Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wildcraft, by Ellen Larson

"Wildcraft," by Ellen Larson, in M: Mystery and Horror, May 2014.

I always warn you if there is a factor outside of a story's own merits that could cause me to favor it.  Usually that means the author is a friend or blogmate of mine.  In this case the reason for full disclosure is somewhat different: Ms. Larson, who I don't know, sent me a copy of this magazine's first issue.

But I definitely enjoyed her story the most of any I read this week, which is the rule for this column.  This is a story about a police chief investigating a crime, which is no surprise, but the crime is unusual and so is the investigation.

Someone has shot a deer a day before the season opens.  That's illegal but what outrages the chief is that the poacher, not having made a clean kill, allows the deer to limp away to die in misery.  And so, rather than hunting the bad guy, our hero goes off in search of the victim, to finish the job as mercifully as possible. Along the way he ponders all his suspects and figures out who the shooter must be.  It's a clever approach.

I do have a caveat.  A few weeks ago in this space I wrote about dialect, and how less is more.  One of Larson's characters talks like this: "I sayed I was trackin' 'im.  I didn't say I'd shot him!  Like yuz, I heard the shot is all."  That is more dialect than I, for one, need.

Best of luck to thenew magazine.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rough Justice / Tender Mercies, by Leonhard August

"Rough Justice / Tender Mercies," by Leonhard August, in Death and the Detective, edited by Jess Faraday, Elm Books, 2014.

This story has an interesting structure.  The real action takes place on one day, and ends with an act of violence, but the narrative begins after that is over.  Then it runs back to tell us the background of the narrator and his friend Earl.  The story is a quarter over before the action begins.  And after we reach the climax it goes on for almost another quarter, ending up where it started. 

Sounds complicated, but I don't think you could have made this story work any other way.

The main characters are Shadow Wolves, members of the Tohono O'odham tribe working as border agents for Homeland Security.  The main action concerns the discovery that one of their confidential informers, a woman working with a very dangerous group of Mexican smugglers, has been found dead. 

But don't assume you know where the plot is going.  The actual direction is hidden in the background August has so carefully laid out for you. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Murder on Orchard Road, by Nury Vittachi

"Murder on Orchard Road," by Nury Vittachi, in Singapore Noir, edited by Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan, Akashic Press, 2014.

The term "political correctness" or PC has become an epithet.  It is seen as a form of censorship or advocacy of wimpiness.

Wasn't always that way.  As I recall someone asked the folksinger Fred Small if he was ever "not PC."  He replied "Do you mean am I ever intentionally rude?"

I bring this up because most of the stories in Singapore Noir use dialect, by which I mean attempting to indicate on the page the non-standard language and pronunciation of the characters.  Dialect has been out of favor for a long time, for a lot of good reasons: it can be amazingly annoying to read and, it can seem insulting to the people whose language is being mimicked.

On the other hand, a lot of the people in these stories set in Singapore are not going to speak like they went to Harvard or Oxford.  What's an author to do?

The usual thinking these days is that less is more.  Put in just enough dialect to indicate the speech patterns, without driving the ready crazy.  (By the way, if you want to hear my attempt at a dialect story, here is a free podcast.)

Mr. Vittachi's is about an older Chinese may named C.F. Wong.  And here is one of his longer speeches: "Slow race no good.  Makes bad TV.  Sponsors very angry.  Race organizer very angry."

Gives you a sense of how Wong speaks.  Whether it accurately reflects Chinese speech in Singapore is beyond me.

And I suppose that tells you a bit of what the story is about.  But there is more.  Here is the opening:

His New Year's resolution was to give up murders.  Murders were horrible, messy, smelly, difficult, heart-rending things.  And not nearly as profitable as they used to be.

Mr. Wong is a feng shui master and his specialty has been spiritually cleansing murder scenes.  But today he hopes to only deal with a car race (which as you see above, seems to be going wrong).  And then there is the case of the food taster accused of poisoning his clients...


Not noir, but entertaining. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Aix to Grind, by Robert Mangeot

"Aix to Grind," by Robert Mangeot, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2011.

The narrator and his partner Gus are in France in the market for cheese.  Not cheese really,  That's just what they call the artworks they steal from dairies.  Dairies are what they call private art collections.

