Sunday, September 24, 2017

Aramis and the Worm, by Michael Mallory

"Aramis and the Worm," by Michael Mallory, in ALfed Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017.

My friend Michael Mallory is making his fourth appearance in this space, his second time this year.  Being an actor he often writes about show biz and this is the case today.

Adrian Keel used to star in a lot of Grade-B movies filmed in exotic locations.  Key phrase is "used to."  He is ninety years old, lives in an apartment in London, and has all kinds of medical problems.  He wears adult diapers.

But he is called back to duty once more.  Not because of his acting talents, but because of his other job.  You see, he worked for MI-6, taking parts in terrible movies so he could go to trouble spots and report back.  Now his old boss has set him up in a movie that is filming in Cuba, so he can spot the Russian spy

"The Cold War is coming back, Adrian, and worse than ever."
"You believe Putin to be that dangerous?"
"Vladimir Putin is dead."
Adrian set down his wineglass.  "I've heard nothing of that."
:Nor has anyone else on the outside.  That bald, glowering, bare-chested man you see on the television is not Vladimir Putin., it is a brilliant double."

And then things get complicated.  A wild ride.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cabin Fever, by David Edgerley Gates

"Cabin Fever," by David Edgerley Gates, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  September/October 2017.

This is the fifth appearance in this space by David Edgerley Gates, which ties him with James Powell, and leaves him topped only by Terence Faherty.  It is his second showing here since he joined SleuthSayers where I also blog.

Somebody said the essence of story is this: throw your hero in a hole and drop rocks on him.  Let's count how many rocks fall on Montana deputy Hector Moody.

His truck breaks down in the mountains miles from anywhere.  No phone reception.  A thunderstorm approaching fast.  And oh yes, unknown to him, to prisoners have escaped from prison and they have already killed to stay free...

That's just the set-up. The situation will get much  worse.

A real nail-biter, with terrific dialog.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sure Thing, by David Rich

"Sure Thing," by David Rich, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

If a leopard had strolled up the stairs and into the big room, or a giggling leprechaun had slid down a light beam, the reactions of the patrons at Sports Haven could not have been any stronger.  

Nice writing, that.  The cause of the shock was a beautiful actress named Addie walking into the sports bar.  Not a very classy place, apparently.

"What kind of wine do you have?"

"The kind that used to be red when I opened it three weeks ago and the kind that used to be white."

The bartender delivering that bad news is Pete, and Pete has a secret or two.  He helps Addie out of a messy situation and some secrets are revealed.  The result puts both of their lives in danger.   

Very satisfactory story.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Crossing Harry, by Chris Knopf

"Crossing Harry," by Chris Knopf, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

Knopf is making his second appearance here.

I am very fond of what I call heightened language, which simply means that the words do something more than get us from the beginning of the story to the end.  It doesn't have to been high-falutin' fancy words.  Hemingway's monosyllabic language told us a lot about the world he was describing.

This story has a good plot but it is the language that puts it over the top.  Here is our nameless protagonist, a homeless man, explaining his love of biology.

I'd loved it since I was a kid.  I'd absolutely be hunched over a lab counter right now if I hadn't had that little hiccup with the voices in my head and the collusion of the Yale Board of Trustees, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the Satanic Monks of Aquitaine to deprive me of my undergraduate position.

Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

But our hero is pretty cheerful.  He likes his "house [which] is this nice little spot under the railroad tracks that mostly keeps out the rain and snow."

Of course, some conflict must occur even in this paradise, and it takes the form of a very strange man at Union Station whom no one notices except the homeless man and Harry.  Did I mention Harry?  No one can see him except our narrator, because he's from another dimension.  But Harry isn't the problem.  It's the elegantly dressed man with a canvas bag full of-- well, nothing nice.

Don't worry, though.  Our guy and Harry are on the case.  And a terrific case it is.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Playing Games, by Elaine Togneri

"Playing Games" by Elaine Togneri, in Noir at the Salad Bar, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017

When Mai was thirteen she was kidnapped from the docks in VIetman.  For the last three years she has been  a slave, working long hours in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in the United States, sleeping six in a room. She dreams of escaping, but caan that ever happen?

Noir at the Salad Bar is what the title of this book promises.  Ms. Togneri brings the noir very well.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Bubble, by Jennifer Harlow

"The Bubble," by Jennifer Harlow, in Atlanta Noir, edited by Tayari Jones, Akashic Press, 2017.

