Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Chainsaw Nativity" by S.W. Hubbard

From: Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine, January/February 2008.

I couldn't resist the title. Hubbard's series protagonist Frank Bennett, police chief of the upstate New York town of Trout Run, investigates when the statue of Joseph is stolen from a Presbyterian church's Nativity scene.

Not especially violent, the story's title alludes to the fact that the scene is carved entirely with a chainsaw. The story itself has some funny moments as well as some poignant ones as it explores Joseph's often overlooked role in faith history. Bennett finds the statue playing a similar role for the story's culprit.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"Sanity Clause" by Steve Brewer

From: The Last Noel. Worldwide, 2004

With his reporter wife wanting a new laptop for Christmas, Santa-phobic New Mexico P.I. Bubba Mabry takes a $3000/week job watching Santa's Workshop at a local mall, making sure none of the Santas brings bad publicity down on the mall as in the past. The task proves impossible when Daniel Gooch, a former famous inventor-cum-the mall's best Santa, is found dead minutes before starting his shift.

Bubba hadn't seen anyone enter the locker room from the front, and the security chief who hired Bubba says no one entered from the back. Fired by the mall, Bubba is hired by the head of Joyous Noises, a Christmas charity that stands to inherit Gooch's patents.

Opposing Joyous Noises are Gooch's former business partner and his sister, who want to have Gooch declared mentally incompetent in light of his switch from CEO to Santa.

Bubba has a take on Santa and Christmas I can almost guarantee you haven't heard before. From an anthology of longer Christmas stories, the multi-chapter format allows for deeper character development.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Road to the Airport" by Donna Thorland

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March 2008.

Thorland's first story for AHMM is the suspenseful, scary tale of a woman late for a flight and her domineering husband Frank, to whose will the world seems to bend. He gets her to the airport by a seemingly impossible shortcut, just in time to hear about the crash of the plane she would have boarded.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Interrogation B" by Charlie Huston

From: A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir. Ed. Megan Abbott. Busted Flush Press, 2007.

One of a handful of male-authored stories in this female-themed anthology, "Interrogation B" follows Borden, a former Army MP-turned-police detective, as she questions a foul-mouthed, uncooperative suspect who gives her name as "Betty Crocker" on the standard interrogation form. After Betty spits on a male cop, sending him off in a huff, Borden bonds with her over frustration with others, getting her to confess to two killings.

In the final scene, a precinct poker game, we see a hint of how much Borden keeps close to the vest.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Just Another Job" by Brett Battles

Recently made available on Authorlink free-of-charge, this story from the author of The Cleaner is a prequel to the book's events, showing professional "cleaner" Jonathan Quinn and his mentor Durrie in the aftermath of a deal for software secrets.

As the story opens, the buyer has already been killed by an operations team. Quinn and Durrie's job is to make the scene look as innocent as possible, which includes dousing the blood with paint. Durrie is prepared to kill the seller, too, but Quinn rationalizes that only the buyer had put up a fight, only he deserved to die. With this relative morality, Quinn tries to separate working in the aftermath of violence from the act of violence. This shred of decency distinguishes him from others in the business, making readers care about him.

If you've read The Cleaner as I have, this story is a treat. If you haven't, it's a good introduction to Quinn's world.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Killing in Midtown by G. Miki Hayden

My admiration for G. Miki Hayden's stories is well known and well founded. There is a lot to do in a short story, and even more that needs to be done if the short story is a mystery. Hayden consistently excels. "A Killing in Midtown" is in the current AHMM and it features Miriam Obadah, an immigrant from Ghana living with her husband and her co-wife, the much younger, Nana. In this series, Miriam solves various crimes while trying to make a living selling her handicrafts in Harlem and keeping an eye on Nana much as a mother might.

In this particular story, Nana has gotten a job in a Midtown hotel, and it isn't long before she reports that one of the other staff members died a suspicious death on the premises. She asks Miriam to go to work for the hotel to see if she can ferret out the killer - after all, it would be a shame for the woman to have died unnoticed. Miriam takes the case, and it isn't long before she uncovers more than one type of injustice happening at the hotel.

One of the treats of the series is Miriam's keen eyed appreciation of the people and happenings around her. She may have been taken out of Ghana (in fact, since her husband handles all the paperwork, she isn't sure she's in the U.S. legally), but Ghana has not been taken out of her. New Yorkers are a strange breed when seen through her eyes, and the sympathy she evokes is worth the price of admission, which, since it's a double-issue, is $5.99.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Johnny Seven" by David Bowker

From: Expletive Deleted. Ed. Jen Jordan. Bleak House Books, 2007.

In this story from a just-released profanity-based anthology, New Jersey eighth-grader Garrett Newton tells of the arrival of a new kid, Johnny Severn, who quickly lands in trouble when he lies about his family being killed in a library bombing. Johnny has some insane-sounding notions about children's rights against adults, but Garrett and his friend KC soon witness Johnny being beaten by his father, and go out of their way to befriend him.

I could summarize the plot further, but the story's strong point is its depiction of the adolescent mindset. Though some of the Americanisms are off, the characters are engaging enough I was drawn into their world.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Everybody Loves Somebody" by Sandra Scoppettone

From: A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir. Ed. Megan Abbott. Busted Flush Press, 2007.

Bored teenager Deb runs away from home and gets mixed up with a succession of wrong men—manipulative, abusive, paranoid—fleeing all of them afraid for her life.

One day while attached to a drug-dealing diner owner named Randy, Deb meets Bobby Mazard, hired by Randy as a short-order cook. An affair begins between Deb and Bobby, and it's the best sex Deb has ever had. This, she realizes, is how it's supposed to be. As the story climaxes, Deb and Bobby plan to steal Randy's closely guarded money and start a new life together.

Until the final paragraphs I was asking, "How will Bobby be different from all the other men Deb has known?"

Even if you've guessed the answer, the story is worth reading for its execution.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

NBS Special Report: Spinetingler Awards

Spinetingler Magazine announced its inaugural award nominees, including the following for Best Short Story On The Web:

The Leap by Charles Ardai - Hardluck Stories
Breaking in the New Guy by Stephen Blackmoore - Demolition
Amphetamine Logic by Nathan Cain - Thuglit
The Switch by Lyman Feero - Thuglit
Seven Days of Rain by Chris F. Holm - Demolition
Shared Losses by Gerri Leen - Shred of Evidence
The Living Dead by Amra Pajalic - Spinetingler
Convivum by Kelli Stanley - Hardluck Stories

Good luck to all.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Red Wind", by Raymond Chandler

From: The Black Lizard Big Book of the Pulps, ed. Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2007.

Philip Marlowe was sitting in a bar across the street from his apartment building, having a beer and listening to the hot Santa Ana wind beating against the windows, when a small snappily-dressed man comes in. "Seen a lady in here, buddy?" asks the man. "Tall, pretty, in a print bolero jacket over a blue crepe silk dress?"

At which point the drunk at the end of the bar rouses himself and plugs the little guy twice through the heart. "So long ,Waldo," he says. Then he's gone.

It's hours before the cops are done with Marlowe. Finally they cut him loose and he heads for home. And when the apartment house elevator reaches his floor, the doors slide open to reveal a beautiful woman in a print bolero jacket over a blue crepe silk dress.

In my opinion, "Red Wind" is the finest of Chandler's short stories, the one most similar to the style he used in his novels. Published only a year before The Big Sleep came out, it has the romanticism, the languid style, the same stock characters, and the same yearning for some sort of honest human contact.

I first read this story when I was only 19, and at the time I didn't understand the ending. Only when I reread it a couple of years later did I fully grasp why Marlowe did what he did. I have to guess that "Red Wind" was influenced by Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness. At the end of that book, the narrator (also named Marlowe) has a choice to make, and like Chandler's Marlowe, he chooses humanity over the truth.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Postcards from Another Country" by Zoë Sharp

Published in the U.S. paperback edition of Sharp's novel, First Drop (August 2007), this story has Charlie Fox bodyguarding the spoiled rich Dempsey family a week after an attempt on Mr. Dempsey's life. One of Charlie's protection team alerts her when wild child Amanda Dempsey is caught trying to sneak out of the house.

This could have been just a brisk tale of the haves and have-nots except that Amanda's break for freedom masks a second attempt on her father's life.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"Wilson's Man" by Doug Levin

From EQMM, January 2008.

Ben is a free-lance graphic designer, hanging out at the monthly meeting of the Ad Federation in hopes of landing some work, when the boorish Sidney Alstead attaches himself to him. Later Sidney rescues Ben from a potentially dangerous situation and assumes that he and Ben are pals.

Ben hates Sidney, and he hates it even more that Sidney seems to be getting jobs while Ben is going nowhere. Worse, Sidney gets jobs with someone to whom Ben introduced him.

You might know where this story is going, but I didn't. It's a very well-told tale of two men, neither of whom is either admirable or likable. Well, you do have to admire how well Ben can adjust to certain situations. A lot of people are going to read this issue of EQMM because of the return of Black Mask, but if you're one of those, don't miss this little gem.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"The Missing Actor", by Fredric Brown

From: Before She Kills: Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 2. Dennis MacMillan, 1984.

Floyd Nielson's son is missing. Neilson is a Wisconsin farmer who has decided to sell is place and buy a smaller farm somewhere warm, Florida or California. Before he does, he's come down to Chicago to find out what happened to his son, Albee.

Albee was a clerk in a bookstore, lived in a "padded pad" (no furniture, just cushions and futons), dated a black girl (daring for 1963), and was variously described as a "hipster" or "beatnik". He also liked to gamble a bit, and ended up $800 in the hole to the local bookie. Nielson gave him the money, but instead of paying his debts he dropped out of site. His father think's he's used it as a stake to get out of town, but he'd really like to know for sure.

