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

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.