Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Seven Fiancees, by David Housewright

"Seven Fiancees," by David Housewright, in Blood Work: Remembering Gary Shulze Once Upon A Crime, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2018.

Ah, a private eye story.  Pretty charming one, too.

Looking back, I probably should have let the woman shoot the tuba player, because God knows, he had it coming.

Nice opening sentence, that.  P.I. Holland Taylor is in a jazz club when a young woman named Virginia tries to shoot the tubaist. Taylor prevents that. Seems tuba guy is her fiance.  Seems she just found out he is also engaged to six other women.

Virginia's lawyer hires Taylor to contact the six other ladies, looking for mitigating circumstances that may help reduce his client's sentence. (Seems pretty damned mitigated to me already.) Taylor meets them, each a different personality with a different reaction to the discovery of their true love's philandering.

There is a climax of sorts, but as is so often true in life, the true joy is in the journey.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Character is Everything, by Jon McGoran

"Character is Everything," by Jon McGoran,  in Unloaded Volume 2, edited by Eric Beeetner and A.Y. Aymar, Down and Out Books, 2018.

And today we are in science fiction territory.  At least, I hope it remains SF for a few more years.

Roscoe Boyer is an endangered species.  He is the last employed writer in the world.  

Roscoe had started out writing honest-to-God books, but he'd changed with the times -- video games, social media micro shorts, story interactives.  Finally this. 

This is creating character outlines for robots.  And now Roscoe is being fired from even that job. Ah, but Roscoe has a trick up the old sleeve...  A clever story.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pan Paniscus, by James W. Ziskin

"Pan Paniscus," by James W. Ziskin, in Unloaded Volume 2, edited by Eric Beetner and A.Y. Aymar, Down and Out Books, 2018.

The theme of these collections is simple: crimes without guns. Certainly this story has plenty of plot.  Here is the first sentence:

The adolescent bonobo named Bingo escaped from the zoo in the early hours of an October morning.

Animal lovers may be glad to know that Bingo is not a crime victim.  Human beings are not so lucky.

Bingo is spotted on the property of Mitch and Fiona Hirsch.  Mitch is a bleeding heart liberal who annoys his law firm by working on pro bono cases.  His wife Fiona is the daughter of wealth and doesn't seem to do much except drink her way through book club meetings.  And then there is Evelio, their gardener.  He is, not surprisingly, illegal.

When Bingo shows up unexpectedly all their lives are changed dramatically, forever....

Monday, November 26, 2018

Plan Z, by Travis Richardson

"Plan Z," by Travis Richardson, in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

This is the second appearance here by Richardson.
 
 Sometimes it is 10% tale and 90% telling.  This is a simple story of three guys who "decide to up their game from B&E and liquor stores."  We don't learn much more about Ted, Greg, and Hector than what position they used to play back in Little League.

So this piece is not big on plot or character development.  What it does have is a wonderful way of unwrapping the adventures of our unlucky trio.  You see, Plan A is to rob a cash-checking joint.  They throw that over for Plan B which is an armored car that Greg's Uncle Arnie drives.  

But Arnie gets fired, leading to Plan C.  Except Arnie shows up, drunk and demands to participate, which brings on Plan D...

Pretty funny.
 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Keep Walking, by Geoffrey Household

"Keep Walking," by Geoffrey Household, in The Days of Your Fathers, 1987.  (Originally published 1968)

Sorry this is late; I have been on vacation.  That might also explain why I did not read any new stories this week I liked enough to review.  As I have done before when this happened I am going to review a classic story, one of my favorites.

I first read this story in the 1970s, published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, with a stupid title I won't repeat here.  (Editor Frederic Dannay was famous for deciding he knew more about titles than the authors of the stories he published.)

This is a spy story and a great suspense tale.  The nameless protagonist is a spy in a hostile country, also unnamed.  It is implied that she is working for a Western democracy.  And she is in big trouble.

She has just posted an incriminating report when she realizes the police are watching her.  At any moment they will scoop her up. torture her, interrogate her, and kill her.

But there is one fragile reed she can cling to.  If the bad guys don't think she has seen them, they will keep following her, hoping she will lead to useful information.

If she runs, they'll grab her.  If she tries to get on a bus, they will collect her.  All she can do is keep walking, and hope desperately to find a way out...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Strangers on the Run, by Sarah M. Chen

"Strangers on the Run," by Sarah M. Chen, in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

This is the second appearance in this space by Chen.

