Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Man With The Twisted Lip, by Terence Faherty

"The Man With The Twisted Lip," by Terence Faherty, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2015.

Last week I noted that Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Brendan Dubois were tied for first place with five appearances in my best-of-the-week list.  By coincidence, a third writer enters that august rank today.

My former co-blogger Terence Faherty has come up with a great gimmick.  He claims to have discovered Dr. John Watson's notebooks, containing the rough drafts of Sherlock Holmes adventures, before they were "cleaned up for publication."  This is the fourth such publication and I consider it a significant improvement of the oroginal, which was not one of Doyle's masterpieces.

Both versions begin with a woman calling at the home of Watson and his wife, desperate because her husband has disappeared.  In Doyle's version the man is a drug addict and has vanished into an opium den.  In Faherty's tale the same man is a serial philanderer and is apparently staying in a hotel of bad repute.  In both tales Watson finds Holmes there in disguise but what he is seeking is different - although the solution has some amusing similarities. 

I won't go into detail.  Watson correctly notes that the story has the elements of a French farce and Holmes says he is just trying to prevent it from turning into a Greek tragedy.

"My husband returns!" Rita exclaimed.
"Not a moment too soon," Holmes said.
"You don't understand.  He's insanely jealous.  And violent.  If he finds me in here--"
Holmes sprang up.  "Watson, I bow to your experience.  Under the bed?"

Heresy of the best kind.  And it provides an answer to one of the eternal questions debated by players of the Game.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Christmas Eve at the Exit, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"Christmas Eve at the Exit," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2015.

This is Rusch's fifth appearance on my best-of-the-week list, which I believe puts her in a tie for first place with Brendon Dubois.

It is Christmas eve and Rachel and her little girl are on the run.  Many pages will pass before we find out from who, and about the shadowy support system that is helping them.

Rachel is terrified, not sure who to trust, and desperately trying to keep up an appearance of normality for her daughter who, heartbreakingly, seems mostly concerned about Santa Claus.

And that's enough from me.  Rusch carries the story off with great audacity.  I am sure it will appear in holiday-themed anthologies for years to come.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Juba Good, by Vicki Delany

"Juba Good" by Vicki Delany, Rapid Reads, Orca Book Publishing, 2014.

A terrific novella about the thankless task of policing in one of the world's newest nations, South Sudan. 

Ray Robertson is a Canadian cop finishing a year as an advisor to the new police force of the city of Juba.  His routine is shattered by the serial killings of  several prostitutes.  Ray is a patrol sergeant with no experience as a detective, but he is the best they have.  Complicating matters: such modern techniques as DNA analysis are beyond the local labs, so if the bad guy is going to be caught it's going to take interrogations, fingertip searches of crime scenes, and plain old cop-thinking.

And the bad guy knows Ray is a threat, and is taking steps of his own...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Crossing, by Brendan Dubois

"The Crossing," by Brendan DuBois, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January-February, 2015.

So a trio of mobsters decide to slip out of the country a few hours ahead of an indictment.  A seaplane lands them on an island on a lake by the Canadian border.  Now they just have to wait for their friend to arrive with a boat to slip them across.

Sure, there is a resident on the island, but she's just a beautiful young woman, grading papers.  Surely she can't cause any trouble for three armed hoodlums.

What could possibly go wrong?

This is Mr. DuBois's fifth appearance in my best-of-the-week column.  I guess I like his stuff.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Really Big Ka-Boom, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"The Really Big Ka-Boom," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February, 2015.

Apologies for misspelling Ms. Rusch's name, now fixed.

I may have to revise my rule about what makes a story one of my favorites.  I have said they tend to have at least one of three characteristics: a great concept, a twist ending, or heightened language.  Ms. Rusch has reminded me of a fourth method to reach the winner's circle.

Great characters.

The plot of this story is not brilliant, but that doesn't matter.  The characters carry it.  (Let's face it: Wolfe and Archie lifted Rex Stout above some pretty poor plots.)

