Friday, January 30, 2009

"Skinhead Central" by T. Jefferson Parker

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

This Edgar-nominated story is told from the viewpoint of Sally, who has moved with her retired cop husband Jim from Laguna Beach to Spring Lake, Idaho. Shortly after the move, a 19-year-old skinhead named Dale shows up looking for work. Jim begrudgingly gives him some, but when Sally's jewelry bag goes missing, it's easily traced to Dale. The next day, Dale's younger brother Jason returns the bag and takes a beating from Dale for his trouble.

Calling on a network of contacts stretching back to California, Jim learns that Dale and Jason's father is an abusive ex-con. Jim and Sally take an unusual interest in the boys' future.

"Skinhead Central" is written so crisply, in a voice so knowing, I read it aloud.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Lost Girl by Robert Barnard

The latest Ellery Queen has another Robert Barnard story. He publishes there with great regularity, and I've read several of his stories over the years, but they all affect me the same way - in short, I don't like them.

If you don't know, Robert Barnard has won a slew of awards over the decades, and he has the respect of the mystery reading/writing world. He has my respect as well. His prose is impeccable. He can make you care for the characters he puts before you. What he hasn't been able to do, especially with the short stories but even with the one novel of his I've read, is give me a satisfying ending. In one story, a character presented with a dilemma chooses the path no one I have ever encountered in my life would have chosen. In other stories, the ending just fizzles. So with this story.

The story (which is only about five or six pages) starts off well - a teenaged girl is missing, she might have crossed paths with a pedophile, and the Inspector follows leads and questions witnesses. In every way, the story is set up perfectly, and I truly expected to finally like a Barnard story at long last. Then came the ending. Fizzle. In faact, it took me three readings just to figure out what it is I think went on at the end. But once I figured things out (I think) I found as many loose ends as there were tied up ones.


Notice the SPOILER sign? Your last chance to turn back.

Okay. You asked for it.

The lost girl is, as far as I can tell, still lost at the end of the story. And the pedophile ist kaput. Presumably she killed him. Was she related to him? Not sure. If she killed him, what, precisely was her reason? No idea.

Oh well. The prose is nice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Rules of Evidence by Steve Gore

This story all takes place in the interrogation room in dialogue between a career criminal named Irish and a homicide detective named Pacheco. Irish is a suspect in the murder of Mucker, one of Irish's former partners. The problem is that no matter what Pacheco thinks, the physical evidence is weak, Irish is seasoned enough to resist breaking, and besides, someone else has already confessed to the murder. Seems like a pretty tough case.

Though there aren't any car chases or shootouts, the dialogue stays crisp. It grips you and refuses to let go.

Pacheco may not have the best case, but he's determined. Is there a way he can make Irish slip up? You'll have to pick up a current copy of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to find out.

By the way, this is Steve Gore's first published story - kudos to him and I hope others are in the pipeline.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cheer by Megan Abbott

In other places, I've talked about Megan Abbott's novels including Die a Little and The Song is You, and they are marvelous things. The stories are interesting and tightly wound, the prose is finely spun - some of the strongest prose you'll find in crime fiction today. The voices of her characters are always pitch perfect. In this story, she continues her winning ways.

"Cheer" has to do with the cheerleading team under the care of a young woman called "Coach." It's told by one of the squad members and even though the narrator is not named, she exhibits a growing sense of...I'm not sure what. Fear? Dread? Anxiety? In any event, nothing good. This happens as the narrator learns more about the coach and her teammates.

In the end, of course, it is a crime story so the narrator has reason to feel ill at ease. I can't tell you what happens or even why it happens, but I can say the story is well worth looking up. Like just about everything else Megan has written, "Cheer" has been nominated for a prize. In this case, it's a Pushcart Prize.

Friday, January 16, 2009

NBS Special Report: 2009 Best Short Story Edgar Nominees

As presented by the Mystery Writers of America:


"A Sleep Not Unlike Death" - Hardcore Hardboiled by Sean Chercover (Kensington Publishing)
"Skin and Bones" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by David Edgerley Gates (Dell Magazines)
"Scratch of a Woman" - Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
"La Vie en Rose" - Paris Noir by Dominique Mainard (Akashic Books)
"Skinhead Central" - The Blue Religion by T. Jefferson Parker (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)


"Buckner's Error" - Queens Noir by Joseph Guglielmelli (Akashic Books)

Congratulations and good luck to all.

The full list of Edgar nominees
via Sarah Weinman's Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Devil Dog" by Dick Lochte

From: Hollywood and Crime. Ed. Robert J. Randisi. Pegasus, 2007.

One of the contemporary entries in a collection of crime stories set during the history of Hollywood, "Devil Dog" marks the return of Leo Bloodworth. At the behest of Larry King-like media personality Pierre Reynaldo, Leo looks into a woman's claims that her neighbor is a Satanist.

After an eight-year hiatus, it's good to hear from Leo in a story that is equally comedic and tragic.

Friday, January 02, 2009

"Give Till It Hurts" by Donald E. Westlake

Available in Thieves Dozen by Donald E. Westlake. Mysterious Press, 2005.

Discovered trying to pass himself off as a rich Arab at a coin collectors' convention in Manhattan, John Dortmunder narrowly escapes through a linen closet window and stumbles into a poker game at Otto Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop.

Dortmunder is $240 ahead when the police come calling, investigating the burglary he's just committed. To Dortmunder's surprise, Penzler and friends don't hand him to the cops. Then he realizes they want to win their money back.

Penzler first published this story in 1993 as a Christmas present to the Mysterious Bookshop's mail-order customers. In memory of Westlake, who died on New Year's Eve at age 75, I hope our reviews give readers some idea of his talent and personality.