Fortunately private detectives Ed Hunter and his uncle Ambrose are there to help. Ed, being close to the young man's age and therefore able to move easily among his acquaintances, does most of the legwork. In short order he finds a few things that don't add up.

"The Missing Actor" is sort of a little brother to the Ed and Am Hunter story "Before She Kills", which has been widely anthologized, and both are unusual for Fredric Brown: they play it straight, no carnivals or madhouses, no sense of dread or whimsy. The result, unfortunately, is a little bland, notable mainly for Ed's narrative voice. Not a bad story at all, but not one that stands out compared to his better work.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"On Slay Down", by Michael Gilbert

From: Game Without Rules. Harper & Row, 1967.

"There's a woman. She has to be killed."

Anyone slightly familiar with tallish Mr. Behrens and plumplish Mr. Calder, two retired country gentlemen, would be shocked to hear them discussing the murder of a foreign spy. Their closest associates, however, would know that they had been agents for British intelligence since before the Second World War - more than twenty years.

This particular job falls to Calder. The woman, a typist at the Air Ministry, has acquired some very sensitive documents and has requested an immediate meeting to pass them along. Fortunately this message was intercepted, and Mr. Calder will be keeping the appointment.

The woman appears right on time at a small barn in the remote countryside. Calder is already there, on a small rise above her, armed with a small caliber rifle. He's preparing to complete the assignment when a complication arises - a young Army officer in an adjacent field, out hunting for rabbits. So Calder makes a quick change of plan.

Michael Gilbert's stories about Mr. Behrens and Mr. Calder fall squarely in the old tradition of British spy stories, very reminiscent of the espionage thrillers of Geoffrey Household. There's a certain tidyness to the plots that also shows the influence of Golden Age mystery storytelling. The style is somewhat dated, but these stories are a lot of fun and always come to a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Rude Awakening" by Lawrence Block

From: Bronx Noir ed. S.J. Rozan. Akashic Books, 2007.

A young woman wakes up after a night of binge drinking with no idea where she is or how she got there. Slowly her senses, the last of which is sight, help her deduce she is in the Bronx. Finally the man beside her stirs awake, and she goes through the awkward, ominous process of getting to know him again.

As changeable as Block's voice is, it's distinctly New York, and his facility with prose made me want to keep reading about the characters and forget this was a noir story. The twist here might be predictable if not well covered in the uncertainty of a morning after.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Amphetamine Logic" by Nathan Cain

From: Thuglit 17. July 2007.

The protagonist of this story manufactures and sells speed. Feeling too entrenched, he looks to move his operation and start working for himself again. To make this happen, he sets up two of his clients, each for the other's murder, but there's one person in the mix he doesn't suspect.

Journalist-turned-crime fiction-blogger Cain spins a bleak tale wherein the taint of drugs touches everyone. Even so, his prose and pacing kept me reading until the satisfyingly nasty end.

In August 2007, Cain announced he had sold film rights to "Amphetamine Logic".

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"The Emerson, 1950" by Scott Phillips

From: Murdaland,Issue 2.

Some might find life in small-town Kansas in 1950 dull,but not the narrator of this story. He's a newspaper photographer on the local crime beat, so it's his job to run around town taking pictures of killers and their victims.

He enjoys that job a lot more than his unofficial one: helping out his great aunt Ivy and her husband Pell. When Ivy has to leave town for a funeral, the job of taking care of the elderly, cranky, alchoholic Pell falls to him. And speaking of falls, that's about the first thing Pell does when he's on his own, landing him in the local Veteran's hospital.

Once the nurses get tired of Pell and give him the boot, and Ivy gets home, reuniting the happy family, Ivy discovers that her candlesticks - jealously guarded, and the only thing she owns of any value - have disappeared. At the top of her shrill voice she lets her great nephew and the rest of the block know that she think's it's those rotten neighbors of hers that took it. And things go downhill from there.

It's tough to explain the appeal of this fine story. Like much of Phillips' work, especially his first novel The Ice Harvest, the plot just seems to amble along from scene to scene, not building up much momentum, but by the end you can't stop reading. The Kansas town and its inhabitants are sketched in quickly but vividly, and each vignette has enough packed into it for its own story.

The narrator, like the narrator of Phillips' earlier story "Sockdolager", seems like a nice guy, and has some wit and keen senses of humor and irony, but in some ways he's scarier than the noirest villain. Because when it gets right down to it, he doesn't care what happens.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Thief" by Christina Chiu

From: Troublemaker and Other Saints by Christina Chiu. Berkley, 2001.

Pulling one last job to buy his girlfriend Laurel an engagement ring, professional thief Seymour breaks into the home of wealthy Hong Kong businessman Philip Sheng. Stirring Sheng and his wife from sleep, he forces Sheng to open his safe and retrieve, among other things, a necklace reportedly worth $2 million. In the course of the job, the scent of Sheng's wife gets to Seymour, staying with him him days afterward.

Meeting his fence, Seymour notices one of the pieces from the safe, a plastic ring resembling one he gave his mother before she disappeared. His fence inspects the necklace and offers $100,000, with another $100,000 to follow on final authentication.

The thought that Sheng's wife could be his mother haunts Seymour until, on the cusp of a new life with Laurel, he learns the necklace was the highest quality fake jade. Worse, Sheng's wife has given the police an excellent description of Seymour. "Got you better than if she'd been your own mother," his fence says,

A sharply detailed, deftly twisted Oedipal tale hitting all the right notes.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Community Property -- Pearce Hansen

"Community Property" is one of the stories from Thuglit #21, and it's by Pearce Hansen, author of Street Raised, a book I liked. The protagonist is a man named Gordon, whose wife is divorcing him and who's just found out that he has maybe four months to live, thanks to a cancer growing in his abdomen.

So what would you do in those circumstances? Gordon gets in his soon-to-be-ex-wife's Mercedes, and then . . . . And then he does what he does. Put yourself in your position and ask yourself if you'd do the same.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"The Bridal Bed" by John Connolly

From: Nocturnes by John Connolly. Atria Books, 2006.

For Halloween, a story from Connolly's dark, supernatural-tinged collection. Engaged for a year, a man's fiancee is murdered two weeks before their wedding. Enthralled with her in life, the man is haunted after her death—seeing her ghostly form, hearing her call to him. On what would have been their wedding night, their first night together, he decides to exhume her body.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"No One" by Marcus Sakey

From: Chicago Blues ed. Libby Fischer Hellman. Bleak House Books, 2007.

Reprinted from Thirteen is this confessional from the author of The Blade Itself. The narrator is a shy, depressed college student who at first appears to be emoting to a nonexistent e-mail address about the woman who got away. His voice shifts subtly from regret to anger until readers are hanging, wondering just what the narrator has done and how hard its revelation will hit.

"My Father's Gun" by Dave White

From: Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir. Ed. Duane Swierczynski. Busted Flush Press, 2006.

On the fiftieth anniversary of his sister's death, Leonard Baker, the man who would be Jackson Donne's father-in-law, goes missing along with a gun. Leonard's wife Sarah asks Donne to search for him. Finding Leonard at the cemetery where his sister is buried, Donne interrupts his attempt to commit suicide.

This story's turning point is not that Jackson saves Leonard's life, but that Leonard helps Jackson deal with a completely unexpected tragedy. "My Father's Gun" doesn't stand alone as well as other stories in Damn Near Dead, but it's fine reading for fans of White's series P.I.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Breakfast Anytime", by Bryon Quertermous

From: SHOTS Magazine, Summer 2005

"There are very few clean places in Detroit, but way down Gratiot Avenue, near Detroit City Airport, is a whole different level of dirty."

And that's where Detective Atkins and Detective Birney from Internal Affairs wait for their informant in a dingy diner. When the snitch shows up they barely have time to exchange pleasantries before a masked man pumps two shots into his back.

Atkins gives chase but could only watch helplessly as the shooter jumps into a car that speeds off down the street. Directly into the path of a tractor-trailer, which crumples it like a used beer can.

And that's where it gets weird.

A brief review can't do it justice, but this story rocks. Quertermous uses a nonlinear narrative structure to jump around in time, showing us both what led up to the murder as well as Atkins and Birney trying to piece together what happened. Most stories with flashbacks end up as dismal failures, but not this one - the time frame may move around but the story plunges ahead.

And that's what I liked best about "Breakfast Anytime" - it races along with gleeful abandon, the pedal flat on the floor. It's obvious that Bryon had a lot of fun writing it, and I expect you'll have fun reading it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Good and Dead" by Evan Hunter

From: Learning to Kill by Ed McBain. Harcourt, 2006.

To commemorate Hunter's birthday (October 15), a review of one of his Matt Cordell stories originally published in Manhunt in July 1953.

In "Good and Dead," alcoholic former P.I. Cordell looks into the death of his drinking buddy Joey, crossing culture barriers into New York's Chinatown.

Later deciding "cops were the only people who had any right to be sticking their noses in murder investigations," Hunter gave up writing private eyes, but "Good and Dead" has what readers came to expect from the author: palpable atmosphere, crackling dialog, and the right tinge of noir.

Monday, October 15, 2007

NBS Special Report: One Year Later

Nasty. Brutish. Short. debuted in the Blogosphere with Graham Powell's review of "Dr. Ralph" by James R. Winter. One year later, Graham, Bill, John, Steven, and I have reviewed more than 120 stories from Web zines, print zines, collections, and anthologies.

Thanks to my fellow reviewers, and thank you, our readers and visitors. We hope we've done our part to showcase the short story in general and the crime story in particular.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"The Maltese Cat" by Sara Paretsky

From: Most Wanted ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2002.

A very reticent client hires V.I. Warshawski to convince her teenage sister to return home. After some digging, V.I. discovers the woman may be more interested in the return of her rare cat than of her sister.

