Sunday, December 27, 2015

Good Neighbors, by Gary Earl Ross

"Good Neighbors," by Gary Earl Ross, in Buffalo Noir, edited by Ed Park and Brigid Hughes, Akashic Press, 2015.

By the time the Washingtons moved into the house two doors away late last summer, Loukas and Athena Demopoulos had lived next to Helen Schildkraut for nearly five years.

Dang, that is a good opening sentence.  Clear, a bit complex, and instantly predicting the conflict that is to come.

Lou and Athena have retired after running their Greek restaurant for decades.  Lou's hobby is antiques.  He doesn't collect them, he just wants to buy low and sell high.  But then he discovers that his elderly neighbor Helen has a house full of them.  And Helen has no relatives, no favorite charities, no one to leave her precious belongings to. So Lou and Athena set out to become really good neighbors and wait for Helen to pass away.

But then the Washingtons -- remember them?  They appear in that crucial first sentence and then disappear for most of the story -- move in on the other side, and they are good neighbors too.

This is one of those rare stories I reread as soon as I finished it, because there was so much in it I wanted to see what I had missed.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Bubble Man of Allentown, by Dimitri Anastasopoulos

"The Bubble Man of Allentown," by Dimitri Anastasopoulos, in Buffalo Noir, edited by Ed Park and Brigid Hughes, Akashic Press, 2015.

I'm not a big fan of experimental or even mainstream literary fiction (sometimes defined as "stories with the last page missing.")  So this story had to be extra good to top my weekly list.

I'm going to tell you about some of the characters and you are going to think it's a funny story.  It isn't.  The key word is actually creepy.  Not horror, but it will get under your skin.

Okay, characters.  Tippett is a sixty-year-old cop, on suspension because of his fascination with contaminating crime scenes with chalk outlines.  He considers it a form of artistic expression.  And then there's the Bubble Man, who sits in his fourth floor apartment all day blowing large bubbles down into the street below.  And a middle-aged woman named Lora Gastineau who left her house in a slip and sneakers and never returned.

Tippett is called back to work when a fresh corpse is found and he rushes to prove himself and then -- well, weird things happen.

The artist had tinkered with the body's appearance after the person had died, Tippett guessed -- a new-age sketch artist, judging by the aura of the total work on the ground.  it betrayed the artist's faith in symmetry and harmony, in the reconstruction of the whole figure.  Techniques popularized in the early 1980s, Tippett thought...

A wild ride.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Stretching Fifteen, by Angel Luis Colón

"Stretching Fifteen," by Angel Luis Colón, in Protectors 2: Heroes, edited by Thomas Pluck,  Goombah Gumbo Press, 2015.

Excuse me while I get professorial for a minute. Time to distinguish apples from oranges.

Every twist ending is a surprise.  Not every surprise ending is a twist.  A twist ending is one that makes you rethink everything that happened before.  The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, for example.

This story is a good example of a surprise ending that is not a twist, not that there is anything wrong with that.  Colón takes his tale in clever and unexpected directions.. 

Second point:  You can describe anyone you want as "my hero," meaning that you admire and wish to emulate the person.  But if you call someone "a hero" you should be describing someone who risked a lot (typically life but I would settle for freedom or fortune) for a worthy cause. Merely saving one's own life doesn't qualify - even if you save other lives at the same time.

Take, for instance, Chesley Sullenberger who successfully landed a jet on the Hudson River, saving the lives of everyone on board.  Was that heroism?  Nope.  Incredible cool-headedness and fantastic skill, but he was not heroic, because he did not volunteer for the job.  He just happened to be the guy in the cockpit, and we are all glad he was.

But - and it's a big but - after the jet landed, Sullenberger stayed in the plane, counting heads, to make sure everyone was safely out before leaving himself.  And that makes him a hero. 

Which brings us, I am sure you are delighted to know, to this week's story.  Chris does something quick and decisive which saves his own life and perhaps that of many others.  He is praised as a hero as only modern America can.

At first he seems to react well.  He knows it's only fifteen minutes of fame and resists the temptation to turn into a media slut.  But when the attention fades away he can't get back into his normal life (could there be PTSD involved?) and starts looking for a way to get the glory back.

I predicted three or four ways the story could turn out and Colón completely fooled me.  Like I said, surprise ending.  And a thought-provoking and satisfying story.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Little Big News: Black Orchid Novella winner

On December fifth the Wolfe Pack gave out the Black Orchid Novella Award for an unpublished mystery novella in the tradition of Rex Stout.  The winner was Mark Thielman.  His “A Meter of Murder” will appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine next year.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Something I Said, by Bracken MacLeod.

"Something I Said," by Bracken MacLeod, in Protectors 2: Heroes, edited by Thomas Pluck,  Goombah Gumbo Press, 2015.

I can't say much about this story without giving away the store.  So let me point out that the book is a fundraiser for PROTECT, "a non-partisan anti-crime pro-child lobby."  There are worse causes. 

The narrator of the story, Abel, is a bartender and he's back in the tavern on a night off.  He deliberately picks a fight with a regular customer, a guy named Scott.  Scott is what they call a "pick-up artist," who brags on the web about his irresistable techniques for seducing women.

