Sunday, February 16, 2020
Gary Hoffman is the senior half of a small town police force. One night he is called out to a bar where a stranger has snatched up the owner's shotgun and told him to call the cops. In the fracas that follows Hoffman kills the stranger.
I'm not giving anything away, I should point out. This is, as they say, the premise of the story. And it's a wittily written tale. Take this bit of conversation between Hoffman and his receptionist.
Marie gave him a pat. "Take all the the time you need," she said. "I can keep up with the little things."
"Can't take too long," Gary said. "People might realize this whole operation can run without me."
Marie had issued as much sympathy as she could muster. "Don't worry about it. It won't come as a surprise to anybody."
But there will be other surprises in store, as Hoffman tries to figure out why a stranger wanted to kill him. And whether there may be more danger ahead.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
Imagine, if you will, being a single mother with an obstreperous seven-year-old kid. One day you point out a man on the street and tell your son that he is a murderer. "Not just any old murderer, Denny... He's the murderer. Murderer Bill."
You explain that Bill kills children. Only bad ones, of course. So Denny has nothing to fear if he starts behaving.
What do you think would happen after that?
Well, I am pretty sure that one thing that would not happen is the Mayor putting a Mother of the Year medal around your neck. And that isn't what happens in this story.
But when, a few days later, Denny tells his Mom a lie, Murderer Bill shows up in his bedroom. Just a warning this time, but be careful.
So, what the hell is going on? Is Bill imaginary? Supernatural? Or did Mom actually arrange for someone to... Hmm.
This is an intriguing story.
Sunday, February 2, 2020
I think we need to begin by talking about years. Notice that the calendar date on this magazine is 2019/2020. So why didn't I review it in 2019? Because it only arrived in my mailbox this week.
So let's call this my first review of a 2020 story, since through January I was still covering 2019, to give myself as much time as possible to cover those tales. My Best-of-the-Year list went up at SleuthSayers on Wednesday.
And "Deportees" is a beautifully written story.
The narrator, Aaron, was a child as World War II started. His father has run off again, and so he has gone with his mother (who was "crazy and had undergone electroshock treatments") to live with his grandfather on a farm in Texas. Grandfather had been a Texas ranger but had lost almost everything to alcohol.
On the first night a group of refugees come across the Mexican border and find shelter in Grandfather's barn. A local lawman named Mr. Watts comes looking, claiming they might be Japanese infiltrators.
Mother notes the local hypocrisy concerning Mexicans. "In good times we bring them in by the truckload. When there's drought, the Mexicans are the devil's creation."
The family has other reasons to despise Watts. For one, he invites Grandfather to church. The old man replies: "I know your preacher well. I saw him at a cross-burning once. He was setting fire to the cross. I was writing down license numbers."
But there are reasons much worse than that. It is worth finding out what they are.
Monday, January 27, 2020
This is the third appearance here by Craig Faustus Buck.
When a private investigator encounters a woman being bothered by a stalker you can reasonably assume you are about to read a private eye story. But sometimes things take a sudden shift sideways. In this case we go crashing into noir territory.
Our narrator is a part-time employer of a private detective, which means she mostly serves summons. When she meets and falls for a woman at the golf course she agrees to put the papers on the creepy ex-boyfriend. Of course, she is hoping, in classic noir fashion, to get closer to this femme fatale. And she does.
But her lover isn't quite over the creepy boyfriend. So it becomes problematic: Who is the stalker? And who the femme fatale?
This one was a lot of fun.
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
This is Coleman's third appearance in this space. Here is how it starts.
Most places in this state, it’s the wrong side of the tracks. Not in Brixton, no sir. In Brixton it’s the wrong side of the river. That’s funny on its face, ’cause any sane fool’d be hard-pressed to make a case for there being much of a right side in Brixton, neither. Let’s just say that there’s a…righter side. That the folks on the righter side’s got access to better crank.
So we know right away this story isn't going to be about tea parties in an English village.
The narrator is Pete Frame and his best friend is Jack Clooney. Jack explains that his own family are "a bunch of born scumbags in charge of what we got comin'."
One of the reasons the two guys get along so well is that Pete and his girlfriend Becki provide a beard for Jack who pretends to be dating her, but is really interested in her brother. That is something Jack's father would never be able to accept and "He has a lot less trouble expressing his will than our Lord and Savior. He or one of his clan lay hands on you, there ain't no room for spiritual interpretation."
I am quoting a lot because the language is what makes this story so special and enjoyable.
Monday, January 13, 2020
Thanks to Kevin Tipple for a correction.
When I started reading this story I had a strange sense of deja vu. Not that I had red the story before, but something similar.
But don't call the plagiarism police just yet. The story I was thinking of was also written by Chris Knopf. In fact, this is his third appearance on this page.
Our nameless character is a pretty cheerful guy but he has some problems. Take Harry, for instance. Harry isn't a problem, exactly, but a symptom of one. You see, he is our protagonist's only friend, and he happens to be from another dimension, and not visible to anyone else.
So, yeah, the guy has problems.
Right now he is living in his summer home, a tarp next to the river in Old Lyme, Connecticut. His neighbors are a big squatter he calls the Grouchy Witch, and a newly arrived woman is younger and attractive.
But now he has a new problem, because the Witch doesn't like the newcomer. And she has a big knife...
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
On the day of the latest stock market crash, twenty-two people plunged to their deaths from New York City skyscrapers. One of them was pushed.
That's a nice opening, don'tcha think?
Alan Webster, our narrator, was part of a gang that robbed a casino. Everything went perfect except the casino turned out to be owned by the mob and the mob doesn't collect their insurance and shrug it off when that sort of thing happens.
So they all went into hiding. Alan is in Australia when he hears that Fred supposedly jumped out a window. He doesn't believe it so he decides to be proactive, so to speak, by heading back to New York and convincing the mob that he is too much trouble to kill.
There is, it seems to me, a significant plot hole in the story (how did X find out about Y?) but it didn't keep me from enjoying it.