Paretsky doesn't supply many details to start, but gives each character depth and emotional investment as the story proceeds. This is equally true for V.I. Once again, we see believable sympathy beneath her hardboiled exterior.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gold Mountain by Terrence Cheng

This is the story (Bronx Noir, edited by SJ Rozan for Akashic Books)of a chinese food delivery man. No ordinary delivery man to be sure. He's a recent immigrant to New York and works near Lehman College in the Bronx - a college I myself went to as a student for the first couple of years in my undergraduate education.

He suffers all the little and large indignities that a newcomer to New York faces and others that most newcomers don't face. His immigration wasn't quite legal and even within the chinese community it seems that his dialect sets him apart as a minority. In fact, he was a survivor of one of the more in/famous NYC moments - the "Golden Venture", a ship that ran aground with 286 illegal immigrants, ten of whom died. The delivery man escaped, even made off with something valuable, but what will he need to do to keep it and will he ever be able to catch hold of the unedited version of the American Dream?

The story grows to a crescendo and the ending will make you do a double take as you reexamine the events that led up to it and the unassuming delivery man himself. Enjoy.

Oh, and by the way, I have an extra copy of the book if anyone's interested - free, postage paid, but let me know in the comments. I'll choose a winner if there's more than one request when I get back home on Monday.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Marley's Woman" by John C. Boland

From: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2007.

Retired CIA field agent Charles Marley is asked to shadow a current Agency analyst suspected of selling intelligence to the highest bidder. Author Boland effectively takes on the persona of a former Cold Warrior, providing an understated, realistic tale of espionage with a twist of blackmail. Marley ends up intercepting a plot no one needs to know about, and he's just the man to cover it up.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"White Trash" by Jerome Charyn

From: Bronx Noir ed. SJ Rozan. Akashic Books, 2007.

Escaping from a women's prison in Georgia, Prudence Miller, robber and murderer across several states, makes her way to the Bronx on the advice of her cellmate. Connecting with a charismatic, yet oddly chaste man named Omar Kaplan, Pru plans to get lost in a sea of ethnicity.

Charyn's long descriptive passages capture the diversity of the Bronx while tracking Pru's pragmatic, suspicious nature. A fine, fast, dark story.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

NBS Awards Report

As announced at Bouchercon 2007 from Anchorage, Alaska:

"The Right Call" by Brendan DuBois won the Barry Award, jointly presented by Mystery News and Deadly Pleasures.

"Till Death Do Us Part" by Tim Maleeny won the Macavity Award, as chosen by members of Mystery Readers International.

"The Heart Has Reasons" by O'Neil De Noux won the Shamus Award, presented by the Private Eye Writers of America.

“My Father’s Secret” by Simon Wood won the Anthony Award, as voted on by attendees of this year's Bouchercon.

Full coverage from The Rap Sheet.

Friday, September 28, 2007

"October", by Scott Wolven

From: Demolition, Fall 2007.

John Thorn and his partner Greg are driving south through Idaho, on the track of a missing girl with only her journal for a guide. As they drive, John thinks back to another time when he searched for clues in the journal of a young woman, hoping to find out why she'd disappeared.

He was much younger then, living in upstate New York, and his uncle Jim had been an officer with the Department of Environmental Protection, responsible for keeping the peace in East Catskill Park. That fall a young woman named Jennifer Flint disappeared. The state cops had given up, and since she'd been known to stay at her parent's vacation home in the park, they turned all their evidence over to Jim.

He and John used dogs, flyers, and shoe leather, but after a couple of months with no leads they moved on.

A month later, Patricia Fineman disappeared. She left a diary, too. And Jim and John went looking for her.

In a just world, Scott Wolven would be rich and famous. He tells stories that cover a lot of traditional noir ground, but he avoids the posturing that so many writers in the feel seem to think makes their stuff deep. Instead, his writing is full of genuine feelings of despair and regret. His stories don't always have a neat arc; they tend to be messy, like real life. And they're not always about what you think they're about. Read "October" and consider the last few lines, and ask yourself whose story this is.

As an aspiring writer, Wolven always makes me feel like a piker. I read one of his stories and think to myself, "No need to write about that, then," because he's already covered it. At the same time it's hard not to be inspired by the possibilities he shows you. If you like great writing, I urge you to read his collection Controlled Burn. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Freddie Prinze is My Guardian Angel" by Liz Martínez

From: Manhattan Noir ed. Lawrence Block. Akashic Books, 2006.

Freddie Prinze first appears to the narrator while she's praying the Rosary on the fourth anniversary of his death. "You're supposed to join the NYPD," he says.

Already infatuated with Prinze, the narrator follows his cryptic, counterintuitive advice in smaller things, persisting even when it turns out badly for her. Prinze appears unpredictably throughout her teens and early twenties, and finally she agrees to apply to the NYPD.

A morbidly funny story highlighted by the narrator's engaging voice and blind faith in Prinze.

Friday, September 21, 2007

"The Erstwhile Groom" by Laura Benedict

This was a nice, creepy little story in the September double issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Kurt and his wife Livia share a house and a quiet life. Their daughter is thinking of marriage, but is the young man in her life any good for her?

Well, Kurt is pretty sure the young man isn't a good match. Maybe it has something to do with his abusive behavior. But what is a father to do if his daughter defends a bum? Of course, there is a little hidden room in the basement of the house that isn't getting too much use and which no one but him knows about. Could be handy, no?

But if you think you know how this story is going to go, then you're just wrong...Unless, of course, you've read it already, in which case you will not have forgotten it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Public Immunity by Eve Fisher

The problem with small town policing is that everyone knows you and your business and sometimes that business takes you into the houses of dead people you knew...knew and had reason to want dead. So it is when Grant (not sure we're given a full name) goes to the home of Neil Inveig. Now, Neil had a lot of people who might want him dead. He had people from town on video tape doing naughty things...with others. And hadn't Neil taken Grant's girlfriend away? And wasn't Grant's not so quick witted brother Barry a little too friendly with Neil?

Grant, of course, knows he did nothing wrong. In fact, he knows he did nothing at all to cause Neil's untimely demise, but who in the small town would believe that? Apparently not many, and this gnaws at Grant. Still, how some of his supporters decide to make sure there is never official suspicion will surprise you. The steady voice that tells the story will draw you in and hold onto you till the final twist.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Needle" by Loren D. Estleman

From: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2007.

For Estleman's 55th birthday, a review of his latest Amos Walker story. Walker's septuagenarian neighbor Doto, a Polish Holocaust survivor with whom Walker has only shared the occasional courtesy, stops by for coffee, invites Walker back to his house, and shows him a dead body.

It's clear that Doto fired his shotgun at the man, but he claims not to remember doing it, only recognizing the man as an intruder, noticing a Swastika tattoo on his cheek.

Walker calls the police, and Doto's story seems to hold up. At trial, Walker testifies to what he witnessed, and the jury determines Doto was within his rights to defend himself in his own home.

Once again sharing coffee, however, Walker discovers something about Doto's past that turns the story nicely on its head.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"The Guardians" by Jim Fusilli

From: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2007.

Fusilli fleshes out Luther Addison, the straight-arrow cop from his Terry Orr novels, with a story set in 1982. Addison finds himself under IA investigation for his suspected role in the shooting of low-level mobster. To clear his name, Luther must conduct an off-the-books investigation with the help of two of his stepfather's retired cop friends.

Featuring Fusilli's trademark vivid New York, the racial tension of the time is equally palpable in "The Guardians".

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"Tennis, Anyone?" by Kinky Friedman

From: Murder is My Racquet, ed. Otto Penzler. Mysterious Press, 2005.

A review of a tennis-themed story seems appropriate for Jimmy Connors's 55th birthday (which falls in the middle of the U.S. Open).

The engaging narrator of this story begins by saying he hasn't played tennis in years, but how he played the game revealed a lot about his character. A chess prodigy, he brought craft and deception to his tennis game, beating more athletic opponents with trickery.

He goes on to describe his first wife and how she pushed him to be a doctor. He describes falling out of love with his wife and being attracted to a nurse. Finally he describes his wife's "tragic" death from an incurable disease. All the while, readers come to realize how crafty, deceptive, indeed unreliable, the narrator is.

Friday, August 31, 2007

"The Recipe" by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera

From: Miami Noir ed. Les Standiford

This story by real-life P.I. Garcia-Aguilera opens with an out-of-work, fitness-obsessed husband threatening to kill his wife's aging dog. The wife, an investigator for a law firm, is forced to put off the argument to interview a client at the Dade County Jail.

According to the arrest report, the client, a Mr. Campos, killed his neighbor. Campos says he actually intended to kill his neighbor's loud-barking, free-pooping dog by means of a poisoned barbecued steak. After preparing the steak, Campos left it unattended for thirty minutes and returned to discover his neighbor sprawled by the barbecue.

Sickened at first, Campos became angry when he spotted steak juice around his neighbor's mouth. With his wife away on a trip, Campos decided to chop up the body and bury it as he would have the dog. The neighbor's gym-toned body proved tough to cut, however, so Campos decided to marinate it before finishing the job.

Repulsed as she is by Campos's graphic account, the P.I. comes away with a plan to resolve her situation at home.

This story seems long on exposition at times, but a final noir twist ties things together nicely.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Account Closed" by William Link

From: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2007.

Despite the clear-cut sound of its title, this shortest story in the November 2007 AHMM is one of the most mysterious I've read. Police Lt. Meltzer fears Martin Herwitt, dying of cancer, may finally make good on threats of revenge against his daughter's murderer. Said murderer, Neal Bevans, has served his time and apparently reformed, now a born-again Christian running a successful restaurant.

Meltzer warns Bevans to look out for Herwitt, going so far as to put himself between the two men. Within minutes of leaving the restaurant, Meltzer is called back. It seems Herwitt has collapsed at his table. An autopsy shows Herwitt died of arsenic sprinkled on his spaghetti and meatballs. Witnesses say Bevans prepared the meal himself.

