence Faherty

"A Scandal in Bohemia," by Terence Faherty, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 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."

Hilarious.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Little Big News: Shanks Rides Again

I have a story in the latest (April) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  And I write about it today at SleuthSayers.  Enjoy.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Margo and the Silver Cane, by Terence Faherty

"Margo and the Silver Cane," by Terence Faherty, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February  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, January 20, 2013

Diamonds Aren't Forever, by Raymond Goree

"Diamonds Aren't Forever," by Raymond Goree, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  January/February 2013.

Raymond Goree's first story made my best-of-the-year list last week, so I was delighted to see his second story appear.  It isn't as stunning as his debut, but it is a lot of fun.

Simon Kline is a jeweler, and a very careful man.  His store is encased in steel-impregnated polymer epoxy.  His in-store cameras are linked to his BlackBerry so he can check for intruders without stepping out of his car.  A very careful man.

But this a crime story, so we know something is going to happen.  But exactly what, ah, that's where the twists come.  Clever, amusing story. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Halley's Comet, by Reed Farrel Coleman

"Halley's Comet," by Reed Farrel Coleman, in Crime Square, edited by Robert J. Randisi, Vantage Point, 2012.

I'm a sucker for themed anthologies and this is a good one.  The stories, in chronological order, take place in and around Times Square from 1912 to the present day.  Fun to see the area go upscale and down as time passes.  I highly recommend "The Devil's Face," by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens, and "The Sailor in the Picture," by Eileen Dreyer.

But the favorite, for the second time in as many months, is by Reed Farrel Colman.  The setting is the 1970s, the time of Serpico and the Knapp Commission, when the NYPD was full of dirty cops and the dirty cops were full of fear of the Knapp Commission.  In this story two police detectives are being pushed into a n action that will move them  from being bent to being totally rotten.  And just as the point of no return approaches, well, police work intervenes.  A wild and twisty climax ensues.  Very satisfactory. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Rose Collection, by Louisa Clerici

"The Rose Collection," by Louisa Clerici, in Dead Calm: Best New England Crime Stories 2012, edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, LeslieWheeler, published by Level Best Books, 2012.

Some weeks I can't find a single story I like.  Some weeks, on the other hand,  there is an embarrassment of riches.  Take this book (and really, what's the idea of calling an anthology of new stuff the "Best" stories?  That's cheating.)

I thought "Plain Vanilla" by Michael Nethercott would make a fine choice for the week.  But before I hit the weekend I read "Boxed" by Daniel Moses Luft. And then along came this little character study by Louisa Clerici, which knocked them both out of competition.

Obsession is either comic or tragic, depending on how close you are standing to the fallout.  The narrator is Laura, a woman who lives a pleasant if slightly stir-crazy life in rural Indiana.  Her life is changed when an elderly neighbor leaves her a piece of costume jewelry: a brooch that was "all sparkly with a pale gold intricate rose."  Get used to detailed description, because Laura provides them for whatever she thinks is interesting, while glossing over things she considers less important.  And that, you might say, provides the key to her character.

Laura starts studying about jewelry at the library and discovers that the best chance to get more is a big flea market in Cumberland, Indiana. Problem is her husband doesn't want her to go.  That doesn't turn out to be a problem for long, because he dies.  In fact, it is best not to get between Laura and her jewelry plans.

Some people say that in genre literature the plot matters more than the language, while in mainstream literature it is the opposite.  In this story the language is the plot.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mastermind, by Reed Farrel Coleman

"Mastermind" by Reed Farrel Coleman, in Long Island Noir, edited by Kaylie Jones, Akashic Press, 2012.

Dear Akashic Press;

Merely being depressing is not enough to make a story noir.  Please tell your editors.  

Thank you.

Having gotten that out of the way lets move on to a story by Reed Farrel Coleman, who understands noir very well.

Jeff Ziegfeld was always the exception to the rule: the dumb Jew, the blue-collar Jew, the tough Jew.  No matter the Zen of the ethnic group the wheel of fortune got you born into, dumb and poor was the unversal formula for tough.

