Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Wait, by Flávio Carneiro

"The Wait,"  by Flávio Carneiro, in Rio Noir, edited by Tony Bellotto, Akashic Books, 2016.

Bear with me.  This may get a little philosophical at the start.  We will get to the story.

 I would like to suggest that some fiction really is genre fiction and some uses genre fiction.  Wears it like a cloak to cover what is really going on.  And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Jorge Luis Borges' brilliant story "The Garden of Forking Paths" is about a spy doing spy things.  But is it a spy story?  Not exactly.  Is George Orwell's Animal Farm a fable or a political satire that uses the fable form?

Okay.  Getting to this week's favorite.  A beautiful woman walks into the office of a private eye.  Sound familiar?

Detective Andre has an office in downtown Rio.  Marina wants him to find a man.  Again, still familiar.

But now the ground shifts under us a bit.  All she knows about the man is that he has been following her every day for weeks. Now he has stopped and she wants him to start again.

Andre and his sidekick, Fats - or is Fats the brains of the operation? - set out to find the guy.  Much philosphizing occurs.  Roland Barthes is invoked.

The place where what we might call experimental fiction - those cloaked-in-genre things - tend to fall apart is the ending.  Some of these authors seem to take pride in not writing the last page, leaving you wondering what happened and why you bothered to read the damned thing.

Carniero is not guilty of that.  I found his ending quite satisfactory, as was the whole story.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Land of the Blind, by Craig Johnson,

"Land of the Blind," by Craig Johnson, in The Strand Magazine, October 2016 - January 2017.

It's Christmas Eve and Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, is on his way to a hostage situation.  A crazy druggie wearing only underpants has burst into a church and is pointing a gun at a woman's head, mumbling about God demanding a sacrifice.

And while Walt is the series hero the title clues you in that the star of this particular rodeo will be his deputy Double Tough, who lost one eye to a fire.  I won't tell you what happens, but it's very satisfying.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Toned Cougars, by Tony Bellotto

"Toned Cougars," by Tony Bellotto, in Rio Noir, edited by Tony Bellotto, Akashic Books, 2016.

I have been known to complain about these Akashic Press books, specifically that the editors sometimes don't seem to know what noir is.  No complaints about this story (which happens to be written by the book's editor).  It follows the formula perfectly.

Our protagonist is a fortyish beach bum who makes his living romancing older women.  His latest conquest, if that's the word, is older than his mother, but he finds himself falling in love, much to his discomfort.

Turns out she has a wealthy husband she doesn't much care for.  Turns out she thinks our hero could solve that problem for her.

And if you have read any noir you may suspect it won't end with champagne and wedding cakes.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Played to Death, by Bill FItzhugh

"Played to Death," by Bill FItzhugh,  in Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli, Three Rooms Press, 2016.

Decades ago I was privileged to hear a panel featuring Stanley Ellin, one of the great authors of mystery short stories.  He declared that stories about murder should not be funny.

During the Q&A I reminded him of his story "The Day the Thaw Came to 127," in which (spoiler alert) the frustrated tenants of a New York apartment building burn their landlord for fuel.

"Well," he replied, "That was wish-fulfillment."

I bring that up because today's story falls into the same category, I think.  Bill Fitzhugh worked in radio before turning to comic crime novels.

Grady, the main character of this story, is one of those guys who tells DJs what they are allowed to play.  Specifically the fewest number of songs they can play over and over and over.  He confronts somebody who is not fond of that format, but does speak Grady's language. 

"You know how it works," the man said.  "We had a good sample of the demographic we're trying to appeal to and we asked what they wanted, and this is what they said.  We're just giving them what they asked for."
"Which is what?"
"Bad news for you, I'm afraid."

 Did I mention the somebody has a gun?

I won't reveal what else happens. Tune back in after the news and sports.
  


Sunday, November 27, 2016

1968 Pelham Blue SG Jr, by Mark Haskell Smith

“1968 Pelham Blue SG Jr.” by Mark Haskell Smith, in Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli, Three Rooms Press, 2016.

I tried to resist this story.  I really did.  This led to a loud argument in my head.

