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.