I have started reading the Akashic Press Noir City volumes for 2017, so it must be time for my annual rant: Noir does not mean gloomy.  Noir fiction must involve crime or the threat of crime.  Okay?

That's essential, but we can expand.  Ideally, noir involves this: A nobody tries to become somebody.  For this effrontery they are curb stomped by the universe.  Crime in involved.   Often the nobody is led to disaster by a love/lust interest.

Jennifer Harlow certainly understands all of that.  Her story involves not only noir but another French term: femme fatale.  That would be Maddie, a teenager in Peachtree City, who is sick to death of her privileged life among snobs, absentee parents, and the self-medicated.  She decides to commit murder, just for excitement, and power, and, let's face it, because she is evil.

But she isn't working alone.  Her reluctant partner in crime is Emma, who is not as smart, not as pretty, and desperately in  love with Maddie.  Is Maddie willing to use her sexuality to manipulate Emma into crime?  Oh, yes.

Does our tale of thrill killers meet the definition of classic noir?  To some degree that depends on whether you think Emma has interpreted events correctly. I'll let you decide.  But I'll tell you for free that it's a very good story.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Sleeping Beauty," by Gerald Elias.

"Sleeping Beauty" by Gerald Elias, in Noir at the Salad Bar, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.


A long way from noir, but an interesting piece of work.  The nameless narrator is a classical musician and, while eating at an elegant restaurant in  Manhattan, he witnesses a woman attacking a waitress for no obvious reason.  It turns out that she is a former star ballerina.

By coincidence, our narrator meets the ballerina a few years later and learns the reason for the attack.  This is a subtle little story, more about nuance and emotion than action, which seems somehow fitting for the professions involved.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Smoked, by Michael Bracken



"Smoked," by Michael Bracken, in Noir at the Salad Bar, eidte by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and SHawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.

This is Bracken's fourth appearance in this space, which puts him in the top five repeat offenders, I believe.

Beau James had built a nice life for himself, operating the Quarryville Smokehouse, and living with a girlfriend and her daughter.  When his restaurant is featured in a magazine with his picture he knows that the good times are over.  He is in the Witness Protection Program and the motorcycle gang he turned state evidence against are bound to see the picture...

The story takes place in modern Texas but it has the feeling of an old-fashioned Western, with the bad guys getting closer and the townsfolk having to decide where they stand.  A good story.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Publish or Perish, by Kevin Z. Garvey

"Publish or Perish," by Kevin Z. Garvey, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, July 2017.

Every twist ending is a surprise. Not every surprise ending is a twist.

Stories written in second person are not everyone's cup of espresso, double tall skinny.  This one works pretty well for me.

The main character ("You," obviously) has just kidnapped the editor of a mystery magazine.  You are a frustrated unpublished author.    Frustrated to the point that you are convinced that there is a conspiracy against you.  How else is it possible to explain that no magazines will accept your utterly brilliant stories?

You are determined to get to the bottom of the puzzle, even if you have to do nasty things to the editor.  What's your long-range plan, though?  Well, that's a bit of a mystery.

This story won the prize for the week because of the ending which surprised me, but (see first paragraph) was not a twist.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Monday, July 24, 2017

An End in Bath, by Janet Laurence

"An End in Bath," by Janet Laurence, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

Irene Wootten lives a peaceful, quiet life in Bath, ever since her father died.  One day an extroverted young man arrives, informs her that he is her cousin Rod from Australia, and he wants to stay for a while.  Rather disturbing, but she enjoys his company.

More disturbing is the fact that Rod feels his side of the family was cheated out of their inheritance by Irene's father.  And worse is her discovery of the assorted crimes that led to Rod's grandfather being pushed off to Australia.  Is this a man she can, or should trust?

There is a lot more to this complicated and enjoyable tale of family intrigue.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The False Inspector Lovesey, by Andrew Taylor

"The False Inspector Lovesey," by Andrew Taylor, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

This anthology is s festschrift, if I may get all librarian-y at you, a tribute by the Detection Club to Peter Lovesey on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

My favorite Lovesey novel is Waxwork, the summit of his Victorian series about Sergeant Cribb.  But my second favorite is The False Inspector Dew, about a mild-mannered man who decides to kill his wife and escape disguised as - why not? - the most famous police officer in Britain.

So as soon as I saw the title of this story I was prepared to enjoy it.  I did.