-It's not a crime story.
-Of course it is.
-It's not a conventional crime story.
-So?
-But it's weird.
-So?

Quality won out.


Here's what makes it makes it weird: When was the last time you read a story written in first person plural?

You may say "A Rose for Emily," the masterpiece written by William Faulkner. But that story essentially has a standard third person omniscient narrator with just occasional uses of "We" to remind you that this is the community's viewpoint.

In Mark Haskell Smith's story, on the other hand, "We" is very much the main character.  They are (It is?) an over-the-hill rock band, so meshed together that they speak as a unit.  It's a shock when one of the members thinks about quitting and suddenly shifts from "one of us" to "he."

After a gig the band's equipment (including the titular guitar) is stolen but "we couldn't call the police because one of us was supposed to be home with an ankle monitor strapped to our leg."  

So they go off  in search of it.  But single-minded they ain't.  When the hunt takes them to a donut shop the rings of fat and sugar so mesmerize them they forget what they came for.  "We are not detectives," they explain, primly.

No, but they are hilarious.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Long Black Veil, by Val McDermid

"The Long Black Veil," by Val McDermid, in Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli, Three Rooms Press, 2016.

Jess lives with relatives because, a decade ago when she was four years old, her mother murdered her father.  That's the official story, but it turns out the truth is a lot more complicated.  "There are worse things to be in small-town America than the daughter of a murderess," says her caretaker.  "So I hold my tongue and settle for silence."

McDermid is a Scottish author but she writes well about "small-town America."  This is a story about privileged rich kids clashing with folks from the poor side of town.  Also about teenagers trying to figure out who they are and coming up with answers that may not please their neighbors. 

I enjoyed this one a lot.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Attitude Adjuster, by David Morrell

"The Attitude Adjuster," by David Morrell, in Blood on the Bayou, edited by Greg Herren, Down and Out Books, 2016.

This story reminds me of a classic by Jack Ritchie, "For All The Rude People."  Both start a  guy getting ticked off at inconsiderate folks and deciding to fix the problem.  The solutions they come up with are very different, and of course, that's the wonderful thing about fiction: two writers can take the same idea in two wildly different directions.

Morrell's star is Barry Pollard and what he likes to do is beat up rude people; put them in the hospital.  He figures this attitude adjustment is good for people and they ought to be grateful for it.  So one tipsy night he puts an ad on the internet offering to punish anyone who is suffering from a guilty conscience. 

If you are brighter than Barry - not a high bar - you can see where that plot is going to wrong, and so it does. 

The victim winds up in the hospital but his wife's best friend, Jamie Travers and her husband Cavanaugh, are in the protecting business and they set out to figure whodunit and whopaidforit. 

My one complaint about the story is that the solution to that last problem feels unearned and a bit week.  But the tale is definitely worth a read.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Caught on Video, by Brian Leopold

"Caught on Video," by Brian Leopold in Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties Inspired Neon Noir, edited by Michael Pool, Crime Syndicate, 2016.

The publisher sent me a free ecopy of this book, and rudely, I forgot to mention their name last week.  Thank you, Crime Syndicate Magazine.

Roberto runs an appliance repair shop in L.A. in the 1980s.  That means occasionally a redfaced customer presents a video camera with a tape stuck in it.  He or she wants it back but does NOT want Roberto to watch it. 

And so he gets another amateur sex tape for his collection. But things get even better when he finds a way to profit off this sideline.

Ah, but an illicit sex act is not the only that can get recorded by a video camera, and inevitably, that's what happens in this twisty tale...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Widowman, by Matthew Hockey

"Widowman," by Matthew Hockey, in Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties Inspired Neon Noir, edited by Michael Pool, 2016.

The publishers sent me a free e-copy of this book.  And this is Hockey's second appearance in this blog.

As I read through this book I wondered when we would get to organized crime.  Didn't expect it from this direction, however.

Aki is the widow of a Tokyo mobster. One day, through the carelessness of the widowman who brings her her monthly allowance, she discovers that her murdered husband had had a  mistress.