But this time the narrator wants to rob a factory.  Which is what they call museums.

Oh, never mind.  The point is this is a very witty, cleverly plotted story about a burglary.  Just remember: Ne vous fiez pas n'importe qui.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

It'll Cost You, by Neil Schofield

"It'll Cost You," by Neil Schofield, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2014.

Lawrence Block once wrote that "A story must have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order."  The current fashion is to start as far into the action as you can and then explain what went before in flashbacks.

But what about starting at the end?  I don't mean telling the story in reverse like, for example, the movie Betrayal.  No, I am thinking of stories that begin by revealing how they will end, and then jump to the start.  Two more classic movies come to mind: Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty,  both of which start with the narrator informing you that he gets killed (and one of them still manages to provide a surprise ending).

My friend Neil Schofield has provided a witty and very clever story of this type. Georgie Hopcraft starts out by cheerfully telling us that he is in prison and his cell mate is "another murderer," which is a little misleading because Georgie has been convicted of a murder he did not commit.

Then why is he so cheerful?  Well, it  has to do with that cell mate, and I will leave it at that.

But Georgie goes on to explain the whole story.  He was a somewhat shady owner of a "slightly better-class second and bric-a-brac shop" in London.  But when his soon-to-be ex-wife was dissatisfied with the upcoming settlement she found a way to get him framed into prison.  And we get to watch the whole framing process.

And yet, Georgie remains cheerful.  Hmm. This leads us to...

SPOILER ALERT. 

This story is, oddly enough, a fair play mystery.  That usually means the reader has all the clues needed to figure out the identity of the murderer.  In this story that is a given, but you have all the clues to figure out how Georgie will prove he didn't do it. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Big Little News: Macavity Nominations

The Mystery Readers International have announced the Macavity Award nominations.  Congrats to all!



Best Mystery Short Story 
“The Terminal” by Reed Farrel Coleman (Kwik Krimes, edited by Otto Penzler; Thomas & Mercer)
“The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly (Bibliomysteries: Short Tales about Deadly Books, edited by Otto Penzler; Bookspan)
“The Dragon’s Tail” by Martin Limon (Nightmare Range: The Collected Sueno and Bascom Short Stories, Soho Books)
“The Hindi Houdini” by Gigi Pandian (Fish Nets: The Second Guppy Anthology, edited by Ramona DeFelice Long; Wildside Press)
“Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson (The Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, edited by Clare Toohey; Macmillan)
 “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013) - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/06/macavity-award-nominations-2014.html#sthash.DKuKS366.dpuf

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Crimes of Passion, by Michael Guillebeau

"Crimes of Passion," by Michael Guillebeau, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 2014.

So, when is a stereotype okay in writing?  I don't mean an offensive racial or whatever stereotype, I mean a character who is so perfectly a type that you know what they are going to do before they do.

I guess, as usual, the answer is: it's okay when it works. 

Guillebeau's story is full of characters like this.  Within a few pages you can predict, not precisely what will happen, but who will end up with the dirty end of the stick and who will walk away clean as artisan soap.

Josh is a poor boy who lives in the Florida panhandle.  "Poor" is the keyword because his family's shack is between two mansions, where his best friends live.  Those over-privileged, entitled friends, Waylon and the just-blooming Melody, are the main cliches in the story.

As it begins, the three of them find a dead body in the water.  Waylon finds a stack of money in the man's coat and promptly takes it.  Josh -- the thoughtful member of the three -- has to decide whether to go along with this or tell the truth.  And everything that follows is as inevitable as a Greek tragedy, writ small.

Apparently Guillebeau has a novel about the same character, Josh Somebody.  Might be worth a look-see.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Plow Guy, by Brendan DuBois

"The Plow Guy," by Brendan DuBois, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2014.

Henry Conway has a somewhat eccentric plan for his retirement.  He wants to move to a small town in New Hampshire, buy a dog for company, and plow people's driveways.  Seems easy enough, but he runs into a couple of problems, especially a man who beats his wife, a problem Henry isn't willing to ignore.

But Henry has an interesting skill set.  Did I mention what work he retired from?  Neither does he, exactly.

