Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Kaddish for Lazar, by Michael Wuliger

"Kaddish for Lazar," by Michael Wuliger, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance copy of this book.

"You're Jewish, aren't you?" the editor of Blitz Magazine asked me.
"Yes, I am." I felt uncomfortable.  "Why do you want to know?" That kind of question coming from Germans irritates me.  It runs in the family, I guess.
"Then you must have known Mark Lazar well," he said.

Because obviously all 30,000 of the Jews in Berlin must know each other, right?

Great opening for this story in which a freelance journalist is asked to look into the death by drowning of a prominent politician.  Suicide, accident, or something else?  Could his death be related to his immigrating from Russia after the Soviet Union fell?  Or to his plans to run for mayor?

The investigation is very interesting, the effect it has on the narrator even more so.  This is a very cynical story, which makes it very noir indeed.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Dora, by Zöe Beck

"Dora," by Zöe Beck, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

Big typo corrected.  Apologies.

This is the second appearance here by Beck.

Take a look at her.  Even if it's hard.
You won't want to look at her because she stinks and is filthy from head to toe.  You think you know what you'll see but take a look anyway.

That's how the story starts.  It seems like a bit of sociological fiction, an analysis of a mentally ill homeless person.  But there's a lot more going on here.

The narrator is Dora's brother.  He explains in detail how his sister's life has slowly derailed and  the damage it has done to the whole family.

And then, well, things happen.  Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, once said, as I recall, that she likes stories that turn out to be something different than they appear.  I suppose that is almost but not identical to a twist ending.  Read "Dora" for an excellent example.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

In The Court of the Lion King, by Mark Dapin

"In The Court of the Lion King," by Mark Dapin, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book.

I have read novels with less plot than this story.  Somehow Dapin manages to keep all the balls in the air.

The narrator, Chevy, is a half-Laotian architect.  He is on remand - that is, in prison awaiting trial  - because the police think he killed his best friend, Jamie.  A security camera caught them fighting, and Jamie hasn't been seen since.

Fortunately, Chevy has a lawyer.  Jesse is his former lover and a very complicated person.  ("I used to say that I only loved for people -- two of them were Jesse...")  Unfortunately, no aspects of  her personality involve legal skills.

And then there are the Vietnamese in the prison that want him dead, apparently because he is Laotian.

I haven't even mentioned the Lion King, a gang boss who runs the cell block.  He is a truly disgusting person and is taking an unhealthy interest in our hero.

If I listed all the other threads in this tale you would think it was some kind of postmodern experimental fiction, all bits and pieces that don't connect.

Don't worry.  The author knows what he's doing.  But does Chevy?




Monday, March 25, 2019

The Passenger, by Kirsten Tranter

"The Passenger," by Kirsten Tranter, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book which opens with a pastiche of, or homage to, a well-known crime novel.  It's a very clever piece of work.

Robert has just arrived home after years overseas.  He reluctantly attends a birthday party for an acquaintance named Fred.  The reason for his reluctance is that Fred's daughter is Robert's former lover, who cheated with, and then married, Julian, a friend of Robert's.

Fred confides that Julian has disappeared with a trace.  Perhaps Robert can inquire among their mutual friends? It turns out that that bunch had been pushers and users and Robert doesn't want to get involved with them.

But he gets drawn in and discovers some terrible stuff going in.  You might say that the biggest difference between this story and the book that inspired it is the question of nature versus nurture: Which is responsible for the catastrophe that has occurred?


Monday, March 18, 2019

The Girls in the Fourth Row, by Doug Allyn

"The Girls in the Fourth Row," by Doug Allyn, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,March/April 2019.

This is Allyn's fourth appearance here.

I don't know if I would call it a subgenre exactly but there is a type of crime story known as the didactic mystery, in which the setting becomes part of the story.  Dick Francis, for example, taught you something about horseracing in every book, but especially in the latter novels he would also inform you about a different industry: glassblowing, liquor, investment banking.

Doug Allyn is a form rock-and-roller and this story is about Murph, leader of an over-the-hill heavy metal, struggling to keep them all alive, functional, and headed down the road to the next paycheck.  This gets complicated when, during a gig in Detroit, someone fires three shots at the lead guitarist, wiping out his Stratocaster and almost taking him with it.  Or maybe the guitarist wasn't the intended target...

To get his band back on the road Murph needs to help the lieutenant dig into the past to find a potential killer, before he strikes again.  A satisfying story.




Monday, March 11, 2019

Murder In The Second Act, by William Burton McCormick

"Murder In The Second Act," by William Burton McCormick, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2019.

This is the second appearance in my blog by McCormick.  It is his third story about Tasia and Eleni, two young women who, with their mother,  run a lodging house in Odessa at the turn of the century.

At the moment their only lodger is an actor named Oleg Olehno.  He wants to hire the women as claquers, that is, members of the audience secretly paid to raise enthusiasm for a certain actor. Tasia, our narrator, doubts the ethics of such an occupation, but her sister is delighted to get paid to attend a show.