The fact that she was angrier about the sex than she was about the death spoke volumes about her messed-up value system,  she knew that - it didn't mean she could do anything about it, other than pencil it in with her therapist.
 
A nicely structured story with plenty of surprises and suspense.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Stone Soup, by David Edgerley Gates

"Stone Soup," by David Edgerley Gates, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2016.

This is the fourth appearance by David Edgerley Gates in my Best-of-the Week list, the first since he joined me on the SleuthSayers blog.


It is also the second appearance here for Mickey Counihan, who works for the Hannahs, an Irish crime family in 1940s New York.  Mickey describes himself in this story as "muscle," but he's being modest.  I'd call him a fixer, running some low level schemes, and looking out for the family's interest.  Here is Mickey describing the status quo:

We'd made peace with the capos, the money my kids brought in from the numbers racket was steady, wagers at the racetrack books were up, sin was paying off on our investment.

But sin was the problem facing a guy named Hinny Boggs, who asked Mickey for help.  His wife's second cousin, Ginger, was pregnant and unwed.  Worse, she wanted to keep the baby.  Much worse, the father was Monsignor Devlin, the cardinal's right hand man. Which meant Ginger had to vanish before she wound up in much worse trouble than just being in trouble.

She doesn't need a white knight, though.  Just a black hat like Mickey, willing to pull in favors and negotiate deals with some of his personal enemies for a woman he's never met. 

My one complaint about this story is that Gates under-utilized the metaphor in his title.  As I recall, in the old tale it took a whole village to make stone soup, which is relevant to the events here.

Very satisfactory piece.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

When You Wish Upon A Star, by Colin Cotterill

"When You Wish Upon A Star," by Colin Cotterill, in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley, White Sun Books, 2016.

This book ends on a high note with its third appearance in this column.  

Our protagonist is a former crime reporter, now reduced to covering social events for the local weekly in the area she moved to for family reasons.  When a well-off woman dies in a  bizarre car accident - crashing off an unfinished bridge over a river - the reporter suspects that the death was no accident.

Nice setting but what really made it for me was the motive, which is an utterly modern get-rich scheme I have never seen in crime fiction before.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Someone's Moved the Sun, by Jeffrey Siger

"Someone's Moved the Sun," by Jeffrey Siger, in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley, White Sun Books, 2016.

Toni plays piano in a gay bar on an island in Greece.  To pay the bills he (I assume Toni is a he. As near as I can tell, it is not specified) is also an unlicensed private eye.  That means he helps tourists and others get stolen property back.

This time his client is a wealthy man named Kleftis who seems to have lost a backpack. What was in it?  Cash, certainly.  Black market jewelry, very likely.  Perhaps something more sinister than that?

 Toni thinks he knows who may have done it but there are dangers in proceeding:

Perhaps I could entice one of their local gang members into making a side deal, but that ran the very real risk of someone ending up buried alongside the backpack.  Correction: Make that someone me.

A nice modern variation of the classic P.I. tale.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Assassination, by Leye Adenle

"The Assassination," by Leye Adenle, in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley, White Sun Books, 2016.

I can't tell which African country this is taking place.  Probably just ignorance on my part.  Otunba is a big businessman and all-around creep.  Such a creep, in fact, that someone (maybe many someones) want him dead.

We watch as the net tightens around him, but he doesn't see it.  And he just keeps making the world a little worse as he goes his merry way.

This story made my week because of the neat twist ending, which I enjoyed a lot.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pandora's Bluff by Gilbert M. Stack.

"Pandora's Bluff," by Gilbert M. Stack, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2016.

I am very fond of Stack's Western stories about an unlikely trilogy of travelers.  Corey is a professional bare fist boxer, brave and strong and kind.  Patrick is his manager, more likely to cause trouble than solve it.  Neither of them is very bright but the difference is Corey knows it.  Their companion is Miss Pandora Parsons,  a professional gambler, and she is the brains of the outfit. 

This story begins  with Miss Parson deep in a poker game somewhere in Idaho.   Also playing is a doctor and a banker who wants some land the doctor owns.  It's pretty clear what's going to happen, but can Pandora straighten out the mess that follows?