I chose my retirement home like I was planning for an overseas op.  Oops, I meant to say, setting up a budget spreadsheet.  Or a request for proposals.  Or something innocent like that.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed the story more before the inevitable conflict came along.  Henry is an interesting  fellow and, honestly, the bad guy just wasn't enough of a challenge for him.  But the writing is lovely.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Little Big News: Shamus Nominations

The Private Eye Writers of AMerica have spoken.  Congratulations to the nominees!

BEST P.I. SHORT STORY
“So Long, Chief” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane in The Strand Magazine
"The Ace I" by Jack Fredrickson in EQMM
“What We Do” by Mick Herron in EQMM
“Extra Fries” by Michael Z. Lewin in EQMM
“The Lethal Leeteg” by Hayford Peirce in EQMM 

BEST P.I. SHORT STORY
“So Long, Chief” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane in The Strand Magazine
"The Ace I" by Jack Fredrickson in EQMM
“What We Do” by Mick Herron in EQMM
“Extra Fries” by Michael Z. Lewin in EQMM
“The Lethal Leeteg” by Hayford Peirce in EQMM - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/06/shamus-award-finalists-2014-private-eye.html#sthash.YqFKRsOp.dpuf
BEST P.I. SHORT STORY
“So Long, Chief” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane in The Strand Magazine
"The Ace I" by Jack Fredrickson in EQMM
“What We Do” by Mick Herron in EQMM
“Extra Fries” by Michael Z. Lewin in EQMM
“The Lethal Leeteg” by Hayford Peirce in EQMM - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/06/shamus-award-finalists-2014-private-eye.html#sthash.YqFKRsOp.dpuf


BEST P.I. SHORT STORY
“So Long, Chief” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane in The Strand Magazine
"The Ace I" by Jack Fredrickson in EQMM
“What We Do” by Mick Herron in EQMM
“Extra Fries” by Michael Z. Lewin in EQMM
“The Lethal Leeteg” by Hayford Peirce in EQMM - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/06/shamus-award-finalists-2014-private-eye.html#sthash.2wRaM6Cn.dpuf

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mary's Shallow Grave, by Phillip DePoy

"Mary's Shallow Grave," by Phillip DePoy, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2014.

If I am reading the editor's note correctly, this is intended to be the first in a series.  I look forward to the next. 

It's 1975 and the state of Florida has hired our narrator, Foggy, to operate Child Protective Services (for the whole state?  I hope not.).  And he shows up at the bar with the unprepossessing name that gives the story it's title, to tell the cook that his ex-wife in in a coma, her boyfriend is dead, and his eleven-year-old daughter is on the run.

That part of Florida had always been to me, the land of people who gave up.  They piled empty cardboard boxes on the front porch, rolled the broken fridge out onto the lawn; always thought it was too hot to paint the house.  And the flies didn't come in if you just put a piece of plastic over that tear in the screen.  Maybe it was the heat.  Even in October they could get days in the nineties.

There is stolen money, crooked cops, a wealthy Indian with nefarious plans, and a bunch of people using assorted ill-advised self-medication plans.  If there is any hope for an eleven-year-old girl in this mess it is going to have to be carved out of extra-legal maneuvers and deals with assorted devils. 

Fortunately, Foggy is up to the challenge. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

When I'm Famous, by Dara Carr

"When I'm Famous," by Dara Carr, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 2014. 

This is the best first story I have read in some time. Clever setting: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, among the hipsters. Exhibit A is our narrator, Mindy. She is, she tells us, a visual person. She has a "make-believe boyfriend," Marcus, who phones her late at night for "booty calls" and she always goes over.

One might diagnose low self-esteem. Here's another example. When Mindy spots a beautiful woman at a party, a "wallpaper artist," she writes:

...Brooklyn royalty and she knows it, the men twitching like they've been tased, the female viewers emitting a soft electric hum, brains working hard, calculating the age they were when they could have last worn shorts that length in public, let alone to a party; beaches don't count. Age seven would be my answer.

That's good writing.

Pretty soon the wallpaper artist is dead and there is no shortage of suspects.  In fact, they show up one after another like city buses.

But before I go here is one more line from our heroine:

One of the less commonly reported dangers of chronic marijuana use is buying decrepid old houses and thinking you can fix them up.

