Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Oil Slick" by Jay Brooks

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March 2009

Brooks's first published story follows a con man looking to bilk big money from ex-NFL player Andy Belton in an oil drilling scam. Little does he know Belton is running a con of his own. Tightly told and surprising.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Babs" by Scott Phillips

From: Las Vegas Noir ed. Jarret Keene & Todd James Pierce. Akashic Books, 2008.

From the author of The Ice Harvest comes the story of Tate, a good-natured pothead originally from Kansas who, as a favor to his friend Skip, agrees to pick up some crystal meth from Skip's friend Babs, and bring it back to L.A. Babs, described by Skip as "a stripper", is nothing like Tate expects. Falling a little in love with her, he agrees to back her up retrieving the meth from a dealer.

I'm not a fan of first-person present-tense narrative as a rule, but the style works here to set up Tate's sensibilities. I was as disarmed by Babs as he was, even as I realized Tate was getting in over his head.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Proper Application of Pressure to a Wound by Sherry Decker

Sherry Decker's story in the December issue packs an emotional punch and as I've said before in this space, that's one of the hallmarks of a great short story for me. (It's a hallmark of a great long story too). Very difficult thing to accomplish in a short space, but this story does it.

The main character is a home nurse for an elderly man she's learned to care about. He dies, and that's not the worst that happens. We learn the nurse has been on a downward spiral having lost a child and a husband and a proper hospital job. When you've lost enough, you think about what you can save, and she couldn't save her patinet.

Still, there are plenty of others who need help in this world, and the story will talk about some of those. The nurse does what she can and rises and rises until some might say she's become a hero. But will the appreciation of others be enough for her?After all, it won't bring her back what she's lost.

In any event, if you're looking for a crime related story that might just move you emotionally, this one is recommended.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Down Home Blues" by Rob Kantner

Recently posted to Kantner's Web site, this new Ben Perkins story has Ben attending his great aunt's funeral in Georgia. After the ceremony, Ben's cousin Caroleen asks him to fix the toilet at the cabin she rents out. This he does easily, but he also becomes suspicious when the renters don't seem to be the "lovely folks" Caroleen describes.

I hadn't read a Perkins story in some time, but Ben's voice was instantly familiar. I'm glad Kantner is still writing about him. I found "Down Home Blues" a little long to read onscreen. Print it out and take your time with it, as Ben would.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Candles on the Corner" by Janet Dawson

From: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November 2008

Dawson's Bay Area P.I. Jeri Howard is hired by the parents of 12-year-old Emily Gebhardt, who died in a hit-and-run accident. With varying witness statements and precious few clues, Jeri proves a tenacious questioner with a knack for educated guesses. She elicits the truth, but is unable to stop a horrific act of vengeance by Emily's father.

A well-plotted, satisfying investigation with a tragic end.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NBS Special Report: Awards Roundup

A belated roundup of the short story awards announced at Bouchercon, as seen on Jiro Kimura's The Gumshoe Site:

The Shamus (Private Eye Writers of America)

Best P.I. Short Story: "Hungry Enough," by Cornelia Read (in A HELL OF A WOMAN, edited by Megan Abbott; Busted Flush Press)

The Anthony (as voted by attendees of Bouchercon 2008)

Best Short Story: "Hardly Knew Her," by Laura Lippman (in DEAD MAN'S HAND, edited by Otto Penzler; Harcourt)

The Barry (presented jointly by Deadly Pleaures Mystery Magazine and Mystery News)

Best Short Story: "The Problem of the Summer Snowman," by Edward D. Hoch (Ellery "Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 2007)

The Macavity (presented by Mystery Readers International)

Best Mystery Short Story: "Please Watch Your Step," by Rhys Bowen (The Strand Magazine #21, Feb-May 2007)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"The Other Side of the Mirror" by Eric Van Lustbader

From: Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night ed. James Patterson. Mira, 2006.

This anthology of shorts by thriller writers is up for discussion on DetecToday next month, and I was lucky to find it on Mystery Loves Company's table in the book room at Bouchercon. I was curious whether thriller writers, known for their sprawling plots and over-the-top prose, would succeed at short stories, wherein much has to be condensed and focused.

In Van Lustbader's story, a spy on the verge of a nervous breakdown is hiding from his enemies in a seedy Buenos Aires hotel room. He reflects on how he was drawn to spycraft by his wife's death. As their love story plays back for readers, we realize his love can turn to jealousy instantly. In fact, he turns out to be a most unreliable narrator.

I found that despite the story's relative brevity (twenty pages), it still featured excess verbiage and false-sounding dialogue, the two main traits that turn me off from thrillers. That said, I have to admit I kept reading as the spy's mind slip out from under him.

Monday, October 06, 2008

"Promise" by John Harvey

From: Murder is My Racquet, ed. Otto Penzler. Mysterious Press, 2005.

Harvey's former footballer P.I. Jack Kiley is hired when British tennis star Victoria Clarke is blackmailed to pay a quarter of a million pounds or have the existence of a daughter she had at age fifteen exposed. While Kiley is an able tough guy who does get to work out some aggression in this story, the resolution is nicely downbeat and plausible. "Promise" is a glimpse into Kiley's life that makes me want to see more.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Comes Around" by Chris Rogers

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, December 2008.

