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.