Monday, June 27, 2016

Blame the Bear, by Brian Haycock

"Blame the Bear," by Brian Haycock, in Mystery Weekly, June 11, 2016.

I believe this is the first story from Mystery Weekly to make my weekly best.  It was also their free sample of the week, which you can get sent to your email.

The story is a little thing, flash fiction or close to it, more anecdote than full-blown story.  But it's interesting. containing a character sketch (the narrator), nice language use, and something to think about.

Here's how it starts:

I only know three ways people ever get eaten by bears. There could be others, but I haven’t run across them. 

The gentleman meditating here is a  small-town coroner in West Texas, and as you may have guessed, he is dealing with the results of one of those three methods.  The victim is a meth cooker who apparently lost a fight with a colleague, which led to him starting a new career as bear chow.

Our coroner explains what he can tell from the partial remains that have been brought in by the violently ill deputies. Then he ponders the unfairness of the future that is sure to be waiting for the bear.

And that's about it.  Like I said, it's slight, but it hangs together, and is definitely worth a read.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Blank Shot, by Craig Faustus Buck.

"Blank Shot," by Craig Faustus Buck, in Black Coffee, edited by Andrew MacRae, Dark House Books, 2016.

This is the second appearance on this page by Craig Faustus Buck.

Amnesia appears in fiction more often than it does in real life.  But then again, so do dying message clues, femme fatales, genius detectives and a lot of other tools of the trade.  The trick is what use you make of the item.

Buck has taken us to 1960, East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.  Our protagonist has been shot in the head, a grazing blow that vaporized his memory - or most of it.  Now the cops want to know what happened, and the deadly secret police, the Stasi, are lurking on the sidelines, up to God knows what.

Our hero speaks German and English.  Which is he?  He has the name Slade tattooed on his arm.  Is that his name?  Will he figure out who he is before the shooter realizes he is alive and makes another try?

A fine piece of work.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hotel Hate, by Michael Chandos

"Hotel Hate," by Michael Chandos, in Black Coffee, edited by Andrew MacRae, Darkhouse Books.

This story is set in the world of prohibition in one of the fancy backwoods hotels where gangsters could relax until the heat cooled down.  Our narrator is the owner of Hotel Hatteras in Michigan, called Hotel Hate by her rotten husband who deserted her years ago.  Now he's back and trouble follows...

A nice tale with plenty of period touches.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Best Laid Plans, by Barb Goffman

"The Best Laid Plans," by Barb Goffman, in Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional, edited by Verena Rose, Barb Goffman, and Rita Owen, Wildside Press, 2016.

My fellow SleuthSayer Barb Goffman has contributed a nice tale to Malice Domestic's latest anthology, which contains stories related to conventions, conferences, and suchlike scenes of murder and mayhem.   Oops, I should have mentioned that this is her second appearance in this column.  I like to keep track of that.)

Including Malice International, the mystery conference to which narrator Eloise Nickel has been invited for a lifetime achievement award.  Should be a thrill but the guest of honor happens to be Kimberly, a former protege who had gone on to fame and "dropped me like a bloody knife." Kimberly takes  gleeful opportunity to do it again in an article published just before the conference.  She compares her own suspenseful novels to Eloise's old-fashioned cozy books, which some the elderly readers still apparently like -  Well, you get the idea.  It ain't pretty.

Eloise starts plotting revenge. Not murder, of course.  Just some dreadful pain and misery for her rival, to be delivered at the conference.

But, alas, that doesn't seem to be as easily done as said.  People keep rescuing Kimberly, purely by accident.  What's a frustrated revenge-planner to do?

The main reason this story made my Best Of column was the surprise - not twist -ending.  A nice little trick provided a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sugar, by Michael Bracken

"Sugar," by Michael Bracken, Crime Syndicate, Issue 2, 2016.

I would say any writer who appears in this space twice in a year can think he's having a good year.  That's not ego on my part; I would be happy if any non-relative thought I scored twice in one spin around the sun.

Mr. Bracken is making his second appearance at Little Big Crimes this month.

This story is about Samuel "Sugar" Cane, a Texas thug who has worked, since he was a crooked high school football player, for a crime boss named De La Rosa.  As he goes about his daily work of collecting debts for the big man he meets a woman whose mother used to be his lover.  Hmm..

A popular topic in writing circles is first person versus third.  This story would be much less powerful if it were in first, or if we could tell what'd going on in Sugar's head.  We ave to figure it out, which keeps the suspense high.

This story reminds me of Michael Koryta's "A People Person," which I wrote about here back in 2013.  Both are about a thorough-going baddie who finds himself unexpectedly facing a line he may not be willing to cross.

And both are terrific stories.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"Restoration" by Art Taylor.

"Restoration" by Art Taylor, in Crime Syndicate, 1, 2016.

My fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor scores in the first issue of this new mystery fiction magazine, although a purist might say this one is more science fiction than mystery.  Actually, it's both.

