Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Little Big News: Derringer finalists

The Short Mystery Fiction Society has announced the finalists for the 2016 Derringer Awards.  I am more than delighted that one of the stories is by yours truly.  Congratulations to all!

For Best Flash Story (Up to 1,000 words)
  • Jack Bates, "The Hard Screw" (Near to the Knuckle, August 6, 2015)
  • Craig Faustus Buck, "Heavy Debt" (Mondays are Murder: Akashic Books, August 10, 2015)
  • Barb Goffman, "The Wrong Girl" (Flash and Bang: A Short Mystery Fiction Society Anthology: Untreed Reads, October 2015)
  • Vy Kava, "Hero" (Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Level Best Books, November 2015)
  • John Weagly, "Trash Pick-Up" (Near to the Knuckle, September 24, 2015)

For Best Short Story (1,001–4,000 words)
  • Shelly Dickson Carr, "Words Can Kill" (Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Level Best Books, November 2015)
  • Nikki Dolson, "Joe Park's Little Girl" (Mystery Weekly, September 7, 2015)
  • Chris Knopf, "Kill Switch" (Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Level Best Books, November 2015)
  • William Burton McCormick, "Pompo's Disguise" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2015)
  • Meg Opperman, "Twilight Ladies" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2015)

For Best Long Story (4,001–8,000 words)
  • Ron Collins, "The White Game" (Fiction River: Hidden in Crime: WMG Publishing, November 2015)
  • John M. Floyd, "Dentonville" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 2015)
  • Katia Lief, "The Orchid Grower" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 2015)
  • Robert Lopresti, "Shooting at Firemen" (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2015)
  • Elizabeth Zelvin, "The Man in the Dick Tracy Hat" (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2015)

For Best Novelette (8,001–20,000 words)
  • John M. Floyd, "Driver" (The Strand Magazine, February-May 2015)
  • Jane Haddam, "Crazy Cat Ladies" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2015)
  • Richard Helms, "Shooting Stars" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2015)
  • Gordon Hopkins, "Jack Daniels and Associates: The Whiplash Brokers" (Kindle Worlds, March 2015)
  • Travis Richardson, "Quack and Dwight" (Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds: PM Press, November 2015)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Best is Yet to Come, by Chris Knopf

"The Best is Yet to Come,"  by Chris Knopf, in Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now, edited by Michael Guillebeau and Stacy Pethel, Madison Press, 2016.

This is not an anthology of short stories.  It contains interviews, book excerpts, interviews, and a few stories thrown in.  Now on to Mr. Knopf's contribution...

Two paisans, sitting in their favorite Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, are waxing nostalgic.  Bogart laments that today's hit men lack the style of the great mechanics of yesteryear.  His friend Two Step agrees that contract killers just ain't what they used to be.  Relevant war stories are exchanged.  Then other stuff happens.

I saw where this was going, but the perfect last paragraph made it worth the trip.  Very amusing tale.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Being Fred, by Travis Richardson

"Being Fred," by Travis Richardson, in Thuglit 21, 2016.

Pity poor Fred.  He's a nice guy but he happens to share a body with Conner, a hit man for the Russian mob. 

Conner, his alternate personality tells us, is "a bad man who does awful things, but he's not a sociopath.  If he was, I wouldn't exist."

So when Fred, the reluctant coping mechanism, wakes up he always know it means Conner has done something so horrific he can't face it.  Which leaves poor Fred to clean up the mess, sometimes quite literally.

In this case Conner has killed a friend for his boss Vlad.  ("He looks like what you think a Vlad would look like - dark-haired, goateed, and imposing...")   But a piece of jewelry is missing and Fred has to find it.  Which means finding the piece of the corpse it was attached to...

Or as Fred would swear, "Fiddlesticks!"

This story is a lot of fun.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Blue Carbuncle, by Terence Faherty

"The Blue Carbuncle," by Terence Faherty, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2016.

This is the sixth appearance in this space by my former fellow-SleuthSayer, Terence Faherty.  That puts him ahead of all the other writers in the universe.  No doubt he is thrilled.

And this is the third winner in this bizarre series.  You see, Faherty claims to have found Dr John Watson's notebooks, containing the original drafts of the Sherlock Holmes stories, explaining what really  happened.  And they are pretty hilarious.