Well, of course she can.  The plot is no big puzzle, although her quick-thinking provides a nice twist.  The real pleasure of this series is running into these old friends again.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

One Last Job, by Warren Bull

"One Last Job," by Warren Bull, in No Happy Endings, 2016.

This is Bull's second appearance in this blog.

Our hero is a private eye.  He survived World War II and has survivor's guilt about that, but he may not have it much longer, because cancer is killing him.  A friend offers him one last job: track down a beautiful woman who has gone missing.

He does, but the reason she is being hunted is not any of the reasons you might expect.  And before he can decide what to do about that something happens which he actually did expect: a bank robbery.  And he and the young woman both have to decide what to do about that. 

Snappy dialog between the two main characters.  Nice surprise (but not a twist) ending.

last job

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Way They Do It In Boston, by Linda Barnes


"The Way They Do It In Boston," by Linda Barnes, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016.

Heightened language.  What does that mean?

To me it means the words in the story do something more than get the story from the beginning to the end.  They tell you something about the characters or the nature of the universe in which they find themselves.

Here is Barnes' omniscient third-person narrator describing the main character's dog:

Gid got his name in the army.  the shredded ear is courtesy of the service as well.  the shelter dude said the dog left the service early because he lost his sense of mission, basically went AWOL and played catch with Afghan kids. As soon as she heard that Drew felt a sense of kinship with the dog, a bond.  She got blown up and put back together in Iraq.  Lost her sense of mission, too, in the desert near Fallujah.  The shrapnel in her left leg sets off screaming alarms in airports.

Yeah.  Heightened writing.

Drew wants to be a cop in Boston but it's hard to make the resident-for-a-year requirement when you are living in your car with your only friend, a beat-up ex-army dog.

So she's working night security on a tow service parking lot, down by the river.  One night a crate of assault weapons washes up on the shore.  Something bad is going on.  Does it involve the lot?  Can she survive long eonough to find out?

Good stuff.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Lord of Madison County, by Jimmy Cajoleas

"The Lord of Madison County," by Jimmy Cajoleas, in Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin. Akashic Press, 2016.

What do you find at the corner of Noir and Southern Gothic?  Wicked young ladies, for one thing.

Douglas is a teenager who has come up with the perfect place to sell drugs: his church's youth group.  Pastor Jerry loves the kids' ecstatic enthusiasm and doesn't have a clue as to what's going on.  He also doesn't know what's going on between his young daughter and Douglas.

But another adult gets Douglas  into trouble with his dealer and things, in fine Noir fashion, go to hell.  What I love about this story is that it is full of classic Noir characters but you can't predict what will happen based on the standard stereotypes.  Some of them go off in surprising directions.  Very nice piece of work.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Paler Shade of Death, by Laura Benedict

"A Paler Shade of Death," by Laura Benedict, in St. Louis Noir, edited by Scott Akashic Press, 2016.

This may the grimmest story I ever chose as my best of the week.  Nothing jolly here, folks.

Becca is moving to a duplex because her husband has a restraining order out against her.  Seems she threw some tea cups at him, among other things.

Their son died a few years ago and they have recovered at different paces, which leads to tension.  That can happen after a tragedy.

But there are rumors flying around the neighborhood that the child's death was not an accident.  And Becca is drinking a lot.  Plus there is a little boy who keeps following her around, a few years older than her own son would have been.  What's that all about?

I sometimes complain that the editors of the Akashic Noir series forget that it isn't enough just to be depressing; the stories need crime as well.  No worries here; Benedict is not afraid to get her characters' hands dirty.  If you like your fiction grim, I recommend it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Playing the Ace, by Loren D. Estleman

"Playing the Ace," by Loren D. Estleman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2016.

This is the second appearance in this space for Estleman and his stories of the Four Horsemen.  While it is not a whodunit there are mysteries of a sort that left me pleasantly puzzled.  We will get to them.

The Four Horsemen are what remains of the vice squad of the Detroit Police Department during World War II.  They are not popular with the bosses but are determined to stay  in nice safe Michigan and not get sent to, say Iwo Jima.

