Sunday, March 31, 2013

Derringer Award Winners, 2013

The winners of the Derringer Awards were announced today by the Short Mystery Fiction Society.  Congratulations to all!


Best Flash Story:
The Cable Job - Randy DeWitt

Best Short Story:
Getting Out of the Box - Michael Bracken

Best Long Story:
When Duty Calls - Art Taylor

Best Novelette:
Wood-Smoke Boys - Doug Allyn

In The After, by John Gilstrap

"In The After," by John Gilstrap, in The Strand Magazine, February-May 2013.

My story in this issue of The Strand  has been described as a tearjerker, which is enough to make me wonder if I'm going soft.  My fondness for Mr. Gilstrap's nasty little tale restores my faith in my own essential wickedness.

Tony and Elly Emerson have just returned home after dropping their daughter off for her first year of college.  They find their home invaded by a stranger who is after vengeance.  It seems a mistake Tony had made many years before has come back home to roost.  Some lives will be changed, and maybe a few ended, before the dust settles.


Tony felt himself breathing heavily again.  "Oh, my God.  You're insane."
Another laugh.  "Hardly.  I'm a teacher with a lesson plan."

Class is in session.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Dead Man's Daughter, by Phillip DePoy

"The Dead Man's Daughter," by Phillip DePoy, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2013.

I have to say this is an unusually good issue, which makes it hard to choose favorites.  (Yes, I know I have a story in it; even barring that, it's full of good stuff.)

I don't think I've ever encountered Mr. DePoy before.  Apparently some of his twelve novels are about the protagonist of this tale, Fever Devilin, a laid-off professor of folklore who has resettled in his parent's old home in the hills of Appalachia.

And a creepy story it is.

There is a place in it called Devil's Hearth, and an apparent ghost, but it turns out the really creepy elements are living people.  At the start Devilin is shot at by a backwoods preacher who seems quite unperturbed to be shooting at the man on his own property.  Then there is a teenage girl who is quite content that her miserable and abusive father was killed years before.  And finally there is someone wandering around outside the cabin at the place called Devil's Hearth.

I think what made this story stand out in a good batch is a particularly brutal line of dialog at the very end.  Talk about noir...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Not Done With The Night, by Jay Brandon

"Not Done With The Night," by Jay Brandon, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2013.

Unusual story and I can't tell you too much about it without giving stuff away.

Gerald goes into a bar and starts a conversation with a woman, but he obviously has something other than romance on his mind. 

I have said before that I am a sucker for stories in which the character has a chance at redemption, whether or not he takes it.  In this case Gerald realizes the depth of his mistake and risks his life to fix things up. 

Interesting characters, good action.  Nice job.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wine on Ice, by Cheryl Rogers

"Wine on Ice," by Cheryl Rogers, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013.

Cheryl Rogers runs a vinyard near Perth, Australia and writes excellent mystery stories - she's been featured here before.  Her regular character is a cop, nicknamed Spanners, who makes up in knowledge of engines what she lacks in social graces.  Her rival for success is a botanist-cop who prefers bicycles to cars.  One gets the impression their boss doesn't like either of them very much.

But he needs their help to investigate the death of a wealth wine grower who was apparently drunk at a huge party (although Spanners notes, she was never seen "tired and emotional" in public before, that being a non-libelous newspaper code for bombed).

Interesting characters, witty dialog, satisfactory plot.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Restraint, by Alison Gaylin

"Restraint" by Alison Gaylin, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013.

Some stories you know right from the beginning will be your favorite of the week - if they can keep up that pace to the end.  Some don't show their true colors until you get to the stunning ending.

But the rarest of all is the story that doesn't reveal itself as the winner until hours after you read it.  By which I mean, I couldn't stop thinking about this one.  Which is not to say Gaylin hasn't given us a good opening.

When the woman who killed Kevin Murphy's daughter walked into Cumberland Farms to pay for her gas, the first thing Kevin noticed about her was the way she crumpled her money.

Got your attention?  I thought it would.  And the ending is no slouch either.  But in between you will slowly learn about what happened to Murphy's daughter -- none of the obvious things that might pop into your head  -- and about the revenge Murphy plans.  Again, that is a long way from obvious.  It is not bloody or particularly violent, but it will shock you.

Powerful stuff.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Downsized, by Doug Allyn

"Downsized," by Doug Allyn, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 2013.

Trish is a reporter, just laid off from the Detroit Free Press.  Her friend Jane, still employed there, suggests they start a lunch club, mostly for laid-off reporters.  And things go nicely until one member, Grace, brings a friend from church.

Mrs. Alva Warren was pushing sixty, a heavyset widow in a flowered dress.  I doubted she'd stay fifteen minutes.

But stay she did.  And when one of the members suspects that her husband is having an affair Mrs. Warren reveals some surprising aspects of her past and philosophy.

"In my daddy's time we had a few more options."

"What options?" Grace asked.

"Justifiable homicide for one," Mrs Warren said lightly.

I may be giving the wrong impression; this is not a light story and it only gets grimmer.  But it is worth a read.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Button Man, by Joseph D'Agnese

"Button Man," by Joseph D'Agnese, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 2013.

I have said before that my favorite stories tend to have at least one of three characteristcs.  Either they have brilliant basic concepts (like last week's example), or they have surprise endings, or they have what I call heightened writing.  Heightened writing means that the language does something more than merely carry you from the beginning of the plot to the end.

And that is what stands out about this story for me.

He was a nice guy to know, for all his bigness.  He knew how to make animals out of folded paper, and his name was Happy Phelan.  

The nickname arose from many things.   His round baby face.  His strawberry nose.  Those huge hands.  And, no doubt, his colossal innocence.  How he got the lieutenant bars I'll never know.

Frank, the narrator, meets Phelan in the army.  In civilian life they both wind up working in the garment district.  Frank moves ahead but Phelan, despite the advantage  of having a father who owned a company, had a handicap: that innocence and a sense of justice that makes him unable to ignore or forgive the greed and graft that makes the world go round?

Will he adjust to reality, or will it break him? 

"I should have been a cop," he said quietly.  "I wanted to, years ago.  My old man said it was a dirty business.  I don't know why I listened to him.  Is this any better?"

A gripping tale.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Auction, by Christopher Reece.

"The Auction," by Christopher Reece, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2013.
I read my EQMMs out of order.  So sue me.

As the editors note, it is always a treat to read a good story written in an unusual format, especially from a new author.  And that is what Mr. Reece provides us with.

The tale relates the history of an unhappy marriage told entirely through the patter of an auctioneer describing the items available at an estate sale.

Those of you familiar with the Inman family  know this room, I'm certain.  Unlike most of the items we've already seen, many of the objects within this room have gained a certain, shall we say, notoriety?  Other things in the collection are valuable because they come from a particular era of history.  These items, why, these items are part of history!  Ladies and gentlemen, you are being granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase these treasures directly from the estate.  Shall we begin?

I recommend you do.

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.