Monday, December 06, 2010

"The Gun Also Rises" by Jeffrey Cohen

From: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2011

In 1999, trying to find out who gave his six-year-old son Ethan a water gun (with which he squirted a classmate) causing him to face a two-day suspension, suburban New Jersey husband, father, and freelance reporter Aaron Tucker gets a call to cover the death of Ramon Escobar, closer for the minor league Edison Kilowatts.

Escobar apparently died when his teammates piled on top of him celebrating a win. However, Tucker's various sources say it's unlikely the weight simply crushed him. Tucker overhears two of Escobar's Latino teammates talking, but their only words in English are "cream" and "clear".

By setting his story ten years in the past, Cohen cleverly draws attention to three of today's hottest topics. In 1999, pro baseball hardly acknowledged the problem of performance-enhancing drugs, team celebrations were thought harmless fun, and Ethan's disability had yet to be diagnosed as Asperger's syndrome. Tucker's editor at the fanboy magazine Infield isn't interested in the hard news story of a drug-related death. He wants a puff piece lamenting the loss of a talent so young.

Lucky for readers, Tucker keeps digging, and with the help of his multilingual best friend, gets to the bottom of Escobar's death. I enjoyed this story's humor and heart, but also Tucker's level-headed approach to questioning people. Realizing what will set them off, he tries to disarm them and get the answers he needs.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"Neighbors" by Joseph Finder

From: Agents of Treachery ed. Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime, 2010.

Finder's contribution to an anthology of original espionage stories follows protagonist Matt Parker's suspicions of his new neighbor Jimmy Nourwood. The suspicions seem to start on the level of mild prejudice: "He looks Arab. 'Nourwood'? That can't be his real name." When Matt's computer searches on Nourwood come up empty, you have to wonder what's going on.

As far as he goes to learn about Jimmy, Matt is very guarded about his own life. As I read the story, I measured my own view of Jimmy against Matt's increasing paranoia and aggressive actions. Eventually I found Matt so distasteful I turned away from him—and was blindsided by everything he was hiding.

Whether you gravitate toward Matt or Jimmy, I'm betting you'll be surprised, too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Passed by Kieran Shea

Stories by Kieran Shea are bound to be well written and hard edged, so he's fast becoming one of those writers that can get me to spring for a copy of a magazine or open up one of the e-zines. His story "Passed" is in the current iteration of Plots with Guns, and it is well worth the read.

In it, a son gets a call from his death-row dwelling father in the hour before the needle. The son, a full grown man now, only has bad memories and no real desire to talk with his daddy, but then the request the father makes is a simple favor and, well, it is in his very last hour: pick up and deliver some funeral clothes.

The story has a lot of atmosphere and even though I kind of wished for a sligthly different ending, that might just be "Moral-me" talking. Anyway, check it out.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Mr. Alibi by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is not known to me personally, but I've admired her career for a while. She writes romance, sci-fi and mystery at an award winning caliber, and her list of credits is amazing. Take a look.

The current issue of EQMM has one of her stories, and I think it is the best PI story I've read in a while. It's called Mr. Alibi and concerns a female PI who is in a bar waiting for a no-show client when she's approached by a man who wants her to alibi him for the night before when he claims to have murdered his wife. At first she thinks he's just using a pick-up line or trying to be funny, but doubts creep in and what follows is a mix of false identities, scams, and Hollywood history.

It's an engrossing story and the legwork the PI goes through felt real. Overall, a great read.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Uninvited Guest by Jane Hammons

This story, in my latest issue of Crimespree Magazine is lovely. Okay, it is a really very dark brand of lovely, but it's memorable lovely as well. The prose is neat, the psychology of the characters seems real, the plot presented twists that I wasn't expecting (granted, that's not that hard)In any event, the story deals with a pair of con artists - older male, quite dominant - and a younger female, submissive but also the narrator. They come across a young girl - 8 year old Connie - and the female grifter decides to use the girl in a series of scams which has an unintended result.