The narrator is a salesman, trying to convince a family to buy a restoration service.  You see, they take a DNA sample and occasional brain scans, and then, if heaven forbid, you should die violently, they can whip up a clone of you in under a month, and family bliss is restored.  Only violent deaths; the ethicists forbid interfering with natural exits.  But, you know, there is so much violence these days.

The wife is all for it.  The husband (and from the salesman's point of view, they have and need no other identities) is extremely dubious.  Can our hero close the sale?

Here is our salesman explaining his work:


Discretion was key.  And indirection.  Euphemisms helped.  You didn't talk about death at all, didn't even use the word, much less talk explicitly about the man who was shot in the eye while walking to lunch, or the woman who was tortured for hours before she was killed, or the children who...

No.  Let the prospective clients put it together on their own.

I thought I saw where this story was going and I was totally wrong, which pleased me greatly. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Battlefield Reunion, by Brendan DuBois

"A Battlefield Reunion," by Brendan DuBois, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2016.

The June issue of AHMM is awfully good, making it hard for me to pick winners. That's a better problem than the occasional weeks when I can't find a story I enjoy, so I won't complain.
 
This marks DuBois' sixth appearance in this space, tying him with Terence Faherty for first place.

It's 1946 in Boston.  Billy Sullivan is a private eye with a guilty conscience because, as an Army MP, he spent most of the war out of harm's way, while his brother died in the infantry.

His client, Ronny Silver, is also having trouble with dealing with his war memories.  But he recently spotted someone he knew from his time in Europe, a war correspondent who had promised to send the G.I.s photos.  Ronny thinks if he can get those pictures he won't forget his buddies who died.  Can  Sullivan help him find the reporter?

If you have read any private eye fiction it won't be a spoiler if I tell you there is more going on than what appears on the surface.  Interesting twists, interesting characters...



Sunday, May 8, 2016

Chase Your Dreams, by Michael Bracken

"Chase Your Dreams," by Michael Bracken, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2016.

A very touching story by this year's winner of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement in the mystery short story.

Picture a small town in Texas, one so set in its ways that the whites and blacks still use seperate cemeteries.  Cody is a gay man, deep in the closet.  His secret lover, Chase, on the other hand, was "leading one-man Gay Pride parades."

When Chase disappears, Cody has to decide what is more important: finding out the truth, or staying safe?

"Nobody's filed a missing person report," Junior said. "Not sure anybody around here cares one way or the other."

"I could file a report."

Junior lowered his ice cream-laden spoon and stared straight into my eyes.  "You might could," he said, "but are you sure you want to do that, Cody?  People will talk."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Anthony Award Nominees

The Anthony Award nominations have been announced.  Congrats to all!


BEST SHORT STORY
"The Little Men: A Bibliomystery" - Megan Abbott
"The Siege" EQMM, Dec 2015 - Hilary Davidson
"Feliz Navidead" Thuglit Presents: Cruel Yule - Brace Godfrey/Johnny Shaw
"Old Hands" Dark City Lights - Erin Mitchell
"Quack and Dwight" Jewish Noir - Travis Richardson
"Don’t Fear the Ripper" Protectors 2: Heroes - Holly West



BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION
Safe Inside the Violence - Christopher Irvin
Protectors 2: Heroes - Thomas Pluck, ed.
Thuglit Presents: Cruel Yule - Todd Robinson, ed.
Murder Under the Oaks - Art Taylor, ed.
Jewish Noir - Kenneth Wishnia, ed.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Shrink Rap, by Craig Faustus Buck

"Shrink Rap," by Craig Faustus Buck, in Pulp Modern, 10, 2016.

One thing that has always bugged me (trust me, there are others) is what I call the "different-with-me fallacy."  A typical example would be: "Sure, my lover cheated on her husband, but this is different.  She won't cheat on me because I am/we have something special."  Like Oscar Wilde said about second marriages, it is the triumph of imagination over experience.

On the other hand, you might say that Talia, in this story, suffers from a lack of that fallacy.  She used to have a lot of mental and addictive problems, but her wonderful psychologist cured her.  And became her lover.

But he would never violate his professional ethics and their relationship by seducing another patient because... Uh, because...

If she suspects him of misbehaving is she suffering from paranoia, or merely pattern recognition?

Good story.

Agatha Awards

Congratulations to Barb Goffman, whose story "A Year Without Santa Claus?" won the Agatha Award, given last night at the Malice Domestic Convention.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Edgar winners announced

Congratulations to Steven King who took home the Edgar for best short story for "Obits" from his Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Russell W. Johnson who scored the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for best first story. His "Chung Ling Soo’s Greatest Trick" appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Creampuff, by Rob Hart.

"Creampuff," by Rob Hart, in Unloaded, edited by Eric Beetner, Down and Out Books, 2016.

Clever concept for an anthology: crime stories without guns.  Profits will go to States United to Prevent Gun Violence.