You may remember that in Doyle's version someone has stolen the precious jewel of the title from the Countess of Morcar.  A plumber is arrested but then Peters, a hotel commissionaire, gets involved in a street fight and ends up with a goose which, turns out to contain the precious bauble.  Now let's look at a passage from Faherty's tale:

    "Until now," Holmes added as he tossed the paper aside.  "The question before us is how the stone got out of the jewelry case and into the goose."
     "Excuse me for saying so," Peters interrupted, "but who gives a tinker's tintype?  We don't need to explain how it got in the goose to collect the reward."
    "What was I thinking?" Holmes said.  "Right you are.  Case closed.  Drinks all around."

Which might have been an amusing place to end the story, but Faherty has other, uh, geese to roast.  In fact he is about to skewer one of the great mystery tales of all time, and it is not by Doyle.  I will stop right here except to say the whole piece is very funny and clever. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Devil You Know, by Jas. R. Petrin

"The Devil You Know," by Jas. R. Petrin, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 2016.

This is Petrin's third appearance in this blog.

Reading a new adventure of a favorite character fells like meeting up with an old friend.  But some friends are definitely better in fiction than in real life.

Which leads us to Leo "Skig" Skorzeny, a tough-as-nails loan shark in Halifax, Canada.  Skig is too old to be doing this stuff, and he has an "imp" in his guts he expects will kill him, if someone else doesn't do it first.

Among his enemies are the Halifax police who have "found" a block of cocaine in his ancient smelly Crown Vic - in an earlier story it spent a few hours in the harbor - and they offer him a deal: they won't press charges if he helps them find a truckload of old furniture that was stolen while being shifted from police headquarters.

Skig has good reason not to trust the cops.  As his friend Creeper says about the sergeant running the operation: "When she says win-win, she really means a double win for them.  Nothng for you."

But Skig figures out that what they are really after is not the old desks and tables but some filing cabinets that were in the truck.  And if he can find them - and determine which file they are desperate for - he might get out of the mess with a whole skin.

As usual, a good story from Petrin.


 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Agatha Award nominees

Congratulations to all the Agatha Award nominees!  Here are the short story finalists:

Barb Goffman, “A Year Without Santa Claus?” (AHMM)
Edith Maxwell, “A Questionable Death” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
Terri Farley Moran, “A Killing at the Beausoleil” (EQMM)
Harriette Sackler, “Suffer the Poor” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
B.K. Stevens, “A Joy Forever” (AHMM)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

To Kill a Rocking Horse, by James Powell

"To Kill a Rocking Horse," by James Powell, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2016.

I have said it before.  My friend James Powell (who makes his fifth appearance in this column today) has more imagination that any three authors should be permitted to possess.   This is particularly obvious in his annual Christmas stories in which ideas go flying across the page like bullets from a machine gun.

Exhibit A is this tale about Canadian private eye Gladstone Tydings (ponder that name for a moment), who gets visited by Santa Claus.  The fat man needs help because his elves have gone on strike.  They feel that someone is trying to destroy all the rocking horses they created in honor of the now extinct species of ski-footed ponies that helped the elves survive when they first came to the Americas.  (Why did the elves wind up at the North Pole?  They were the last to cross the Bering Sea land bridge, because they had the shortest legs, of course).

I won't give away much more except to tell you about two groups who appear in the story: militant women who attack phony santas and are known as the Slay Belles,  and the North Pole's crack paramilitary unit, the Christmas Seals.  And then there is the rule about camp followers with a heart of gold, and --  Somebody stop me!

Read the story.  You'll love it.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Inquiry and Assistance, by Terrie Farley Moran

"Inquiry and Assistance," by Terrie Farley Moran, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2016.

We start reviewing 2016  with a nice story in the P.I. vein by my friend Terrie Farley Moran.

New York City, the Great Depression.  Tommy Flood, unemployed bookkeeper is looking desperately for work, and surviving through family ties.

And speaking of family, he gets an invitation from Van Helden, the wealthy man who employs his cousin Kathleen.  He has a dangerously wild daughter, and Van Helden has decided the solution is to find an attractive but tame gentleman to escort her safely to the risky sorts of establishments she enjoys.

"You, Mr. Flood, are reasonably presentable and so unsuitiable that I'm sure my daughter would find you attractive."

