Sunday, June 9, 2013

Newton's Law, by John M. Floyd

"Newton's Law," by John M. Floyd, at The Big Adios, May 28, 2013.


My friend and fellow blogger John M. Floyd is a master of a certain type of very short story.  Typically there is a puzzle and a single clue the reader should be able to figure out.  Think Encyclopedia Brown for grown-ups.  John gets a lot of these stories into Women's World, a market I have, alas, never managed to breach.

This western crime story reminds me of those, although it isn't a solve-it-yourself kind of story.  In fact, it takes quite a way in before you realize the puzzle that is being solved.  (That's the cleverest part of the tale.)

So what's it about?  A lawman and his assistant are bringing a suspect back to town when they get into big trouble.  And in a situation like that, who do you trust?  That, as Wild Bill Shakespeare said, is the question.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Stimulus Money, by Dan Warthman

"Stimulus Money," by Dan Warthman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2013.

Imagine you have written a story and, lucky you, gotten it published.  You want to write more about the same character.  How do you go about doing it again, but doing it different?

Charles M. Schulz said "A cartoonist is someone who has to draw the same thing day after day without repeating himself."  And that is sort of the challenge an author faces with a series.   People want to meet the same Sherlock Holmes in every Doyle story, but they want him to be doing something different.

Warthman is facing this issue in his second published story about retired hitman Jones (after "Pansy Place," which made my best-of list for last year.)  (And by the way, he writes about creating the mysterious Mr. Jones at Trace Evidence.)

In the first story Warthman established a cast of characters: Jones "trying to fit into retirement," his former boss Konnie, who is the jolliest crime boss I have ever encountered, and Akin, the young hitman Jones is mentoring.

If all this crime sounds like I am describing a grim story, I am misleading you.  They are witty Robin Hood tales in which Jones uses his particular skill set to help out somebody. 

These days, doing a few pro bono jobs, solving problems for people, civilians.  Aggravations and frustrations.  Jones cut through the formalities, the rules, the mores, the laws, and gets matters settled.  Helps people out.

 In this case, Akin's mother's boyfriend has gotten into debt with a payday lender of dubious ethics.

It might be interesting to compare Warthman's tales to  Jas. R. Petrin’s stories about Canadian loan shark, Leo “Skig” Skorzeny, who is always reluctantly willing (if that phrase makes any sense) to get his friends out of trouble.

Both series are well-written and fun.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Waco 1982, by Laura Lippman

"Waco 1982," by Laura Lippman, in The Mystery Writers of America present The Mystery, Box, edited by Brad Meltzer, Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 



I opened, well, e-opened the new MWA anthology, and came across this nice and melencholy tale.  Marissa is a new and somewhat accidental reporter, on her first job in Waco, Texas.  Her tempermental boss gives her what feels like a fairly pointless assignment: writing an article about the sort of stuff that winds up in the lost and found boxes of motels in Waco.

And pointless it is.  But it turns out someone does have an ulterior motive, and there are layers of small city life under the surface that even that person is unaware of...  A nicely brooding reminder of life between the sexual revolution and the AIDS crisis.  Oh, and before the journalism market went down the tubes, too.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hangman's Break, by Albert Tucher

“Hangman’s Break” by Albert Tucher, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2013. 

I have written before about the type of story I call the Unknown Narrator.  That means that all the reader knows about the narrator is what other people say about him/her -- and those people are wrong.  Tucher's story is a variation - the people really do know about the narrator's secrets, but the reader has to slowly figure them out.

The year is 1969 and hero is a police chief who got his job in part because during World War II he fought alongside the son of the local industrialist.  Now that same son is found hanged on a railroad bridge.  Suicide, or something else?  We learn the grim details of his war experience, and then we learn how the after-war yearas have effected our hero.  And some rough semblance of justice is meted out.

Good story.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

LIttle Big News: The Red Envelope

Hard to believe there is any medium I haven't already reported this, but my "The Red Envelope," winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award, is in the current, July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  I also talked about writing it at Trace Evidence and found something different to say about the process at SleuthSayers.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Gallows-Bird, by Kevin Mims

"The Gallows-Bird," by Kevin Mims, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2013.

Somebody said there are only 36 plots.  I don't know about that but I do know certain plots show up in mystery fiction with greater or lesser frequency.  Man decides to kill wife.  Criminal gets hoist by own petard. Some of these things show up in every anthology or crime magazine you pick up.

But I am more fascinated by the rarer plot, the one that you could probably fill one volume with if you put all the examples together.  And one of those is what we are seeing today: An established writer and a novice writer conspire to commit a fraud on the public.

I suppose the reason this subject interests writers is obvious.  In effect, it is work chatter, right?  In most examples I have seen the older writer wants to hire the younger as a ghost (See Donald Westlake's The Hook, for instance) but Kevin Mims has taken a different approach in this story.

The older writer is a certified great novelist with tons of prizes and a niggling bit of self-doubt.  His rival says he is over-rated because he is a life-time member of the literary establishment (studied under other top people at Ivy League schools who got him great reviews on his first book, etc.).  So he wants his last novel to be published under the name of the young author, in order to get an honest judgment.

If this were a horror movie you would be yelling at the screen "Don't do it!"  Unfortunately, just like the pretty girl heading down the basement of the haunted house, the young writer won't listen...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Footprints in Water, by Twist Phelan

"Footprints in Water," by Twist Phelan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2013.

Twist Phelan juggles quite a lot of balls in this story and keeps them flying pretty flawlessly, I think.

Henri Karubje is a detective in the NYPD and he is called out to help investigate the missing daughter of  a Congolese family.  The relationships between the people, and with their medicine man, neighbors, and priest, are complicated to say the least.

Tangling the matter further is that Karubje is not their as investigator, but as translator.  The lead detective is a newly promoted woman he has worked with when she was on patrol.  The cliche here would be to have them in territorial conflict but Phelan chooses instead to have the new detective looking for more help while Karubje insists on making/letting her run the show. 

Karubje is haunted by his childhood in the genocidal conflict of Rwanda and he makes good use of his memories of that horror to sort out the motives and inconsistencies of the characters.  

Definitely worth a read.