Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Character Flaw" by Christine Matthews

From: The Shamus Game ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2000.

Gun in hand, Skye Cahill shows up at the door of Nebraska P.I. Roberta "Robbie" Stanton claiming to have shot a man dead. Shortly before her arrest, she hires Robbie to determine whether she shot the right man. Armed with a taped third-person account of Skye's actions made by Skye herself, Robbie learns she had been pursuing Edward Blevins, whom she believed to be her biological father.

According to the tape, Blevins got ornery with Skye and dared her to shoot him. Skye's story is cast in doubt, though, when Robbie learns she's been in psychiatric treatment. Indeed it seems Skye chose to hire Robbie because of Stanton's own time in a mental institution.

It was a challenge following Skye's third-person story-within-a-story, but I appreciated how deeply Robbie empathized with Skye, feeling protective of her when other characters dismissed her as "crazy."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Malibu Tag Team" by Jonathan Valin

From: Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration, ed. Byron Preiss, 1988, 1999.

Originally published on the centennial of Chandler's birth, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe collects twenty-five original Marlowe stories by some of the most notable writers of the time, each owing a particular debt to Chandler and/or Marlowe. The stories proceed in chronological order by the years in which they are set, from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s.

Praising Chandler's style, wit, and voice, and knowing his short stories often laid the groundwork for his novels, Valin set out to write the story that might have been the springboard for Farewell, My Lovely (1939), the first Marlowe novel he read.

A former wrestler still going by "The Crusher" forcibly hires Marlowe as a go-between to pay off crooked fight promoter Tony Loma. Marlowe learns The Crusher himself is acting on behalf of his wrestling partner Elmo, who owes Loma $5000.

When it appears Loma has stolen the money The Crusher hoped to pay him, the wrestler heads off to confront the promoter, knowing full well he may not come back.

Meanwhile Marlowe tracks down Elmo, who believes he's successfully scammed Loma when in fact the true culprit has scammed him. Marlowe and Elmo race to save The Crusher, but they are too late. Valin's contrast of the thuggish but honorable Crusher with the naive, scheming Elmo is his own variation on Chandler's theme of what it means to be a man.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Rat" by David Terrenoire

From: Hardboiled #27/28 (December 2001), ed. Gary Lovisi

This story opens with the narrator, Jimmy, being interviewed from a hospital bed by his Special Forces buddy-turned-cop, Charlie. Charlie is looking for leads on the shooting death of frat boy Rickie Teargarden, accused of rape.

Jimmy recounts how his daughter Molly and her friend Diane, the alleged victim, sought his help. He goes on to say he agreed to find Rickie—that was all—and took a beating for his trouble.

Jimmy isn't telling everything, as you might expect, but even he is surprised by the whole truth.

Terrenoire delivers a solid, compelling story, a perfect fit for Lovisi's 3,000-word limit.

Friday, January 19, 2007

NBS Special Report

NBS's own Bill Crider has been nominated for a 2007 MWA Edgar Award:


"The Home Front" – Death Do Us Part by Charles Ardai (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)
"Rain" – Manhattan Noir by Thomas H. Cook (Akashic Books)
"Cranked" – Damn Near Dead by Bill Crider (Busted Flush Press)
"White Trash Noir" – Murder at the Foul Line by Michael Malone (Hachette Book Group – Mysterious Press)
"Building" – Manhattan Noir by S.J. Rozan (Akashic Books)

Congrats and good luck, Bill.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"The Man Who Called from Tomorrow" by Rob Kantner

First appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. September 1986.

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

A man calls from Guam asking for Gail. Ben Perkins tells the man he's dialed the wrong number. That night the same man calls back wanting to hire Perkins to find Gail in Cincinnati. Identifying himself as Paul Murray, he says Gail is his wife whom he left eight years earlier and now hopes to win back. Perkins is almost certain he's been lied to, but he's also overdrawn at the bank, so he takes the case.

Kantner takes full advantage of Perkins's being hired over the phone. It turns out almost none of Murray's story is true, and he succeeds in using Perkins to achieve goals that are likewise less than honest. By the same token, Perkins's accessibility, humanity, and everyman dilemmas are what distinguish him in a crowded P.I. field.

Trouble is What I Do collects 18 Perkins stories, each with an afterword from Kantner discussing what inspired him. Kantner was also kind enough to chat with DetecToday members last year. You can read the transcript here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

"The Timing of Unfelt Smiles" by John Dufresne

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

Jordan Delreese is a highly successful motivation expert and church deacon who, in this story's opening sentence, is described bludgeoning his wife and two children to death. The description is provided by Wylie Melville, the psychotherapist helping police profile Delreese.

The story alternates between Melville's first-person P.O.V. and third-person descriptions of Delreese continuing his killing spree, drugging and drowning his ultra-religious parents. The two viewpoints contrast quite starkly: Melville's very human as he juggles the case with caring for his senile father; Delreese's hopeless and inevitable, its quoteless dialogue emphasizing how withdrawn he has become.

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Tender Mercies" by Jeff Abbott

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

Like most of the protagonists in this anthology, 75-year-old Lionel Dupuy is more than meets the eye. He specializes in killing the elderly to end to their suffering. Calling these jobs "mercies," he uses the alias "Mr. Grimm," a phone voice scrambler, and a dead drop to contact clients and collect his fee.

When someone hires Mr. Grimm to kill Lionel Dupuy, Lionel must figure out which of his sister's children wants him dead. A fun mix of the hitman and detective genres.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Some Children Wander by Mistake" by John Connolly

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

This story follows William, a ten-year-old boy fascinated by the circus. When the Circus Caliban comes to town, William is given a ticket to its one-night-only performance. That night, he wanders away from his parents, curious that he hasn't seen any clowns.

Finding his way into a secluded tent, he discovers the clowns are disguised as people. When they rub off their flesh-colored makeup their true features are revealed, including orange hair, whiteface, and prickly tongues. They speak a language William doesn't understand at first, but eventually he learns not only that clowns hate and kidnap children, but that he is a clown himself.

What sounds far-fetched to describe is made believable by the atmosphere and tone Connolly establishes. If you aren't afraid of clowns, you may well be after reading this story.