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.


“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.