Anyway, you won't be disappointed by this one. It is supposedly a cut from a novel Ms. Hammons is working on and if this is the stuff that got cut, I can't wait to read the actual novel.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"One, Two, Three" by Paul Cain

From: The Black Lizard Big Book of the Pulps, ed. Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2007.

The unnamed gambler who narrates this story is after a con man named Healey, and with good reason. Healey plays cards but is no good at it, and he has a lot of money. The narrator plays well and wants to relieve him of some.

After cooling his heels in Los Angeles waiting for his mark to show up, the narrator gets a tip he's hiding out in Caliente, Nevada, and he wastes no time getting up there. Pretty soon he and Healey are drinking together, and Healey eventually asks him for a lift to L.A. Unfortunately Healey gets cold feet, as in laid-out-on-a-slab cold, and his money takes a trip of its own. The narrator doesn't like that so much.

He returns to L.A. and starts hunting around, and before long he discovers two other chislers trying to horn in on the action. The three of them do their best to beat each other to the punch, but unbeknownst to them, there's someone else out there ready to knock them all on the head.

"One, Two, Three" is told in Cain's trademark deadpan style, but unlike many of his other stories, there's nothing grim about it. In fact it's blackly humorous and the ending is outright funny. I read Cain's collection Seven Slayers, in which this story apparently appeared, several years ago, but for whatever reason had absolutely no memory of it, even after rereading it in Otto Penzler's mammoth love letter to the pulps.

I was reminded of Cain today when I read the news that one of Cain's stories that had never been reprinted was available. Take a look here for more details. (via Spinetingler)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

NBS Special Report: Plainclothes - A Tribute Site to the Original Crimestopper

Recently assembled by Max Allan Collins, Bruce Dettman, Jim Doherty, Tracy Kazaleh, Kim McFarland, Shelley Pleger, Joe Staton, and Mike Curtis, Plainclothes pays tribute to Chester Gould's iconic police detective, Dick Tracy. The site—featuring web comics, serialized fiction, and feature articles—will be up for a limited time. Check it out while you can.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

King by Dave Zeltserman

This is the current story at Beat to a Pulp. I'm not sure if it is truly a crime story (though there is a crime in it) but it is a nice piece of dark psychology. In it, Mary an elderly lady who may not have every one of her marbles readily at hand, likes to feed pigeons*. She has a nemesis who demands that she stop the practice. He scares her and with good reason. He's very mean. And he's willing to break the law to make sure he gets his way.

What makes the story is how Mary reacts to the man she knows as "The Evil Wizard." Can't say anything about that since I'd like you to go take a look at the story for yourself.

There is a fairytale element to the story (king, wizard, princess) that I could wish had been more fully developed. But that would have taken more pages and one of the downfalls of online publishing, I think, is that it's hard to get readers to read longer work on the screen. Ah well. Still a very worthy story.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Julius Katz", by Dave Zeltserman

Available for download from

Julius Katz is not Nero Wolfe.

Sure, there are similarities. The name, to begin with. The love of fine food. The indolence that means he only works when he has to. And an assistant named Archie, the narrator of the story, who women find utterly charming.

But Katz does not weigh an eighth of a ton; in fact, he keeps himself in excellent shape. He's witty, charming, and irresistible to women. He drinks wine, not beer. He lives in a Boston townhouse, not a New York brownstone, and he ventures out of it frequently. And Archie? He's an artificial intelligence housed in Katz's tie clip.

Likewise, "Julius Katz" is not a Nero Wolfe story, though it obviously draws inspiration from Wolfe, and shares some of the same rhythms. Katz is obliged to take a case from Norma Brewer, a woman in late middle age, and her sister Helen. Their mother is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and their brother Lawrence - her legal guardian - refuses to move her to a nursing home. Norma is afraid that through Lawrence's negligence some harm will come to her mother, especially since Lawrence himself stands to inherit a tidy sum.

