Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Chainsaw Nativity" by S.W. Hubbard

From: Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine, January/February 2008.

I couldn't resist the title. Hubbard's series protagonist Frank Bennett, police chief of the upstate New York town of Trout Run, investigates when the statue of Joseph is stolen from a Presbyterian church's Nativity scene.

Not especially violent, the story's title alludes to the fact that the scene is carved entirely with a chainsaw. The story itself has some funny moments as well as some poignant ones as it explores Joseph's often overlooked role in faith history. Bennett finds the statue playing a similar role for the story's culprit.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"Sanity Clause" by Steve Brewer

From: The Last Noel. Worldwide, 2004

With his reporter wife wanting a new laptop for Christmas, Santa-phobic New Mexico P.I. Bubba Mabry takes a $3000/week job watching Santa's Workshop at a local mall, making sure none of the Santas brings bad publicity down on the mall as in the past. The task proves impossible when Daniel Gooch, a former famous inventor-cum-the mall's best Santa, is found dead minutes before starting his shift.

Bubba hadn't seen anyone enter the locker room from the front, and the security chief who hired Bubba says no one entered from the back. Fired by the mall, Bubba is hired by the head of Joyous Noises, a Christmas charity that stands to inherit Gooch's patents.

Opposing Joyous Noises are Gooch's former business partner and his sister, who want to have Gooch declared mentally incompetent in light of his switch from CEO to Santa.

Bubba has a take on Santa and Christmas I can almost guarantee you haven't heard before. From an anthology of longer Christmas stories, the multi-chapter format allows for deeper character development.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Road to the Airport" by Donna Thorland

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March 2008.

Thorland's first story for AHMM is the suspenseful, scary tale of a woman late for a flight and her domineering husband Frank, to whose will the world seems to bend. He gets her to the airport by a seemingly impossible shortcut, just in time to hear about the crash of the plane she would have boarded.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Interrogation B" by Charlie Huston

From: A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir. Ed. Megan Abbott. Busted Flush Press, 2007.

One of a handful of male-authored stories in this female-themed anthology, "Interrogation B" follows Borden, a former Army MP-turned-police detective, as she questions a foul-mouthed, uncooperative suspect who gives her name as "Betty Crocker" on the standard interrogation form. After Betty spits on a male cop, sending him off in a huff, Borden bonds with her over frustration with others, getting her to confess to two killings.

In the final scene, a precinct poker game, we see a hint of how much Borden keeps close to the vest.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Just Another Job" by Brett Battles

Recently made available on Authorlink free-of-charge, this story from the author of The Cleaner is a prequel to the book's events, showing professional "cleaner" Jonathan Quinn and his mentor Durrie in the aftermath of a deal for software secrets.

As the story opens, the buyer has already been killed by an operations team. Quinn and Durrie's job is to make the scene look as innocent as possible, which includes dousing the blood with paint. Durrie is prepared to kill the seller, too, but Quinn rationalizes that only the buyer had put up a fight, only he deserved to die. With this relative morality, Quinn tries to separate working in the aftermath of violence from the act of violence. This shred of decency distinguishes him from others in the business, making readers care about him.

If you've read The Cleaner as I have, this story is a treat. If you haven't, it's a good introduction to Quinn's world.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Killing in Midtown by G. Miki Hayden

My admiration for G. Miki Hayden's stories is well known and well founded. There is a lot to do in a short story, and even more that needs to be done if the short story is a mystery. Hayden consistently excels. "A Killing in Midtown" is in the current AHMM and it features Miriam Obadah, an immigrant from Ghana living with her husband and her co-wife, the much younger, Nana. In this series, Miriam solves various crimes while trying to make a living selling her handicrafts in Harlem and keeping an eye on Nana much as a mother might.

In this particular story, Nana has gotten a job in a Midtown hotel, and it isn't long before she reports that one of the other staff members died a suspicious death on the premises. She asks Miriam to go to work for the hotel to see if she can ferret out the killer - after all, it would be a shame for the woman to have died unnoticed. Miriam takes the case, and it isn't long before she uncovers more than one type of injustice happening at the hotel.

One of the treats of the series is Miriam's keen eyed appreciation of the people and happenings around her. She may have been taken out of Ghana (in fact, since her husband handles all the paperwork, she isn't sure she's in the U.S. legally), but Ghana has not been taken out of her. New Yorkers are a strange breed when seen through her eyes, and the sympathy she evokes is worth the price of admission, which, since it's a double-issue, is $5.99.