In this case they are given the job of bodyguarding a flying ace who is in Detroit on a tour to promote war bonds.  Problem is he turns out to not be a very nice person.  And that's putting it mildly.  So our alleged  heroes have to decide what to do about that.

Which brings up my puzzles.  If this a crime story, what crime exactly is the subject?  And are the Horsemen working for or against the war effort in  this affair?

Read it and decide for yourself.  You will enjoy it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Asleep When Awake, by Duane Swierczynski

"Asleep When Awake," by Duane Swierczynski, in The Strand Magazine, June-September 2016.

This is Swierczynski's second appearance here.
 
As I have said before, yea, in this very space, you don't need a new plot device to write a terrific story.  You can just think of something original to do with an old one.

The idea of two personalities inhabiting one body goes back at least to Robert Louis Stevenson.  And that appears to be what's going on.

Gibbs is keeping a journal to try to make sense of what's going on in his life, and maybe in his head.  A woman in California invited him to her party so he driving all the way from Philadelphia for the occasion.  He has no clue why he would agree to do that.

But someone else writes in the journal too when Gibbs is drunk, and then maliciously destroys the pages...

Is this a simple case of psychosis or is something much more sinister going on?

I can't much more without giving stuff away. It is a satisfactory tale with several twists I did see coming.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Prowl, by James Creally


"Prowl," by James Creally, in Thuglit: Last Writes, 2016.

I am sorry to say goodbye to Thuglit.  Todd Robinson and his staff have done terrific work with this magazine - last year two of the 14 stories on my Best Of list came from Thuglit.  I am sorry the market didn't support the magazine as well as it deserved.

My favorite story in this issue is by James Creally.  Try this line on for size:

"I'm sorry.  Things just aren't working out."

That is a man breaking up with his girlfriend.  What a cliche, right?  Why would I bore you with such a banal line?

Well, Lonnie, our protagonist, is saying it to the woman who has just broken into his apartment with a hired thug because she discovered he was stealing from her.  Which makes the cliche response a bit more interesting.

Lonnie is a failed scriptwriter, now making his living by bedding older women, i.e. cougars, and robbing them.  It is not, as they say, sustainable, so he is trying to find a different approach as well, which may mean asking someone else he robbed for help.  Comic noir.

I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but a very good story over all.

And goodbye, Thuglit.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Voices in the Cistern, by William Burton McCormick

"Voices in the Cistern," by William Burton McCormick in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 2016.

This is McCormick's  second story about Quintus the Clever, a thief in the early days of the Roman empire.  And Quintus is having a bad day.

It isn't enough that he is in a city under seige by the Roman's deadly Scythian enemies.  No, he also has to deal with Vibius, a large, nasty, unscrupulous rogue.  The brute has decided Quintus is the perfect co-conspirator to help him with a dangerous scheme.  The last person involved was actually killed by, uh, Vibius.  So, what could go wrong?

At one point they pass through a house whose residents had been killed, supposedly in a Scythian attack.

"Since when do the Scythians use short swords, Vibius?"
"Since I sold them short swords," he grunts.

So things are pretty bad for Quintus.  But don't worry; they will get worse.  And then Quintus has to make a decision and either choice will break his tiny, larcenous heart...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Meter of Murder, by Mark Thielman

"A Meter of Murder," by Mark Thielman, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2016.

In his first published story (!) Mark Thielman seems to have played midwife to the love child of Rex Stout and Lillian de la Torre. Or maybe I have just been infected with his characters' love of metaphor.

"A Meter of Murder" is this year's winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award, which is co-sponsored by AHMM and the Wolfe Pack, dedicated fans of Rex Stout.  Often but not always the winner follows the formula of Stout's Nero Wolfe stories: a genius detective who seldom goes anywhere, and a narrator who does the footwork.  So it is in Thielman's story.