So Katz visits their mother, and spends the next few days assiduously avoiding work, despite Archie's protestations. Then they get word of a new development: murder.

"Julius Katz" suffers somewhat from being an "origin" story. We spend almost as much time getting to know Katz as he does investigating the case. And the pacing can best be described as... langourous? Sedate? Fans of Nero Wolfe (as I am) will get the most enjoyment from this story, but anyone who enjoys an old-fashioned tale of pure detection will get their money's worth.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Alphabet Workbook by Mehnaz Turner

The Alphabet Workbook by Mehnaz Turner is only three pages long, but it packs a wallop. It appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's Department of First Stories, but is so amazingly well written and so ultimately devastating that you'd be forgiven for thinking Ms. Turner is an old hand at the mystery story. I'd forgive you.

The story is only three pages long, so there is a sense in which I can't say all that much without revealing more of the plot than is decent. On the other hand, the power of this tale (and it is powerful) is in the telling - even were I to reveal every plot point, I wouldn't be capturing what makes this story so special. Still, as a reviewer, I'll say this much: it concerns the narrator, a transplant to Los Angeles, and her neighbor, Angela. Angela makes the mistake of knocking on the narrator's door to borrow eggs. Anyway, I fear saying more. I'll just mention that though the narrator is a social worker, she has some anti-social tendencies.

I really don't know how else to say things about this marvelous story. If you'd like my copy of EQMM, leave a comment to that effect, and if you're lucky, you get it. Lucky or the only one to leave a comment... I'll check back in a day or two to see who gets the prize (and this one story does qualify the magazine as a prize).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Blood and Bone in Bambooland", by Cameron Ashley

From: Plots With Guns, Issue #9, June 2010.

Apparently Cameron Ashley and I have the same since of humor, 'cause I laughed out loud a couple of times while reading "Blood and Bone in Bambooland". If this story were set in the U.S., it would have to be a Southern Gothic, but even with the Down Under milieu, it's still pretty damn Gothic.

And it has the best Anglo-accented monologue since The Limey.

The plot? Mark is boss John G.'s newest flunky. A couple of his other boys killed somebody they really maybe ought not have, but it's done now, and John G. needs somebody to clean up the mess. So Mark is taking a trip out to the country to see the Eggman, who handles that sort of job. Things don't go exactly as planned, though, and Mark gets caught up in a feud between the Eggman and his horticulturist neighbor, a disagreement that ends badly all 'round.

It's the narrative voice that carries the story, though. Mark is the only one who can see how absurd all the clowns around him are, and sometimes it's a struggle not to laugh right in their faces. The reader, however, is free to laugh with abandon. A dark comedy but one I enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Bronx, Summer, 1971", by Steven Torres

From: CrimeSpree #35 (March/April 2010).

Ernesto and Celia Santiago, an elderly Hispanic couple living in a modest third-floor walkup, were brutally murdered on the hottest day of the year. What troubled Detectives Woods and Carver was the absence of a motive. It appeared that someone wanted something and tortured the couple to get it. Then Woods spots a picture that gives them a hint: Ernesto and Celia, their arms around a smiling young man. Ray Cruz, a notorious drug dealer.

Cruz himself shows up soon after, distraught to the point where even the cops know he's not faking. The Santiagos were his godparents. Now Woods and Carver have to work fast, because they're not the only ones after the killers.

I'm breaking one of our rules here ("thou shalt not review other members' stories") because I like this one so much. It's told with great economy, with characters sketched out in just a few strokes, but entirely believable. Steven is really good at using unsympathetic characters, or outright villains, as the protagonists of his stories (see his Viktor Petrenko stories for another example), and I understand that Ray Cruz may return in the future.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"The 45 Steps", by Peter Crowther

From: The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries, ed. Mike Ashley. Carroll & Graf, 2007.

There was only one thing noteworthy about the Regal Hotel in Luddersedge. Not the elegance of its ballroom, which was really rather threadbare; not the quality of it's foie gras, as the cuisine tended towards tradional English; certainly not the long list of distinguished guests who'd stayed there. No, the only reason to remember the Regal was the opulence of the gentlemen's lavatory in the basement.