Imagine being an illegal immigrant in this country.

Now imagine you have murdered your sister's abusive husband.

Now imagine that said husband was a gangleader, so now both cops and mobsters are chasing you and your sister.

Sounds like enough trouble for one man to bear?

Now imagine your sister has Alzheimer's...

And you think you've had a bad year...  A very moving and suspenseful tale.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Top Ten Vacation Selfies of Youtube Stars, by Preston Lang

"Top Ten Vacation Selfies of Youtube Stars," by Preston Lang, in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

To the best of my knowledge I have never read any work by the late William E. Wallace, reporter and mystery writer.  But I have read enough of this book to get some sense of what his writing may have been like.  Pretty noir stuff.

The narrator of this tale, Michael Roth, also used to be a reporter.  Or maybe we should say he is currently a reporter without a job, struggling to survive as a freelancer, writing Internet clickbait. (See the title of this story.)

He gets a call from somebody named Brack who used to be a hitman.  Would he like to meet and talk about Brack's illustrious career?

He would.  But Brack, as it turns out,  has another, more dangerous offer to make...


Monday, October 29, 2018

Jenny's Necklace, by O.A. Tynan

"Jenny's Necklace," by O.A. Tynan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2018

We writers prattle on endlessly about the importance of the right opening, but sometimes they matters more than others.  Sometimes it would be a completely different story without the proper beginning.

The last time I saw Jenny, she was lying unconscious in the sandy hollow at the foot of Danagher's Head...

That's the first sentence.  The rest of the paragraph describes Jenny's appearance, and ends with a "sudden hoarse shout as someone found us." 

So as the story progresses we have a good idea of what the climax will be.  We are watching for clues as to what causes Jenny's fate.

The narrator explains: "That was long ago, in the summer of 1961.  I was nine years old at the time..."  This is Ireland and she belongs to a wealthy family with a summer home on the coast.  Jenny is a naive country girl, and more fun than all the governesses the girl has ever had.

But something results in innocent Jenny crashing off that cliff.  Was the narrator's distant but chivalrous father up to no good?  Was her sinister mother jealous?  What about Jenny's mysterious boyfriend who supposedly gave her the beautiful necklace?

Maybe you will guess the answer.  I sure didn't.

Monday, October 22, 2018

This Quintessence of Dust, by Marshall Moore

"This Quintessence of Dust," by Marshall Moore, in Hong Kong Noir, edited by Jason Y. Ng and Susan Blumberg-Kason, Akashic Press, 2018.

I should say I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  Thanks much.

Some stories start off so strongly that I am rooting for them.  This one started so slowly I didn't really expect it to go anywhere.  Obviously I was wrong.

The narrator is a Hong Kong native, a gay man, who has just returned after breaking up with his lover in England.  Something else happened back there, something bad, but we won't get the details for a while.

He is living on Cheung Chau, a small island off the main part of Hong Kong.  For some reason a lot of people go there to die.  His parents have made a lot of money investing in the resulting depressed prices: "Investing in Suicide Island took a certain sangfroid unique to the Chinese. [Mom] was a bank manager.  Death could be lucrative."

Then there are his two uncles who are doing well, but the source of whose money is not clear.  And a young woman he meets drowns herself.

How does all this connect to our protagonist, and his very much alive ex-lover back in Britain?  All shall be revealed and it shall be surprising...


Monday, October 15, 2018

The Threshold, by R.M. Greenaway

"The Threshold," by R.M. Greenaway, in Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, Akashic Press, 2018.

This is the second story by R.M. Greenaway to make this page in two months.  She seems to be having a good year.

"The collection is called City. That's all.  City. Lot of structure, not a lot of people shots, 'cause that's been done to death.  But they're in there, like puzzle pieces, just part of the chain-link right?  Or the asphalt, or the puddles.  Except for on the cover I've got an old guy..."

The speaker is Blaine and as you may have guessed he's a photographer.  Perhaps a bit obsessive about it.  And one morning, just at sunrise, he's out snapping pictures at the waterfront and he find a very fresh corpse.  Of course he knows he should call 911, but the lighting is perfect, and how long will it last?  Surely it won't hurt if he just changes lenses and takes a couple of artful frames...