Why does Abel want to get into a fight with this steroid-laden jerk?  What's his game plan? 

That's where I have to stop talking. Except to say that, while the story is serious, there's a line about martial arts that made me laugh out loud.  And the last paragraph is stunning.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Down Home, by Toni Goodyear

"Down Home," by Toni Goodyear, in Murder Under The Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, edited by Art Taylor, Down and Out Books, 2015.   

I have a story in this anthology.  This photo, taken by Gigi Pandian and used with permission, shows me sitting with Toni Goodyear at the mass signing for the book at the Bouchercon.  We happen to be next to each other in the book, and therefore sat together on the assembly line.

Last week I wrote about a tale in it that I described as sweet and twisted.  You might say we're back in that territory again.

Greta is an eighty-year-old widow with a problem: Andy Griffith keeps trying to arrest her.

That's right, the dead actor.  He's dressed as Sheriff Andy Taylor from the old sit-com, but Greta realizes that that was only a character he was playing.  Heck, she's not crazy.

So naturally she had to set her sofa on fire to escape him.  Wouldn't you have?


The doctor says she is suffering "transient paranoid disturbances," but she is more bothered by what she calls "occasional invisibility,"  as cops, doctors, and relatives find it convenient to talk over and  around her.

Okay, Greta clearly has  a clinker in her thinker, but this is a crime story.  What crime could involve a sweet old lady who empties into her .22 Ruger into the wall of the laundry room, gunning for the sheriff of Mayberry?

A wild and satisfying ride.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

#grenadegranny, by Karen Pullen

"#grenadegranny," by Karen Pullen, in Murder Under The Oaks, Bouchercon Anthology 2015, edite by Art Taylor, Down and Out Books, 2015.

I have a story in this anthology.

Ms. Pullen's tale is a heartwarming story of disease, robbery, blackmail, and other disasters.  Trust me.

Martha Sue's life is a mess.  Failing business, runaway husband, furious ex-best friend.  Everything changes when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Her neighbors, all of whom have financial problems of their own, come through in a big way for her.

So, it seems like  the least she can do for them is rob a few banks.  After all, what's the worst the law can do to her:  Put her in prison and give her free medical care?

Funny and sweet, in a twisted way.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Letters to the Purple Satin Killer, by Joshua Chaplinsky

"Letters to the Purple Satin Killer," by Joshua Chaplinsky, in Thuglit 20, 2015.

A funny story on a sad subject: people who obsess about serial killers.  Jonas Williker is on trial for multiple murders and his correspondents (almost all women) can't get enough of him. 

There is a twelve-year-old who wants him to embrace Jesus.  His mother assures him that she is confident he is innocent.  (She is watching Oz to keep informed of his situation.)  Staci, well, Staci is very blunt about what she wants but I can't repeat her requests here.  Then there is Ginny who tells him about the two  kids she adopted ("The approval process is faster for [special needs children], because no one wants them," and says "Whenever I get a letter from you I turn on Court TV and turn the volume down, so I can read it out loud and pretend you're talking to me."  And then there is Candace, a PhD student who wants to study women who are sexually attracted to criminals.  Purely for academic reasons, of course.

Horrible people.  Damned funny story.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Gold Leaf, by Luanne Rice

"Gold Leaf," by Luanne Rice, in Providence Noir, edited by Ann Hood, Akashic Press, 2015.

"The women of Fox Point wore black because someone was always dying."

Nice opening line for a noir story, or a book of the same, true?

This is a tale about making a deal with the devil.  Not literally, but about setting a cat to catch a rat, which always leaves you with a cat to cope with.

The narrator is an artist.  "I worked in shorts and my bra, making portraits with the bodies of angels and the heads of local politicians.  I received good commissions but it didn't matter because my boyfriend was a lobbyist.  He paid my rent."

But when she gets jealous of her lover's wife, she  starts plotting a murder.  And that involves finding someone willing to kill.  If you have read any noir at all, you know this ain't gonna end well...

Very nice writing in a clever story. 
 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Everything is Bashert, by Heywood Gould

"Everything is Bashert," by Heywood Gould, in Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishnia, PM Press, 2015.

I have a story in this book, but let's talk about Mr. Gould's.  If Yiddish writer I.B. Singer collaborated with my pal R.T. Lawton on one of the latter's Holiday Burglar stories, the latter might be something like "Everything is Bashert."  Lawton's heroes are a couple of burglars whose brilliant plans always go to sheol.  Gould's Franny and Larson are two petty lowlifes who like to spend their days at Aquaduct.

And it is at that race track one day that they run into a hasidic gentleman they call the rabbi (he isn't).  The rabbi has a Bible-based system for betting on the horses, a sure thing of course, and yet somehow he is short of money.  Go figure.  Our heroes lend him some cash and, well, a wild ride commences that involves among other things, breaking into a morgue, and ends with a sort of spiritual enlightment.

"We're committing a mortal sin."
"Not our first.  Might as well get rich doing it."

A treat from start to finish.

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.