The narrator is Spade, a three-hundred-fifty pound retired software millionaire whose life revolves around science fiction conventions, for which he provides accounting skills.  His soulmate (he wishes) is Paladin, a young private eye who is everything he isn't (except dumb and socially competent): she is small, beautiful, perpetually angry, and rash.  Clearly they balance each other out.

In this story they wind up in Portland, Oregon at Christmas time, accompanied by Caspar, a homeless thirteen-year-old computer whiz they rescued in an earlier adventure.  The main story begins when they go out to eat and a nearby building explodes.   And Paladin, as Spade notes, is the sort of person who rushes into a burning building.

Now, my first paragraph did not mean that  Rusch does not provide some wonderful language in this story.  Try out this paragraph:

Paramedics had moved a lot of the people Paladin saved, sorting them as if they were damaged collectibles and someone had to grade them: Fair, Very Fair, Good.  The folks in Mint condition stood to one side, and those who were judged Poor had already been stuffed into ambulances and driven to hospitals.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Hit-Man, by Roger Angle

"The Hit-Man," by Roger Angle, in Murder At The Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology, edited by Dana Cameron, Down & Out Books, 2014.

The good news is that Amanda's little shop in Venice, California is doing well.

The bad news is that some bad guys want to buy her building at a fraction of its worth.

The good news is that her father is a hit-man with an arsenal in his car trunk, all ready to wreak havoc on her enemies.

The bad news is that he's actually a retired hit-man, half-blind, limping, and his hearing isn't so good either.

The good news is that he remains determined to do anything necessary for his little girl.

And that's also the bad news...

Very funny story.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Little Big News: Best short stories of the year

And for an alternative point of view, at SleuthSayers I provide my list of the best stories of the year.

Little Big News: Edgar Nominations

The mystery Writers of America have just announced the Edgar nominations.  Congratulations to all,e specially the short story nominees:

"The Snow Angel" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Doug Allyn (Dell Magazines)
"200 Feet" – Strand Magazine by John Floyd (The Strand)
"What Do You Do?” – Rogues by Gillian Flynn (Penguin Randomhouse Publishing – Ballantine Books)
"Red Eye" – Faceoff  by Dennis Lehane vs. Michael Connelly (Simon & Schuster)
"Teddy" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Brian Tobin (Dell Magazines)

And the winner of the Robert L. Fish Award for best first story:

"Getaway Girl" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine By Zoë Z. Dean (Dell Magazines)


Monday, January 19, 2015

Little Big News: Black Orchid winner

Somehow I missed this news.  The Wolfe Pack announced the winner of the 2014 Black Orchid Novella Award.  K.G. McAbee's "Dyed to Death" will appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine later this year.  As a former BONA winner I want to add my congratulations.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Ice Cream Snatcher, by Bryan Paul Rouleau

"The Ice Cream Snatcher," by Bryan Paul Rouleau, in Thuglit, issue 13, 2014.

Thuglit has upped its game since the last time I looked in at it.  Lot of good stories here.

But lets talk about Mr. Rouleau's contribution.  I have said I am a sucker for stories in which a character is offered a chance at redemption, whether or not he takes it.  And that's what this tale is all about.

Sunrise thinks he's beyond such things.  All though he doesn't have the vocabulary to say it, he feels he's doomed, predestined to crime.  You see, someone told him you never recover from bad things that happened to you before you turn three, and really bad stuff happened to him.  And that, he figures, is why he keeps ending up in jail.

On this particular occasion he had his friend Pedro steal a Maserati.  They get away clean but they don't notice that there's somebody in the back seat.

A three-year-old boy. 

What I love about this story is that Sunrise interprets what happens so differently than the reader is likely to.  If there is doom here, I suppose that his attitude is it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Killing of General Patton, by William E. Chambers

"The Killing of General Patton," by William E. Chambers, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, issue 12, 2014.  