Arthur Clark's bathroom habits were equally well-known around the village. At ten o'clock every evening he would get up and head to what Max Reger called "the smallest room in the house", whether he were in his own home, or at the Conservative Club's Christmas banquent at the Regal. So regular were his habits, in fact, that they could be used against him, and one of the elegant stalls in the Regal's restroom could in fact become the setting for a locked-room murder.

This rather droll story was original to the book in which it appeared but deserves wider attention. A mixture of dark humor, fair-play detection, and the character of irascable Detective Inspector Malcolm Broadhurst combine to make this a delightful exercise in classic detection.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"How To Jail", by Dennis Tafoya

From: CrimeFactory, Vol. 2 Issue #3 - May 2010.

When Willis' brother Henry got out of jail, he moved into Willis' small Las Vegas apartment. But he's not out yet, not really. He doesn't talk much, and he doesn't do much. Mostly he sits and looks out the window. Sometimes Henry talks about his dad, a drunk and a jailbird, and how everything he told them about jail was wrong

Kelly lives in an apartment down the hall. Her boyfriend smacks her around sometimes. She comes down to Willis' place to see a friendly face and find some peace.

Henry's friend Dontay is getting out of jail. It's up to Henry to take him out, celebrate a bit. Reminisce about old times.

From these elements author Dennis Tafoya spins a tragedy writ small. These are people and situations we've seen before, but Tafoya's characters are closely observed and carefully drawn. "How to Jail" is a quiet story, not much action, but the ending still carries an emotional impact.

NBS Special Report: A Facelift

The updated look of Nasty. Brutish. Short. should be easier to maintain with Blogger's new template designer, just out of draft. I went for a cold look fitting our nasty, brutish title—but also a clean look, keeping all the page elements where they were. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

"Scenarios" by Lawrence Block

From: The Dark End of the Street: New Stories of Sex and Crime by Today's Top Authors, ed. Jonathan Santlofer and S.J. Rozan. Bloomsbury, 2010.

Block's contribution to this anthology of literary and crime fiction authors begins with a sexual predator looking for his next victim at a bar. Just when I began to guess where the story was going, Block broke the "fourth wall", offering three different ways the story could turn out, one of which was "true".

If you don't mind Block breaking the fourth wall, this story is a fine show of the writer's imagination at work and how many different tales can be spun from the same starting point.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Everything Tastes Like Whiskey", by Scott Wolven

From: Plots With Guns, Issue #8 Winter, 2010.

As John walks to work across the University of Idaho campus, .44 Magnum strapped to his hip, no one seems interested in him. He himself has a hard time forgetting that he'd shot a man just the week before. All he's done since is sit at his house and drink beer.

Despite the fact it was self-defense, his boss at the detective agency thinks it would be a good idea if he left town for a while. A rancher named Bill Warner has been having some problems with wolves, and maybe trespassers, and John is dispatched to take care of it. Warner himself is an old man, many years widowed, and a drunk.

John sets up early one morning in a spot where he can spot the wolves if they approach Warner's cattle, but instead of wolves he sees three Mexicans instead, boys or young men. He warns them off in no uncertain terms, but they've brought trouble with them.

What can I say? Another winner for Scott Wolven. The character of John - tough but sensitive - is well drawn, as that of Warner and John's elderly uncle. If you're not a big fan of Wolven's, well, it's time you started.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"I Am Madame X's Bodyguard", by Patricia Abbott

From: Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Spring 2010.

Lennie, the narrator of "I Am Madame X's Bodyguard", used to be a pro's pro, keeping guys like John Gotti safe from their occupational hazards. But he's not the man he used to be. Recently his biggest job was guarding Joey Bananas during a long, slow death that finally came at age 97.

Now, though, he's got a new job. Not exactly glamorous, but very, very necessary. His new client has one of the most dangerous jobs in the country: she's a book reviewer for the New York Times.