But this novella is also part of a subgenre which, as far as I know was invented by Lillian de la Torre.  I assume she was reading Arthur Conan Doyle one day and noticed that Holmes referred to Watson as "my Boswell."  And she thought: If Watson is Boswell why can't Boswell be Watson?  And so she created the Samuel Johnson: Detector series, the first mystery stories to make use of a real person as the fictional hero.

And now, at last,  we can get to Thielman's story.

London in 1661 was a very dangerous place.  King Charles II had just taken the throne and anyone who had been on the Roundhead side in the Civil War, or worked with Cromwell after, had to keep one eye over his shoulder, expecting arrest or worse.

One of those was the blind poet John Milton, not yet the creator of Paradise Lost.  The narrator of the novella is Milton's younger friend, Andrew Marvell, who was both a member of Parliament and a poet.

At the beginning of what turns out to be a very long day Marvell comes to tell his friend that a royalist member of the House of Commons has been killed in circumstances that suggest a possible political motive.  If someone doesn't find out whodunit, then the people of their party may be chosen as the killer.

And so Milton gets on the case, sending Marvell out to investigate and bring back suspects.  Thielman clearly knows his Restoration London and his Rex Stout.  I enjoyed this novella a lot.

One line made me laugh out loud.  Milton to a suspect: "Sir, don't be pugnacious.  Spare us your vehemence."

Doesn't that sound exactly like Nero Wolfe?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Shortcut to Gringo Hill, by James Nolan

"Shortcut to Gringo Hill," by James Nolan, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2016.

Lot of good stories in this issue but so far the laurel wreath goes to this somewhat bizarre story by James Nolan.

The narrator is a recovering alcoholic who gets a call from Grasshopper, for whom he has been acting as AA sponsor.  Grasshopper has been diagnosed with stage-three liver cancer and has decided to drink himself to death in Mexico.

Off he goes to the sunny southland but the big C is not what takes him away.  Instead his head has found on the short cut between the local village and the suburb for American ex-pats.  His body never turns up.  So our hero heads down there to recover the head and try to find out what happened.

Did I say bizarre?  He meets an ex-stripper, a couple of midgets, a crooked cop, a grouchy dentist - and all in a town where "the funeral home is the only place open all night."


Very compelling story with well-drawn characters.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Gathering of Great Detectives, by Shawn Reilly Simmons

"A Gathering of Great Detectives," by Shawn Reilly Simmons in Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional, edited by Verena Rose, Barb Goffman, and Rita Owen, Wildside Press, 2016.

All the stories in this book take place at conventions, conferences, club meetings, or the like and part of the fun is seeing how the authurs use that.  Simmons features, largely enough, a mystery weekend.

The twist is that all the guests - and hosts - come dressed as great fictional detectives, and are penalized if they dare to speak out of character. Now Inspector Bucket (from Dickens' Bleak House)
has tumbled down a flight of stairs and two genuine cops are trying to figure it out how it happened.

Their big problem is that the suspects and witnesses think they are part of the act and start ringing penalty bells if they try to speak as if this was a real-life event.  Funny, and bizarre.

I may be prejudiced in favor of this story because it reminds me (in a non-plagiarizing way) of my story "Shanks Gets Killed," which also involves a murder weekend and a Maltese Falcon-related prize.  But in any case, Simmons has given us a fun read.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Flight, by Trina Corey

"Flight," by Trina Corey, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in July 2016.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a story featuring amnesia and said that what matters is not that a device has been used before, but what you do with it this time.  This week the device is paralysis

Rachel is in a nursing home.  She can only move a few facial muscles and, on a good day, twitch the fingers of one hand.

At night, some creepy man has been coming into her dark room to cheerfully tell her about his career as a serial killer and his plans to kill another of the residents.  Is he a resident, a staffer, or someone else?  She can't see him.  But clearly he is getting pleasure from telling his plans to a person who can't tell anyone.

Can Rachel find a way to tell someone what is happening?  Will anyone believe her?  A very suspenseful story.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Blame the Bear, by Brian Haycock

"Blame the Bear," by Brian Haycock, in Mystery Weekly, June 11, 2016.

I believe this is the first story from Mystery Weekly to make my weekly best.  It was also their free sample of the week, which you can get sent to your email.