As for Mr. Hart, making his second appearance in this space, while his story features a violent crime, it feels more mainstream than genre.  It's a sort of character study or slice-of-life (slice-of-death?) piece about the titular character.

The big man they call Creampuff has a job that could only exist in a city as big and crazy as New York.  He is a bouncer in a bakery.  You see, the chef has come up with a baked treat so popular that people line up before opening to buy one, and they are all gone before nine A.M.  And since they are so trendy, a whole of Important People feel they should be able to cut in line to get theirs.

Creampuff disagrees.  And he can make it stick because "[h]e was huge, like a recurring childhood nightmare."

Here is our hero at work:

There were the Richie Riches who would stride up to him and wave a bill under his nose.  Usually a twenty, sometimes a hundred.  Creampuff would take it, stick it in a pouch on his belt that read "donations for charity," and cross his arms. 

No one ever asked for their money back.

An enjoyable and well-written piece.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Ballad of Maggie Carson, by Cheryl Rogers.

"The Ballad of Maggie Carson," by Cheryl Rogers, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,  May 2016.

This is Australian Cheryl Rogers's third appearance in this space.  And what a treat it is.  Here's the opening.

David's lifeless body sits ramrod straight in the passenger seat.

The recently widowed Maggie Carson is gunning a camper van along a red slash of outback corrugations. Anthills dot the spinifex.  They flit along the hazy edge of her peripheral vision like tombstones.  

So who is Maggie and what is she doing rushing through the Never Never at full speed with this peculiar traveling companion?  And did I mention that a retired police officer may be chasing after her?

She is a very cheerful senior citizen, very glad to be free of her miserable husband.  "This woman is in the driver's seat.  She prides herself on being a glass-half-full kind of gal.  Someone who makes the best of the curved balls life tends to pitch."

All she has to do is find a place to dump David.  And then there are a few other complications...

This story reminds me of one of my favorites from last year, Margaret Maron's "We On The Train!"  They both race along with a breathless energy that conceals what is actually going on.  (But Rogers' story is far more manic.)  Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Miracle on Christmas Eve, by Szu-Yen Lin

"The Miracle on Christmas Eve," by Szu-Yen Lin, in Alfred HItchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2016.

I am not a big fan of locked room stories.  I think I only have only reviewed one here before.  But I liked this one a lot.

Szu-Yen Lin is Taiwanese and his hero Ruoping Lin is as well.  Unfortunately neither the editor's  introduction nor the story itself tell us anything about him except that he will be moderating a panel at a book fair and that he is not surprised when a stranger knocks on the door of his office with a problem.

Oh, I should add that for that panel he is  reading a mystery novel by an author "who specializes in mysteries without crimes," and that of course is called foreshadowing.

Getting back to the knock on the door, the knocker is a grown man named Ko who wants Ruoping to tell him whether Santa Claus really exists.

It's not quite as crazy as it sounds.  When Ko was young his father, a widower, made sure a present from Santa was waiting for him every Christmas morning.  When his schoolmates scorned his belief the father invited them all over on Christmas Eve to be convinced.

And proceeds to reveal a dozen presents inside a locked room, sealed with tape on door and window, after he and the boys slept on the floor outside all night.

The work of Santa or a clever and dedicated parent?  I am sure you can guess but the solution is quite satisfactory.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Last Blue Glass, by B.K. Stevens

"The Last Blue Glass," by B.K. Stevens, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2016.

My fellow SleuthSayer B.K. Stevens has come up with a nice one.  I could say it is the life and death of a marriage as told through a set of blue glasses, and that's true, but I am afraid it makes it sound artsy and experimental. It isn't.

Cathy and Frank buy the set of six blue glasses as they are preparing for their first dinner party.  They are a bit fragile and expensive but Frank loves them and Cathy tends to go along with what he wants, which turns out to be part of the problem. 

The best part of this story is how the personalities of the characters are perfectly illustrated.  The salesmen talk like salesmen, the brother is clearly a petulant jerk, and so on.  Take this scene from that dinner party, when Cathy's mother-in-law has just knocked over the first blue glass, causing it to smash on the floor:

"I don't know why you bought such flimsy things," his mother said, not glancing down.  She salted her potatoes, her chicken, her broccoli, everything on her plate before tasting everything.

What a peach, huh? 

I did not guess where the ending was headed, but glancing back to the start I see it was nicely foreshadowed.  A very good story..

Saturday, April 2, 2016

And the Golden Derringer

I am embarassed to admit I didn't read far enough down the announcement to see that the Short Mystery Fiction Society also announced the winner of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement in Short Mystery Fiction.  Congratulations to Michael Bracken!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Little Big News: Derringer winners!

The Short Mystery Fiction Society has announced the winners of this year's Derringer Awards.  Congratulations to all!



Flash fiction Hero by Vy Kava           

Short story
Twilight Ladies by Meg Opperman        

Long Story
Dentonville by  John M. Floyd        

Novelette 
Driver by John M. Floyd