Friday, September 25, 2009

"Ten Gallons of Infected Saliva, or, The Cuckold, Avenged" by Scott Phillips

From: Uncage Me ed. Jen Jordan. Bleak House Books, 2009.

Leading off an anthology on the many forms of transgression, this story follows Amos, a college kid willing to work at a porno theater to accumulate the hours he needs to join the projectionist's union. Amos's wry narration reminded me of Lawrence Block's Chip Harrison, his voice so engaging as to almost make smut palatable.

One of Amos's friends, Tad, works at a funeral parlor and carries on an affair with his boss's wife, Beth. One night, Tad takes Beth to the theater, followed shortly by a man with a gun. Flustered, Amos lets the armed man into the theater, and he proceeds to shoot himself. Though the man's name is never mentioned, it's implied he is Beth's husband, Tad's boss. That this shooting is the only act I considered a crime in this story testifies to the persuasive power of Phillips's writing.

You can also hear Phillips read this story at Seth Harwood's CrimeWAV.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Homework by Phil Lovesey

The latest EQMM has a story by the son of one of my favorite short story writers, Peter Lovesey. Phil Lovesey's story, "Homework" is a good crime story told in an interesting way - a tenth grader's homework essay. Now, there is a danger in a tenth grader's essay - to make it seem authentic, the author, no matter how skilled, must make the essay read poorly. In the case of this story, for instance, there are a fair number of run on sentences. Oh, and digressions. And fairly superficial readings of Hamlet. If you've taught English, you know what I'm talking about.

But these things don't ever overwhelm the story. And the story is a good one. The student feels she's been slighted by the teacher who asked for the assignment, and she has learned some details about that teacher that he might not want divulged. Things go downhill for the teacher from there. And he won't know who has devised his doom until he reads the homework assignments. For reasons I won't give away, it might be a while before he gets to them.

Anyway, if you want a good story told in a unique manner, try out the latest EQMM.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Case of the Piss-Poor Gold by Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg is the author of the Monk novels based on Adrian Monk, one of the more colorful detectives ever put together. If you don't know, Monk is a brilliant man beset by just about every obssessive-compulsive behavior possible. This story, however, is not about ADRIAN Monk. It's about a distant relative, Artemis Monk who solves crimes (in his spare time) in a California gold rush town that's still in its unclean infancy.The story is told by Mrs. Guthrie, his assistant.

The main crux of the story is how a town drunk who literally pisses about town (to Monk's grief) was able to sell a land claim that seems to contain plenty of gold now, but had previously been determined to be barren. As the town's only assayer, Monk can testify about the former barrenness. As Monk, he can figure out what crime was committed to make the land have more gold in it now.

I'll have to say I hadn't thought of the solution ahead of time which is always a good sign, but this story is more than just a good puzzle (or two, Monk also quickly wraps up a murder - his powers are prodigous). It is also a good portrait of a mining town and its inhabitants, paying particular attention to the dirt. More importantly for me, the story had me laugh out loud a couple of times, and that is a terribly difficult thing to do on paper. Most funny lines die once written down, but not in Goldberg's hands. That's magic. Well worth the price of the latest Ellery Queen.