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.