This five-page story from the author of the Dixie Flannigan bounty hunter novels features ex-cop Ford Bradshaw. Now retired, Bradshaw takes it upon himself to be an instrument of justice without judge or jury. Early in the story, Bradshaw suspects Jake McGrew, a newcomer to the weekly poker game, is a killer. Bradshaw's follow-up on his hunches actually obscures the outcome, turning expectation on its ear.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Accidentally, Like a Martyr" by Reed Farrel Coleman

From: The Darker Mask. Ed. Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers. Tor, 2008.

This story from a anthology of noirish superhero tales is told in the frenetic, poetic stream of consciousness of a crack addict who kills a priest to steal from a church poor box. After this encounter, he gains the power to travel through time, taking the sins of others as his own, clearing their paths to heaven while he is cursed with immortality on earth. A Deity with an Irish brogue calls him the Absolver.

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Bottom Deal" by Robert Gregory Browne

From: Killer Year ed. Lee Child. St. Martin's, 2008.

Ex-cop, compulsive gambler, and amateur Vegas magician Nick Jennings extends himself when his friend Holly Addison calls him out of the blue. He's too late to keep her from being shot to death, but he's determined to find out why she was killed. Browne's Killer Year entry combines engaging characters, a meaty plot, and brisk pace.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Suicide Blonde" by Brian Thornton

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November 2008

In 1960s Las Vegas, Sean Murphy, a lawyer/fixer on retainer with the outfit, is called when his boss's brother, Eddie, finds his neighbor dead after a night of drinking. Murphy must piece together what happened, who the woman is, and how to keep his clients out of it. A clever hardboiled mystery.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Friday Night Luck" by Edward D. Hoch

From: The Blue Religion ed. Michael Connelly. Little Brown and Company, 2008.

Working on a crime-scene cleanup crew, Will Blackstone aspires to be a police detective. His chances dim when he's caught smoking marijuana during a shift as a citizen volunteer, but on a whim he decides not to turn in his uniform and badge, and no one keeps after him about it.

Some days later, while cleaning up an apparent double-murder, Blackstone finds an address book the police have missed. The book leads him to believe the second man isn't dead. Blackstone does his best to investigate, imperiling himself in the process. A well-served blend of optimism and realism.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"The Quick Brown Fox" by Robert S. Levinson

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, October 2008.

Mired in the worst dry spell of his career, mystery writer Gus Ebersole is invited to teach creative writing to prison inmates. Taking the chance to be inspired, he accepts the job, and promptly plagiarizes the work of two inmates as his own. From the moment these stories are accepted to Crime & Punishment magazine, Ebersole fears the inmates will find out and take revenge on him.

Any writer can relate to the scenario, and Levinson uses its natural tension to great effect. Ebersole and I got not one, but two nasty surprises.

Monday, August 04, 2008

"Hungry Enough" by Cornelia Read

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

The fun of this Shamus-nominated story is in the effects of Read's chosen viewpoint and protagonist. Julia is twenty-five years old in 1959, an aspiring starlet turned secretary for a P.I. The story opens with Julia listening to her friend Kay complain about her producer husband's sexual idiosyncrasies. They arrive at Kay's house to find her husband crushed to death by one of his own kinky devices, and Julia calls on her boss, Philip, to try and unravel the mystery.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

NBS Special Report: 2008 Shamus Nominees for Best Short Story

As announced by the Private Eye Writers of America:

"Kill the Cat" by Loren D. Estleman, Detroit Noir (Akashic), featuring Amos Walker.

"Trust Me" by Loren D. Estleman, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2007, featuring Amos Walker.

"Open Mike" by James Nolan, New Orleans Noir (Akashic), featuring Vincent Panarello.

“Hungry Enough" by Cornelia Read, A Hell of a Woman (Busted Flush Press), featuring Philip.

"Room for Improvement" by Marilyn Todd, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2007, featuring Lois Hepburn.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"The Pencil" by Raymond Chandler

Available in: Raymond Chandler: Collected Stories. Knopf, 2002.

To mark the 120th anniversary of Chandler's birth, a review of this 1959 story, written especially for England twenty years after Philip Marlowe's previous appearance in the short form.

Here Marlowe is hired by Ikky Rothstein, a low-level mobster who's been targeted by the Outfit for execution and is looking to excape. Enlisting the help of his lady friend Anne Riordan, Marlowe manages to keep two hitmen off Ikky's trail, but in the aftermath he finds another man identified as Rothstein and himself the target of a hit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Between the Dark and the Daylight -- Tom Piccirilli, EQMM, Sept/Oct '08

"Between the Dark and the Daylight" has a great opening, with four men hanging off the ropes leading to a runaway hot-air balloon. How they got there and what happens to them, two of them in particular (not to mention the child in the basket above), is what makes the story. I'll just say that one of them is a bank robber and that it's his son in the basket. You'll want to check this one out because it is indeed nasty, brutish, and short.