 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hooch, by Bill Pronzini

"Hooch," by Bill Pronzini, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 2014.

I know I have said this before (and after you blog for a few years you suspect you have said everything before): the best endings are surprises that feel inevitable.  You want the reader to say "I never saw it coming but that was the only way the story could end."

And that, my friends, ain't easy.

Pronzini's story is about some thugs smuggling booze in from Canada during Prohibition.  Two of them are hardened criminals; the third one, Bennie, is a bright-eyed youngster who got everything he knows about crime from places like Black Mask Magazine.  In fact, he tells his colleagues cheerfully, he's writing a novel about the rum-running business.  All fictionalized of course..  Nothing for them to wrory about...

Well, you can see where this story is heading, can't you?  But there is a twist along the way, one that made me say "that's the only way the story could end."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Little BIg News: Anthony Nominees, 2014

The Anthony Award nominees have been announced.  They will be voted on by those who attend the
Bouchercon Conference in Long Beach, and announced there in November.

Best Short Story Nominees
Craig Faustus Buck, “Dead Ends”
John Connolly, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository”
Deni Dietz, “Annie and the Grateful Dead”
Travis Richardson, “Incident on the 405”
Art Taylor, “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants”
Best Short Story
° “Dead Ends” by Craig Faustus Buck, Untreed Reads
° “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly
Bibliomysteries, The Mysterious Bookshop
° “Annie and the Grateful Dead” by Denise Dietz, The Sound and the Furry
° “Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson, Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble
° “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” by Art Taylor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March-April 2013 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/05/anthony-nominations-bouchercon-2014.html#sthash.kb1QE2Fz.dpuf
Best Short Story
° “Dead Ends” by Craig Faustus Buck, Untreed Reads
° “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly
Bibliomysteries, The Mysterious Bookshop
° “Annie and the Grateful Dead” by Denise Dietz, The Sound and the Furry
° “Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson, Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble
° “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” by Art Taylor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March-April 2013 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/05/anthony-nominations-bouchercon-2014.html#sthash.kb1QE2Fz.dpufsss
Best Short Story
° “Dead Ends” by Craig Faustus Buck, Untreed Reads
° “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly
Bibliomysteries, The Mysterious Bookshop
° “Annie and the Grateful Dead” by Denise Dietz, The Sound and the Furry
° “Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson, Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble
° “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” by Art Taylor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March-April 2013 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/05/anthony-nominations-bouchercon-2014.html#sthash.kb1QE2Fz.dpuf


Best Short Story
° “Dead Ends” by Craig Faustus Buck, Untreed Reads
° “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connolly
Bibliomysteries, The Mysterious Bookshop
° “Annie and the Grateful Dead” by Denise Dietz, The Sound and the Furry
° “Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson, Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble
° “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” by Art Taylor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March-April 2013 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2014/05/anthony-nominations-bouchercon-2014.html#sthash.kb1QE2Fz.dpuf

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Splitting Adams, by Percy Spurlock Parker

"Splitting Adams," by Percy Spurlark Parker, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2014. 


Terry Adams is a very unhappy man.  He's not good with women and he blames it on his big brother Jerry.  Jerry is slick and smooth and always moves in on Terry when he is trying to get started with a new lady. 

It has just happened again and Terry, well, Terry is about to lose it.

A clever piece of flash fiction.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Second Sight Unseen, by Richard Helms

"Second Sight Unseen," by Richard, Helms, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2014.

Helms offers us what is intended to be the first in a series of stories.  The concept here isn't new (hey, Sherlock Holmes wasn't the first genius detective either) but the characters are intersting and the writing is amusing. 

The narrator is Boy Boatwright, a cop who should have retired but is living on booze and adrenalin.  (When the story starts he is waking up with his face on the toilet rim.)  But the hero, for lack of a better word, is the remarkably-named Bowie Crapster.  Crapster is "five and a half feet tall, with a figure like a Bradford pear."  He dresses in flashy clothes and "looked like the vanguard of a midget Elvis parade."

Crapster claims to be a psychic detective but he graciously gives the cops all the credit for his work.  He just wants the reward money.  Boatwright loathes him, but the fact is, he is a pretty shrewd sleuth.  In this case he deals with the apparent kidnapping of the young heir to a wealthy family. 