A year later, Bevans is convicted of Herwitt's murder, but Meltzer's questions and guilt over what more he could've done remain. Why would Bevans kill Herwitt in his own restaurant in front of witnesses? Did Herwitt poison his own meal at the table, looking to frame Bevans? The truth can never be confirmed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"The Burdened Man" by Grace Paley

From: The Collected Stories by Grace Paley. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1994.

Feeling financially strapped, a man lashes out at his neighbor when she asks for $5.95 to replace a torn pair of pants his son borrowed from her son. The man throws the money at his neighbor and chases her back to her house. The police arrive, and both parties apologize and actually start a friendship.

The man begins to entertain thoughts of an affair. One afternoon at the woman's house, just as he's about to proposition her, he spots her police sergeant husband lurking outside. Having gone from decorated officer to suspicious drunk, her husband shoots up the kitchen, hitting his wife, the man, and himself, before being arrested by his fellow officers.

The man spends three days in the hospital with a shoulder wound, after which he moves away and changes his outlook, grateful for every heartbeat.

I discovered Grace Paley's fiction in grad school. Her voice and characters, seemingly without pretense, engage readers immediately. Paley, 84, died apparently of breast cancer on August 22. I'll miss her.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Fly Away Home" by Rob Kantner

Originally appeared in: Mean Streets ed. Robert J. Randisi. Mysterious Press, 1986.

Also available in: Trouble is What I Do by Rob Kantner, PointBlank Press, 2005.

This is the only Ben Perkins story to date to show Perkins from someone else's viewpoint—that of a businessman interviewed by Carole Somers and Perkins to build a defense for Carole's client against the charge of murdering her roommate.

The businessman's narration begins innocently enough. The reader is privy to his psyche, which is not clearly disturbed enough for murder until Kantner wants it to be. The businessman underestimates Perkins throughout, believing to the end that he's "beaten" him.

I'm always intrigued when authors show familiar protags from new perspectives. Though this story isn't in Ben's engaging voice, Kantner still shows enough of Parkins gathering clues to make a satisfying mystery.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"Wings Over Khabarovsk" by Louis L'Amour

From: Night Over the Solomons by Louis L'Amour. Bantam, 1986.

In this story from a collection of aviator tales, Grumman Goose pilot Turk Madden is sent to locate a Russian comrade's plane, lost in the mountains of Siberia. Madden finds the wreckage and theorizes the plane was shot down, the pilot murdered as he fled from the crash.

The morning after reporting to his Russian superior, Madden finds himself accused of his friend's murder. Boldly escaping from his cell, Madden tries to find the real traitor. A fine, twisty yarn from an old-fashioned storyteller.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"North West 33rd Court" by Dan A. Sproul

From: Mystery Street, ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2001.

Interviewed by an attractive reporter from Detective Digest, Miami P.I. and horseracing aficionado Joe Standard is asked about his most bizarre case. He recounts the story of Abel Dexter, a manure hauler's helper who hired Standard to look into the disappearance of his wife Janie.

It turns out Janie's only been missing thirteen hours. Either kidnappers entered the house and took Janie without Abel's notice or she decided to leave him while she was washing the dishes and he stepped away to the bedroom. Standard decides either Abel is really shaken by Janie's disappearance or he is lying.

It's not until later that night, conferring with one friend who was a bank robber and another who's a reporter, that Standard begins to learn the truth of an intricate case that takes on more madcap charm when told as an anecdote to a pretty woman.

Robert J. Randisi recently passed along news that Dan A. Sproul died two years ago after a long illness. I regret Sproul won't be producing more stories with engaging prose and sharp local color.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Going, Going, Gone" by Peter Blauner

From: Hard Boiled Brooklyn, ed. Reed Farrel Coleman. Bleak House Books, 2006.

After glancing at an attractive woman on a subway platform, divorced father Sussman looks back to see his six-year-old son speeding away on a Coney Island-bound F train.

Woefully out of sorts and out of shape, Sussman darts about in search of a phone to call 911. As fear consumes him, Sussman tangles with a younger, stronger man who refuses to yield a pay phone to him.

This is a nightmare scenario worsened by a character who has almost no chance of handling it. Nicely noir.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Apples and Trees by Sara Joan Berniker

The problem with this story by Sara Joan Berniker is that I can't tell you too much without spoiling it. Here's what I can say. It is a great mood piece and a look into a very dark mind. A delivery man, Jerry, is bringing his child with him because it's take your kid to work day. He's none too happy - doesn't like any part of his life including his wife and the kid that's sitting in the passenger seat of the truck. In fact, he's brutally unhappy.

But, will things turn around when he is in a building making a delivery and the child, Paul, follows him though he's been told to stay in the truck? What will happen when Paul learns what it is his daddy really delivers for a living. Let me just say, it ain't appliances.

Anyway, take a look. It's free and part of the great material that SHRED is putting out once again.

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Clicker Training", by Parnell Hall

From: Canine Christmas, ed. Jeffrey Marks, Ballantine Books, 1999
(also available at ParnellHall.com.)

With their son away on a school trip to France, Stanley Hastings and his better half, Alice, have Christmas to themselves for the first time in years. Rather than sit around their apartment in New York, they decide on a trip to a bed-and-breakfast in the scenic Vermont countryside, and they take along their other child, Zelda.

Did I mention Zelda is a dog?

And not only a dog, but a Portugese water dog, and a well-trained one at that, as she and Alice demonstrated to the guests. As it happened, Zelda soon turned out to have the same detetecting instincts as her private eye "father", Stanley.

Because the next morning she stumbled over a corpse.

This slight but entertaining story is more a traditional puzzle than most of the Stanley Hastings mysteries, which mix elements of the whodunit and PI genres (along with a healthy dose of humor). Stanley fumbles through in his usual manner, helped along by his intelligent and perceptive wife Alice.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

"Two-Eleven All Around" by Chris Offutt

From: Out of the Woods by Chris Offutt. Simon & Shuster, 1999.

When a self-described drunk is locked out of the house, he assumes his recovering-alcholic girlfriend has become fed up with him. After walking the streets of Casper, Wyoming for an hour, pondering the dismal state of his life, he decides to throw a chunk of rubble through a plate glass window to get the attention of a passing patrol car as well as that of his girlfriend, who listens obsessively to a police scanner.

A native of Kentucky currently teaching at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Offutt's stories are terse, compelling, and marked by an unflinching bleak outlook.

Friday, August 03, 2007

"Continental Grip" by David Morrell

From: Murder is My Racquet, ed. Otto Penzler. Mysterious Press, 2005.

This tennis-themed story from veteran thriller writer Morrell recounts the investigation into a New Mexico club pro's death, bludgeoned by a Prince racquet. The story is told in a wryly detached voice, played for more humor than I'd previously seen from Morrell.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Imported from Africa by G. Miki Hayden

If you've read my own blog with care...Go ahead, take your time. I'll still be here... Then you know there are few short mystery fiction writers whose work I admire more than G. Miki Hayden. Her current series character, Miriam Obadah an immigrant to NYC's Harlem from Ghana (is she here legally? she doesn't know. Her husband would never involve her in the male world of legal formalities like that) is a character designed to tug at your heartstrings. Even after living in the US for 35 years, there are many things she can't quite understand about the Americans she meets. Her much younger co-wife, Nana, needs to be looked after, and there is plenty of work to be done around the house and in preparing goods to be sold - she weaves baskets among other things.

In this particular adventure, Miriam retrieves a box from the post office only to find that it has two statues in it - Nothing charming or useful but she isn't sure who sent them to her or why. No difference. When she finds that the artifacts have a tainted provenance, she sets about sleuthing. It is not too long before she has found the intended smuggler, but finding the person and capturing them proves to be two entirely different matters.

As in all the Miriam stories I've had the pleasure to read so far, Miriam's simple view of life and her fear of the giant maw that is NYC adds to her charm. Her humility and her observations on America make her so interesting, I'd read about her even if there were no mystery to solve.

Anyway, enough praise. This story can be found in the September 2007 AHMM. Well worth the read.

Friday, July 27, 2007

NBS Special Report: Anthony Award Nominees

This year's Anthony Award nominees have been announced. Attendees of Bouchercon in Anchorage, Alaska will choose the winners.

BEST SHORT STORY

“After the Fall,” Elaine Viets, Alfred Hitchcock Mag
“Cranked,” Bill Crider, DAMN NEAR DEAD, Busted Flush Press
“The Lords of Misrule,” Dana Cameron, SUGARPLUMS AND SCANDAL, Avon
“My Father’s Secret,”Simon Wood, Crime Spree Magazine, Bcon Spec Issue
“Policy,”Megan Abbott, DAMN NEAR DEAD, Busted Flush Press
“Sleeping with the Plush,” Toni Kelner, Alfred Hitchcock Mag

Congrats again and good luck, Bill.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Trouble is My Business" by Raymond Chandler

Available in: Raymond Chandler: Collected Stories. Knopf, 2002.

Slated to be adapted by Frank Miller for a Philip Marlowe movie starring Clive Owen, the novella "Trouble is My Business" has Marlowe working for a fledgling detective agency, digging up dirt on a woman who's got her claws into a rich man's son. He begins by calling another P.I. who's worked the case, but when Marlowe goes to meet him, he finds the P.I. dead.

"Trouble is My Business" is full of men entering with guns and eerily discovered deaths. Marlowe gets to the truth by sheer persistence. For me, this story was a reminder of how refined Chandler's prose was, how truly inimitable Marlowe was. The Everyman's Library edition is certainly worth the price.

"The Feel of the Trigger", by Donald Westlake

From: Games Killers Play, ed. "Alfred Hitchcock", Dell Books, 1967.

It was after midnight on the graveyard shift and Brooklyn detective Abe Levine was at the precinct house, listening to his heart skip every tenth beat or so, when a call came in. A stickup in a small convenience store, the elderly proprietor shot four times. The man's wife had witnessed the attack and was able to identify the attacker, a local teenager.