The complicating factor is the arrival of a giant - truly, an eight foot tall man - who is hunting for Oleg.  Fee fie fo.  Oleg explains that he borrowed money from the claquers guild in Moscow and this monstrous debt collector has been chasing him all over Russia.

Ah, but this is theatre, and theatre is all about illusion...  This story is a lot of fun.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What Invisible Means, by Mat Coward

"What Invisible Means," by Mat Coward, in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March/April 2019.

I believe this is the second time this has happened, but please don't expect me to find the other example. 

I refer to the fact that the same author is appearing in this space two weeks in a row.  That would make sense if I was reading a collection of the author's stories, but instead he just happened to have tales in two magazines I have been reading. 

This is Mat Coward's fifth appearance on my little list.  As I said, his fourth was last week.  Here is his winning opening:

Tuesday was a great day.  Wednesday less so, of course, because that was when he got the letter saying that someone was planning to murder him, but Tuesday went better than Des could have hoped.

Apparently in England if the police have reason to believe someone is planning to kill you they are required to send you what is called an Osman letter.  As D.C. Vicki explains "the Osman letter is basically to cover ourselves if your widow decides to sue us."

But in the case of Des, it is a fake letter.  Someone is trying to intimidate him.  Or warn him?

I'm not going into the plot here, a convoluted tale of a terrible cribbage team, a cigarette smuggler, and a perilous taxi ride.  What makes Coward's work so delightful is the language.

For example, here is Vicki dealing with her very serious partner.

"How can they charge for this coffee?" [Abi] added.  "I mean legally?  We should be charging them for getting rid of it.

Vicki laughed.  Whenever Abi said something which Vicki thought might be intended to be humorous she made a point of laughing.  Which on one occasion had led to Abi not talking to her for seventy-two hours.  Vicki hadn't blamed herself for that one, thought, because to be fair, "I knew she had a drink problem, I just didn't know she had a machete," doe SOUND like a joke.

Indeed it does.  Very funny story.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Shall I Be Murder?, by Mat Coward

"Shall I Be Murder?", by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

A lot of good stories in this issue, by the way. 

This is the fourth appearance on this site for Mr. Coward. Sometimes it is difficult to define what subgenre a story belongs to. Not in this case.  Here is the first sentence:

"As for myself, I belong to that delicious subgenre, the self-confessed unreliable narrator."

This remarkable tale-teller then tells us his tale but how much of it are we to believe?  Certainly some of it is a lie, but how much of it? 

He explains that a doctor told him he needed to take walks for his health and, since he is allergic to dogs, he wound up walking to a self-storage facility.  There he rented two units, giving up one after setting up a hidden camera in it.  Then he waits for the right type of people to rent that facility.

That much of his story is probably (?) true.  Well, part of it, at least.  But what follows is a riddle stuffed into an enigma.  Is he a blackmailer?  A killer?  Something else entirely, as a police officer suggests?

It is not just that he is lying but that doing so, publicly and deliberately, is part of his plan.  Which he cheerfully admits.  One imagines the prosecutor tearing out his hair, but the reader will have fun.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Stranger Inside Me, by Loes den Hollander

"The Stranger Inside Me," by Loes den Hollander, in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2019.

You could call this a ghost story but you probably won't.  The narrator is a troubled young man who gets regular nightly visits from Ted Bundy.  The deceased serial killer (we never read his actual words) wants him to carry on the tradition by killing women who resemble ones who got away from Bundy.


This disturbs our protagonist enough that his arguments with said killer wake his mother who brings in a social worker.  He isn't very fond of the caseworker.  He doesn't seem to get along with anyone, really...


A very creepy story, although thankfully not filled with gore and horror.  Many surprises along the way.

 

Monday, February 11, 2019

My Christmas Story, by Steve Hockensmith

"My Christmas Story," by Steve Hockensmith, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

This is the third appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith.  I am rather surprised that it is the first one I have listed concerning his series characters the Amlingmeyer brothers.  Old Red and Big Red are cowboys at the end of the nineteenth century. Old Red is illiterate but a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes.  His younger brother Big Red is his long-suffering Watson.

When this story opens Gus and Otto (to give them either more formal names)  have just settled in Ogden, Utah, where they have opened a detective agency. Due to Big Red's big mouth they find themselves out in the hills searching for a pine tree to help their landlady celebrate Christmas.  This being a crime story, other stuff happens.

What makes these tales a treat is a combination of great characters and fine language.  For example, our heroes meet three children and here is a bit of conversation with two of them.

"We were out looking for a Christmas tree," the boy said, "and we spotted a bear and-"
 "I spotted it," the girl -- Sariah -- interjected.  
Her brother ignored her.
"--we think it might be dead, but if it's alive we thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town--"
"I thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town," Sariah said.
Ammon kept plowing on.
"--but we don't have a gun, so we sent our little brother to find somenoe who did--"
"I sent our little brother..." Sariah began...

You can picture them, can't you?

By the way, if you want to know what happens to the brothers next, you can find out in Hockensmith's new book The Double A Western Detective Agency.  I can testify that it is, as Big Red, would say, a real ripsnorter.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Case of The Truculent Avocado, by Mark Thielman

"The Case of The Truculent Avocado," by Mark Thielman, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

This is the third appearance in this space by Mark Thielman.  The first two were somber  tales featuring actual historical personages.  The current entry is not like that, as you can probably guess from the title.