So Jeff is muscle working for an Israeli-American loan shark who constantly puts him down.  But Jeff isn't always dumb.  He comes up with a big dream: a brilliant scheme for committing a robbery.  It is a plan without a flaw.

Except that this is a noir story, and noir means (remember this, oh editors), that the big dreamer gets flattened.

Another fine story in this collection is Kenneth Wishnia's "Blood Drive."  Tim Tomlinson's "Snow Job" had a great set-up and a disappointing ending.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lighthouse, by S.J. Rozan

"Lighthouse," by S.J. Rozan, in Staten Island Noir, edited by Patricia Smith, Akashic Press 2012.

This is the second appearance in this space by my friend S.J. Rozan in the last two months. 

In the introduction editor Smith talks about something that happened at a Bouchercon a few years ago: a panel of writers were speaking about crime in New York City and a creative writing teacher complained that the kind of disrespect the panelists were showing for Staten Island was the reason her students there wouldn't write anything about the place they lived. 

I happened to be in the audience.  What Smith doesn't mention is that S.J., who was the first person to joke about Staten Island, not only apologized but offered to come speak to the teacher's class.  Not only a great writer, but a real mensch.

But that has nothing to do with this story, which is about Paul.  And as the first sentence tells us:

It sucked to be him.

Because ever since  he was fourteen Paul shares his skull with The Guys, three space aliens who tell him what to do and give him monstrous headaches if he disobeys.  The only way to quiet the voices in his head is to shoot heroin, and the only way  to get money for that is by breaking and entering.

That wouldn't be so bad except that sometimes he meets someone in the house he is burgling and then he has to hurt them.  And that's the bad part because The Guys like it.  And they want him to do more, and worse.

In this story Paul is planning to bust into a Tibetan museum.  And maybe, just maybe, he can find a kind of redemption there...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Rattle of Darkness, by Martin Roselius

"The Rattle of Darkness," by Martin Roselius, in SoWest: Desert Justice,  DS Publishing, 2012.

I am zipping through anthologies as fast as I can, in preparation to declaring my list of best stories of 2012.  This nasty little piece is my favorite in the anthology by the Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter.

Pancho is a very bad guy who lives near the border in Mexico and helps piece slip through a tunnel to the U.S., for a price.  When his debts catch up with him Pancho comes up with a worse way to make more money.  And when those deeds catch up with him things turn very dark indeed...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A User's Guide to Keeping Your Kills Fresh, by Ted Anthony

"A User's Guide to Keeping Your Kills Fresh," by Ted Anthony, in Staten Island Noir, edited by Patricia Smith, Akashic Press, 2012.

Okay, lousy title.  But a good story.

It isn't easy to be really funny and really nasty at the same time.  The humor just sounds mean, or the nastiness seems forced.  But Anthony manages it.

Manny Antonio is a hit man, but he isn't very good at it.  This is the story of his last contract, told by someone who knew him well, and didn't like him very much, nor respect his mental agility. 

If complete clarity were an all-you-can-eat buffet of Chinese food, Manny would ask for the menu and order the chicken and broccoli.

And so we see what should have been an easy assignment turn into a disastrous trek around the metropolitan area with a trunkful of forensic evidence that grows smellier by the hour.  When we are told that shooting a rent-a-cop between the eyes was "the last rational thing he will do on the final night of his life," you know Manny is not having a good week.

Enjoyable, well-written story.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Little Big News: Black Orchid Novella Award

The Wolfe Pack (fans of Rex Stout) just announced the winner of the 2012 Black Orchid Novella Award and guess what?  It was me.  "The Red Envelope" will be published in the July issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, out in April.  My wife and I had a great time at the banquet on Saturday and I highly recommend it to you.  Thanks to all the Wolfe Packers!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hit One Out Of The Park, by Jeff Baker

"Hit One Out Of The Park," by Jeff Baker, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.