Will he solve it?  Will he drive Boatwright back to the booze?  "Some days it just doesn't pay to get up out of the toilet."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Little Big delay

Today's review will be a few days late.  To make it up to you, here is a webpage where you can find free links to  two of my own stories, one of them brand new.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Anchor Baby," by Shauna Washington

"Anchor Baby," by Shauna Washington, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2014.

Write what you know, so Shauna Washington, a Las Vegas-based fashion stylist, writes about Stacey Deshay, a Las Vegas-based fashin stylist. It's so crazy it just might work. 

And it works fine in this caper in which Stacey makes a special trip to Arizona to deliver a client's maid and baby to the mansion of the client's soon-to-be-ex-husband.  She gets their just in time to witness a murder and after that, things get worse.

Best thing about this story is the writing.  First person narrator is character.  "It was a long time since I'd traveled this far on a job, but since the recession hit, my new motto was 'Go where the money is, since it sure isn't coming to me.'


Sunday, April 27, 2014

International Vogue And The Pajama Fiasco Weekend, by Rosalind Barden

"International Vogue And The Pajama Fiasco Weekend," by Rosalind Barden, in Mardi Gras Murder, edited by Sarah E. Glenn, Mystery and Horror, LLC, 2014.

One of those subjects that literature professors like to discuss is the unreliable narrator.  That can be a person who is deliberately lying, like the narrator of a famous Agatha Christie novel.  But it can also be someone so deeply in denial or self-disception that he or she can only give us the most warped view of what is going on.

Among the latter you will find Josh McConnley, or at least we can call him that.  "That last name is one I've been trying out lately.  Goes with my persona.  Very strong, masculine, yet, sympathetic."

Josh, or whoever he is, is an actor, or is trying to be, and so obsessed with himself that the world is just a static backdrop to his running commentary.  Here he is chatting to an unwilling listener, of sorts:

I told him about my time studying Shakespeare in Pasadena, about my time in my high school drama club where no one appreciated how much more talented I was than them.  Of course I highlighted the airline commercial and pointed out how stupid the airline was.  When the airline dumped me, the agent I had back then dumped me too.  She said she was keeping my bad luck from "spreading."  That led me to discussion of my father.

All the characters are similarly pathetic types trying desperately to take advantage of each other.  Good luck with that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hunters, by John M. Floyd

"Hunters," by John M. Floyd, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2014.

So, where do you get your ideas?  That's a question writers hear a lot.

One place is news stories.  Sometimes I will run across some bizarre thing that actually happened and file it away, thinking, hmm, yes, that could turn into fiction. 

My friend and fellow SleuthSayer, John M. Floyd, made something out of one of those news items that I never got around to, and more power to him.

Occasionally you hear about someone going on trial because they tried to hire a hitman, often in a bar, to kill someone.  It seems to me that it is usually a woman trying to bump off her husband, but that might be selective memory.

And this story is about Charlie Hunter, who owns a bar in a bump-in-the-road town in Mississippi and has an envelope full of cash ready to pay the hitman he is hiring to solve his marital problem.  As you can guess, things don't go according to plan.

What makes this story different is that it is not the usual bad-guy-tangled-in-his-own-web tale, but more of a mediocre-guy-with-second-thoughts affair.  No heroes, not a lot of villains, and a lot of gray lines.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Teddy, by Brian Tobin

"Teddy," by Brian Tobin, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 2014.

No fireworks in this one, no groundshaking concept or twist ending.  Just a solid story about two men, both of whom turn out to be a little better than they/we thought. 

Sean is a homeless man, a guy whose trail of bad luck runs from childhood, through service in Iraq to his current miserable life.  The one bright point is Teddy, the puppy he rescued from drowning two years ago.  In return Teddy has given him companionship, protection, and a reason to get up in the morning.

Andy, on the other hand, is making a lot of money in a quasi-legal business, but is willing to go further over the line to make more.  His problem is that he believes in the Sam Spade code: When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it.  When that happens, Andy steps up like a good citizen, and disaster follows.  

What ties these two men together is Teddy, the dog.  And maybe all three of them can find a way out of their mutual mess.