The narrator is a part-time private eye who makes most of his living dressed as a potato, promoting the cause at various supermarkets.  He says the Potato Board calls him the "Spud Stud."

Lately he's been doing his thing at Uncle Bob's Natural Food Emporium, but someone murdered Charlie, the produce manager, who was dressed as, yup, an avocado.  The deputy suspects our hero.  His only ally is an actress dressed as Babs the Baguette.

No, not somber this time.  But enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It Follows Until It Leads, by Dillon Kaiser

"It Follows Until It Leads," by Dillon Kaiser, in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

We are very noir today, with a sense of doom hanging over every page of this story.  Here is the opening paragraph:

My papa died when I was a baby, shot in the crossfire between the cartel and the police.

Our narrator grows up to be a soldier for the cartel but he swears to get his family out of the life and into the United States.  He succeeds, but how long can a good thing last.

At one point there is a gun in his house and he says "eso infecta."  It is infected.  He isn't referring to anything as natural as a germ, just a very human illness.

Grim and moving.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Treasure island, by Micah Perks

"Treasure island," by Micah Perks, in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

I admit I may be prejudiced about this story because I just finished watching The Kominsky Method on Netflix and in my head I can hear Alan Arkin reciting the whole tale. 

In any case Perks has come up with something delightful and hilarious.

Mr. Nowicki is, he tells us, "a seventy-two-two-year-old retired middle school assistant principal who has lived in Grant Park for forty years."  He is furious about what is happening in his neighborhood so he has gone to a website called Good Neighbor!(tm) to report what he sees.

And he has strong opinions about that.  For example he has a problem with his neighbor who is (the internal quotation marks are his): "a 'writer' who 'works' from home.  ('Writer' always takes morning tea on his porch in his pajamas and at five p.m., takes cocktail on porch, still in his pajamas.  You've probably seen him on your way to and from actual work.)"

Then there is a young woman, possibly a thief, possibly something else, who claims to be named Jim  Hawkins.   Takes Mr. Nowicki a while to figure out why. 

One more quote from our hero, after he has seen "three apparently Hispanic males, ages approximately eight or nine years old," putting trash in said neighbors "Little Library."

I descend, which takes some time due to bum hip, retrieve plastic bag and 'trash grabber' ($6.47, Amazon Prime, you can read my review, three stars because the sharp tongs are dangerous), exit house, open gate, cross street to nieighbor's 'Little Library" (a glassed-in cabinet painted a glaring aqua, plunked onto a post).

Glad you're taking an interest, Mr. Nowicki.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Milquetoast, by Olaf Kroneman

"Milquetoast," by Olaf Kroneman, in  The Strand Magazine, October 2018/January 2019.

Chances are you have met someone a bit like Colin Anderson.  Chances are you didn't enjoy it much.  He's the kind of middle-aged guy who invites you to dinner and makes you look at pictures of his championship college lacrosse team.  Oh joy.

Colin is now a successful surgeon but he isn't interested in working hard.  He prefers to spend his time being tennis and golf champion at the country club, and spending his wife's money.

But when she finds out what - or who - he is spending the money on, his life takes a sharp sudden turn. 

This is a clever story that involves a phenomenon so strange I had to look it up to see if it is real.  It is.  The delightful twists keep coming straight to the end.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Faith, by Stuart Neville

"Faith," by Stuart Neville, in Blood Work: Remembering Gary Shulze: Once Upon A Crime, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2018.

The day I lost my belief was the same day Mrs. Garrick asked me to help kill her husband.

That's the first sentence of this story.  If it doesn't make you want to read the second, my word, why are you reading fiction at all?

The narrator is an Irish clergyman, five years a widower. Mrs. Garrick's husband was brutally maimed in a terrorist attack.  Our protagonist tries to comfort her and one thing leads to another.

But it isn't the request that he help murder Mr. Garrick that causes the clergyman to lose his faith.  It is his conclusion that "There is no sin because there is no God.  There is no God because there is only us and our impulses..."

In that case there is nothing to keep him from killing the invalid and living happily ever after with the widow.  What could possibly go wrong?

A tight and surprising little tale.

 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Devil's Island, by Mensje van Keulen

"Devil's Island," by Mensje van Keulen, in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2019.

To get the Full Disclosure bit out of the way: Akashic Press sent me this book for free, for which I am grateful.  One of the editors, Josh Pachter, is a friend of mine.  Now on to the main course.

And what a treat it is.  The narrator is trying to be helpful to his friend, Jacob, who is becoming a real pain.  Jacob's girlfriend has left him and he can't seem to get over it.  On one bad night he even says "I'd sell [the devil] my soul if he'd make Martha come back to me."

Later that evening they are standing among the cigarette puffers outside a pub when a stranger comes out of the smoke and asks Jacob for a light.  He says that he prefers the old-fashioned wooden matches called lucifers.  "I like the smell of them, though, that momentary blast of sulfur..."


This is a story built on details, cleverly used. 

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.