Monday, June 25, 2018

"Hotel Story" by Sigrid Nunez

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018, p. 46

The narrator of Sigrid Nunez's one-page story piques readers' curiosity about the guests staying in rooms above, below, and to either side of them at hotels. Though almost every paragraph recounts an experience at a different hotel, the story as a whole works to unsettling effect, culminating with the narrator seeing a murder victim wheeled past her.

Food for thought if you're on or planning a vacation, this one's good for a chill.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"A Time of Fury" by Bill Pronzini

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2018, p. 149-154

This story opens in the aftermath of estranged father narrator Jordan Cameron finding his recently returned daughter Andrea has slit her wrists in the bath. Cameron pieces together what he can about Andrea's broken marriage and drives across the country determined to kill her controlling ex-husband, whom he blames for Andrea's death.

The man isn't at all as Cameron expected, nor is his account of the marriage. On one hand, I had the same difficulty accepting the ex's account as the truth. On the other, that twist was the only way the story could surprise.

The outcome left me not quite satisfied, wondering what outcome I would've preferred, and why—all buttons Pronzini means to push.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Jack Webb's Star" by Lee Goldberg

Three Ways to Die, Amazon Createspace, 2010

During a break from traffic school near Jack Webb's Hollywood Walk of Fame star, struggling writer Kevin Dangler mentions his actress wife Carly's infatuation with Webb to a classmate, ex-con Titus Watkins. Titus suggests stealing Webb's star as a bold gesture to Carly. At first, Kevin can't believe they'd get away with it, but Titus, in the construction business, assures him they can. Hoping to save his marriage, Kevin throws in, and things only get wilder from there.

I got to know Lee Goldberg as a fellow fan of Robert B. Parker's Spenser. Lee got his start in television writing with the Spenser: For Hire episode "If You Knew Sammy", in which Spenser is roped into protecting writer Sammy Backlin (Sal Viscuso). "Jack Webb's Star", originally written for Robert J. Randisi's 2007 Hollywood and Crime anthology, similarly starts with the very ordinary and heightens events from there. You may not believe everything Kevin gets away with, but you may find following him enjoyable enough, as I did, that you willingly suspend disbelief.

Lee has had successful runs writing the Diagnosis: Murder and Monk tie-in novels as well as creating the Nicolas Fox/Kate O'Hare series with Janet Evanovich. His latest book is the bestseller True Fiction, about a thriller novelist who finds himself in the middle of a globe-trotting plot when one of his nightmare scenarios really happens.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Tigers and Flies" by Cath Staincliffe

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March-April 2018, p. 176-181

Staincliffe gives readers a brief, yet engrossing and suspenseful look at a team of prison medics in China tasked with operating on organ donors on death row.

The suspense is particularly heightened when we learn one of the medics is selling organs on the side. This doctor's situation highlights the cultural differences between East and West. In the West, the doctor would have wealth and status. In China, not so.

Monday, April 02, 2018

"The Reindeer Clue" by Edward D. Hoch

The Misadventures of Ellery Queen ed. Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, p. 73–77

Two days before Christmas, Ellery Queen and his father, Inspector Richard Queen, are visiting the Children's Zoo when they are asked to help find out who murdered gossip columnist-turned-blackmailer Casey Sturgess, whose body is found in the reindeer pen.

With one woman and two men present as suspects, Ellery identifies the killer from dabs of Sturgess's blood left on a placard containing lines from Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas".

Carla Coupe of publisher Wildside Press sent me a review copy of this March 2018 anthology of Queen pastiches and parodies. First published in The National Inquirer in 1975 with Ellery Queen's byline, "The Reindeer Clue" was for years thought to be the last story written by the original authors, a feat I'm not surprised master Ed Hoch pulled off.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"The Public Hero" by Robert S. Levinson

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018, p. 168-177

Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International spread the word that Los Angeles reporter, public relations executive, producer, and crime fiction writer Robert S. Levinson died March 13 from pneumonia.

Having enjoyed Bob's Neil Gulliver & Stevie Marriner novels, I got to know him as a fellow member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, where his stories received three Derringer Award nominations and one win.

His most recent EQMM story follows 1979 Hollywood P.I. Rufus Reed, his quick shooting having foiled a bank robbery. Notoriety gets him hired as security for Sky Diver and the Sky Dwellers. He's with the band when an armed intruder gets to them, charging plagiarism. Though that incident lands Rufus in the hospital, he's approached by a man who offers to make him the subject of a movie.

Like much of Bob's fiction, "The Public Hero" is steeped in Hollywood lore. Its outcome particularly shows that even the savviest person can be taken with such glamorous promise.

Monday, March 12, 2018

"The Lighthouse and the Lamp" by William Dylan Powell

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018, p. 31–42

William Dylan Powell
Unlicensed Corpus Christi, Texas P.I. Billy is intrigued when his elderly friend Clarabelle Mayhew claims to have a true-to-legend, wish-granting magic lamp. Despite Clarabelle's certainty her wishes came true by magic—including $1 million cash on her doorstep—Billy remains skeptical. He talks Clarabelle into letting him observe covertly when she makes her next wish.

Though, as Billy suspects, there's no magic involved, "The Lighthouse and the Lamp" stands out to me because there's no crime, either, but quite a mystery.