The Boy Who Cried Wolfe -- Loren Estleman, EQMM, Sept/Oct '08

Is there anything Loren Estleman can't do? He's done Holmes pastiches, westerns, private-eye novels, historicals, crime novels, and humor. What we have here is a Nero Wolfe pastiche. Claudius Lyon is the large, eccentric crime-solver (can't afford orchids, to he grows tomatoes) and Arnie Woodbine is the secretary/legman. Arnie, being an ex-con, isn't quite as dapper as Archie, but he's a dandy narrator. When a kid asks Lyon to find his father, the team goes into action. It's a funny take on the Wolfe saga and another smart short from Estleman.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Mitzvah" by Tod Goldberg

From: Las Vegas Noir ed. Jarret Keene & Todd James Pierce. Akashic Books, 2008.

Fifteen years into his assumed identity as a Las Vegas rabbi, former Chicago mob hitman Sal Cupertine is fed up with the phoniness and monotony of his new life. After officiating at the fake funeral of policeman Vincent Castiglione, now known as Vincent Castleberg, Sal decides to steal the cop's identity and make a play to return to Chicago.

Showing the complexity of Sal's feelings and the depth of his despair, Goldberg makes readers care about a killer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

8 Across by Leigh Lundin

I've been meaning to write about this one for several days. It's about a sheriff named Jose and a deputy named Miller and what might happen if eight men crossed the border from Mexico, but it turned out they weren't Mexican at all and the knapsacks slung over their shoulders weren't not stuffed with clothes. What if those men had plans on attacking the Alamo? THE ALAMO! Where John Wayne and Richard Widmark held off thousands of Mexican soldiers with a big knife and a long gun. Where Davy Crockett got kilt.

In any event, Jose is one of the sympathetic and fully drawn characters you'll find in a short story and as regular readers will know, I appreciate any story where fully human characters are drawn. It's not an easy trick, but Mr. Lundin makes it fun here. He also manages to tweak several racial stereotypes. A lot of work for a short story.

Not sure about the picture that was drawn for it, but then Mr. Lundin didn't draw it, so I'll reserve my opinion.

I think the story is more suspense than mystery, but either way it works. You can find it in the April 2008 AHMM.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Davey's Daughter by Russel D. Mclean

As I've said before, Russel McLean writes some of the best mystery short fiction available through commercial sources. This example in the September 2008 issue of AHMM is a prime example of what I mean. It starts off with a former boxer, Davey, whose sixteen year old daughter has gone missing with some guy who is no good on the surface and might be downright evil at the core. Sam Bryson, former copper and Davey's friend, is called in on the case as Davey has never had much use for the police.

Will Sam be able to track the girl down before she's done in? Will Davey need to ride in to the rescue, fists swinging? Will Sam be able to keep his own temper (prone to sudden flareups) under control? Well, you'll have to buy a copy of the magazine to find out, but this is excellent writing, and in the end your heart will be torn at with sharp cat's claws*.

I should say the issue also contains contributions by John Dirckx and G. Miki Hayden (who finally gets an illustration). Two more excellent reasons to get a copy.

* Okay not the greatest metaphor, but you'll see what I mean if you read the story**.

** Okay, you may not exactly see what I mean, but I promise you'll love the story.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

There's a Killer Loose! by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

This story marks Mickey Spillane's first appearance in EQMM. It was originally a radio script, but it's been recast into story form by Spillane's posthumous collaborator, Max Allan Collins.

The story opens with Terry Devlin, a hospitalized war vet, trapped by the cops in an abandoned building. You can almost hear the voice-over narration before we get the flashback. Devlin has been having periodic blackouts. And people are being murdered. Lots of people believe Terry's the killer. He doesn't know if he is or not. A former girlfriend has gotten him released and taken him in. He's lived peacefully with her and her brother, but now there's been another murder. Devlin is on the run, and the cops are closing in.

Typical Spillane twists and a fine Old-Time Radio flavor make this one a nice entry in EQMM's new Black Mask section.

Bill Crider

Friday, June 20, 2008

Forget Me Never by Terence Faherty

The thing about a Terence Faherty story is that you'll always get an emotional payoff, not just the solution to a puzzle. Of course, the solution is there as well, but the stories always succeed in making you FEEL something too.

In this story (EQMM, June 2008), a reporter for the Star Republic is given a human interest story to follow up. It happens that there are several roadside memorials on different roads throughout town all dedicated to the same young woman - a girl named Maria. Since these memorials normally go up at the spot where the person being memorialized died and Maria can't have died in several different places - the newspaper editor wants to know what's the deal. The reporter does too.

Along the way, the reporter comes across people with their own theories including that Maria is not dead at all but is instead being stalked by someone who wants to make her very afraid. The answer, as you'll see when you read the story, is simpler and more poignant.

As always with a Faherty story, the writing is first class throughout.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Father's Day" by Michael Connelly

From: The Blue Religion ed. Michael Connelly. Little Brown and Company, 2008.