And then the dead man twitches.

I'm going to stop here.  This is a masterful story and I don't want to give anything away.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Mr. Sugarman Visits The Bookmobile, by Michael Bracken

"Mr. Sugarman Visits The Bookmobile," by Michael Bracken, in Shhh... Murder!, edited by Andrew MacRae, Darkhouse Books, 2018.

This is the fifth appearance in this column by winner of the Golden Derringer Award and fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken.  It is mostly a very nice character sketch.

Graham Sugarman lives in Quarryville, a "dried-out scab of a town" in West Texas.  The highlight of his week is Tuesday morning when the bookmobile arrives. Because he is only allowed to check out five books per visit he takes the heftiest ones available. 

When asked if he has any plans he replies: "Same as always.  I plan to read."  And that's pretty much all he does.

You might get the feeling Mr. Sugarman is not quite normal.  You're right.  The reason for that turns out to be quite interesting. 

But his very regular life is interrupted when the librarian who drives the bookmobile is murdered, stopping his service...

The third act is not as strong here as the earlier ones, but Mr. Sugarman is an interesting and believable character.



Monday, October 1, 2018

Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking, by Sheena Kamal

"Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking," by Sheena Kamal, in Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, Akashic Press, 2018.  

Mags is writing a note to her boss whom she does not like very much.  Since he does a lot of public speaking and is not so good at it, she offers him some friendly advice.  Well, maybe not so friendly.

2. Use the stage, but don't pace.  It makes you look like an asshole when you do that.  All those years you spent dodging the homeless and the addicts on Hastings has [sic] made you surprisingly agile for a man your age but you don't need to advertise this during your speeches.  Plus, your fashion sense can't hold up to that kind of scrutiny... 

Turns out her boss has a whole lot of dirty secrets.  Turns out Mags, his much mistreated executive assistant, knows all of them.  And the worm has begun to turn.

A charming tale of revenge. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

There's an Alligator in my Purse, by Paul D. Marks

"There's an Alligator in my Purse," by Paul D. Marks, in Florida Happens, edited by Greg Herren, Three Rooms Press, 2018.

The latest Bouchercon anthology is all about that most interesting state in our southeast.  This tale is by my fellow SleuthSayer, Paul D. Marks.

Our narrator is Ed, a cheerful professional.  He likes to satisfy his customers, so he takes lots of photos of the corpses.  Corpses the clients wanted dead, obviously. 

In this case that client is Ashley Smith - the lady with the titular pocket book reptile.  She had expected to inherit a lot of money when her elderly husband died happily due to her enthusiastic ministrations.  When she fond out the dough was going to the first wife, she went looking for someone with Ed's skill set.  It wasn't really his photographic skills that she was interested in...

A breezy tale of multiple conspiracies.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Problems Aren't Stop Signs, by Robert Mangeot

"Problems Aren't Stop Signs," by Robert Mangeot, in  Mystery Weekly Magazine, September 2018.

This is Mangeot's fourth appearance here.

Tori is the mayor of a small town in the Florida Panhandle, and she has had some bad luck.  Not that it was her fault, of course.  How could she know, when she stole city funds to buy some land, that the state would cancel the project they were planing to build on it?

Obviously there is only one possible solution: convince her useless brother to dress up as a swamp ape and use her female wiles to persuade a local reporter to come out where said monster can be witnessed, thereby bringing a storm of tourists to the site.

Simple, really.  What could possibly go wrong?

Mangeot is one of our foremost writers of funny short crime stories.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rozotica, by R.M. Greenaway

"Rozotica," by R.M. Greenaway, in The Dame Was Trouble, edited by Sarah L. Johnson, Halli Lilburne, and Cat McDonald, Coffin Hop Press, 2018.

This is a weird story.  By that I do not mean it is science fiction, or supernatural, or falls into all those bins we label "experimental fiction."  It just goes in many unexpected directions.  And that's a good thing.

It's 1973 and Heather is a waitress in Vancouver, B.C.  In fact she has been a waitress since tenth grade, and a virgin for much longer than that, and nothing seems likely to change.

Except for Milestone.  He's a hippy.  He likes her and he has a plan.  "You're the key.  It's your face.  It's perfect."