Burton Wells is a veteran of World War II, during part of which he served as an aid to General George Patton.  In current times he is haunted by nightmares about Patton's death in a jeep accident shortly after the war attended.  And he has reasons for those nightmares.

Things get worse when a young Ukrainian shows up at Wells' apartment.  He has a fat file of KGB secrets and a plan to get rich with them... 

Mr. Chambers has written an intriguing story.  I wonder if he was aiming for the MWA anthology of cold war stories?  It would have been a good fit there.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Little Big News: Today in MYSTERY HISTORY

I started a new blog this week, reporting every day on some event in the history of mystery fiction.  Read it here or read about it at SleuthSayers.  Hope to see you there, everyday.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Their Little Secret, by Anita Page

"Their Little Secret," by Anita Page, in  Murder New York Style: Family Secrets, edited by Anita Page, Glenmere Press, 2014.

Full disclosure: The editor of this book sent me a free copy.  The editor, as it happens, is the author of my favorite story in the book.  So you have to decide whether I can be bought off with a free paperback.  (Hint: I generally refuse to sell my soul for less than a new hardcover.  Inflation.)

This anthology, by the way, was created by the New York/Tri State Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

The story is about a disfunctional family and focuses on fifteen-year-old Cassie, the only child.  Her parents don't get along so well.

Cassie, expert reader of moods and body language, figured they were minutes away from the Sunday  night fight.

Cassie's mother - drunken, mean, and blatantly unfaithful - has decided that she and her daughter are going off to Long Island for the summer, even though her husband can't get away.  Cassie ain't thrilled.  "I call this hell."

Things get bad.  Then they get worse.  The whole story is good but what makes it a winner for me is one sentence on the last page.  I wouldn't call it a twist ending, but it is a neat sting that gives us a new persective on what has gone on before. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Stoning Before Breakfast, by Azardokht Bahrami

"A Stoning Before Breakfast," by Azardokht Bahrami, in Tehran Noir, edited by Salar Abdoh, Akashic Books, 2014.

If I were picking the best story titles of 2014, a big chunk would come of this book.  "Fear is the Best Keeper of Secrets."  "A Woman's Geography is Sacred."  "The Shelf Life of Revenge."  "The Whitest Set of Teeth in Tehran."

And today's entry. 

The narrator is a prostitute.  Her friend Elika is being stoned to death for adultery - although the actual reasons are more complicated than that.  While this story makes no reference to the obvious Christian analog - "let he who is without sin..." - Elika's customers are in the crowd, very reluctant to participate.

This is not a standard crime story, more a slice-of-death piece, but powerfully written.

One of the women asks out loud why they haven't covered her face.  she insists that this is the law.  It's as if she's some kind of Minister of Stoning.

Kati insisted there was not a man on earth who would stay faithful for long.  Except maybe the prophet Adam, and that was only because in his particular sad case there wasn't a second option.

This boy's a natural.  They should bring him to every stoning within driving distance.

Another fine story in the collection is "Not Every Bullet is Meant for a King," (another great title) by Hossein Arkenar, a sort of textual Pulp Fiction about people who get involved in a bank robbery.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wehrkraftzersetzung, by Stephen D. Rogers

"Wehrkraftzersetzung," by Stephen D. Rogers, in Rogue Wave,: Best New England Crime Stories 2015,  edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, and Leslie Wheeler, Level Best Books, 2014.

We must begin with my annual complaint about the titles of the books in this series.  Since the book is published in 2014, clearly these aren't the anything stories of 2015.  And since they are published here for the first time, who the heck has decided they are the best of the year?

Having gotten that out of the way, let's discuss Mr. Rogers contribution.  This is a traditional detective story, in the sense that a murder is committed and solved, and I don't remember the last time one of those made my best-of list.  Not because I have a prejudice against them (as I admitted last week concerning fan fiction) but because they are a small percentage of the field these days.

