Sunday, October 25, 2015

Jewish Easter, by David Liss

"Jewish Easter," by David Liss, in Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishnia, PM Press, 2015.

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

It's hard to write funny well.  It's hard to write grim well.  Do both at the same time and you've got something.

Al's family moved from Long Island to Jacksonville, Florida, when he was in third grade, because of his stepfather's import business.  Now he is thirteen and has begun to figure out exactly what is being imported.

But that's not his immediate problem.  There are a couple of anti-Semetic rednecks in his class and when they hear about Passover (which the sensitive teacher helpfully describes as "Jewish Easter,") they decide to invite themselves forcefully to the seder.  Let all who are hungry come and eat, right?

Sounds like a Manischewitz-fueled version of Key Largo.  But what I loved about the story is not the suspense but the surprising choices the characters make (especially the grandmother).  Al kept me guessing right up to the last paragraph.

More hardboiled than noir, but a fine piece of work.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Stolen Lives, by Johanna Holmstrom

"Stolen Lives," by Johanna Holmstrom, in Helsinki Noir, edited by James Thompson, Akashic Press, 2015.

This is a complex story, told in multiple flashbacks.  I had to go back and read parts of it a second time to see exactly what happened.  But the ending made it worthwhile.

Carin is a new mother and she blogs a lot about her joy in the experience, and her brilliance  at the task.  Also she hands down her dictates as to what is and isn't fashionable.  And writes about her handsome husband.

Sounds insufferable, huh?  But she isn't the main character.  Celestine lives nearby, and she watches Carin, online in real life.  But mostly Celestine obsesses over the death of her little brother when she was a child, for which she was partly responsible.

Did I mention that Carin leaves her baby, Gabriel, snoozing in his perfect stroller in the lovely fresh air outside her charming window while "Carin, with her shades drawn, is advising clueless mothers on how to best take care of their offspring.  And Celestine is standing on her balcony right across the street..."

Celestine has plans for Gabriel.  They don't go exactly right.  But what happens is quite astonishing, and worth a read.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gotta Go, by Elaine Viets

"Gotta Go," by Elaine Viets, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2015.

Sorry this review is late.  Bouchercon doth make sluggards of us all.

"If you want to be a good-looking corpse, carbon monoxide is the way to go.  Your skin is  a lovely shade of pink."

That helpful tip is the  opening line of this story, which is intended to be the first in a series about Angela Richman, Death Investigator for a Missouri county.  In this tale she is looking into the apparent suicide of a wealthy woman, found in her car in a closed garage.  The detective in charge of the case is an "errorist," a lazy cop who makes a lot of mistakes.  He wants to wrap up this obvious suicide before he goes off-shift.  Angela has a couple of hours to find evidence that the death was (surprise!) murder. 

The story is full of detail, and has a fair-play ending.

Little Big News: Anthony Awards

And finally, the attendees at Bouchercon gave out the Anthony Awards.  Congratulations to Art Taylor who won in the Best Short Story category:

  "Honeymoon Sweet" Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014 - Craig Faustus Buck [Down & Out]
  "The Shadow Knows" Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays - Barb Goffman [Wildside]
  "Howling at the Moon" Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov 2014 - Paul D. Marks [Dell]
  "Of Dogs and Deceit" Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Nov 2014 - John Shepphird [Dell]
"The Odds Are Against Us" Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov 2014 - Art Taylor [Dell]

Little Big News: Shamus Award

Also at Bouchercon, the Private Eye Writers of America gave out their Shamus Awards.  Gon Bor Ari took home the Best Short Story prize.

“Clear Recent History” by Gon Ben Ari in Tel Aviv Noir
“The Ehrengraf Fandango ” by Lawrence Block  in Defender of the Innocent
“Fear Is The Best Keeper of Secrets ” by Vali Khalili in Tehran Noir
“Mei Kwei, I Love You” by Suchen Christine Lim in Singapore Noir
“Busting Red Heads” by Richard Helms in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

Little Big News: Macavity Awards

Back from Bouchercon with a pile of news:

The Mystery Readers International gave out the Macavity Awards, and Craig Faustus Buck won for Best Short Story.  Here are all the nominees:

Best Mystery Short Story
“Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014.
“The Odds Are Against Us” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/macavity-award-nominees-2015.html#sthash.qh2cjnpF.dpuf
Best Mystery Short Story
“Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014.
“The Odds Are Against Us” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/macavity-award-nominees-2015.html#sthash.qh2cjnpF.dpuf
Best Mystery Short Story
“Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014.
“The Odds Are Against Us” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/macavity-award-nominees-2015.html#sthash.qh2cjnpF.dpuf
Best Mystery Short Story
“Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014.
“The Odds Are Against Us” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/macavity-award-nominees-2015.html#sthash.qh2cjnpF.dpuf
 “Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit
“The Odds Are Against Us” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