This powerful story opens with a hospital curtain being pulled over the body of a dead child. The child's father admits to leaving the child alone in his car while he was distracted by business that brought him into the office on a weekend. At interview, Bosch suspects the man is lying and expertly baits him into telling the truth.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Baja" by Edward D. Hoch

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September 2008.

New San Diego police detective Annie Sears is assigned to accompany veteran Sgt. Frank Munson to Baja, Mexico to bring armed robber and cop killer Dunstan Quentis back for trial. Quentis manages to escape custody, and Sears prevents Munson from shooting him dead. As the officers continue pursuit, Sears feels guilty about for her part in the escape, but also begins to sense things are not what they seem.

Readers may guess the basic plot here, but the real joy is in the details expertly laid out by Hoch. As vivid and taut as any of his stories, "Baja" is yet more proof how much he will be missed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Keller the Dogkiller by Lawrence Block

The May 2008 issue of Ellery Queen has this nifty short story. If you've read some of Mr. Block's novels you may know that Keller normally works killing humans. As this story begins, however, Dot (who seems to work pretty much as Keller's agent) explains that he's been hired to kill a dog. The money isn't great, but then the risks aren't so big either.

I can't say much about who hires him without spoiling the plot, but I will say that by the time it's all over, it isn't just Fluffy the pit bull that needs killing.

The best part of the story as far as I'm concerned was the dialogue between Keller and Dot which kind of provided a running commentary on the twists in the plot (of which there are plenty). I've never read one of the novels, so I don't know if it is common for the series.

A very enjoyable read.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Hidden Gifts by Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith is one of the best mystery short story writers active today and one of the best even if you go as far back as Poe (which is roughly about as far as you can go in this field). This story is one of his Christmas stories, and those are always a treat.

In this tale, Karen and Ronnie (ages 9 and 6 respectively) are debating the existence of Santa Claus. Karen goes on a hunt through the house to find evidence to prove there is no Santa. If she can only find the gifts she knows her mother has hidden somewhere...But what if her mother, under the influence of "Cousin Rick" the man who showed up and took up residence in her mom's bedroom, has forgotten to buy any presents?

After all, Cousin Rick is just the type to think buying presents for the kids is a waste while the money could be spent on himself. An evil, self centered man with no use for the children.

No worries, however, more than any presents, Karen finds something that might just get Cousin Rick out of the picture for good. But what? How? Read the story. It is in the January 2008 copy of Ellery Queen, and I will send my copy to whoever asks for it first.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"The Drought" by James O. Born

From: The Blue Religion ed. Michael Connelly. Little Brown and Company, 2008.

In a drought of murder cases, Ben Stoltz, a senior Homicide detective with the Broward County Sheriff's office, investigates the case of a young officer who shot a man who'd disarmed him of his ASP expandable baton. Born shows Stoltz to be a man of extreme focus, whose dedication to the job estranges him from his wife and family. Under pressure from a state's attorney to help indict the young officer or face a transfer out of Homicide, will Stoltz compromise or keep his integrity?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Pretty Little Parasite" by David Corbett

From: Las Vegas Noir ed. Jarret Keene & Todd James Pierce. Akashic Books, 2008.

Upon learning she is pregnant, cocaine-addicted casino worker Sam Pitney tries to provide for her child by becoming a low-level coke dealer. Her business succeeds for some time, but unfortunately one of her sources for new clientele brings in an undercover cop, himself an addict. Shifting viewpoints from Sam, to her source, and to the cop, Corbett keeps this sad tale moving.

Friday, May 02, 2008

"My Hero" by Patricia Abbott

From: DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash ed. DZ Allen. August 2007.

Patricia Abbott's Derringer-winning flash story features Superman scooping up an abusive husband before he can choke his wife. Unfortunately the rescue hits a snag, and only The Man of Steel can get up, up, and away.

NBS Special Report: 2008 Derringer Awards

As voted by the Short Mystery Fiction Society:

"My Hero" by Patricia Abbott
Published in DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash

BEST STORY, 1001 to 4000 WORDS:
"In the Shadows of Wrigley Field" by John Weagly
Published in The Back Alley

BEST STORY, 4001 to 8000 WORDS:
"The Gospel According to Gordon Black" by Richard Helms
Published in The Thrilling Detective

BEST STORY, 8001 to 17500 WORDS:
"Paper Walls/Glass Houses" by Eric Shane
Published in The Back Alley

Congratulations to the winners.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Contact and Cover" by Greg Rucka

From: The Blue Religion ed. Michael Connelly. Little Brown and Company, 2008.

Novelist and comic book writer Rucka delivers his trademark authenticity and white-knuckle action in this story of three female Portland, Oregon police officers who serve their own justice on a misogynistic partner after the system fails them. From a brand new collection of nineteen stories on "cops, criminals, and the chase."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

NBS Special: Jen Jordan Chat Transcript

In my capacity as DetecToday moderator, I chatted with Expletive Deleted editor Jen Jordan. Author Sean Chercover also attended.