One problem with the traditional formula in short story form is that it can fall into the category of eeny meeny murder mo,  in which the killer was either A, B, or C and you have no particular reason to care which of them did it because the characters are not much more than letters of the alphabet.

There is some of that in this story, but it is so unusual in its setting that Rogers easily overcomes that limit.  The story takes place on the Russian front during World War II.  Steiner, the narrator, is a German soldier.  In the middle of a very bad situation one of four new replacement soldiers has been killed - not by the enemy but by one of his comrades.  Steiner has apparently acquired a reputation for investigation and his commander orders him to figure out whodunit.  The search is short and cleverly done.  The conclusion is a logical extension of what happens in war.  A good, tough, story.
Best New England Crime Stories,” edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at:
Best New England Crime Stories,” edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at:
Best New England Crime Stories,” edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at:
edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at:
edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, - See more at:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dr. Watson's Casebook, by Alan Grant

"Dr. Watson's Casebook," by Alan Grant, in In The Company of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Laurie R. King, and Leslie Klinger, Pegasus Crime, 2014.

I admit to a prejudice against fan fiction, the attempt to add a new work to some other author's corpus.  To make my best list such a story would pretty much have to be better than the original.

Pastiches, on the other hand, are a different animal. 

While there are different interpretations of the word, I define a pastiche as a work that uses a previous author's work but doesn't attempt to reproduce it.  A reboot, in other words.  Television's Sherlock and Elementary both qualify, but you don't have to switch to modern times to qualify.  My friend James Lincoln Warren's "Shikari," which imagines Dr. Watson as an agent of British Intelligence, is a perfect example.

This book contains examples of both categories, plus some modern stories with more or less reference to Doyle's character. 

My favorite is solidly in the pastiche camp, with tongue firmly in cheek.  Quite simply, Alan Grant has retold The Hound of the Baskervilles as it might have appeared through social media.

Dr. John Watson has shared a link to the London Meteorological Serivce - Likelihood of Severe Fog: 90%.
* The Hound likes this.
* Sherlock Holmes does not like this.

Very silly.  Very enjoyable.

My other favorite in this book was "By Any Other Name," by Michael Dirda, a clever example of the "Great Game," scholarship that assumes Holmes was real.  But, alas, it is not a crime story, so it does not qulaify here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Swirl, by Siljie Bekeng

"Swirl," by Siljie Bekeng, in Tel Aviv Noir, edited by Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron, Akashic Press, 2014.

Hmm.  You need to sue a spoiler warning if you reveal the plot, but do you need one if you reveal there is no plot? 

This story is so light on the plot side that it could pass for mainstream, but there is crime in it, and excellent writing, which is how it happened to end up being my best-of-the-week. 

When I read a story on my tablet I mark interesting passages that I might want to quote on this page.  In this story I marked seven which is a record, I think.  But we will get to that.

The narrator describes herself as an expat.  Her husband is an executive of an international corporation and they live on Rothschild Boulevard in downtown Tel Aviv.  She is isolated in many ways, including having no knowledge of Hebrew.  But worse, there are protests going on in the city and the corporation keeps urging employees to avoid a certain area -- the place where she lives. 

But that's not the scary part.  When she does go out she sometimes comes back to find evidence that someone has been in the apartment.  Apparently Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has a habit of leaving these little reminders for expats: we are watching you.  But our narrator suspects that this is more personal, that the watcher has taken a particular interest in her.

If this were a straight crime story you know how it would go, but as I said already, it isn't.  And the ending, well, it descends into mainstream coyness, but the rest is very good. And here are a few of those lines I highlighted:

Those single socks that never return from the washing machine?  Shin Bet has a storage room full of socks lifted from diplomats, lobbyists, and international aid workers.  On casual Fridays the Shin Bet people wear the mismatched socks themselves, for fun.

There is something embarrassing about listening in to someone else's social protest, like getting stuck at the table during someone else's family argument.

We are the kind of people they send in helicopters for.