400 Things Cops Know: Street Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman, by Adam Plantinga (Quill Driver)

Best Mystery Short Story
“Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014.
“The Odds Are Against Us” - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/macavity-award-nominees-2015.html#sthash.qh2cjnpF.dpuf

Best Mystery Short Story
“Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014.
“The Odds Are Against Us” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/macavity-award-nominees-2015.html#sthash.qh2cjnpF.dpuf
Best Mystery Short Story
“Honeymoon Sweet” by Craig Faustus Buck, in Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” by Paul D. Marks, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“The Proxy” by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014.
“The Odds Are Against Us” by Art Taylor, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014 - See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/macavity-award-nominees-2015.html#sthash.qh2cjnpF.dpuf

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mess With The Bull, Get The Horn, by Michael Terlecki

"Mess With The Bull, Get The Horn," by Michael Terlecki, in  Destination: Mystery, edited by Andrew MacRae, Dark House Books, 2015.

Thomas Gavel had a dream job designing slot machines.  Things go wrong when he visits Las Vegas and gets suckered in a high stakes poker game.  The bad guys say all he has to do to pay off his debt is design a slot machine they can use to get rich with.  But the casino guys will catch any kind of payout pattern.  Can he do it? 

The moral of the story is: don't mess with engineers.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Discovery, by Meg Opperman

"The Discovery," by Meg Opperman, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 18, 2015.

Celeste is a young woman studying at a university in her native Venezuela.  She meets an American professor named Robert, marries him, and moves to Washington, D.C.  Things go downhill from there.

Robert is  a classic abusive, controlling, husband.  Celeste's every move is watched, her phone calls monitored.  When her bus home is late she is beaten. 

My favorite line in the story?  Reaching into a hand-carved box, I sort through the gold jewelry and select Robert's latest apology.

But what makes this story more than just a tale of domestic misery is that each scene is prefaced with a quotation from Christopher Columbus's letters or logbooks, describing his encounters with the natives of the new world.  It is no accident that Celeste and Robert get married on Columbus Day.  I can't imagine how much work went into finding the appropriate texts for each scene.

Very moving story.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Three LIttle Words, by Nancy Pickard

"Three Little Words," by Nancy Pickard, in Mystery Writers of America present Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark, Quirk,2015. 

Priscilla Windsor is a poor little rich girl.  Not only does she come from a horrible wealthy family, but on the first page she discovers that she is about to die.  "Death could only improve my life, she thought, and giggled wildly again."

Her long-time doctor, Sam Waterford, suggests she make a bucket list.  Priscilla's has only one item: TELL THE TRUTH.

Three days later, she is murdered.  Sam feels obliged to look into, not her death so much as her life.  What he finds is disturbing, but does it include the motive for murder?

A lot of twists in here, including one I found unsatisfactory, but a very nice story anyway.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Naomi, by Christopher Rice

"Naomi," by Christopher Rice, in nEvermore!, edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles, EDGE, 2015.

Full disclosure: I have a story in this collection of Poe-inspired tales.

You could argue that this piece is fantasy or horror, not a mystery.  And you'd be right.  But a wise man (me) once pointed out that there seems to be an affinity between mysteries and ghost stories, that does not exist with vampire, zombie, etc. stories.

Besides, this is a tale of crime and revenge, which seems to be right in our wheelhouse.  But enough special pleading. 

Franklin, the narrator, is tormented by the recent death of his niece.  Naomi, a transsexual woman,  was bullied by other students at her high school and committed suicide.

Reporters wait outside the family house and demand: Mr. Franklin, did you do enough to help your niece?  He doesn't respond, although he longs to say, at least you stopped calling her Nathan.  

Now other students from the school have killed themselves.  Copycats, is the community's first thought.   Then: they were the bullies and they did it out of guilt.

But Franklin, a gay man who attended the same school, is convinced that kids like that never feel guilt or remorse.  So what - or who - is causing their deaths?

The answer?  Well, let's say this is a thoroughly modern ghost story, and a very good one.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Meet and Greet, by Ian Rankin

"Meet and Greet," by Ian Rankin, The Strand Magazine, July-October 2015.  

Sometimes you wonder where an author possibly got the idea for  a story.  In the case of this clever tale I think we can all make a guess.

Peppard and Jarman have a plan to make some quick dishonest cash.  Go to an airport and imitate the drivers who stand, holding signs, waiting for passengers to get off planes.  Collect the passenger before the real driver does, whisk him away and rob him.  A sure thing.
 
Well, if you have read any crime fiction at all, you know a sure thing is sure to go all to hell.  The reason this made my favorites list is the clever, and perfectly logical twist at the very end.
 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Solo for Shoehorn, by John H. Dirckx

"Solo for Shoehorn," by John H. Dirckx, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2015.

