Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shining Rock by Blake Crouch

The May 2009 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine contains a story by suspense write Blake Crouch. Blake, a friend of mine and stablemate at St. Martin's Press, tends to write stories with a fairly high creepiness factor sometimes accompanied by gore, but not in this case. The suspense is all there. You know bad things are going to happen. It's just hard to tell to whom and who by.

In the story, a couple facing middle age are hiking to a remote area of the woods for their annual camping trip. This is the first time in a long while they've been without their children, and after a few drinks at night, they get a visit from a lonely man with a very sad story. There is an air of menance about him, and the couple is creeped out. When he finally makes his way back to his camp, the couple discuss the man's story and, well... let's just say the story resonates with them in a strange way. Unexpected (at least by me) and the couple decides, after analyzing the story and the coincidence of being encountered in the lonliest part of the woods, that the man is out to kill them. How they react to this tidbit, however, makes the story. Well, that and the last thing the lonely man says.

Anyway, Crouch certainly knows suspense, and this was a grand example. Read the intro to the story at the link.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Incense Murder by I.J. Parker

The September 2009 Alfred Hitchcock has a story from one of my favorite mystery short story writers, IJ Parker. Parker's main character is Sugawara (try saying that 3 times, fast) Akitada. The setting is 11 century Japan, Heian-Kyo (modern Kyoto). The stories generally revolve around some aspect of Japanese culture of the period, often they take place during festivals, for instance.

In this case, Akitada is asked to investigate a murder that may just have been caused by burning incense. The person asking him to look into the case had no love for the deceased but thinks the real target was himself. And who himself is is important to the tale - Akitada's cousin, a wealthy man who hasn't hidden his dislike of Akitada's and his mother but, since he is a blood relation, may just leave Akitada and mom a fortune when he dies.

Akitada, always very smart, takes the case, gets to the bottom of things and ends the story pretty much under arrest though with a chance he'll be set free. How he got into this mess is one of the several twists you'll have to read the story to figure out. Another homerun from IJ Parker.

I see from her website that her next Akitada book is on its way to bookstores. It's called "The Convict's Sword" and it has already garnered a rave from Publisher's Weekly: "Besides smoothly mixing action and deduction, Parker gives her protagonist an emotional depth that raises her to the front rank of contemporary historical writers." This is a starred review. Can't wait...

By the way, if you've never read an IJ Parker story, let me help you up from your benighted position. Here's a link.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"The Perfect Sucker", by Leslie Charteris

From: Thanks to the Saint, Pocket Books, 1957.

Sometimes Simon Templar, better known as The Saint, isn't looking for trouble. Sometimes he just wants to kick back, relax, and enjoy himself. And it's true that there's nothing he likes better than seeing come to a just end, that wears on a man. Sometimes he just wants to go fishing.

Which he does, at a fishing camp on the Rogue River in Oregon. But his trip turns into a busman's holiday when he's taken for a mark by a couple of crafty con men working a sweet scheme. Or so it seems...

The Saint stories have a unique charm and are great entertainment, despite the fact that Simon Templar himself should come across as an insufferably smug English twit. He comes across as a wittier James Bond - a jack of all trades, admired by men, irresistible to women, etc etc, righting wrongs for his own amusement instead of Queen and country. But just this once he nearly puts his foot in it, and badly enough that he'd never forgive himself. As usual, chance smiles upon him, and he eventually finds a way to put things right.

These stories are nearly forgotten today, but I can't recommend them enough. Especially good is The Best of The Saint, Vol. 2, with a forward by Sir Roger Moore.