And not just any reviewer, but one who writes lines like "an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass." As it turns out, she's just as critical of her bodyguard.

This story relies on a lot of inside baseball for the publishing crowd. Unless you're a regular reader of Sarah Weinman's review roundups you may not know who "Marilyn" is, for example. But if you're in on the joke, I suspect that you will find this story to be one of the funniest you've read in a while.

"Lapses", by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

From: The Second Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, ed. Ed Gorman.
Black Lizard Books, 1988

Ruth Donahue was on her way through the San Joaquin Valley when the pickup ahead of her wiped out, launching a dog into her windshield. Though the dog was killed, Ruth herself seemed to be okay. Maybe just a little... off.

After a trip to the hospital and a night in a motel, she feels ready to return to her home in San Luis Obispo. So she climbs into her rented Ford Escort and gets on the road. A little while later she glances at a road sign - and realizes she's driven two hundred miles out of her way. There's a gas station receipt on the seat beside her. She doesn't remember stopping.

She stops at a roadside church, welcoming a few minutes of peace with the friendly pastor. She sips the coffee he brings. And when she looks up...

Yarbro does a good job bringing Ruth's confusion and panic to the page. As the situations she finds herself in become increasingly bizarre, Ruth wonders Where have I been? What have I been doing? Though it takes a while to get going, "Lapses" is a fine, disturbing short story.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Derringer Winners

Yes, it's been all over the web. Yes, people are done with congratulations. In fact, some of the joy is probably ebbing from the winners, but... I thought I'd mention that the Derringer winners have been announced:

BEST FLASH STORY (Up to 1,000 Words)

"And Here's To You, Mrs. Edwardson" by Hamilton Waymire
Published in the webzine Big Pulp, November 23, 2009

BEST SHORT STORY (1,001 - 4,000 Words)

"Twas the Night" by Anita Page
Published in The Gift of Murder, October 2009

BEST LONG STORY (4,001 - 8,000 Words)

"Famous Last Words" by Doug Allyn
Published in EQMM, November 2009

BEST NOVELETTE (8,001 - 17,500 Words)

"Julius Katz" by Dave Zeltserman
Published in EQMM, September/October 2009


Lawrence Block

Links to many of the nominated stories are to be found at the Short Mystery Fiction Society website here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spinetingler Award Nominees

Just got word that Spinetingler has posted their nominees for best short story on the web. Take a look.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Consummate Professional by Graham Bowlin

The current Thuglit has a nifty story. The profession in this story is that of cocaine vendor. The main character has a problem client and the problem client has a pretty girlfriend. And he beats her. There's not much question that the client deserves to die, but then he's wealthy and no longer susceptible to rat poison... And it's unprofessional to murder your clients. Probably in a cocaine vendor handbook.

The story backtracks to college days and looks forward to a time when the professional can retire, but that can't really happen unless the pretty girlfriend is willing to do her share. Share of what, you ask? Well, read it and see.

The prose is well-polished (though there may be a few excesses - hard to say. The site is called "Thuglit," after all...). The pace is good (not such an easy feat when you're flashing back). Overall, a very good read and when I see Graham Bowlin's name again, I'll certainly take a look.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Kiss Me, Dudley by Ed McBain

I picked up a copy of The McBain Files at a library sale, and this is the first McBain I read. Kiss Me, Dudley is a seriously deranged story. A woman walks into a PI's office and normal ends there. Her mate has caused her trouble by stealing 10 million and dying leaving her at the mercy of the people he stole from. Before the initial interview is over, the PI has belted his client. Before it's all over, the PI will have struck his client several times (and done worse) and gotten rid of the enemies - all 26 of them. With grenades... Bizarre and well worth the read.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Drive-Thru" by David Dietrich

From: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May 2010.