For many years Dirckx has been creating a dependable series of private eye stories for AHMM about Detective (recently Lieutenant) Cyrus Auburn, set in a midwestern city. 

The tale begins when Auburn meets Walter Bottrace, a seventy-five year old man with a mobile van full of vintage LPs and 45s for sale.  When Bottrace is found killed in the woods with a passel of fake IDs, Auburn uncovers a complicated scheme of robberies that have more to do with drugs and, yes, shoehorns, than music.

What makes the stories work are mostly the characters and how they are described.  There is a regular cast, each of whom gets their scene on stage.  For example, evidence tech Kestrel dislikes Stamaty, the coroner's clerk who slows down his work, and in this episode he calls him "the Last Responder."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Big Hard Squall, by Lane Kareska

"Big Hard Squall," by Lane Kareska, in Thuglit, issue 17, 2015.

This review is late because I was at Sasquan, where, among other things,  I heard two editors being interviewed.  They were asked: what type of story are you so tired of you don't want to see any more?  They refused to answer because (and I am paraphrasing, of course), no matter how cliched a category might be, someone is going to come up with the next new and original work in it, and they don't want to miss it.

This week's story starts with a bit of a cliche: The main character has been brutally attacked and locked in the trunk of her car, which is now headed for parts unknown.  We stay in Abby's head as she runs through her life and concludes that there is no one who would want to do this to her.  Therefore the target must be her daughter Margaret, a prosecuting attorney.  Either someone wants to punish Margaret or else put a squeeze on her, and Abby is the pawn in jeopardy.

(By the way, this story is set in 1990.  It stretched my disbelief that a white collar woman born in 1925 would swear like the proverbial sailor.  But maybe that's just me.)

Back to the plot.  So far we are in territory we have seen many times before.  But when the trunk lid comes up, all bets are off.  Nothing after that is predictable at all.  Very nice piece of work.




Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Box of Horses, by Steve Bailey.

"A Box of Horses," by Steve Bailey, in Thuglit", 17, 2015.

Some stories you read on the edge of your seat, not because of the suspense in the telling, but because there are so many ways the author could go wrong.  Will he make it to the end without screwing up?   Obviously Steve Bailey did or we wouldn't be having this discussion. 

Dianne is a woman who does bad things.  She has her reasons, ugly events that happened in her past. 

She makes her living cleaning people's houses and she is "an explorer, a secret digger inside people's hidden places."  Yes, she steals from her clients, but she is much more interested in investigating their lives than in copping their goods, which in any case she is more likely to keep as souvenirs than to sell.

One day she discovers that a client - a woman with MS and her nine-year-old daughter - have a new neighbor, and she immediately recognizes that this man is in some ways like her.  Up to no good.  And maybe now she knows why several young girls in the city have vanished in the last year. 

Trouble is, he also recognizes her for what she is...  And you think YOUR relationships are problematic.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Shooting Stars, by Richard Helms

"Shooting Stars," by Richard Helms, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2015.

Mr. Helms makes his third appearance on this page, with his second story in this series.  (Here is the first.)

Boy Boatright is a down-on-his-luck police detective, as you can tell from this opening sentence:

Even after the crime-scene guys finished wrecking it, Nigel Bowles's trailer looked nicer than my apartment.

Lovely.  Bowles is, or was, the favorite judge on a top TV talent show, visiting town to film a special episode.  Everyone involved in the series had multiple reasons to want him dead, and most had opportunities.


But that isn't Boatright's real problem.  That would be the fact that one of the other judges is a client of an alleged psychic with the amazing name of Bowie Crapster, and he is the reason Boyright keeps threatening to retire.  Forced, again to work with the Crapster - No more than five and a half feet tall, built like the Pillsbury Doughboy, resplendent in an Italian ice-cream suit with silk cravat and gleaming white patent-leather shoes. His hair, cut in a sort of Caesar style with short bleached bangs, was reflected in his silver Elvis sunglasses.  He looked like a Good Humor Man in Key West. - our hero threatens to resign , but that would spoil the fun.

Crapster isn't quite as charmingly annoying this time, largely because he explains to Boatright and us how he achieves some of his allegedly mystical effects.  A nice example of working your way through the suspects.

One complaint:  Helms is stuck with the names he chose for his heroes but with so many letters in the alphabet why does this story include: Boy Boatwright, Bowie, Belinda, Billy, Baggs, and Bliss?  Why make it harder for the reader to keep the characters straight?


Little BIg News: Ned Kelly Nominees

The nominees for the Ned Kelly Awards for best Australian crime fiction have been announced.  Congratulations to all the short story nominees!