NBS Special Report: This Day in History

On April 20, 1841, the first detective story was published, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe. Many of the story's elements would be adopted by later authors as the genre developed: the genius detective, the first-person narrating sidekick, the red herring... "Rue Morgue" is also known as the first "locked room" mystery.

The story's opening paragraphs, distinguishing analysis from ingenuity, are still inspiring.

More background from Wikipedia. The full text of the story is available here.

"Find Me" by Anthony Neil Smith

From: Expletive Deleted. Ed. Jen Jordan. Bleak House Books, 2007.

After picking up a college girl at a bar, Louisiana P.I. Hopper Garland agrees to look for her missing roommate, Cynthia. Garland goes on to have sex with multiple partners in the course of his investigation, and the act of sex goes from being something Garland uses to a way he is used and humiliated. Like all of Smith's crime fiction, this is a dark, no-nonsense tale of substance.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Souls Burning" by Bill Pronzini

Available in Spadework by Bill Pronzini, Crippen and Landru, 1996.

For Pronzini's birthday, a review of one of his darker Nameless Detective stories. Nameless agrees to meet Eddie Quinlan, a small-time crook six months out of Folsom prison, at the seedy Hotel Majestic in a bad neighborhood. Eddie is fed up with the state of the world, visible right outside his window, and itching to do something about it. Nameless can't begin to tell him what that might be. Tiring of Eddie's ruminations, Nameless takes his leave. Eddie ends up committing a horrific crime, and Nameless must come to grips with the fact he could have done nothing to stop it. A master of the pared-down, efficient mystery story, Pronzini is equally adept at image-rich stories like this one.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Nobody's Ring" by Terence Faherty

From: The Shamus Game ed. Robert J. Randisi. Signet, 2000.

In 1951 Hollywood, P.I. Scott Elliott finds an ostentatious sapphire ring left in the bathroom during a dinner party. No one at the party claims the ring, so Elliott visits local jewelers until one identifies the ring as his handiwork and tells Elliott who ordered it.

Elliott calls the jeweler's client to give the ring back, and the client requests they meet at a more private location. Soon after Elliott arrives there, he finds the client shot dead and is brought in by the police. Faherty keeps this long short story moving with many more twists. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

NBS Special Report: 2008 SMFS Derringer Finalists

As posted to Shortmystery today:

Best Story 1,000 words or less:

Keri Clark, "Saved" (Mysterical-E, Fall 2007)

BV Lawson, "Dreaming of a Spite Christmas" (Mouth Full of Bullets, Winter 2007)

Jillian Berg, "A Woman Scorned" (Mouth Full of Bullets, Autumn 2007)

Keri Clark, "Your New Fan" (Mouth Full of Bullets, Winter 2007)

Patricia Abbott, "My Hero" (D Z Allen's Muzzle Flash, 2007)

Best Story 1,001 to 4,000 words:

Beverle Graves Myers, "Brimstone P.I." (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May 2007)

Hugh Lessig, "We All Come From Splattertown" (Thuglit, Issue 17, July 2007)

Rick Noetzel, "Joyride" (Shred of Evidence, Dec., 2007)

Jack Hardway, "Handful of Stars" (Mouth Full of Bullets, Issue 5, Autumn 2007)

John Weagly, "In the Shadows of Wrigley Field" (The Back Alley, Vol. I, Nov 2007)

Camille LaGuire, "The Promise" (Future's Mysterious Anthology Magazine, March-April 2007)

Best Story 4,001 to 8,000 words:

Twist Phelan, "A Trader's Lot" (Wall Street Noir, Akashic Books, June, 2007)

John Schroeder, "Devil's Lake" (Futures Anthology Magazine, Jan/Feb 2007)

Herschel Cozine, "A Private Hanging" (Mysterical-E, Summer, 2007)

Kate Flora, "Mr. McGregor's Garden" (Still Waters, Level Best Books, 2007)

Rosemary Harris, "Growing Up is For Losers" (Still Waters, Level Best Books, 2007)

Richard Helms, "The Gospel According to Gordon Black" (The Thrilling Detective, Fall 2007)

Best Story 8,001 to 17,500 words:

Beverle Graves Myers, "The Bookworm's Demise"(Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2007)

Eric Shane, "Paper Walls / Glass Houses" (The Back Alley Vol. 1, June 2007)

John Burdett, "The Enlightenment of Magnus McKay" (Wall Street Noir, June 2007)

Mike Wiecek, "Wasting Assets" (Alfred Hitchcock Sept., 2007)

Clifford Royal Johns, "Forget Me Not" (Mysterical-E, Fall 2007)

The finalists are put before Short Mystery Fiction Society members voting April 1-30 to determine the winner in each category. Congrats and good luck to all.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Hardly Knew Her" by Laura Lippman

From: Dead Man's Hand: Crime Fiction at the Poker Table, ed. Otto Penzler. Harcourt, 2007.

This Edgar-nominated story set in 1975 suburban Maryland effectively portrays a father's gambling addiction as he heartlessly sells his children's presents and pets to cover his debts. When he cuts the strings on his daughter's guitar to get at the heirloom necklace hidden inside, she resolves to follow him and do whatever it takes to get the necklace back.

