"I Wish I Had Your Job," by Ted Fitzgerald. The Private Eye Writers of America present Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora, edited by Robert J. Randisi, Riverdale Avenue Books, 2015.
It has been many years since PWA put out an anthology and, as you can tell by the title, this time they went with a theme: private eyes and sex. Some qualify as erotica, some not so much.
Mr. Fitzgerald's is my favorite so far. Notice the title of the story? The first line is: No, you don't.
Tex Texeirais a private eye and one of his clients is an adult magazine. He checks out potential centerfolds for them, making sure they have no outstanding warrants and at least eighteen orbits of the sun.
Some of his friends think this is a great job, hence the title. Tex is not so sure. He spends most of his time doing background checks, not so much with the potential models, whom he is forbidden to get involved with, anyway.
The latest candidate is Dulce Nunes, but it looks like she may not be interested. It appears that her mother got a couple of naked photographs of Dulce and sent them to the magazine. Here's the loving mama: "Dulce's strong-willed. She won't say what she doesn't want to say, but expects you to listen to whatever it is that she wants to say when she wants to say it. Make a great husband for someone, that girl."
Dulce has disappeared, and her past has some definite shadows. When Tex tries to investigate he gets beaten up by four bikers. Is she a damsel in distress or is something else going on?
"Chin Yong-Yun Meets A Ghost," by S.J. Rozan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March-April 2015.
My buddy S.J. Rozan does her best work in the first person. She started out writing stories about New York private eye Bill Smith. When she switched to novels she added Smith's occasional partner Lydia Chin. Now there is a third voice in that universe. This is the second story told by Lydia's formidable mother.
And what a wonderful voice Mrs. Chin has. "The other ladies agreed with me, as they often do, because I am usually right."
The lady is making dinner when she gets a phone call from Gerald Yu. This is annoying for three reasons. First, Yu is a gambler and not very bright. Second, he wants to involve daughter Lydia in his troubles. And third, he happens to be dead.
"It's about my death, but it's not vengeance I'm after. Also, it's not really about my death, because I'm not dead." "Who told you that? They're lying."
I almost wrote that Chin seems confused about whether Yu is alive or a ghost, but that would be precisely wrong. She is completely unconcerned about the question, and seems to find the two conditions fluid.
So she decides to solve Yu's puzzle to keep her daughter from getting involved. Her daughter disapproves of her doing detective work. "Why?" I asked her quite innocently. "Is it dangerous?"
Try to think of a way Lydia could answer that one.
"First Dragon," by MartinLimón, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2015. I think this may be the first fiction my friend Martin Limón has written that is not set in Korea. For
this new series he slipped a few miles over the border into Manchuria. Il Yong, the title character, is the son of an American serviceman and a Korean mother, who did various classified jobs for Defense contractor and is now the head of security for a medical missionary group. They are supposed to be helping the Chinese peasants but they don't turn away starving North Korean refugees who slip over from the Hermit Kingdom. But that's not the current problem. A group of Manchurian bandits have kidnapped an American nurse. Il Yong has both professional and personal reasons to want to get her back, no matter the danger. Fascinating story.
"The Trouble With Virgins," by Thomas K. Carpenter, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2015.
This first story by the author of several historical novels is set in first century A.D. Alexandria. Magistrate Ovid, an unambitious son of Roman aristocrats, has the job of administering justice in a section of the city. Alas, he finds himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
A vestal virgin informs him that a crime has been committed: a body has been burned in the city proper. The culprit, a young man, cheerfully admits to the crime. But his father, a senator, demands that Ovid find him innocent. Either the virgin or the senator can destroy Ovid's career. How can he satisfy both?
The answer requires a knowledge of Roman law and a willingness to stretch the truth. Very clever story.
"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.
"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...
"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.
"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.
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.