This is not a compliment, as it turns out.  Milestone has a scam in mind: convincing a bunch of investors that he has the latest thing in sex toys, a female-looking robot straight from Japan.  And Heather's not-quite-normal features make her the ideal prototype.  "You're kind of cold and synthetic looking," Milestone explains.  What girl could resist a come-on like that?

And so, having taken care of the virginity problem, they meet with a gang of pathetic men who are more interested in getting a realistic sex doll than they are in investing a bundle.  What could possibly go wrong?

While you are make a no doubt lengthy list of possible answers to that question, I will explain that several of them are about to happen.  But what makes the story truly interesting is what happens after things go pear-shaped.  I especially enjoyed the conversation near the end by two people trying to make sense of it all.

A fun and imaginative piece.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Rats, by Tom Savage

"Rats," by Tom Savage, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Mystery, September/October 2018.

Are you familiar with the term logline?  Think of the one sentence description of a movie or a TV show you see in TV Guide or Netflix.

Here's a logline for a short story:

A senior citizen combats the bad element that is taking over the neighborhood.

I  have probably read a dozen stories that fit that line. Of course, there are no new plots, just new things to do with the old ones.  Is the senior alone or does he have allies?  What kind of plot does he dream up?  Does he succeed or fail?  I remember decades ago reading a story in which an older woman, tired of having her purse snatched, carried a hand grenade in the purse with a string tied from her wrist to the pin.  A mugger grabbed the purse and three seconds later, BOOM. 

But that's not Savage's idea.  Alice lives in New York City.  She still teaches a few days a week at a middle school.  She lives in a co-op which has always been  neighborly and well-maintained, but recently a dozen apartments were purchased by a Russian mobster.  Worse, he has moved his nephew, "a huge, unkempt, unfriendly, leather-jacketed hell-raiser named Georgi," into one of the apartments.  Things start to go downhill.  Alice's friend Marco, a retired circus performer gets robbed and beaten, and that's not the worst of it.

But when Alice sees the janitor putting out rat poison she gets an idea on how to solve the Georgi problem.  If only she can get Marco to go along with it.

I did not see the ending of this one coming.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Unity Con, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"Unity Con," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2018.

Rusch is one  of my favorite writers of mystery short stories.  She has appeared on this blog seven times, which ties her for first place with Brendan DuBois and Terence Faherty.  I believe she is more prolific in science fiction, which relates to this story.

It is strictly down-to-earth, but it is set in the world of science fiction fandom, and reflects on some events which have damaged that community in recent years.

Her series characters (making their third appearance in this blog) are dedicated members of the world of fandom.  The narrator, Spade, is a six-foot-six 400 pound Microsoft millionaire who uses his spare time and financial savvy to help with the money side of science fiction conventions.  His friend (and he wishes she were much more) is Paladin, a beautiful but brittle young private eye who specializes in fandom crimes and missing children.

Science fiction fandom is famous for tolerating or even embracing people lacking in social skills and these two have found happy homes in that world.  But the conflicts of recent years are threatening it now.  Although Rusch does not mention it by name she is clearly referring to the Sad Puppies debacle which reached its climax (or nadir, if you prefer) at the World Science Fiction convention in Spokane in 2015.  I happened to attend that event and you can read my interpretation of it here. To oversimplify, there was a group of people who felt that the wrong people were getting awards, and those wrong folks seemed to be mostly women and people of color.

Spade gets a call from the eternally-testy Paladin who demands that he rush to a distant ranch in Texas where some SF writers decided that they know how to run a science fiction convention better than the SMoFs (Secret Masters of Fandom) like Spade.  Their product is Unity Con which they were confident could settle the dispute between differing factions. 

Instead one controversial writer, rumored to be a neo-Nazi, is dead under mysterious circumstances.  Money from the con's account is vanishing.  Can Spade, who despised the writer, solve both crimes before irreparable harm is done to his beloved community?

This is not a fair-play whodunit.  The emphasis is on the characters, whom Rusch makes you care about, and that raises the stakes for the world that they care about as well.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Cold Hunt, by Ken Brosky

"The Cold Hunt," by Ken Brosky, Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 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

Sorority House, by Eve Fisher

"Sorority House," by Eve Fisher, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, #3, 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

Beached, by Ray Daniel

"Beached," by Ray Daniel, in Low Down Dirty Vote, edited by Mysti Berry, Berry Content, 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.