So Levine and his partner Crawley head over to the teen's home, where his parents swear he was there all night. With his bad heart, Levine spends all his time staring into the void, the empty pit of death. How can he make these people understand what their son has done, what he's taken away from another human being?

"The Feel of the Trigger" dates from 1961, making it one of Westlake's earliest stories. It's a police procedural in tone and detail, but at its heart this and the other Levine stories are meditations about life and death, what it means to take a life, and what it means to give one up.

By sheer luck, when I was barely in high school I read "After I'm Gone", the last story in the Levine cycle. My parents had been on a trip, and my mother brought home a copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which she'd either read on the way or picked up as a "What'd ya bring me?" gift. In that story, Levine faces his fear of death, accepts his own mortality, and does what he has to do - a fitting end to the series. All of the Levine stories are available in a single volume, called simply Levine.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"A Saving Grace", by Patricia Abbott

From: The Thrilling Detective.

Jim could have taken the Interstate to get to work every day, but instead he liked driving the back roads, seeing the farms, the little roadside stores here and there, just taking it easy instead of racing along with his foot on the gas.

He'd taken that same route in his career, trading in the stressful life of a police detective and then a private investigator for the simplicity of life as a mechanic. After a while he settled into a peaceful routine, his existence taking a winding path that never varied.

That's how he'd met Louise. He had seen her standing by the mailbox at the edge of the road on four Tuesdays in a row, until he'd finally asked her if she needed a ride. Jim wasn't attracted to her, and she was already married with a pair of kids, but he needed some human contact, some companionship.

Jim couldn't shut off the sixth sense he'd had as a detective, and over time he noticed things - bruises, finger marks, little cuts - but when he saw these injuries on Louise's little daughter, he decided to take action.

This moody little short story moves along with great economy. All the characters are sketched in with the briefest of descriptions, but their words and actions ring true, which makes the twist at the end more surprising.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

NBS Special Report: 2007 Shamus Award Nominees

The 2007 Shamus Award nominees were announced Friday, July 13.

Best Short Story:

“Sudden Stop,” by Mitch Alderman (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine [AHMM], November 2006)
“The Heart Has Reasons,” by O’Neil De Noux (AHMM, September 2006)
“Square One,” by Loren D. Estleman (AHMM, November 2006)
“Devil’s Brew,” by Bill Pronzini (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, December 2006)
“Smoke Got in My Eyes,” by Bruce Rubenstein (from Twin Cities Noir, edited by Julie Schaper; Akashic Books)

Congrats to all.

"Mulholland Drive" by Michael Connelly

From: Los Angeles Noir ed. Denise Hamilton, Akashic Books, 2007.

Police reconstructionist Clewiston is called in when a multi-millionaire's Porsche swerves over the side of Mulholland Drive. Using a combination of computer calculations and educated guesses, Clewiston determines the crash was caused by coyote.

On the way to file his report, Clewiston calls the dead man's wife, and we learn he orchestrated the accident so the wife could take the insurance payout. While he is filling her in, however, Clewiston gets into an "accident" of his own.

Sharp detail and solid pace as expected from Connelly, with some unexpected humor thrown into the final act.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"Henry and the Idiots" by Robert J. Randisi

From: High Stakes ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2003.

For 7/7/07, a story of luck. After hitting a jackpot in excess of $250,000, compulsive gambler and talker Henry Simon decides to leave his shrewish wife Mildred and her two dimwitted brothers.

The narrative cuts between Henry in Nevada recounting his travels to a gambling buddy and Mildred in St. Louis plotting to get back "her money". The characters' voices and the momentum of the chase carry this rambling. funny, enjoyable tale.

"Proof of Guilt" by Bill Pronzini

From: The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries, ed. Mike Ashley. Carroll & Graf, 2007.

One summer morning, the police are called to the offices of lawyer Adam Chillingham's offices for what seems like an open-and-shut case. At 10:30, a young man named George Dillon had entered Chillington's private office; a few minutes later, the staff heard a gunshot. A few minutes later Dillon opened the door and told the staff that Chillington had been murdered. Then he calmly sat down across from Chillington's body and was locked in by the law clerk.

Dillon's father had been a wealthy businessman before his death a couple of years before. Chillington was the executor of his estate, and according to Dillon had stolen $350,000 dollars. So Dillon had not only the opportunity but a strong motive for Chillington's death.

One problem: nowhere in that office, high on the sixteenth floor, with a single door and a single unbroken window, could the police find a murder weapon.

In spite of his penchant for realistic characters and plots, Pronzini also has a love of locked-room mysteries, and this is one of his best. I guarantee that the ultimate resolution of this case will leave you with your mouth hanging open, or I'll eat my keyboard.

Friday, July 06, 2007

"The Village" by James Lee Burke

This is not exactly a crime story in the traditional sense though there is violence and murder. It is more a war crime story. It is about soldiers (presumably American, but are they regular army or mercenaries, I'm not sure) bringing retribution to a village. There isn't much violence on the page, but enough of it and directed at civilians so we know this is criminal. Then there is a witness, a nun. She needs to be dealt with, silenced. Perhaps she can be frightened into keeping her mouth shut. After all, how hard could that be? If she doesn't fear for her own safety, she might fear for the safety of others...

The story is hard to write about. It is short (maybe eight pages) even for a short story and told through the voice of one of the soldiers, a man who seems to have had more than his fill of killing. And he does the only thing he can do to make things as close to good as you're going to get in a hot zone. The final words shook me to the core.

The story is apparently excerpted from one of Burke's novels. No difference. The collection it's in now is called Jesus Out to Sea. Strong stories, if you can take it.

Monday, July 02, 2007

"Aftermath" by Jeremiah Healy

From: Most Wanted, ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2002.

Fort Lauderdale-based tennis pro/P.I. Rory Calhoun is hired by a woman who believed herself widowed in the September 11 attacks until she found her husband's credit card statement showing a transaction posted over two weeks after the attacks.

Like Healy's more famous P.I. John Cuddy, Rory Calhoun is a conscientious and compassionate investigator, letting the author feature two twists, the second of which is truly unexpected.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Easy as Pie" by Arthur Winfield Knight

From: Private Eyes ed. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. Signet, 1998.

A retired San Francisco P.I. visits his old friend Karl, wanted by police for killing a black man in a case of road rage. After hearing Karl's side of things, that the man was beating on Karl's car, that Karl feared for his life, the P.I. doesn't believe a jury would convict him. However, Karl, dying from cancer, doesn't think he could stand a trial. He doesn't like the idea of dying in jail, either, so he's asked the P.I. to bring him an untraceable pistol.

In a short space, Knight poignantly parallels the two friends' lives. Steeped in despair, the story ends with the the P.I. walking away, listening for a gunshot.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Change of Life" by Lawrence Block

Available in: Enough Rope. William Morrow, 2002.

Royce Arnsletter believes he'll live to 76. On the eve of his thirty-eigth birthday, his frustration boils over at having done "not a damned thing" in half his life. The next day he plans to hold up the local bank with a shotgun, but the bank manager believes he's going hunting. When Royce asks for "every damned cent," the manager thinks he wants to withdraw all his own money. Royce backs off his plans, not even withdrawing all his own money.

The following day, even more frustrated, he decides to give himself no recourse but to rob the bank. So single-minded, he shoots his wife and shoots a bank teller to prove he is serious. Not having the foresight to bring extra shells, however, he is arrested and sentenced to 33 years in prison. What will he do with the five years after he gets out?

This story's noir undertones are somewhat lightened by Block's first-person parenthetical comments.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Till Death Do Us Part" by Tim Maleeny

From: Death Do Us Part, ed. Harlan Coben. Little, Brown, and Company, 2006.

Recently nominated for a Macavity Award, this darkly comic story focuses on a chemist and botanist married sixty years. Theirs is not an ideal union. Each is fully aware of the other's indiscretions, yet divorce is unthinkable. Instead, they celebrate each anniversary by preparing innocuous-looking, yet truly deadly dishes for a multi-course meal. Up to now, the husband and wife have each managed to deduce the forms of poison before taking that fatal bite.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Breathe Deep" by Donald E. Westlake

From: High Stakes ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2003.

This 1985 story rounds out Randisi's collection of gambling-themed stories. Vegas dealer Chuck encounters an old man who tells of his "fatal attraction" to casinos on the Strip. Something about the man seems off to Chuck, and he presses a silent alarm.

Security is slow to respond, and the old man goes on to describe the night he was removed from a casino and roughed up to the point of getting buried under green tanks out back. While in the hospital, he is told those green tanks contain oxygen. and he suspects oxygen is pumped in to keep people awake and playing.

Chuck tells the man, "They don't do that with the oxygen." Unconvinced, the man spills lighter fluid on the table and begins to strike a match against the felt...

The old man's voice and mannerisms, expertly handled by Westlake, sell the story.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Carrera's Woman" by Richard Marsten

From: Learning to Kill by Ed McBain. Harcourt, 2006.

From a collection of Evan Hunter's early magazine stories, "Carrera's Woman" concerns American rogue Jeff MacCauley, locked in a standoff with Mexican bandit Jose Carrera high in the Sierra Madres. Carrera has stolen MacCauley's money belt, containing $10,000. MacCauley has kidnapped Carrera's woman Linda.

In a twist on the woman-in-jeopardy theme, Linda seduces Jeff, keeping readers guessing about her true loyalties and who will prevail.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"The Laughing Man" by J.D. Salinger

From: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. Little, Brown and Company, 1953.

The Laughing Man is a larger-than-life rogue whose tall tales are told by John Gedsudski, a twenty-two-year-old law student known as the Chief to twenty-five boys he drives to afterschool sports, the Comanches. Salinger's story covers the course of Gedsudski's romance with Mary Hudson as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old narrator.