While the father's inability to change dooms him, his daughter's embrace of change leads her from fear to confidence.

Friday, March 28, 2008

"Cookies" by Molly MacRae and Stephen Johnston

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2008.

Co-written by the current vice president and president of The Short Mystery Fiction Society, this story opens with Sam, an FBI computer tech, lamenting his wife Claire's suicide. In her suicide note, Claire alleged that Sam no longer loved her, that he was having an affair with Delia, a handwriting expert working out of the same headquarters as Sam. Within weeks of Claire's death, Delia's husband Carmichael also commits suicide.

For his part, Sam says he just fixed Delia's computer, that had lunch a few times, but nothing beyond that until after Claire's and Carmichael's deaths. Sam's tone made me wonder for much of the story whether he was really innocent. Readers may see one twist coming, but MacRae and Johnston play it up for added suspense.

A good mix of high technology and old-fashioned seduction.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Fluff" by Otis Twelve

From: Expletive Deleted. Ed. Jen Jordan. Bleak House Books, 2007.

From the first sentence to the last, this story is difficult yet compelling and definitely noir. Ginny is an HIV-positive ex-porn industry worker struggling to do right by her ill infant son. Hopeless as she is, Ginny's narrative voice is engaging and funny without going into parody. Cutting briskly between scenes of Ginny watching over her son and the actions she takes to help him, Otis Twelve sets up a satisfying twist ending as well.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"One Serving of Bad Luck" by Sean Chercover

From: Killer Year ed. Lee Child. St. Martin's, 2008.

Ray Dudgeon, the P.I. from Chercover's debut novel, Big City, Bad Blood, is hired by the lawyer for Sarah Shipman, who lost her legs in a car accident shortly after having her tires rotated at an auto repair chain. With the chain offering to settle for $600,000, Sarah's lawyer wants to pad that figure, but he needs a statement from George Garcia, the man who worked on Sarah's car, a man who's conveniently disappeared.

In his introduction to the story, Ken Bruen praises Ray Dudgeon's humanity. I was most impressed with Chercover's handling of the secondary characters. Instead of feeling forced to establish Dudgeon's voice, Chercover allowed the other characters' voices to come through. As Dudgeon felt for them, so did I.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Prodigal Me" by JT Ellison

From: Killer Year ed. Lee Child. St. Martin's, 2008.

This is the story of a husband and wife who've come to accept long periods of silence between them. The wife narrates with enough wry wit to keep readers engaged but all the while wondering, Where's the crime?

The reveal is subtle but, having bought into the setup fully, I appreciated it.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"Scrap" by Max Allan Collins

Originally appeared in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction ed. Ed Gorman, 1987.

Reprinted in Chicago Blues ed. Libby Fischer Hellman. Bleak House Books, 2007.

In honor of Collins's 60th birthday, this review of a Nate Heller story. In 1939 Chicago, Nate is hired by the treasurer of a garbage workers union to shadow a former union member who may be a spy for the mob. Heller picks up the man's trail in time to hear him shot by the union president.

In the aftermath, Nate is asked to play along as the union and the victim concoct a story to give the police. Heller is the classic, smooth, tough-guy P.I. and like all of Collins's stories, "Scrap" is well researched and period pitch-perfect.

Friday, February 29, 2008

"A Long Time To Die" by Dave Zeltserman

Originally appeared in New Mystery Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2. (1992)

In honor of this year's longer February, a review of Dave Zeltserman's first published story. The protag, Nick, covered up his brother Brendon's role in a hit-and-run accident to save Brendon's promising law career. Sentenced to join the military, Nick was sent to Vietnam and returned a shell of himself. As the story begins, the brothers are reunited after Brendon hired a detective to find Nick. Brendon offers to get Nick back on the right track, but as one might expect from the noirish Zeltserman, that's not how things work out.

"A Long Time To Die" was recently made available as the MP3 podcast "A Long To Die", read by Alan Vogel of Lit103.3.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Thoroughly Yours" by Kieran Shea

From: Plots with Guns 1 (February 2008).

After a three-plus-year absence, Neil Smith's respected contemporary noir ezine relaunched last week. The first sentence of Kieran Shea's story reads, "On his 42nd birthday, Boris Rugova jackhammered into Skip Matthews' loaded $72,000 Sport Coup Lexus at twenty-one miles per hour."

Rugova politely offers to pay the damages, but irate lawyer Matthews threatens to sue him. Rugova leaves multiple messages at Matthews' firm, visits the firm trying to make amends, but Matthews will have none of it.

Finally, Rugova approaches Matthews away from the office and gets down on his knees begging Matthews to let him work off the repairs, and Matthews says he'll think about it.

You might have guessed this is a setup for more. Shea drops enough clues and keeps a brisk pace while leaving enough in the dark to maintain surprise. The requisite gun appears, and fans of unvarnished violence get the whack of a hammer against bone.

