Sunday, October 25, 2020

Goon #4, by Tod Goldberg

 "Goon #4," by Tod Goldberg, in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2020.

It makes sense that this story appears in an anthology edited by Lawrence Block because the main character reminds me of Block's meditative hitman, Keller.

Goon #4 (his mama named him Blake) is an ex-military thug, now specializing in high-risk assignments, bodyguarding bad guys or making bad guys wish, in one final moment, that they had hired bodyguards.

Blake has made enough money to retire.  But what to do now?  He decides to go to college and winds up, more or less by accident, in a class on radio performing.  Here he is pondering the building in which the class is taught:

Whole place was maybe 2,500 square feet and could be attacked from about twenty-nine different angles.  A totally unsafe spot to conduct an op... but Blake guessed it was probably fine for learning.

So Blake may be has a little trouble separating his past life from his current one.  And when a professor gives him an assignment, rest assured that he takes all assignments seriously.  Perhaps too seriously...

A fun and quirky story.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Alt-AC, by Warren Moore

 "Alt-AC," by Warren Moore, in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2020.

This is the second appearance here by Warren Moore.  It ranges between the amusing and startling.

I may be prejudiced in favor of this tale because I am both an academic and the father of an academic, so I sympathize with both generations represented here.

Roger Patterson possesses a newly minted PhD. in medieval English.  He has been in Kalamazoo for the annual conference on medieval studies and he offers a Senior Scholar a trip to the airport.  Beggs, the Senior Scholar, turns out to be a historian, with a comfy job of the kind Patterson will probably never get.

Patterson is on the market (a phrase that  "made him feel like a haunted house.  Or a slightly bruised avocado") at a time when there are over a hundred people applying for every position.  He is likely to wind up teaching at  "the Swamp County School of Mortuary Science and Transmission Repair."   Or worse he may need to find an alternative to academia, the dreaded "Alt-AC."

The writing is hilarious but I found myself thinking: this is a book of crime stories.  So somebody has to get naughty, right?  Don't worry.  Somebody does.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Whole Story, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins


"The Whole Story," by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue 7, 2020.

This is the second appearance here by this author.

Hayes is a private eye with a strange assignment.  Bobby Putnam is in prison for driving drunk, resulting in the death of his daughter.  He doesn't deny the crime but he wants Hayes to confirm his impression that the driver whose truck he hit was not looking at him.  His eyes, Putnam insists, were on a man across the street,  man who vanished before the cops arrived.

Not that it would have changed Putnam's guilt.   But he is desperate to know if he's right about this one niggling detail about the event that destroyed his life.

Of course there turns out to be more to this clever story.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Chum in the Water, by Lori Roy

 "Chum in the Water," by Lori Roy, in Tampa Bay Noir, edited by Colette Bancroft, Akashic Press, 2020.

Ms Roy knows her noir, no doubt about that.

Dale is a building contractor and house flipper and he has run into a bad season made worse by bad luck and bad choices.  One of those choices was borrowing a ton of money from Chum Giordano.  Chum has a reputation for not taking kindly to deadbeats.

But on the positive side of the ledger Dale has two items.  His house is about to sell, which will take care of his debt.  And there is an attractive new bartender in his favorite bar who is showing an interest in him.  

Sounds good!  What could possibly go wrong?

Oh yeah.  This is noir...

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Terrible Ideas, by Gregory Fallis

 "Terrible  Ideas," by Gregory Fallis, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September/October 2020.

It's unusual, I think for a private eye story to travel, third-person, through the heads of more than one character.  But this one does and it works.

Clayton Ellicott is the first viewpoint character.  He is the only fulltime lawyer for Midwest Center for Artists' Rights and most of his work is pretty boring: copyright, contacts, and so on.  

The exception is Triscuit, a petty thief who discovers a talent for photography after stealing an expensive camera.  It isn't the theft that gets him in trouble, though.  That would be a day he spent in the park taking pictures, some of them in the vicinity of small children.  Parents didn't like that.  When the police were called and saw that he was "a six-foot-two bearded man of mixed race" they didn't like it either.

Triscuit knew how to behave around hostile cops, but now he was an artist and they were demanding to see his camera.  He did not react well to that, which is how Ellicott the lawyer got involved.

Things escalate when a teenager girl goes missing from that same park.  Triscuit gets arrested and our lawyer calls in Hockney, a private eye.  

It helped that [Hockney] looked younger than she really was; it helped that she was attractive without being pretty.  it helped that she was slender and lissome and not at all threatening.

It all helped her to be a more effective detective.  But she resented it.  She resented that people -- women included -- took one look at her and immediately, automatically underestimated her...

And here she is talking to Triscuit, who is in jail: 

There's a sixteen-year-old white girl missing and the police think you had something to do with it.  Jesus couldn't get you out of here tonight.

A satisfying story with a surprising (but not twist) ending. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Cough, by Lynn Chandler Willis

 "The Cough," by Lynn Chandler Willis, in Writers Crushing COVID-19, edited by Lawrence Kelter, LightSpeed Books, 2020.

There's been a sort of race going on this year and, as far as I know, Willis is the winner.  She is the first person to get a story published in which COVID masks are used by robbers as a disguise.  You knew it had to be coming. 

That's not why this story is my best of the week, of course. The reason is that it is an amusing story of incompetent criminals.

Marty and Dwayne are hoping to rob a bank but the virus lockdown means that only drive-thru's are open. Foiled again!

Marty is the brains of the operation (and that is a low bar).  Dwayne seems as happy to score some toilet paper as he would be with the contents of a bank safe.

But our hero thinks of a way to rob the WalMart.  You my not be astonished that things don't go perfectly.  You may be even less astonished that COVID is involved.

My favorite line: When the two guys get separated and complain someone asks Marty: "You his emotional support animal or something?" 


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Kevin of the Dead, by Eoin Colfer


"Kevin of the Dead," by Eoin Colfer, in The Strand Magazine, Feb.-May 2020.

A page into this story I found myself hoping a crime would show up.  It was by no means a sure thing that that would happen, and I only review crime stories.  Fortunately, the story turned sufficiently criminous, as Ellery Queen used to say, to meet my standards.

So what is this about if not primarily crime?

It's a vampire story.  But Kevin is not your classic suave gothic (or goth) undead master of minds.  He's a whiny emo young man with a lot to complain about.  

"In my opinion there's a real market for vampire counsellors.  Someone to guide you through the process.  It's very traumatic waking up dead, I can tell you.  Not as traumatic as high school but pretty close."     

Our boy had a hard time getting along with people when he was alive and things haven't improved since he snuffed it.  Colfer offers us a more (dare I say?) realistic look at the undead lifestyle and it's hilarious.  Kevin goes out each night looking for blood but he also hopes his victim has "Netflix on her phone so I can catch up on Stranger Things."