And, of course, if anything goes wrong, cousin Kathleen will immediately join the ranks of the desperate unemployed.

Tommy meets the daughter by pretending to be a private eye.  And guess what?  Turns out he's good at it.  The story has a couple of minor plot holes, but I enjoyed it very much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Little Big News: Edgar nominations!

The Mystery Writers of America have just announced the nominees for the Edgar Awards.  Congratulations to all the funalists.  Here are the short story choices:


"The Little Men" – Mysterious Bookshop by Megan Abbott (Mysterious Bookshop)
"On Borrowed Time" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Mat Coward (Dell Magazines)
"The Saturday Night Before Easter Sunday” – Providence Noir by Peter Farrelly (Akashic Books)
"Family Treasures" – Let Me Tell You  by Shirley Jackson (Random House)
"Obits" – Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
“Every Seven Years” – Mysterious Bookshop by Denise Mina (Mysterious Bookshop)




ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD (Best First Story)

"Chung Ling Soo’s Greatest Trick" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by Russell W. Johnson (Dell Magazines)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

'Twas The Night Before, by Todd Robinson

"'Twas The Night Before," by Todd Robinson, in Thuglit presents: CRUEL YULE, 2015.

The best story in this collection of holiday tales from Thuglit Magazine was penned by the editor himself, alias Big Daddy Thug.

Boo and Junior are lifelong buddies, stuck holding down the fort in an empty Boston bar on Christmas Eve.  They are both orphans, no one to get festive with.  Noel makes  Boo  miserable and Junior happy, which makes Boo feel even worse.  (Oh, and one thing to get straight: Boo calls Junior his "heterosexual life partner," but they are both male (unless I am reading the story wrong).  So either Robinson or Boo really means platonic life partners.)

Back to the story.  Into the joint wanders a semi-regular customer name Darla and a man she has apparently just met at another bar where she works.

Boo says: "I didn't like him immediately.  He had that cocky Ivy League swagger, chin held at an arrogant angle.  His overcoat looked extremely soft and extremely expensive.  But maybe I was just feeling jealous of somebody with a beautiful woman on his arm on the worst night of my year...."

Turns out Boo's instincts are on target.  Caleb, for such is the jerk's name, attempts to give Darla a date rape drug.  Our heroes spot the scheme and things get complicated.  And messy.  And funny.

"So...do you guys have a  plan?"
"For what?" Junior asked.
"To get him back into his room past the front desk."
 "Improvise?" I said.
"That sounded like a question," Darla said.
I thought for a second.  "Yes.  Yes it did."
From the floor of the backseat erupted a terrified, "FLUMMWRAAAA!"

And happy holidays to all you thugs out there..

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Bastard, by Tarek Abi Samra

"The Bastard," by Tarek Abi Samra, in Beirut Noir, edited by Iman Humaydan, Akashic Press, 2015.

They were born on the same night, of the same father but different mothers.

A nice opening sentence, that, with a lovely fairy tale feel.  Samra keeps this up in his story, set in contemporary times, partly by leaving all the characters nameless.  And then there is the plot, which has a timeless feel.

You see, the half-brothers were born in the same hospital, and there was some confusion, so no one is sure which brother is which.  The father makes an arbitrary choice,  setting their destinies forever in place.

The two boys grow up next door to each other.  The so-called bastard envies his brother his legitimacy and wealth.  The heir envies the other one his freedom, a loving mother (his own died in childbirth), and his strength and confidence.

Clearly their fates are tangled up and the story tells us the stories of their lives, with an appropriately noirish ending.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Neck and Neck, by Andrea Camilleri

"Neck and Neck," by Andrea Camilleri, in The Strand Magazine," October 2015-January 2016.

Montalbano,  Camilleri's series character, is appointed Chief Inspector in a village in Sicily, and discovers that a Mafia family feud is well under way.  A member of the Cuffaros is snuffed out with an old-fashioned shotgun, and then one of the Sinagras dies the same way.

Our hero digs deeper as the bodies pile up but no one is talking.  "No wonder Ulysses, right here in Sicily, told the Cyclops his name was Nobody!"

But then something highly irregular happens.  Two members of the same family are killed in a row.  How unseemly!  And Montalbano spots a way into the maze.

Very clever story.  And the fact that one of the characters is named Lopresti did not influence me, I assure you.

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.