The new PWG website features easily readable text paired with eye-grabbing photography by Peter Kim.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What Friends Are For by Russel McLean

The current issue of AHMM carries a literary treat. "What Friends Are For" is a story in Russel McLean's series of shorts concerning a Dundee PI named Sam. Sam used to be part of the police force, but now he fights for justice...literally. The series is one of my favorite short story series, ranking up there for me with G. Miki Hayden's Miriam and IJ Parker's Akitada series. Russel's stories are filled with rounded, human characters - no cartoon characters, just people who love and hate and care. It's what I love about the stories. This story does not disappoint.

In it, Sam's friend from his time on the police force has been arrested - a witness says he beat someone up, but the story doesn't convince Sam. He thinks his friend is being framed and he prowls about town trying to find the truth of the matter...and if it means stepping on someone's crotch to get the info he needs, he's the man to do it. But can he figure out the truth before his friend is brought before a judge, kicked off the force, sent to prison? In short, before the friend's life is ruined which is the apparent goal of someone in the shadows?

Take a look at the story. It is worth the price of the AHMM issue which, by the way, seems to have gone up a full dollar to $4.99. I'm hoping this is a special price to offset the huge rush of demand for an issue with a Russel McLean story and the price will go back down in the next issue...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

NBS Special - Love Hurts: A Valentine's Blog Event

On January 17, Patricia Abbott invited readers of her blog to write stories 750 words or less on the theme of love and crime, to be posted today.

Sixteen writers responded, including Graham and myself. Enjoy.

Patricia Abbott, "Tongues"

Stephen Allan, "The Many Forms of Love"

Patrick Shawn Bagley, "Leaving Rachel"

Cormac Brown, "Warmer"

Aldo Calcagno, "Love on the Rocks"

Clair Dickson, "Cupid's Bullet"

Sophie Littlefield, "Rival Passions"

Todd Mason, "Afterward"

John McAuley, "Since I've Been Loving You"

Christa M. Miller, "Beautiful Trouble"

Graham Powell, "The Last Time"

Bryon Quertermous, "Stand Up on Blow Pops"

r2, "Doctor, Doctor"

Sandra Seamans, "Bye, Bye Love"

Gerald So, "Connect the Dots"

WellesFan, "A Day Late"

"Cherish" by Alison Gaylin

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

25-year-old movie theater usher Myra Jane Wurtz is so infatuated with leading man Deacon Blaine, she believes he speaks to her through the silver screen. This secret communication grows into dream-like visits from Deacon, and soon Myra believes Deacon wants her to kill his mistress, Grace Ryan.

An engrossing, darkly funny story from the author of Hide Your Eyes, You Kill Me, and Trashed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Slice of Pie" by Bill Cameron

From: Killer Year ed. Lee Child. St. Martin's, 2008.

Not long after his father's death, Raymond is in the bathroom at his parents' house when he overhears a man ask his mother for money. His mother explains that the rumpled-looking man, Mr. Franklin, locked himself out of his car and needs $20 for a blacksmith, but Ray is convinced the man is conning her.

Using the confines of first person to their best effect, Cameron lets readers feel Ray's frustration dealing with a strong-willed mother who still treats him like a child. Ray drives by his mother's neighborhood the next few days, subconsciously looking for Mr. Franklin. He remains convinced Franklin is a conman, tempting readers to believe the same, keeping them on the hook until the final word.

In her introduction to the story, Anne Frasier remarks on the realism of Cameron's work. As a fan of realism, I concur.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Part Light, Part Memory" by Bonnie Hearn Hill

From: Death Do Us Part, ed. Harlan Coben. Little, Brown, and Company, 2006.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, before word of Emancipation has spread through the South, fifteen-year-old Little Mary's father John William is hanged for the crime of looking at his master's wife. Little Mary swears to kill her mistress Miz Bessie. Hatred and thoughts of revenge threaten to consume her, but after overhearing a fight between Miz Bessie and her husband, Mary turns her wrath against him.

As a child of the 1970s, it's difficult for me to read about people being treated as property. Nonetheless, this story is vividly and compellingly told, and I know if minorities before me didn't fight for equality, I would have no place in America.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Hit and Run" by Glenville Lovell

From: Hard Boiled Brooklyn ed. Reed Farrel Coleman. Bleak House Books, 2006.

Carla's cousin Martha recommends her when a man with a Caribbean accent offers $15,000 to anyone who will marry him so he can get his green card. At first, Carla isn't interested at all, but Martha and her own money problems convince her. Meeting the man, Carla talks him up to $100,000. As they go through the motions of marriage and commitment, Carla finds herself willing to kill her new husband to collect on a $1,000,000 life insurance policy. In making her plans, Carla learns the man is not who he seems.

A fast-moving story with nuanced dialogue and selfish characters. The ending comes out of nowhere, just like a hit-and-run.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"The Golden Gopher" by Susan Straight

From: Los Angeles Noir ed. Denise Hamilton. Akashic Books, 2007.

Straight's Edgar-nominated story follows successful travel writer FX Antoine searching downtown L.A. for Grady Jackson. As a teenager, FX stowed away in Grady's car to make it to Los Angeles. Now she feels a duty to tell him him his old flame Glorette—FX's best childhood friend—has been killed in their old neighborhood of Rio Seco.