My friend Jeff Baker has written a lovely witty historical story.  It is 1941 and George Keaton has a full-time job taking care of his not-so-bright brother Ward.  Ward has quarreled with his bookie and decided to kill the guy.  Now, the world is littered with blunt objects but Ward manages to find what as a particular weapon?  Joe DiMaggio's stolen baseball bat.  This is not going to go well.

Needless to say keeping tabs on Ward while he was planning doing something in with a murder weapon half of New York was looking for was making my own day the kind Mrs Roosevelt usually didn't write about.

Great fun.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tell Me About Your Day, by Lynne Lederman

"Tell Me About Your Day," by Lynne Lederman,  in Murder New York Style - Fresh Slices, edited by Terrie Farley Moran, L&L Dreamspell, 2012.

This nifty piece starts out as noir and goes elsewhere.  The narrator is a recovering substance abuser who is trying to be a better person (and if that isn't a formula for a classic noir character, I don't know what is).  He is living in a dumpy apartment, going to AA and NA and making a point of visiting his only living relatives, a niece and her daughter.  The result is that when the niece is murdered the cops and social workers bring the traumatized little girl to him.  They are hoping that a familiar face might encourage her to report something about the unknown killer.

And that leaves our hero trying to figure out how to fit a kid into his tiny, miserable life.

Damn.  Can't smoke with the kid here.  He reomved the cigatette and contemplated it.  Can't go outside, can't leave her.  Realy too cold to hang out the window, let aone sit on the fire escape. She'd know, anyway.  He shredded it into the ashtray. Have to get rid of that, and the matches.  Weren't little kids always playing them, starting fires?

The whole story is in the man's head, trying to sort through his growing responsibilities and limited possibilities.  Then there is an unexpected turn, a clever bit of deduction that suggests there might be a ray of hope ahead.

Nice piece of work. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Only People Kill People, by Laura K. Curtis

"Only People Kill People," by Laura K. Curtis, in Murder New York Style - Fresh Slices, edited by Terrie Farley Moran, L&L Dreamspell, 2012.

Been working through this anthology produced by the New York chapter of Sisters In Crime.  Curtis takes a unique viewpoint in her story: the narrator is a gun.

For eight years, it was my honor to serve and protect Sam Bradley, his family, and his employers  Sam took care of me, and I took care of him...

But this is a crime story so things have to go bad for Sam and his gun.  Original idea, well written.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dial Country Code 91 +M for Murder, by Stewart Brown

"Dial Country Code 91 +M for Murder," by Stewart Brown, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, December 2012.

It was a tough choice this week between this story and "Dead Men's Socks,"  by David Hewson in the same issue.  I may have bene influenced by the fact that Hewson's story was in the same category as last week's pick, by S.J. Rozan.  Both were excellent stories about maverick cops in foreign countries who solve problems in spite of their superiors.

Brown's first story is very different, more a bit of humor than a traditional tale.

"Welcome to the Spade Detective Angency.  If your life is in immediate danger, please hang up and call the local authorities.  For English, please stay on the line.  Para el Español, por favor, pulse uno.  Press 2 if you would like to hear about our weekly crime-buster specials..."

Yes, even detective work can be outsourced, with someone dubious results.  The unlikely named Hamish, a proud graduate of the New Dehli School for Detective Studies, "the fourth-highest ranked detective school in all of New Delhi," is on the job, or at least the phone.  His client, Miss Nancy Drew, is suspicious about the mysterious death of her husband...

All very silly.  But we can't be noir every week, can we?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Golden Chance, by S.J. Rozan

"Golden Chance," by S.J. Rozan, in Ellery Queen's Magazine, December 2012.

EQMM's last issue of 2012 opens with something different from my buddy S.J. Rozan  The story is set in a small village in Western China, where Lo Pen-wei, "a disheveled lump of a man," investigates crime for the Public Security Bureau.  He is a shrewd, cheerful, Columbo-type cop, the only one of his fellows who bothered to learn the language when he moved to the territory of the Uighurs.  "Lo conceded that... for official interviews and instructions Mandarin would suffice; but  other conversations -- for example, those he would be most interested in overhearing in the streets -- would not be held in Mandarin."

