Monday, December 28, 2020

Clickbait, by Mark R. Kehl

"Clickbait," by Mark R. Kehl, in Mickey Finn, volume 1, edited by Michael Bracken, Down & Out Books, 2020.

The night of the home invasion, Bobby Lyon was busy jabbing a seventy-three-old index finger at his smart phone, reading reactions to the day's auction.

 That's how we start.  Lyon is a washed-up action movie star, now in a wheelchair, waiting to be moved into a senior home after his possessions were sold to pay ex-wives, the IRS, etc.  But now he may be getting more action than he wants...

I guessed where this story was going, but not every good tale needs a surprise ending.  This one is mostly about heightened language.

The despair that had grown familiar since the world had started tearing away his life in increasingly larger and bloodier chunks embraced him like a ravenous ghost.

Another sound, heavy but muffled, like Frankenstein's monster in bunny slippers.

...words and low laughs, both respectful and irreverent at the same time, like atheists in church.

Mr. Kehl is a master of similes.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Mailman, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

 "The Mailman," by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, in Mickey Finn, volume 1, edited by Michael Bracken, Down & Out Books, 2020.

This is the author's third appearance on this page.  

When was the last time I reviewed a good 'ol suspense story?  Been a while, I think.

The nameless protagonist is a deliveryman.  He tells his contact that he has never lost a package.

"A package?" his contact replies.  "Jesus Christ, we're talking about a woman.  A mother and child."

As the story goes on we learn more about why the couple is on the run, and the danger they face.  Because some of the rules get broken the deliveryman finds himself in deep trouble: one small man with no gun up against two bigger, heavily armed toughs.  

Will he find a way to deliver the goods?  I'm rooting for him.  You will find the outcome satisfactory.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Tell Him No, by Scott Turow


"Tell Him No," by Scott Turow, in California Schemin', edited by Art Taylor, Wildside Press, 2020.

What kind of work can an 81-year-old private eye do?  Running and fist-fighting seem to be out of the question.  High-tech is a non-starter.  

But one thing an old dude can do easily is be ignored.  And that's a very good thing for surveillance.

Tim Brodie, ex-cop, is following Dykstra, a man who wants to sell his business to Tim's employer.  Listening in on his conversations turns out to be easy because Dykstra "was the kind who thought they'd invented the cellphone so everyone in the vicinity would know he was important."  Boy, do I know that guy.  

It's fun watching Brodie watching his target, and then learning what he figured out, and how his boss could use it.  An entertaining tale.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Underneath it all Runs the River of Sadness, by Oto Oltvanji

"Underneath it all Runs the River of Sadness," by Oto Oltvanji, in Belgrade Noir, edited by  Milorad Ivanovic, Akashic Press, 2020.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."  So said Ralph Waldo Emerson.  

I wanted to begin with that because I have often criticized the fine folks at Akashic Press - who sent me a free copy of this book - for including stories in their Noir Cities series that are not noir.  But here I am about to praise a story that also misses the noir mark.

I'm inconsistent.  So sue me.  But this is a fine, sweet, story.

Ranko and Kozma are neighbors and old friends.  Kozma is the troublemaker.  As a cop he did little but paperwork and now, in retirement, he is desperate to actually solve a crime for once.  His attempts to find villainy where there may be none has gotten him into hot water with the police and the neighborhood.

But now, just maybe, he could be onto something.  There's a man on the fourth floor, he tells Ranko, who keeps bringing young women to his apartment.  Nothing wrong with that, except they never come out.  

So the two old men start spying on the young man, and things get complicated.  There is a crime involved, no doubt about that, but what makes the story so charming is the way seemingly unrelated pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to make a satisfactory whole. 


Sunday, November 29, 2020

My People, by Liza Cody

 "My People," by Liza Cody, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November/December 2020.

This is Liza Cody's second appearance here.  It is not a conventional crime story a much as a reflection on the fact that, as another British author noted, "a policeman's lot is not a happy one."

I was standing with five other people, arms linked,. protecting a man dressed as a giant cauliflower who had superglued himself to Lambeth Bridge.

Well.  That's an opening gambit that certainly caught my attention.

Shareen Manasseh is our narrator, a Jewish woman whose family came to Britain from India.  She joined the police force and, without much training, was assigned to infiltrate the climate change activists - she calls them rebels - who shut down much of London and were threatening to do it again.

Her time with that group has her rethinking her allegiance.  Did she become a cop to get "black-and-white certainty" or because it was better "to be with the bullies than against them.  I was tired of being picked on; I just want to belong." 

Shareen's loyalties are put to the test when a protester is found dead.  Was this just an accident? Was he beaten in police custody?    Or is there a red wolf among the green lambs?

And most importantly: Is Shareen thinking like a cop or a rebel?

A fine  story with a lot of food for thought.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Death of Another Hero, by Susan Daly

"Death of Another Hero," by Susan Daly, in Ellen Hart Presets: Malice Domestic 15: Murder Most Theatrical, edited by Verona Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Wildside Press, 2020.

This is the second appearance in this space by Susan Daly. 

Once upon a time a local theatre group did a new version of Much Ado About Nothing to celebrate the town's hundredth anniversary.  Twenty-five years later they decide to do it again.  Some of the people involved have gone on to fame, none greater than  Gary Mortimer, now a slowly fading star  named Gareth Caulfield.  

But whatever you call him, he is an unpleasant person, and someone is after revenge. The question is: what kind?

The problem with an anthology with this narrow a focus is that a lot of the stories tend to resemble each other.  (Deaths on stage; ambitious understudies...)  Daly manages to break the pattern in interesting ways.  And the title is very clever indeed.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Woodstock, by Michael Bracken

 "Woodstock," by Michael Bracken, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2020.

This is the seventh appearance in this space by my fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken.  That puts him close to the top of the list of repeat offenders.  This time he is a long distance from his usual territory, both geographically and thematically.

It's August 1969 and Shirley Warner picks up a hitchhiker who explains he is on his way to a music festival near Woodstock, New York.  The hitcher, a hippie, decides she looks like a Shirley.  "A housewife.  Her old man takes the train into the city five days a week, expects dinner on the table and a fresh martini waiting when he gets home.  Most exciting thing a Shirley does is watch Wild Kingdom Sunday nights to see if Him Fowler gets mauled by something." 

Shirley's response?  She throws her wedding rings out the window.

And that is how the story proceeds.  Shirley's reaction to the famous Three Days of Peace and Music, tells us all we know (or need to know) about her immediate past.  By the time it is over her life is moving in a new direction.

A well-written story.