Highlighting local color, socioeconomic and racial divides, "The Golden Gopher" is literary as well as noir.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Blue Note" by Stuart M. Kaminsky

From: Chicago Blues ed. Libby Fischer Hellman. Bleak House Books, 2007.

In late 1950s Chicago, blues aficionado and notoriously bad gambler Pitch Noles is forced into a latenight game of poker. Loan shark Terrance "Dusk" Oliver threatens to hurt Pitch's blues singer mother unless Pitch wins at least $40,000 from three men who have previously beaten Oliver at poker.

Readers feel Pitch's nerves and desperation as he reads the three strangers for tells. Playing the game of his life, he manages to meet Oliver's price, but one final surprise turns this noir story on its head.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Uncle" by Daniel Woodrell

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

Woodrell's Edgar-nominated story is told by a young woman who's lived for years under the thumb of her serial rapist uncle. One day she rescues a particularly feisty girl and, in the aftermath, attacks her uncle with a mattocks, leaving him brain-damaged the rest of his life.

Now forced to look after her uncle, the narrator wonders if, in his debilitated state, he is still evil.

A fine nominee, "Uncle" is an example of how to use voice and description to their best effect in five pages.

Friday, January 18, 2008

NBS Special Report: 2008 Edgar Nominees


"The Catch" – Still Waters by Mark Ammons (Level Best Books)
"Blue Note" – Chicago Blues by Stuart M. Kaminsky (Bleak House Books)
"Hardly Knew Her" – Dead Man's Hand by Laura Lippman (Harcourt Trade Publishers)
"The Golden Gopher" – Los Angeles Noir by Susan Straight (Akashic Books
"Uncle" – A Hell of a Woman by Daniel Woodrell (Busted Flush Press)

Congrats and good luck to all.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Messenger From Hades" by Edward D. Hoch

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2008.

The mystery community is saddened today by the passing of the prolific Edward D. Hoch. In tribute to Hoch, a review of his story in the latest AHMM.

In 1842, approaching his thirtieth birthday, Charles Dickens, his wife Kate, her maid Anne Brown, and his traveling secretary George Putnam tour America aboard the steamboat Messenger. One of Dickens's card-playing companions is murdered aboard ship, and an observant Dickens helps flush out the killer.

A clever mystery cloaked in period detail, I'm sure this exemplifies but a fraction of Hoch's talent. He will be missed.

"The Hard Case" by Robert Lopresti

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2008.

Having served twenty-five years at Longman State Penitentiary, Ray Keegan has just finished breakfast at a diner when the town sheriff arrives. The nephew of a jewelry store owner is accusing Keegan of the owner's murder. Keegan says he didn't do it, but who will the sheriff believe?

The title refers to Keegan, but at first glance, it seems to belie the story's brevity. Clever and compelling, "The Hard Case" inspired AHMM's April cover.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Tourist Trade" by James O. Born

From: Dublin Noir ed. Ken Bruen. Akashic Books, 2006.

Born's contribution to this memorable anthology follows a serial-killing Irishman with an otherwise idyllic life and a surprising, darkly comic motivation.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Pain Management" by Tyler Dilts

From: Crimespree #16 (January/February 2007).

One year after a knife attack, the homicide detective protag of this story has recovered most of the feeling in his hand. Unfortunately he's left in chronic pain, reliant on a plethora of painkillers and doctors. The detective's first case back is a bloody double-murder. His narrative voice is no-nonsense, and the story alternates between his investigation and his attempts to cope with his pain.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Skull and Cross Examination" by Toni Kelner

From Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2008

Pirates were and nasty and brutish, right? And some of them were probably short. So this story is certainly appropriate for the venue.

I don't believe I've ever seen a pirate story in EQMM before, and it's been a while since I read one anywhere. So it was a pleasure to run across this one. It's told in the form of a long letter home from a young man on his way to Jamaica where he hopes to establish himself as a lawyer. His father doesn't have a very high opinion of him or his chances.

Along the way, the ship he's on is attacked by pirates, and the crew and passengers are taken captive. That night, there's a murder, and the young man is called upon to be the lawyer for the accused at a trail to be held on shipboard.

This is an amusing, well-told tale, one I recommend for anybody who likes pirates, murder, or courtroom drama. This one has it all.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"Guarding Lacey" by Kris Nelscott

From: Chicago Blues. Ed. Libby Fischer Hellman,

Set in January 1970, this story is from the viewpoint of Jim, a boy rescued by Nelscott's series P.I. Smokey Dalton after witnessing the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now twelve years old and masquerading as Dalton's son, Jim recounts watching his thirteen-year-old cousin Lacey go through puberty and begin to attract undue attention.

As in the previously reviewed "Johnny Seven", the world of children is shown as disparate from that of adults, and because of this, Jim is reluctant to report his suspicions to Dalton. All the same, readers know along with Jim that Lacey is bound for trouble, and when things go wrong, Jim wishes he could have done more.

Excellent period and cross-gender writing.