The story is a little thing, flash fiction or close to it, more anecdote than full-blown story.  But it's interesting. containing a character sketch (the narrator), nice language use, and something to think about.

Here's how it starts:

I only know three ways people ever get eaten by bears. There could be others, but I haven’t run across them. 

The gentleman meditating here is a  small-town coroner in West Texas, and as you may have guessed, he is dealing with the results of one of those three methods.  The victim is a meth cooker who apparently lost a fight with a colleague, which led to him starting a new career as bear chow.

Our coroner explains what he can tell from the partial remains that have been brought in by the violently ill deputies. Then he ponders the unfairness of the future that is sure to be waiting for the bear.

And that's about it.  Like I said, it's slight, but it hangs together, and is definitely worth a read.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Blank Shot, by Craig Faustus Buck.

"Blank Shot," by Craig Faustus Buck, in Black Coffee, edited by Andrew MacRae, Dark House Books, 2016.

This is the second appearance on this page by Craig Faustus Buck.

Amnesia appears in fiction more often than it does in real life.  But then again, so do dying message clues, femme fatales, genius detectives and a lot of other tools of the trade.  The trick is what use you make of the item.

Buck has taken us to 1960, East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.  Our protagonist has been shot in the head, a grazing blow that vaporized his memory - or most of it.  Now the cops want to know what happened, and the deadly secret police, the Stasi, are lurking on the sidelines, up to God knows what.

Our hero speaks German and English.  Which is he?  He has the name Slade tattooed on his arm.  Is that his name?  Will he figure out who he is before the shooter realizes he is alive and makes another try?

A fine piece of work.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hotel Hate, by Michael Chandos

"Hotel Hate," by Michael Chandos, in Black Coffee, edited by Andrew MacRae, Darkhouse Books.

This story is set in the world of prohibition in one of the fancy backwoods hotels where gangsters could relax until the heat cooled down.  Our narrator is the owner of Hotel Hatteras in Michigan, called Hotel Hate by her rotten husband who deserted her years ago.  Now he's back and trouble follows...

A nice tale with plenty of period touches.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Best Laid Plans, by Barb Goffman

"The Best Laid Plans," by Barb Goffman, in Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional, edited by Verena Rose, Barb Goffman, and Rita Owen, Wildside Press, 2016.

My fellow SleuthSayer Barb Goffman has contributed a nice tale to Malice Domestic's latest anthology, which contains stories related to conventions, conferences, and suchlike scenes of murder and mayhem.   Oops, I should have mentioned that this is her second appearance in this column.  I like to keep track of that.)

Including Malice International, the mystery conference to which narrator Eloise Nickel has been invited for a lifetime achievement award.  Should be a thrill but the guest of honor happens to be Kimberly, a former protege who had gone on to fame and "dropped me like a bloody knife." Kimberly takes  gleeful opportunity to do it again in an article published just before the conference.  She compares her own suspenseful novels to Eloise's old-fashioned cozy books, which some the elderly readers still apparently like -  Well, you get the idea.  It ain't pretty.

Eloise starts plotting revenge. Not murder, of course.  Just some dreadful pain and misery for her rival, to be delivered at the conference.

But, alas, that doesn't seem to be as easily done as said.  People keep rescuing Kimberly, purely by accident.  What's a frustrated revenge-planner to do?

The main reason this story made my Best Of column was the surprise - not twist -ending.  A nice little trick provided a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sugar, by Michael Bracken

"Sugar," by Michael Bracken, Crime Syndicate, Issue 2, 2016.

I would say any writer who appears in this space twice in a year can think he's having a good year.  That's not ego on my part; I would be happy if any non-relative thought I scored twice in one spin around the sun.

Mr. Bracken is making his second appearance at Little Big Crimes this month.

This story is about Samuel "Sugar" Cane, a Texas thug who has worked, since he was a crooked high school football player, for a crime boss named De La Rosa.  As he goes about his daily work of collecting debts for the big man he meets a woman whose mother used to be his lover.  Hmm..

