Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Death of a Feminist" by Sarah Weinman

From Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2016

This short story showed up in my current Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and I admit I read it first because I've met Sarah at Bouchercons, other conventions, book launches, etc. Not to mention her huge internet presence. I suspect she's reviewed one of my books, and I don't doubt "mildly entertaining" was in there somewhere (possibly after "could have been..."). But enough about me...

The story features a main character who is very much connected to all things internet. And that character's mother. A mother who, it appears, is in a wheelchair and never leaves the building. If there's any legwork to do, the narrator does it. So, echoes of Nero Wolfe, no?

In this case, a famous feminist is being cyber-stalked. Vicious and anonymous attacks via the internet, texts, etc. This is a part I would have liked to hear more of - it seems to me that the cyber-bully is a new and improved bully: you don't have to be on the same continent to drive someone insane with threats, slanders, etc. The schoolyard bully at least risks getting punched in the nose (though their calculations about who to pick on help them avoid this outcome), and they risked being ostracized if the bullying backfired in any way.

Still, the relationship between the narrator and her boss, Ms. Gallant, is the main draw here. That and, when you get to the end, (which I don't intend to spoil) the, possibly, psychopathic reasons for the "death of a feminist". And how much her death was motivated (if that's the right word - don't want to blame the victim at all) by her attempt to live her life and to change and grow as a person.

Anyway, go read it, then we'll talk... Then I'm sure Ms. Weinman will have another story to talk about featuring the lead characters - they deserve a series, I think...

Monday, October 26, 2015

NBS Special Report: Flash and Bang: A Short Mystery Fiction Society Anthology

Cover ©2015 Untreed Reads Publishing
Cover design by Ginny Glass
The Short Mystery Fiction Society formed in 1996 to promote mystery & crime short fiction. Graham, Bill, Steven, and I are members.

On October 8, Untreed Reads published the Society's first member anthology, Flash and Bang, in paperback and ebook.

SMFS member and Untreed Reads editor-in-chief Jay Hartman called for unpublished mystery, suspense, or thriller stories containing either a "flash" or a "bang".

Limiting submissions to one flash (300–1,000 words) and one short (1,500–3,000 words) per member, Jay received more than 300.

His selection of 19 stories ranges from historical to contemporary, cozy to hardboiled, amateur and animal sleuth to police and private detective:

  • "The Conflagration at the Nameless Cotton Gin" by Bobbi A. Chukran
  • "The Perfect Crime" by Herschel Cozine
  • "Don't Let the Cop into the House" by O'Neil De Noux
  • "Fireworks" by P.A. De Voe
  • "Rosie's Choice" by John M. Floyd
  • "The Wrong Girl" by Barb Goffman
  • "Murder on Elm Street" by Su Kopil
  • "Silent Measures" by B.V. Lawson
  • "Don't Be Cruel" by JoAnne Lucas
  • "A Simple Job" by Andrew MacRae
  • "Arthur" by Sandra Murphy
  • "Thor's Breath" by Suzanne Berube Rorhus
  • "Beautiful Killer" by Judy Penz Sheluk
  • "A Day Like No Other" by Walter A.P. Soethoudt (translated by Willem Verhulst)
  • "The Raymond Chandler Con" by Earl Staggs
  • "The Bag Lady" by Laurie Stevens
  • "Fractured Memories" by Julie Tollefson
  • "The Fruit of Thy Loins" by Albert Tucher
  • "Sierra Noir" by Tim Wohlforth

Through October 31, Flash and Bang is part of Untreed Reads 30% Off sale on mystery and horror titles.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

"The Napoli Express", by Randall Garrett

The Napoli Express makes the run from Paris to Naples only twice a week. In the first-class cabin there are eight cabins, with room for sixteen passengers total, though on this run one of the cabins has only a single occupant. Two of the passengers on board for this trip are Lord Darcy, chief criminal investigator for the Duke of Normandy, and his assistant, master sorcerer Sean O Lochlainn, both with suitable aliases.

As the train makes its way down through Lyon to Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, and then along the coast to the duchies of Italy. Very late during the second night of the journey, Sean and Darcy hear the other occupants trooping along the corridor, one at a time, to the compartment containing only a single traveler, a man named John Peabody.

In the morning, Peabody is found dead, bludgeoned to death. A dozen blows to the head; a dozen visitors in the night. Coincidence?

Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories are set in an alternate history where English King Richard II did not die of a crossbow wound, but lived to found a Plantagenet dynasty that survived to modern times, and in which magic has been codified and is used in place of science in our own. Despite this, they are fair-play detective stories in which a rational solution can always be found - no magic required.

Garrett was also fond of seeking inspiration from the classics of the mystery genre. The most famous instance was his novel Too Many Magicians, in which a main character resembled Nero Wolfe and has a smart-aleck assistant named Bontriomphe ("good win"). The title of that one is quite similar those of Rex Stout's novels Too Many Cooks, Too Many Women, and Too Many Men.

In this case, of course, he's taking on Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. His solution is ingenious, and he even slips in some subtle criticism of the original.

You really can't go wrong with the Lord Darcy tales, which are available in a collection simply called Lord Darcy, which is out of print but easily found.

Friday, July 31, 2015

"Shambleau" by C.L. Moore

Available in Northwest of Earth, Paizo Publishing, 2007

I became interested in C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories upon learning Smith was an inspiration for Star Wars' Han Solo. The first and most famous Smith story, "Shambleau", was also Moore's first professional sale (Weird Tales, November 1933). It establishes Smith as a tough-minded man visiting a colony on Mars for shady business the details of which are left cryptic. Spotting a young woman being chased by a mob, Smith manages to save her and avoid bloodshed simply by saying she is his, a twist that strikes even Smith as odd.

Letting the woman stay with him, Smith realizes she is not quite human, but cannot say definitively what she is. After a day out on business, Smith returns to his lodgings and acts on his attraction to his guest and her palpable willingness to have him. Before things go too far, Smith finds himself suddenly revolted. This, however, is not enough to save him a perilous second encounter with her.

I found Moore's style evocative yet easily readable, particularly in its depiction of Smith's conflicting attraction and horror at what he discovers the woman to be.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Heat Death" by Bill Cameron

On Twitter, Bill Cameron offered copies of the July/August 2015 AHMM, featuring this Skin Kadash story, and I was lucky enough to get one. Kadash is a cop in Cameron's loose series of novels, but "Heat Death" serves to introduce him to new readers while on a road trip to Canada with his only friend, Tommy, in the summer of 1971.

Expecting to be drafted into the U.S. Army, Tommy's motivation for the trip is to rendezvous with a woman he's fallen for, named Instance. Skin goes along to keep Tommy out of trouble, and only narrowly does so. As he sketches a younger Kadash, Cameron evokes the freedom of a road trip and the tension of the times equally well.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"A Visit to the One-Eyed Man" by Bill Crider

From NoirCon and Out of the Gutter Present Noir Riot, Volume 1 (September 2014)

Fellow NBS reviewer Bill Crider and I have work published in the inaugural issue of Noir Riot, the print journal of Philadelphia's biennial noir convention, NoirCon.

Bill's story opens with the narrator surprised by his homicidal brother, Don, at a cafe. Don and two thugs force him out of the cafe into a car for the proverbial drive into the country where they plan to kill him. Don explains that the narrator has been seen in the company of a crime boss's wife, and said boss, The One-Eyed Man, can't abide that.

Bill peppers the drive with bits of the brothers' history. For instance, this isn't the first attempt Don has made on the narrator's life. That was a a car accident that resulted in the insertion of a metal plate in the narrator's skull and talk of brain damage that the narrator dismisses, but that led me to be careful believing his side of the story.

Buckle up for a twisty ride.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Very Old Man by Jenny Milchman

Creepy. Let's start with that.

"The man looked older than God or the Devil."

Okay so you're in a supermarket and this old man shambles over to your cart where your 9 month old baby is holding herself steady in the seat, but just barely. He gives the girl a dirty old quarter, gives her leg a shake, mumbles a few words. Creeped out? Or do you think the whole episode is harmless? Assume creeped out since your daughter doesn't look/act quite the same afterwards. What next? Are there steps to take to ward off bad old man juju?

I won't tell you what the mother, Denise, ultimately does. That would break the #1 rule of reviewing. But I can say the story is a very nice bit of character development hinging on Denise's reaction to that initial encounter in the supermarket.

This story is in the latest issue (July 2014) of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and if you like it, you might want to look up her latest novel: RUIN FALLS from Ballantine Books. Or visit the author at her website.