The narrator describes Mary's insinuation into the Comanches' exclusively male environment, first through a picture the Chief displays on their bus, then joining in their baseball games. The narrator's animosity toward Mary evolves into a crush, but he is unable to relay Mary's interaction with John beyond describing their most obvious actions. And though readers are more aware the romance isn't going well, we never learn exactly why.

In The Laughing Man's penultimate adventure, Gedsudski leaves him shot by his lawman nemesis. Finally, The Laughing Man manages to kill his enemies by spitting their bullets back at them, but not before losing his faithful pet wolf. Without his beloved pet, The Laughing Man loses the will to live, leaving the boys for whom he was so real shaken.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Tainted Goods" by Charlie Stella

From: Dublin Noir ed. Ken Bruen. Akashic Books, 2006.

Full of beer, liquor, and himself Jack Dugan talks too much to twin thugs sitting in a New York pub. Not only does he hire the twins to do a little muscle work on his behalf, he also tells them about two women and the bar with whom they can have their way.

Six days later, Jack wakes up in Dublin to find the twins brutally killed and himself tied to a chair, awaiting the wrath of the pub's bouncer, cousin to one of women he went on about.

Stella has an economic prose style and a great feel for dialog. We know Jack's talk is bound to catch up to him. The interest is in when and how.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

"The End of the World (As We Know It)" by Lise McClendon

From: Murder in Vegas ed. Michael Connelly. Forge, 2005.

At his sister Cynthia's request, former Army MP Aaron Nelson tags along to Vegas with his brother-in-law Herb. As the story opens, Aaron is unable to prevent Herb from losing "a couple thou" at the Crow Wing Casino. Leaving Herb to decide how best to break the news to Cynthia, Aaron later receives a call from a Vegas policeman telling him Herb is in the hospital.

When Cynthia phones him, Aaron expects her to be upset about the lost money. Instead she says she's calling to thank Herb for sending money. Similarly, just as Aaron expects he and Herb won't be able to pay their room bill at the Crow Wing, the casino comps their room. Aaron is more curious than ever just what is going on, but no one gives him a straight answer.

He does learn that Herb investigated the Crow Wing's owner on charges of fraudulent accounting, but their exact connection, where the money came from, and why the room was comped he never discovers. A disorienting story that nonetheless kept me reading until its open end.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Link to Story

In the course of our reviews, we occasionally provide the link to a story published online. In Classic Blogger, a post title was not clickable (that is, it did not link to anything) unless we filled in the Link field while composing a post. When we upgraded to the New Blogger, post titles linked back to the posts themselves by default, and readers couldn't tell when we'd provided the link to a story in the Link field.

I've done some re-coding so a post title will always link back to the post itself. If we provide the link to a story, you'll see "Link to Story" in a post's footer:

Posted by Steven at 10:27 PM 0 comments Link to Story Links to this post

Happy reading.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Births, Marriages, and Deaths by Aliya Whitely

In case you didn't know, Shred of Evidence is back in the business of publishing original crime fiction. This is after a year long hiatus, but teh story chosen to kickstart things is a good one. From the first sentence, the protagonist builds suspense and it all pays off in the end.

The bulk of the story is the memory a young lady retains of a man, Charlie, she worked with on her first summer job when she was thirteen and he was sixty years older. Charlie sets the rules for her employment at a bed and breakfast and some of those rules are a little strange. Charlie likes magazines and wants her to bring whatever she finds in the guest rooms. But what if one of the guests misses the magazine, you ask. Well, read the story, and you'll see exactly what happens.

The simmer that the author is able to maintain throughout the story is well worth the read. The character of Charlie, especially, is well drawn and memorable.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"A Prisoner of Memory" by Robert S. Levinson

From: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2007

Aging movie star Laura Dane calls Neil Gulliver, the Hollywood-based investigative reporter from Levinson's Affair novels, to say she's being stalked. Gulliver visits Laura on the set of a movie in which her niece is starring. Laura seems genuinely frightened for her life, but after listening to her at length and questioning the man she suspects, Gulliver is pretty sure the stalker is a figment of her imagination.

Some time after he thinks the case resolved, Gulliver learns Laura has been murdered by the very man she suspected, a master of disguise still at large. A great open-ended twist on what could've been a typical story. Also, in an oddly upbeat turn, Gulliver notes that Laura's killer brought back her fame, assuring her what she lived for, to be remembered.

Monday, May 21, 2007

How to Survive Downsizing by J. Michlitsch

This little gem is to be found in the June 2007 edition of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The story concerns Geoffrey Manning who has been fired from his job - downsized. The first hing he does with his box of belongings is, well, get drunk. Then, sitting on the curb, he notices a man carrying a woman into the woods across from him in the dead of night. Omnious. In the morning, there's a woman's shoe in his box of belongings.

Who was the woman? Who was the man? What has become of her? Geoff, having no luck with the want ads and nothing better to do, investigates. He find out some very interesting details about the couple and uses some unusual methods to get his information.

You might think that with Geoff being down on his luck, this could easily turn into a blackmail scheme, but it won't. Or you might fear that Geoff will simply misidentify the couple. That's not the route taken by the author either. In fact, I think the author's route was quite clever, and you do need to read to the end to figure it out. Well worth the reading.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dead as a Dog by Doug Allyn

Doug Allyn's stories have long been reader favorites, and Mr. Allyn has won his fair share of nominations and awards for them. This story is a prime example of why this is so. The story, found in the latest EQMM, is about a college professor whose wife happens to be dying. That there is a strong emotion going on here is an understatement. The way the husband talks about his wife, dying a painful cancer death after a too-short life of activity and purpose, nearly made me cry...twice.

On top of being in the middle of the painful process of losing the love of his life, the professor faces raising two small boys on his own. If this weren't bad enough (it isn't) he comes home one day to find that someone has murdered his dog - shot it through with an arrow and left it to die.

Well, what happens when this professor complains to the police and they turn something of a deaf ear. In fact, they even know who did it, but the prime suspect is wealthy and a town institution so he's far above the law. Well, what should the professor do? What lessons should he impart to his boys? What would you do?

I'm not sure about how the story ends. No knock intended here, there were a lot of potential paths to take - I'm not sure the one Mr. Allyn took was the one I would have. Still, the journey to the final destination was a prize on its own. Well worth the read.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"The Man in Bogota" by Amy Hempel

From: Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel, HarperCollins, 1985.

In six poignant paragraphs, the narrator of this story puts herself in the role of a crisis negotiator trying to talk a woman down from a ledge as TV news cameras roll. The narrator decides she would tell the woman about a man in Bogota, Colombia, a wealthy industrialist who was kidnapped and held for ransom.

This was not a TV drama, the narrator says. The man's wife needed three months to gather the money. The man had a heart condition and his kidnappers made him quit smoking and changed his diet to keep him alive. When he was released, his doctor found him in excellent health and said the kidnap was the best thing that could've happened to him.

Maybe it isn't a come-down-from-the-ledge story, the narrator concedes, but she hopes the woman will ask the same question the man in Bogota did: How do we know that what happens to us isn't good?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NBS Special Report: 2007 Derringer Winners

As announced by Awards coordinator Jeanne Edna Thelwell:

FLASH STORY: "Vigilante" by Barry Ergang (Summer 2006, Mysterical-E)

SHORT-SHORT STORY - We have a tie:

"Four For Dinner" by John M. Floyd (Seven by Seven)

AND

Elena Speaks of the City, Under Siege" by Steven Torres (September/October 2006, Crimespree Magazine)

MID-LENGTH STORY - "Cranked" by Bill Crider (Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir)

LONGER SHORT STORY - "Strictly Business" by Julie Hyzy (These Guns for Hire)


Congratulations, Steven, Bill, Barry, John, and Julie.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Male Ducks are Drake, Females are Hens by John Weagly

Ducks are Drakes... well, I can't tell you much about ducks, but I can tell you more now. This story made me laugh and it was intentional, so that's good. The premise is simple enough. It turns out Mary wants to know if Paula killed her husband. Paula evades the question with a series of non-sequitors about ducks. She claims, in fact, that duck quacks don't echo. That just sounds freaky to me. Like vampires don't have reflections.

Anyway, the duck facts are part of a funny banter between Mary and Paula, but it's not the only reason the story deserves a read. Can't say more - it's flash fiction after all. Take a look.

"Funeral for a Friend" by Simon Kernick

From: Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir. Ed. Duane Swierczynski. Busted Flush Press, 2006.

This is the story of the funeral for Francis Edward Hanson—Vietnam vet, bank robber, coke dealer—as told by Hanson himself. Just when I thought this might be a ghost story, Kernick revealed that Hanson faked his death and attended the funeral to see his would-be murderers get their comeuppance.

While some colloquialisms were a bit off, Hanson's colorful life and seen-it-all voice kept me reading.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"The Weight" by Tim Maleeny

From: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine July/August 2007. Ed. Linda Landrigan.

Police officer Danny Rodriguez stops by for a few beers with his retired partner Sam. starting a story with, "I found a dead pimp last week." He goes on to identify the pimp as Shortball, a midget drug addict whom they both knew. With the mayor cracking down on the department's homicide closure rate, no one is looking very hard into Shortball's apparent suicide, but Danny believes it's suspicious.

As Danny details his independent investigation, we learn that Sam has lost his wife to cancer, been fitted with a prosthetic leg, and is struggling at a relationship with his daughter Sally, who believes his time away from home contributed to her mother's suffering. Danny wraps up his story revealing that he tracked a runaway girl to Shortball and that he believes the girl's father may have killed Shortball and made it look like suicide.

You may have guessed this is a friendly-visit-to-trap-a-suspect story, but Maleeny executes it well.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

NBS Special Report: Stop Unfair Postal Hikes

From Kate Stine and Brian Skupin of Mystery Scene:

Hi everyone,

We are asking all of Mystery Scene's friends and readers to help us.

