Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nasty. Brutish. Short. Mobile.

We've enabled a template allowing you to read Nasty. Brutish. Short. on your mobile device. Welcome, new readers.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Chin Yong-Yun Takes a Case" by S.J. Rozan

Currently a free download at Smashwords, this story features the mother of Rozan's series P.I., Lydia Chin. A new, not-yet trusted member of Yong-Yun's mah-jongg circle shows up at her door with her computer programmer son, looking to hire Lydia. The son, visiting New York from Beijing, explains that his infant son has been kidnapped and there are two hours left on a deadline to hand over secret software code in exchange for his life.

Due to the ticking clock, Yong-Yun accepts the case, claiming to work more closely with Lydia than she actually does. The tone of the story is light, yet I worried that Yong-Yun might be in over her head. Lydia does call in at one point, but Yong-Yun deflects her offer of help.

I saw through the kidnapping plot a little before the end, but the real fun of this story is hearing Yong-Yun's voice and seeing how she puts things together.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Dolls", by Victor Gischler

From: Three On A Light, 2010.

Dean Murphy used to lead an interesting life. One day at a flea market he'd picked up a Zippo lighter, and ever since then, his one-man detective agency had seen enough vampires, werewolves, and other assorted ghouls to fill a dozen Twilight books.

But now the curse haunting the Zippo has been exorcised, and his life is back to normal, or, more accurately, boring.

Finally, though, he gets off his butt and takes a new case, an odd young woman named Felicia. Felicia just dumped her boyfriend, and when he left, he took something that belonged to her: a red backpack. Felicia wants it back. She wants it back badly.

Back in the swing of things at last, it only takes Dean a few hours to track down the backpack. Unfortunately he finds her boyfried, Sebastian, as well, and he's not jolly or green but he is a giant. Things come to a happy conclusion, for all except the giant, and Felicia pays Dean and sends him on his way.

Before she does, though, he sees what's in her backpack, a book, very old and valuable. Some of the occult symbols on it are disturbingly familiar. Soon enough he realized that this isn't over, not at all.

"Dollls" is the last, longest, and best story in Three On A Light. I'd read several of Gischler's Dean Murphy stories before, but not this one, and it really breaks free of the conventions of the private eye story in a way the others don't. The other stories hew more to private eye conventions, and "Dolls" starts that way, too, before Gischler takes the story into uncharted territory, discarding many PI trappings along the way. By the end you're really wondering if any of the good guys are going to make it.

I'm not saying; you'll have to read it to find out.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"The Unholy Three", by William Campbell Gault

From: Joe Puma, P.I., Wonder Publishing Group, 2010.

Johnny Delevan is a 12-year-old kid with a problem. This isn't a problem he can talk to his parents about (they're dead), or a teacher, or a priest. Instead he takes this problem to the neighborhood private investigator, Joe Puma.

The problem: he doesn't like his sister's boyfriend.

His sister Eilenn is twenty-three, and the head of the household now, and she's started seeing a slick, handsome character named Jean Magnus. Despite the fact that Puma is on his uppers once again and can't afford to turn down paying clients (Johnny has a paper route), he gently suggests that maybe the kid is a little jealous. Johnny, cheesed off, tells him what's what and storms out.

And that doesn't sit right with Puma. He kept turning it over in his mind, looking at the angles, and finally he decides it won't hurt if he asks a few questions. So he does. In particular, he looks up an old acquaintance, Lenny Donovan, now the house detective at Magnus' hotel.

The next morning, Donovan has disappeared.

William Campbell Gault was one of the leading private eye writers of the 1950s before he began writing sports stories for the juvenile market, which was more lucrative. The stories in Joe Puma, P.I. all date from that decade, and they're excellent. If you like this kind of thing you'll love this book. If not, it might change your mind.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Eight Mile and Dequindre", by Loren Estleman

From: Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection, Tyrus Books, 2010.

Private eye Amos Walker drove out to a little diner on Dequindre where it me Eight Mile Road just to be stood up by a prospective client. He was still there, nursing his coffee and thinking about a career change, when a young guy who looked a bit like Howdy Doody came in, beaming and flashing a picture of the girl he's there to meet.

Walker was just leaving when the two thugs barged in and shot Howdy Doody dead.

So naturally he's obliged to stick around a while longer, until the homicide detectives are all done with him. Much later he's finally crawling into his Chevy for the drive home when something catches his eye - a woman, naturally. The woman from the dead man's picture.

The set-up has obvious similarities to Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind", and it's the first time I noticed a well-known author giving a hat tip to his influences. The rest of the story plays out in the traditional way - nice guy mixed up with the wrong crowd wants out - and is pretty typical of early Walker.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

"The Avenging Chance", by Anthony Berkeley

From: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories, ed. Patricia Craig. Oxford Univeristy Press, 1990.

Sir William Anstruther went to his London club for lunch, as he did every day, at half past ten. Waiting for him in the mail was a small box of chocolates, along with a letter stating the this was a new product designed to appeal to men, and asking for his opinion. Sir William was rather a man's man and was quite prepared to bin the lot when another member, Graham Beresford, happened by. In the end the chocolates went home with Beresford, to the delight of both men.

Once at home, Beresford had a few of the chocolates before leaving to attend to some business. Upon arriving back at his club several hours later he was taken gravely ill.

His wife had a few of the chocolates, and then a few more, and by evening she was dead.

All this was brought before Roger Sheringham, occasional consultant to Scotland Yard. He could make no more of it than the police. To the essential question, Who would want Sir William dead?, there seemed no good answer. Although the investigation went on, the general feeling was that this was the act of a lunatic, someone unlikely to ever be uncovered.

Until Roger had a chance meeting with a very silly woman on a busy London street. This woman, an acquiantance of his and of the unlucky Mrs. Beresford, mentioned a small fact in passing, the significance of which she did not recognize, though Roger saw it at once. And through tugging on that tiny scrap of string, he unraveled the entire mystery.

One of the greatest short stories of the Golden Age of detection (think Christie, Sayers, et al), "The Avenging Chance" has been reprinted many times, and appears in many anthologies of the best such stories. It strikes an excellent balance between dismay as such a callous crime, and a certain intellectual airiness in treating it largely as a puzzle. To a modern reader it's not as old-fashioned and windy as many of its ilk, and is certainly a landmark of mid-twentieth century crime fiction.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Cry Silence", by Fredric Brown

From: The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, ed. Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2010.

This new anthology of classic stories from Black Mask magazine opens with a long, long-winded story by Erle Stanley Gardner, which, at penny-a-word rates, seemed designed mostly to deposit as many pennies as possible in Gardner's pockets.

The next story, though, is "Cry Silence" by Fredric Brown. It's short, only a couple of thousand words, and it carries an impact that the weight of Gardner's saga can't match.

The nameless narrator, a stranger in town, is sitting at the train station waiting for a connection when he overhears the old "if a tree falls in the forest" argument. Despite his best intentions he's drawn into conversation by the station agent, and soon learns why the man is so intent on the line between sound and silence.

There's another man at the station there, who sits impassively throughout. He claims to be deaf, says the agent, and if he's telling the truth, he's the victim of a terrible tragedy. And if he's not, he's a cold-blooded killer.

The twist ending to this short little shocker is worth the price of admission. Brown was one of the most original thinkers among the Black Mask writers, and this story truly deserves its place among the best stories published there.