A popular topic in writing circles is first person versus third.  This story would be much less powerful if it were in first, or if we could tell what'd going on in Sugar's head.  We ave to figure it out, which keeps the suspense high.

This story reminds me of Michael Koryta's "A People Person," which I wrote about here back in 2013.  Both are about a thorough-going baddie who finds himself unexpectedly facing a line he may not be willing to cross.

And both are terrific stories.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"Restoration" by Art Taylor.

"Restoration" by Art Taylor, in Crime Syndicate, 1, 2016.

My fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor scores in the first issue of this new mystery fiction magazine, although a purist might say this one is more science fiction than mystery.  Actually, it's both.

The narrator is a salesman, trying to convince a family to buy a restoration service.  You see, they take a DNA sample and occasional brain scans, and then, if heaven forbid, you should die violently, they can whip up a clone of you in under a month, and family bliss is restored.  Only violent deaths; the ethicists forbid interfering with natural exits.  But, you know, there is so much violence these days.

The wife is all for it.  The husband (and from the salesman's point of view, they have and need no other identities) is extremely dubious.  Can our hero close the sale?

Here is our salesman explaining his work:


Discretion was key.  And indirection.  Euphemisms helped.  You didn't talk about death at all, didn't even use the word, much less talk explicitly about the man who was shot in the eye while walking to lunch, or the woman who was tortured for hours before she was killed, or the children who...

No.  Let the prospective clients put it together on their own.

I thought I saw where this story was going and I was totally wrong, which pleased me greatly. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Battlefield Reunion, by Brendan DuBois

"A Battlefield Reunion," by Brendan DuBois, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2016.

The June issue of AHMM is awfully good, making it hard for me to pick winners. That's a better problem than the occasional weeks when I can't find a story I enjoy, so I won't complain.
 
This marks DuBois' sixth appearance in this space, tying him with Terence Faherty for first place.

It's 1946 in Boston.  Billy Sullivan is a private eye with a guilty conscience because, as an Army MP, he spent most of the war out of harm's way, while his brother died in the infantry.

His client, Ronny Silver, is also having trouble with dealing with his war memories.  But he recently spotted someone he knew from his time in Europe, a war correspondent who had promised to send the G.I.s photos.  Ronny thinks if he can get those pictures he won't forget his buddies who died.  Can  Sullivan help him find the reporter?

If you have read any private eye fiction it won't be a spoiler if I tell you there is more going on than what appears on the surface.  Interesting twists, interesting characters...



Sunday, May 8, 2016

Chase Your Dreams, by Michael Bracken

"Chase Your Dreams," by Michael Bracken, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2016.

A very touching story by this year's winner of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement in the mystery short story.

Picture a small town in Texas, one so set in its ways that the whites and blacks still use seperate cemeteries.  Cody is a gay man, deep in the closet.  His secret lover, Chase, on the other hand, was "leading one-man Gay Pride parades."

When Chase disappears, Cody has to decide what is more important: finding out the truth, or staying safe?

"Nobody's filed a missing person report," Junior said. "Not sure anybody around here cares one way or the other."

"I could file a report."

Junior lowered his ice cream-laden spoon and stared straight into my eyes.  "You might could," he said, "but are you sure you want to do that, Cody?  People will talk."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Anthony Award Nominees

The Anthony Award nominations have been announced.  Congrats to all!


BEST SHORT STORY
"The Little Men: A Bibliomystery" - Megan Abbott
"The Siege" EQMM, Dec 2015 - Hilary Davidson
"Feliz Navidead" Thuglit Presents: Cruel Yule - Brace Godfrey/Johnny Shaw
"Old Hands" Dark City Lights - Erin Mitchell
"Quack and Dwight" Jewish Noir - Travis Richardson
"Don’t Fear the Ripper" Protectors 2: Heroes - Holly West



BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION
Safe Inside the Violence - Christopher Irvin
Protectors 2: Heroes - Thomas Pluck, ed.
Thuglit Presents: Cruel Yule - Todd Robinson, ed.
Murder Under the Oaks - Art Taylor, ed.
Jewish Noir - Kenneth Wishnia, ed.