Sunday, August 19, 2018
I tend to think of didactic mysteries as being limited to novel-length, but they don't have to be. The term simply means a piece of fiction that attempts to teach something, rather than just entertain. Think of Dick Francis's novels that usually explore some industry or other field of endeavor: painting, trucking, glassblowing, investment banking...
Brosky's excellent story has an element of that. He wants to tell you about the life of tigers in Siberia.
Roxy is a young American biologist. She and her mentor, Dr. Siddig, have been called to investigation what appears to be a killing by a big cat. The evidence of footprints and corpse show that the tiger had a big meal of the flesh of a local man. But the evidence does not prove that the man was alive when the tiger arrived.
The villagers are ready to hunt and kill the beast. Can the scientists prove it is innocent of the killing - if indeed it is?
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
A nice story by my fellow Sleuthsayer, Eve Fisher, set as many of her stories are, in South Dakota.
The narrator is a woman in her thirties who has moved into an apartment house filled mostly with older people and thinks that's just fine. Then a wave of new divorcees come in and, alas, they are the "mean girls" from high school. Lots of requests for favors and "Is your husband out of prison yet?"
One of them disappears rather scandalously and then her body is discovered even more so. The obvious suspect turns out to have an alibi. Can our hero spot the killer before somebody else gets tagged?
I can't remember the last time an actual whodunit made it onto my best of the week page. Well done.
Sunday, August 5, 2018
This is an anthology of crime stories about voter suppression, with the profits going to the ACLU Foundation. It starts out with this light piece set in Massachusetts.
Our narrator is Thomas Coffee, a private eye who is hired by a rather obnoxious woman to find her father who vanished a few hours earlier. In fact, a whole segment of the town has disappeared. On the very day of the traditional New England town meeting. Hmm...
Here is a bit of the flavor of the place and the story:
In 1903 the Joppa Town Meeting accepted, by a vote of 128 to 126, a twenty-thousand dollar library grant from Andrew Carnegie. The close vote showed that the only thing flinty New Englanders trusted less than outsiders was outsiders with money.
They may have a point. Fun story anyway.
Sunday, July 29, 2018
This is Adenle's second appearance in this column.
Many is the time I have kicked myself for not seeing the ending of a story coming. This time I should have seen the subject coming.
This is a book of crime stories about Nigeria. Of course there had to be a story about the 419 scheme. You may know that better as the Nigerian Prince scam. "I am the widow of the head of an oil company and I need the help of some honest foreign stranger to illegally smuggle zillions of bucks out of Nigeria..." 419 refers to the section of the Nigerian criminal code which (attempts to) ban such things.
Which brings us to Dougal, newly arrived at the airport in Lagos, and terrified that he may have gotten himself into a you-know-what. Apparently an uncle he didn't know he had has died, leaving him a ton of money. He has to come to Lagos in person to collect it. Someone who claims to represent his uncle's law firm has even provided the money for him to fly there. What could possibly go wrong?
There are bad guys in Lagos, but there are good guys too. Can Dougal tell them apart?
Sunday, July 22, 2018
Catterly never pictured himself going out this way; standing in some godforsaken heat sink, clad in the official old man's uniform of big-butt cargo shorts and a Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirt, guzzling white wine...
Not that Catterly is in imminent danger of checking out. He's just miserable about having to leave his Montana farm to winter in Arizona. But his wife Gracie has put up with 45 winters up north and he acknowledges she is due for a change. Doesn't mean he has to like it.
Things get more, well, interesting, when he catches another old codger cheating at gin. Thomas DeVito does not take it well. And DeVito, as it turns out, is a retired Mafiosi. The other retirees say Catterly is now in danger and he has to apologize. Our hero doesn't see it that way. You might say the threat of death gives him something to live for...
Nicely written and amusing.
Sunday, July 15, 2018
Third person narrative is the norm. First person has advantages and limitations. Second person is a gimmick. (And here is the best second-person story I have ever read.)
This story tells (in second person) about a pregnant wife who hires a house servant named Joy. It is clear that the master-servant relationship in Nigeria would not be acceptable in the U.S. (Displaying all her possessions when she arrives? Kneeling when she speaks?)
But the protagonist begins to suspect that Joy has nefarious intentions, especially about her husband. Is this a pregnant woman with a dangerous delusion, or is something worse happening here? Somebody is going to get hurt...
Sunday, July 8, 2018
This is Anita Page's second appearance on this blog.
There is a TV series called Penn & Teller Fool Us in which magicians from around the world try to outsmart the titular wizards. This spring there was an extra episode called the April Fool Us Special, which looked back at some of the highlights.
They mentioned a kind of viewer feedback they sometimes get. I am going to make up the details but it goes like this:
How could you be fooled by that man making an elephant appear? If you look at the tape you can clearly see him tuck the elephant up his sleeve!
To which Penn replied, approximately, We didn't know in advance that it was an elephant we should be looking for, and we don't get to roll the tape back for a second look.
Which is sort of like foreshadowing in literature. Once you finish the story it is easy to see the one clue tucked in among a thousand details. But when you're reading it, not knowing where the story is going, you can't tell which of those details is the crucial ones.
I don't think I have given away the store by telling you that Page has some clever foreshadowing in here. You still won't spot the elephant before she reveals it.
The narrator is an old woman, relating how she came to America from Russia at the age of fourteen in 1911. The reason for the voyage is that her mother has just received a message that "your Isaac has taken up with a whore from Galicia." Is it just me or does it seem like Galicia is the most offensive part of the whole thing?
So our narrator's mother wants to find her husband and reunite the family. They start out on the difficult voyage, and things happen.
One of the reasons I started this review by talking about magic is that it matters in this story. The family is divided between the father and narrator who you might describe as new-world rationalists, and the mother and sister who are subject to old-world superstitions, believing in demons and lucky charms.
A question that comes up in the story more than once is: Does magic work if you don't believe in it? Page offers an answer to that in this excellent tale.