Working the midnight-to-six shift alone at the Atlas Burger drive-thru window, the narrator of this story doesn't believe he's being robbed when he hears an unfamiliar man's voice through his piece-of-junk headset. Bored, and perhaps jaded, the narrator engages the would-be robber in conversation.

This isn't how you might expect a crime story to unfold, but it's just right for AHMM's annual humor issue. Disembodied dialogue across the narrator's headset and the drive-thru speaker drives the story yet keeps it unpredictable.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Nowhere to Go by Iain Rowan

I've been reading Iain Rowan for a long time now going back to the heady days when Shred of Evidence was around. He's a master of creepiness and this AHMM story from the end of last year is not an exception.

Here's the set up: A man with way too much time on his hands witnesses a murder via his laptop. He calls the authorities and gives what information he has, but it appears to be a wild goose chase as far as the police are concerned. There is no evidence to corroborate the story, no missing person who might have been the victim, etc. There's some chance, of course, that the witness is insane, but, well... Isn't that always the case? The man decides to investigate for himself (after all, his sanity is in question, and one likes to clear those issues up) but what he finds out won't at all be what he expected.

Mr. Rowan has put together a tricky story and made it run like clockwork.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Out of Her Depth by John C. Boland

The December 2009 issue of AHMM includes this story by John Boland, an author whose work I've admired before. In this story, the reader is treated to multiple points of view and voices (complex and a nifty bit of craftsmanship, but never irksome to the reader). A man is dying on a ship in the opening section, but this quickly turns to the hiring of a detective by the potential widow. It seems she and her millionaire husband were in the midst of settling a divorce which would cut her out of his estate unless... unless it turns out her husband died before the divorce was finalized.

Meggie Trevor takes the case and goes to retrace the potential victims last steps.Meggie's voice throughout the remainder of the story is, I think, the main draw. She sounds like the type of person you may want to know - real. Not an easy thing to do in a short story.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Caretaker by Terence Faherty

The December 2009 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine has a story you shouldn't miss by Terence Faherty. The man writes delicately beautiful prose which is not something that can be said for every mystery writer. His care in phrasing and word choice is phenomenal and worth study.


Anne Abbott is taking care of a house in Jackson Hole Wyoming. The place is isolated from society under a big sky, and the only other person for miles around is the caretaker of another house not too far away - a mysterious stranger with a limp. Can't hardly think of anything that could possibly go wrong there...

Except that Anne is not the type of young lady who could let a mysterious stranger simply float into and out of her life without her investigating.

And her investigations turn up what she thinks might be a star-crossed love affair. but what role does a hatchet play in it all? Well, take a look to find out. I'll mail my beat up copy to whoever asks first.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Hate Tapes by Doug Allyn

The March AHMM fairly brims with great stories, and this is one of them. The story starts with a rock concert (I've never been to one of those) by an aging band in 1991. Their heyday was about twenty years past and they thought they'd seen it all. Then, during the last song, there's a scuffle on the dance floor and a fan winds up dead.

Nothing to do with the band, right? Well, it turns out the lead singer knows the guy - the stabee, if you will. The police want the singer to stay in town since no one else knows the dead guy. And it turns out that the last words on the dead man's lips were "hate tapes." Is that a reference to the recording medium or a reference to the music that was being played or something else entirely? Figuring that out is a key to figuring out who killed the guy.

Doug Allyn is a favorite at AHMM, though his stories sometimes leave me a little cold. This one, however, was quite good.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

"The Messenger" by Wayne L. Wilson

From: The Darker Mask: Heroes From the Shadows ed. Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers

Wilson's contribution to this collection of dark superhero tales opens with a man walking along the Venice Beach boardwalk entranced by the best trumpet-playing he's ever heard. Following the music through a thick fog, he encounters a few people who don't seem to hear it. Finally he finds the trumpet player, an imposing figure who oddly seems to have no weight. Realizing the figure is God or an angel, the man has a hard time accepting what he's told, until the spirit of his dead wife appears.

The tone of continued skepticism here nicely balances the more "out-there" elements. Not your typical feel-good story.