It is England sometime after the war.  1950s, I think?

Our heroine is hired help (not a servant, she says firmly) for the rather dreadful Auntie Ag, who takes in boarders.  Ag is not really her aunt because, well:

The only thing I know for certain about me is that my name is Margaret Rose, like the Queen's sister.

I know that because when they found me in the porch of  St. John's Church I was wearing a luggage label attached to a piece of string around my neck, and the label said 'My name is Margaret Rose.' 

So she has not had the easiest time.  But Margaret Rose has dreams.   To make them come true she will need to get to London.  To get to London she will need money.

Enter the new boarder, Mr. P. Lovesey, with "a droopy face like Mrs. Conway-down-the-road's basset hound."  He says he is a tax inspector, but Auntie Ag and Margaret Rose, both excellent snoopers, soon have reason to doubt that. 

Everyone in this story has their own motives and their own schemes.  But one of them also has a dream... 

A worthy tribute to a master.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What could Possibly Go Boing?, by Mat Coward

"What Could Possibly Go Boing?", by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Nutty Mat Coward is making his third appearance in this space.  This time his characters are the staff of Fake Dog Dirt Etc., a rather low-end novelty shop.  Their crisis is that one of them has killed their boss.  Murder?  Well, that's debatable.  I can't find the quote I am looking for but I believe one of the characters says, approximately, "The first few blows could be self-defense, but the next half dozen were purely recreational."

The ringleader is June who proudly says that her siblings call her "the coldest June on record."  She and her co-workers decide that they can keep the store open for a while, bringing in a few precious weeks' wages.  All they have to do is find a place to hide the body. And find the boss's hidden money. And avoid the cops.  And oh yes, the blackmailer.

It all gets rather complicated. And hilarious. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hard to Get, by Jeffery Deaver

"Hard to Get," by Jeffery Deaver, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

It's a classic concept of the espionage story: an amateur is forced to into the spy game to play against the deadly professionals.

In Deaver's variation Albert Lessing is not a complete amateur.  He is an analyst for the CIA; a desk jockey.  But when an agent dies in an accident while preparing for a vital mission, Lessing is the only person with the language and academic abilities to fill the gap.

So all of a sudden he is in a small town in Poland trying to attract the attention of the deputy to the Russian spymaster who is running a ring of seditionists in the United States.  But he has to attract the man subtly.  If he is too obvious they will know hit's a trap.  Play hard to get, he is told...

And Lessing turns out to be very good at this new trade.  Or is he?  Or isn't he?  As in a lot of the best spy stories its hard to tell for a while.  And there are plenty of plot twists, one of which made me laugh out loud.  A most enjoyable trip through eastern Europe. 


Friday, June 30, 2017

Little Big News: Macavity nominations

Mystery Readers International has just announced the Macavity Award nominations.  Congrats to all!  Their website won't met me copy the nominators but you can find them here: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2017/06/macavity-award-nominations-2017.html

Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)


The Macavity Award Nominees 2017

The Macavity Awards are nominated by members of Mystery Readers International, subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal and friends of MRI. The winners will be announced at opening ceremonies at Bouchercon in Toronto, Thursday, October 12. Congratulations to all.

If you're a member of MRI or a subscriber to MRJ or a friend of MRI, you will receive a ballot on August 1, so get reading. To check if you're eligible to vote, leave a comment below with your email.

Best Novel 
• You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)
• Dark Fissures, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
• Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley (UK, Hodder & Stoughton; US, Grand Central Publishing)
• Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (UK, John Murray; US, Soho)
• Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman (Wm. Morrow)
• A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel 
• The Widow, by Fiona Barton (UK, Bantam; US, NAL)
• Under the Harrow, by Flynn Berry (Penguin)
• Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)
• IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland Books)
• Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)
Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pain Man, by Bev Vincent

"Pain-Man," by Bev Vincent, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Last week, a long novella about drug deals, car thefts, and murder in specific rural landscape.  This week a short, funny tale of a Walter Mitty-type in Boston.  You never know where the pursuit of the Best of the Week will take you.

Raymond is a widower, pushing sixty, and waking up with new aches and complaints everyday.  One day he blundeers into a bank robbery and is both injured and humiliated by one of the robbers.  So Raymond decides to become a superhero.  Naturally. 

We then follow his training regime, his setbacks, and Pain-Man's eventual rematch with his nemesis.  Read the story.  It will take your mind off your aches and ouchies.