There's a HUGE postal hike in the works which unfairly targets small magazines to the considerable advantage of larger ones. It's going to put a number of magazines out of business and cause considerable hardships for many others.

There's a petition at this URL which explains the issue:

http://action.freepress.net//campaign/postal

Please take a look. If you sign the petition, an email will automatically go to your representatives in Washington and the postal commission.

We would really appreciate the help!


Kate Stine & Brian Skupin


Without action against them, the new rates will take effect July 15, 2007. More detail from The Boston Globe.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Four for Dinner" by John M. Floyd

From: Seven By Seven, ed. Tony Burton, Wolfmont Publishing, 2006.

In this 2007 Derringer-winning story from a flash fiction anthology based on the Seven Deadly Sins, Carolyn Hendon receives a phone call from a stranger claiming to have kidnapped her husband. The stranger goes on to describe her husband's car and license plate, but Mrs. Hendon is certain her husband is home. When the stranger warns he isn't bluffing, he will kill her husband, Carolyn tells him to go ahead and hangs up.

A well-executed take on mistaken identities, with an ending I didn't guess.

Monday, April 30, 2007

"Number 19" by Naomi Hirahara

From: Los Angeles Noir, ed. Denise Hamilton, Akashic Books, 2007.

After visiting a spa in L.A.'s Koreatown, Ann, a waitress, becomes curious about her masseuse, identified only as Number 19. After a rejuvenating salt scrub, Ann wants to make sure Number 19 receives all her tip money. What begins as curiosity and earnest concern ends badly for Ann, but worse for the spa manager she confronts.

Friday, April 27, 2007

NBS Special Report: Best Short Story Edgar

Announced last night, the Mystery Writers of America's Best Short Story Award went to "The Home Front" by Charles Ardai. Congratulations, Charles.

The full list of nominees is here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"New Lots Avenue" by Nelson George

From: Brooklyn Noir, ed. Tim McLoughlin. Akashic Books, 2004.

Walking home from the grocery store, Cynthia Green is roped into a conversation with her cousin Johnny, a cop from Queens living well in Jersey thanks to his work with the DEA. As they update each other on the past two years, Johnny reveals he is looking for a neighbor of Cynthia's, a Puerto Rican drug dealer called Victorious.

In four powerful pages, filmmaker George shows that Cynthia and Johnny may be family, but for her, the neighborhood's collective struggle is the stronger bond.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Second Story Sunlight" by John Lutz

From: Most Wanted, ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2002.

In this original story from an anthology featuring past presidents of the Private Eye Writers of America, everyman St. Louis P.I. Alo Nudger is hired by the owner of the donut shop below his office to find out who murdered an up-and-coming artist.

The tone is medium-boiled, the pace leisured. The treat here is getting to know Alo, his friends, and his surroundings. For all his idiosyncrasies and markedly un-macho approach, Nudger is dogged when it counts and he gets results.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Around Here by Keith Gilman

I'm ashamed to say it, but I'd never read a Thuglit story until I wandered over to the site today. Keith Gilman's story jumped out at me. It is the story of a local bad boy made good - he became a cop, but still has friends in the old neighborhood. In fact, his friends are a bit jumpy about him making a transition like this. After all, he knows where all the bodies are buried and how the skeletons got in the closets.

Now, with this story, I thought for sure I knew how it was going to end. There are, after all, only so many options. But Mr. Gilman found an option that I hadn't quite considered and that made the story for me. Mind you, my admiration for the story isn't just the plot which had a twist when I didn't think it could. The writing at the sentence level was smooth as silk. Good, self-assured prose is hard to find and Mr. Gilman has it in stock.

Check out the story, then tool around the rest of the issue. It's free, but valuable.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Dead Storage" by Christine Kling

From: Miami Noir, ed. Les Standiford. Akashic Books, 2006.

When her mother leaves, sixteen-year-old Kate is forced to live in a trailer park where she is sexually abused by her father. Pulled out of school, Kate spends most of her time reading novels, making up stories that she weaves into elaborate lies to the neighbors.

Despite this story's brevity, I quickly empathized with Kate and wondered if and how she would turn the tables on her father.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

NBS Special Report: 2007 Derringer Finalists

Stories by NBS's own Bill Crider and Steven Torres have reached the finals for the 2007 Derringer Awards as announced by Short Mystery Fiction Society:

FLASH FICTION (up to 500 words)

Jan Christensen, “Matched Set“ (Long Story Short, Winter, 2006)
Barry Ergang, “Vigilante” (Mysterical-E, Summer 2006)
Michelle Mach, “Snowflake Therapy” (Thereby Hangs a Tale, June 2006)
Jill Maser, “Flight School” (Flashshots. August 28, 2006)
Sandra Seamans, “Home Entertainment” (A Cruel World, July/August 2006)


SHORT-SHORT STORIES (501 - 2,000 words)

Gail Farrelly, “Even Steven” (Mouth Full of Bullets, Winter 2006)
John M. Floyd, “Four For Dinner” (Seven by Seven)
Justin Gustainis, “Interview” (Cape Fear Crime Festival, October, 2006)
Steven Torres, “Elena Speaks of the City, Under Siege” (Crimespree Magazine September/October 2006)
Frank Zafiro, “The Worst Door” (Dispatch, January 2006)


MID-LENGTH STORIES (2,001 - 6,000 words)

David Bareford, “Eden’s Bodyguard” (Thuglit, September 2006)
Rex Burns, “Shadow People” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2006)
Bill Crider, “Cranked” (Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir)
Robert S. Levinson, “Uncle Blinky’s Corner of the World” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2006)
Robert Lopresti, “Shanks on the Prowl” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May 2006)


LONGER STORIES (6,001 - 15,000 words)

Annette Dashofy, “Signature in Blood” (Mysterical-E, Winter 2006)
Julie Hyzy, “Strictly Business” (These Guns for Hire)
Stuart MacBride, “Daphne MacAndrews and the Smack-Head Junkies” (Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir)
Larry Sweazy, “See Also Murder” (Amazon Shorts, December 11, 2006)
Steven Torres, “The Valley of Angustias” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 2006)


Members of the SMFS begin voting today to determine the winners, which will be announced May 15, 2007.

Congrats and good luck, Bill and Steven.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

"Misdirection" by Barbara Seranella

From: Greatest Hits: Original Stories of Assassins, Hit Men, and Hired Guns, ed. Robert J. Randisi, Carroll and Graf, 2005

In this Anthony award-winning story, a senior FBI agent arranges to move two convicted hitwomen, Trinity and Cass, into the same cell. He promises both women help toward their freedom if each can get information on the other's hits. Trinity is anxious to win back her woman on the outside. Cass wants to retrieve a money stash. The agent, meanwhile, has no intention of granting either her freedom. He plans to use any information he gets to bring new charges against the women.

Barbara Seranella was one of few writers to successfully transition from wild youth to wise adulthood. Her crime fiction shows the authenticity of an adventurous life and enthusiasm for having survived. I regret that she didn't get to publish more short fiction.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Dream House by Christa M. Miller

Tammy and Lester have a new house. The only problem is that it needs to be cleaned up before they can move in. Oh, and the cleaning needs to be done at night...so that no one can see them coming and/or going. Oh, and what's that in the bathtub? Or on the bathroom ceiling? This story oozes with atmosphere (among other things). The amazing thing about it, however, is how far Tammy is willing to go in supporting Lester who happens to really need her at this juncture in their relationship... though there is every evidence that things have not always gone well between them. I think it is a hard thing to draw a character like Tammy and make them believeable, but Miller pulls it off.

At the end of the story, Tammy hits her limit with Lester and the house he has struggled to get for her, but how she snaps is something you should read to find out. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Brimstone P.I. by Beverle Graves Myers

Each May issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine is a comic one and I just got my copy. This story is particularly funny. The devil calls on the services of a P.I. who has been condemned to Hell - gambling was his trouble. It seems that someone has put up air fresheners and left happy notes about and pasted green leaves onto the trees in the Forest of Suicides. You know, lightening the mood and sprucing up the place. Needless to say, Hell's Big Kahuna is none too pleased.

Why, if Satan is in charge of Hell, does he need a P.I.? Shouldn't he be able to figure it out for himself? Well, he knows all there is to know about Evil, but nothing at all about Good, you see.

You'll be happy to know that Hell (in case you were wondering...or planning a trip) does have a Wal-Mart and a Starbucks.

Of course, Lucifer can always make things worse for the P.I. if he fails in the assignment, but will he, could he make things better as a reward in case of success? You'll need to read the story to find out. Look for it. It's a keeper.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"The Home Front" by Charles Ardai

From: Death Do Us Part ed. Harlan Coben, Little, Brown, and Company, 2006.

Hired to enforce U.S. rationing laws during World War II, a P.I. tricks a garage attendant into selling him four gallons of gas instead of the allotted two. Back on the road, the well-meaning attendant cuffed beside him, the P.I. is blindsided when a car swerves into his path. The attendant dies in the resulting fire, and the P.I.'s livelihood goes to hell.

Once back on his feet, the P.I. closes his office and walks aimlessly yet uncannily finds himself back at the same garage. Against his better judgment he stays to help the attendant's mother, assuming another man's identity, hoping no more of the past catches up to him. But of course, it does.

The P.I.'s voice is classically hardboiled, driving the story at just the right pace to give its twists full impact.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Sideways" by Rex Miller

From: Private Eyes, ed. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. Signet, 1998.

In this departure for horror writer Rex Miller, Missouri P.I. Terry Kochenge recounts his relationship with Ann Stranucella, from his boyhood crush, to the the time Ann's father, the chief of police, hired him to follow her suspecting she was a drug addict, to her tragic suicide.