  • Aoife Clifford, A Watched Pot
    Andrea Gillum, Short Term People
  • Stephen Gray, Prisoner's Dilemma
  • Grace Heyer, Sweetie
  • Adriane Howell, Daddy Played the Trumpet
  • Darcy-Lee Tindale, Roux's Sister

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Red Jacks Wild, by Kim Newman

"Red Jacks Wild," by Kim Newman, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 17, 2015.

You could argue that this is not the best mystery story I read this week.  At approximately ten thousand words it's more like a novella.  And you could say it's fantasy/horror rather than mystery.

Don't care. 

In any case, it's in a mystery magazine, and a series of murders are solved, and if you don't like that you can start your own review blog.  So there.

I try not to reveal the plot but there is a lot of premise here to explain before we get to the plot.

The narrator is John Carmody, a psychologist in New York in 1951.  He also happens to be Jack the Ripper.

Wait a minute, you say.  He'd have to be a hundred years old. 

Well, he is.  But he looks the same age he did in the 1880s when he started making human sacrifices to Hecate.  Which he still does, every three years.

But not prostitutes every time.  He alters his "disposables-"  And now we come to the first thing I love about this story.

You may be familiar with the theory that popular horror movies are the ones that capture the zeitgeist - I might say the frightgeist - the main thing that people of the time are scared of.  So right after World War II we had Godzilla and other monsters created by nuclear radiation.  At the height of the Cold War we had Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which your best friend or neighbor might turn out to be the enemy!  When AIDS made blood a scary thing Dracula made a big comeback.  I lieave it up to you to decide what the current popularity of brain-seeking zombies means.

My point is that this Jack the Ripper understands the concept.

In New Orleans in 1909 I tok colored children.  They called me the Voo-Doo Man.  The cops didn't listen to the parents until I was done.  In California in 1933, as the Hobo Hacker, I picked on jobless transients.  Last time, the Red Knife, preyed on card-carrying communists...

Carmody picks the people we don't care about.   And, as the FBI's favorite shrink, he gets to steer them to the wrong killers.  But now someone is slaughtering juvenile delinquents - surely a classic "disposable" in America of the 1950s - and it isn't him.

It seems to have something to do with his most famous patient, a publisher of horror comics, who is being tormented by another psychoanalyst, who blames the comics for all the nations ills.  Yes, this story is all about America's twisted psyche, and I loved it.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Canyon Ladies, by Sarah M. Chen

"Canyon Ladies," by Sarah M. Chen, in Sisters in Crime Los Angeles presents LAdies Night, edited by Naomi Hirahara, Kate Thornton, and Jeri Westerson, Down and Out Books, 2015. 

Before we get to the main order of business, may I grumble a bit?  No one has ever been able to stop me before, so I guess I can. 

This is always an awkward time of year for me.  I have run out of paper magazines to review.  That means I either have to buy paper copies of anthologies or get e-versions and in that case I need to drag my iPad to work to read them on my lunch hour.  Yeah, poor me.

None of this is a complaint about this book, which I am enjoying.  In fact, I am grateful to SIC-LA for publishing over the summer.  So many anthologies come out in late fall.  Just in time for Christmas shopping, sure, but a real bummer for people trying to finish their reviews of 2015 before 2016. 

Okay.  Kvetch over.

Speaking of kvetching, Chen's narrator has a reason or two to complain.  Shelby's husband has been caught in dirty business dealings and, although he was miraculously (and suspiciously) acquitted, the social world of Laurel Canyon has not forgiven him. His wife, innocent of any wrong-doing, is a social pariah.

Shelby's having a hard time coping.  "I looked in the mirror as I washed  my hands, and shame, wearing last season's bathing suit, stared back at me.  I bet this is how the fat girl in school felt like every day."

But she a plan for vengeance.  The question is: on whom, exactly?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Canary, by Matthew J. Hockey

"Canary," by Matthew J. Hockey, in Thuglit, 18, 2015.

There is a streak of puritanism running through some noir literature.  Take one step off the straight-and-narrow and you are inevitably doomed.  Things keep getting worse and every attempt you make to correct your path only drags you inexorably toward the pit.

Which brings us to Booster, a fireman with a chemistry degree, which earns him the dubious privilege of being the first into a meth lab gone deadly.  He's the one who enters first in full HAZMAT gear and has to determine if all the idiots inside were killed by the poisonous brew they created or whether there might be survivors.

And this time he finds  a bag stuffed with four hundred grand.  Obviously he ought to leave it where it lies, but who will know if he doesn't?  And so he takes one step off the straight-and-narrow...

Excellent story that kept surprising me.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Little Big News: International Thrillwer Awards

The International Thriller Writers announced their award winners this weekend.  The best short story prize went to:

Tim L. Williams – “The Last Wrestling Bear in West Kentucky” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Congratulations to all the winners!