As the story opens Lo is investigating vandalism of the office of the Housing Commission, which he does in a typically indirect way: by playing a chess-like game with his shopkeeper friend Sadiq.   In the course of the game he learns that the people are upset about government plans that would destroy a local landmark.  He also learns that his friend has three marriage-age daughters and no money for doweries.  Possibly he can solve all the problems with cunning plan.  And if he can get one more corrupt official out of office, so much the better.

Mystery stories tend to flourish in democracy and not do so well in dictatorships where no one has faith in justice being done.  (And there is my bland generalization for the day; glad to have it over with.)  But Rozan has created an interesting character and a believable setting.  Perhaps we will hear more about Mr. Lo.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trick or Treat, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"Trick or Treat," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery magazine, December 2012.

This was a tough week, since Hitchcock featured stories by two of my favorite writers about two wonderful series characters.  Mitch Aldeman's Bubba Simms stories and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Spade/Paladin tales have several things in common.  Both feature men who are six-five, and both rely more on character and language than on plot.  But there are big differences as well.


Bubba is a three-hundred-pound weightlifter; a private eye in Florida.  Spade is a four-hundred-pound Microsoft millionaire who uses his money and numbers skills as a forensic accountant to run the finances for science fiction conventions.  Spade (that's his nom de fandom, we never learn is real one) has an occasional partner, Paladin, an athletic young woman who is his opposite in physique, temperment, and almost everything except intellect.

The reason I chose Rusch's story this time is that it had a more interesting plot than Aldeman's "Eureka."  I could see where that story was headed pretty much from the beginning, but Rusch's story took it's time in unfolding. 

In "Trick or Treat," Spade is working at a convention in San Francisco on Halloween weekend when Paladin asks him to help out by babysitting a troublesome kid named Casper.  Spade, well aware that an overweight misfit millionaire hanging around with a child could be misconstrued, grumbles "The worst situations in the world always start with the words, 'trust me.'"   But he always finds it hard to resist Paladin.

The center of the story is the fat man and the grumpy Casper, both smart and both lacking social skills, trying to establish a productive relationship.  Naturally, it involves computer programs.  And crime.

Both stories are very much worth a read.

 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Heard A Romantic Story, by Lee Child

"I Heard A Romantic Story," by Lee Child, in Love Is Murder, edited by Sandra Brown, Mira, 2012.

When an author makes most of his income writing one kind of novel it must be a great relief to occasionally break loose and write a very different kind of short story.  One example of that is Field of Thirteen, Dick Francis's collection of tales, none of which use the first person narration so familiar from all of his novels.

And Lee Child, when he isn't writing his Reacher novels produces some excellent little stories. And this one is all about style. 

Love is Murder is the third anthology from the International Thriller Writers, and the theme is romantic suspense. Many of the stories are fairly standard romantic suspense - boy and girl either fear each other or fight a common enemy.  But Child is on a very different wavelength. 

Did I mention that this piece is all about style?  For one thing it all written in one long  breathless paragraph.  And here's how it starts:

I heard a romantic story.  It was while I was waiting to kill a guy.  And not just a guy, by the way.  They were calling this guy a prince, and I guess he was... 

The narrator is a hit man for our government and the romantic story involves the spy who authorized the killing and the woman whose job it was to get the mark in the right place at the right time.  You see, she happened to be the boss spy's lover.  But that won't interfere with the plan, will it?

Child is far too good a writer to use the unconventional style just for giggles.  It adds to the suspense, and makes the outcome less predictable.  Nice piece of work.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Double, by Janice Law

"The Double" by Janice Law in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 7

My friend Janice has created a little gem here, I think.

Malik has the fortune, good or bad, of resembling the General, his country's beloved dictator.  Naturally he is assigned the job of impersonating the General, saving him from boring meetings and assassingation attempts.

But the General is a far-thinker and he sends Malik, with proper supervision, to set up a new life for himself in Miami, just in case at some time in the future the General turns out not to be so beloved.  And that works fine until the inevitable happens.

Because only one person can live that new life, right?