Coming from a law enforcement family, Terry himself is non-confrontational. You might even say a coward. He learns all the trivia of Ann's life, but has almost no insight into any trends that might have led to her death. Perhaps too much of the story is spent on background, Terry telling readers that real P.I. work isn't as seen on TV, but perhaps the message of this story is how difficult it is for one person to really know another, especially when blinded by love.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Absolution by M.G. Tarquini

Just finished reading MG Tarquini's short story Absolution at Spinetingler Magazine and was very much impressed. It is quite short and the plot is delicate so that I can't say too much about or you'll think "Oh, I know this story already and, therefore, don't need to read it," but you'd be quite wrong. The story is much more than the some of its plot points. I can say that like As I Lay Dying and "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," it has the POV of an old woman, bedridden. Jen serves as a pivot point between generations, and I can only say that what she observes is devastating. Not a crime story, but certainly fits the title of this blog. Have a look for yourself.

Previously Reviewed Zines

We've added to the sidebar links to previously reviewed zines. This list will grow with the range of our reviews.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Carole on Lombard" by Jerry Kenneally

From: Mystery Street, ed. Robert J. Randisi, Signet, 2001.

Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA), each story in this anthology is inspired by a distinctive street in the P.I.'s territory. For San Francisco P.I. Nick Polo, it's the serpentine Lombard Street. Polo breaks his routine of working for law firms to take on a case offered by Carole Reed, a rich, agoraphobic woman in her seventies who's taken to watching her neighbors through a telescope.

The neighbor she is currently most concerned about is "John," a well-endowed, promiscuous man whose exhibitionism pairs nicely with Carole's voyeurism. "John" has disappeared from his apartment and Carole offers Polo $5,000 to find out what happened to him.

A former San Francisco P.I. himself, Kenneally writes crisply and knowingly.

Reviewer's Note on "The Night I Died" by Mickey Spillane

While searching for my next story to review, I read Max Allan Collins' introduction to the anthology Private Eyes, wherein he explains that "The Night I Died" (which I'd previously reviewed) was originally an unpublished 1953 radio play that Spillane consented to have reset as a short story for the 1998 anthology. I've revised my review to include these details.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"What's in a Name" -- Robert Wm. Wagner

"What's in a Name" is another little gem from Hardluck Stories. Angela's a young woman who thinks she's a little bit too heavy for men to pay attention to her, but one of the customers at the bank where she works is attracted to her. Unfortunately for them, he also feels his weight problem makes him a little less than the all-American male. One day when he's in the bank, a robbery begins. The bank guard is shot and killed immediately. Then, . . . you'd better click on the link above and find out for yourself because this story's not going where you think it is. Or if it is, it's not going to take the usual route. There's some powerful writing here, both realistic and scary. Check it out.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"Stones" by Ken Bruen

From: Hard Boiled Brooklyn ed. Reed Farrel Coleman, Bleak House Books, 2006.

Out for a drive, Brooklyn thieves Charlie and John spot a black man beating up a white woman. Against John's advice, Charlie comes to the woman's aid, taking a tire iron to her assailant. Charlie and the woman, Rose, quickly bond and she turns him on to the idea of robbing her attacker, a drug dealer named Kareem. Charlie brings the plan to John, who again warns him about Rose, but Charlie thinks he's man enough to have it all.

Bruen's brand of punctuation and dialog tags take some getting used to, but the benefits are almost-immediate identification with Charlie and, on the whole, a very readable yarn.

"Beauty" -- Ed Gorman

"Beauty" was published in Dave Zeltserman's fine webzine, Hardluck Stories, some time ago. I've been planning to mention it here for some time, and Ed's own mention of it tonight on his blog kicked me into gear. Ed gives away too much, so please don't read Ed's blog post about this story before you read the story itself.

The narrator of "Beauty" is a hit man. He's been hired by a beautiful woman, a former beauty queen, to kill a contestant in a contest that her daughter's entered because she believes the fix is in. To say more about the plot would be to say too much, but let me add that the story is written with Ed's usual skill and attention to detail. Jon Breen, in his column in the most recent issue of EQMM calls Ed "one of of our finest contemporary short story writers regardless of genre." And Jon's right on the money. This story will show you why.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Seeing Things" by Ian Rankin

From: A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin, 1992.

Taking a scenic route home from school, three girls see a man with long hair and a beard, dressed in white, with a glow about him, and a wound in his side. The girls' account spreads until a crowd of believers gathers around the tree where the man was seen.

Rankin riffs well on the topics of religious division and the common desire to believe in miracles, delivering a story wherein, as the title implies, things aren't as they seem. What appears otherworldly is really a complex puzzle that his Inspector Rebus has just the perspective to solve.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Last Shot" -- Sandra Ruttan

So you think there's not a new wrinkle in the "hit man decides to retire" story? You're probably wrong, and I'd advise you to read "Last Shot" to see what I mean. The narrator's just killed his boss's wife, on orders, and something about her eyes as she died got to him. He's starting to think about finding someone to settle down with, and he runs into a beautiful woman at a bar. They hit it off, and then he gets suspicious. What happens next is for you to find out when you read the story. Check it out.

"Punishment" -- J. A. Konrath

"Punishment" might be the most brutal story in Out of the Gutter's first issue, though that's certainly arguable. What's not arguable is that there are parts of this story that might make you want to avert your eyes from the tortures being described. But you'll keep reading because you'll want to know what happens to Dominick Pataglia when it's his turn to enter the Punishment Room. There's a snapper of an ending, too. Check it out.

"Final Tally" -- Victor Gischler

"Final Tally" is the first story in the first issue of Out of the Gutter. It's a great way to start because it's one of those stories that shouldn't be funny at all, but it is.

The narrator is a guy named Shelby, and something snaps in his head. As a result, he knows when people need to be killed for their rudeness or whatever else bothers him. Killing people turns out to be easier than you'd think, and he runs up an impressive total. Then his girlfriend has a problem that Shelby, of course, knows how to solve. What happens after that is even better than what goes before. Check it out.

"Boy Inside the Man" -- Sarah Weinman

This story's in the May issue of EQMM. It's very short, but it delivers.

Dovid Birnbaum is going to have his bar mitzvah. Today he'll become a man. Except that he's already crossed the line from innocence to experience, though I can't say just why. You need to read the story for that. And of course you need to read the story for the ending which puts the clincher on the theme of what entering manhood can come to mean to some people. Having told you very little about the story, I've told you enough. Get a copy of the latest EQMM and have a look for yourself. You won't be sorry.

Friday, March 02, 2007

"Bobby at Work" by Anthony Bourdain

From: The Bobby Gold Stories: A Novel by Anthony Bourdain. Bloomsbury, 2002.

I bought this book at a bargain some years ago, intrigued by the description of Bobby Gold, a good-hearted ex-con now working as a loan shark's enforcer. The book is billed as a novel, but the "chapters" seem self-contained and abrupt enough to make any connection loose.

In "Bobby at Work," Bobby visits Jerry, one of his boss's elderly clients, who is late paying his debts. Bobby and Jerry both know their meeting will end with a beating. Bobby seems genuinely reluctant, but nonetheless resigned to do his job, reminiscent of other educated tough guys in fiction, who might have gone into more socially accepted professions but who found they were good at thug work.

Bourdain gets the tone right, with clipped vernacular prose and the sense that the world is the way it is, not much point trying to change it. Indeed, the chapters are so pared down, the outlook so gray, that Bobby's exploits are like bonbons: satisfying in the short term, empty calories in the end.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Partners" by Michael Bracken

First appeared in Hardboiled Winter/Spring 1988, ed. Gary Lovisi.

Also available in Tequila Sunrise by Michael Bracken. Wildside Press, 2000.

Leaving his girlfriend's house to get back to work on a case, St. Louis P.I. Nathaniel Rose starts his car, and it explodes.

From a hospital bed, Rose tries to piece together who had motive to kill him, what he was working on that might have triggered the attempt on his life. He asks his partner Stu to reach out to their informant Mannie, but Mannie's disappeared.

Weeks later, back on his feet, Rose looks for Mannie to no avail. He returns to the office and reviews old cases, but no connection comes to mind. In the middle of the night, the killer breaks in on Rose and his girlfriend.

The title of this story seems a giveaway, but it isn't. Bracken cleverly keeps things in doubt and gives "partners" a double meaning in the end. A prolific fiction and nonfiction writer as well as the editor of several anthologies, Bracken's prose is straightforward and sharp. Like Rob Kantner's Ben Perkins, Rose is a richer character for the life he seems to lead between stories.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Not Your Everyday Poison by John H. Dirckx

Okay, one of the stranger last names in the mystery world, but one of my favorite short story writers. Not Your Everyday Poison in the current Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, is another fine story about Detective Cyrus Auburn, though I do have a quibble about it as I'll explain.

First, the story starts at a seedy flea market, introducing us, off-stage, to a character who soon winds up dead, but was it natural causes or murder? An antique table that was supposed to be delivered to one of the flea market vendors plays a role as does a bottle of wine locked inside it since the death of it last owner seventeen years earlier. Was that person, the table owner, also murdered though his death was ruled of natural causes? Cyrus Auburn is not the type of detective to give up on a case just because it's shrouded in antiquity and the potential victim was cremated. Instead, he tracks faint leads, does his library research, visits the hall of records, talks to potential witnesses and weighs all the evidence. in short, he does everything to make you hope you get a detective like this working your case when you get murdered...

Like all his stories, Dirckx deploys crisp prose and a sense of humor and draws Auburn as a sympathetic and intelligent detective. All of the short stories in the series are a pleasures. One hopes that Dirckx will one day be able to quit his day job* to write an Auburn novel.

The quibble with this story is that there is one essential clue to figuring out the case that is withheld until the end. It's not held back long - Auburn learns about it on one page and reveals it a page or two later, but still, it bothered me a little. Not sure if that could have been fixed without making the story substantially longer. Otherwise, this story is definitely a winner.


*Neurosurgeon.