Friday, December 30, 2016

"A Real Work of Art" by Gwenda Bond

Yesterday via Twitter, I learned Gwenda Bond was writing YA novels with DC Comics' legendary Lois Lane as protagonist. The concept alone was enough to convince me, but Gwenda also happens to have two short stories available for free right now on Amazon Kindle, so I downloaded and read both. The one I'm choosing to review involves the more clear-cut crime.

At her latest of many schools as an Army brat, sixteen-year-old Lois takes an elective art class. Around the studio are reproductions of masterpieces, and the teacher, Mr. Jacques, only instructs his students to pick a masterpiece and try to imitate it. Lois happens to recognize Mr. Jacques' signature on the reproductions as belonging to a fugitive forger. With a little help from an online friend she knows only as SmallvilleGuy, but largely on her own, Lois investigates and ultimately alerts the police.

Bond's writing reminds me fondly of Erica Durance's supporting performance as teenage Lois on TV's Smallville. Here, though, Lois is the unmistakably the lead.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"A Perfectly Ordinary Case of Blackmail", by A.A. Milne

A.A. Milne is, of course, best known as the creator of Winnie the Pooh and the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, but he dabbled in mystery fiction from time to time. His novel The Red House Mystery is well-written, thought the plot is somewhat pedestrian. (Alexander Woollcott famously called it one the of the three best mysteries of all time, which suggests to me that Woollcott only read three mysteries.)

As "A Perfectly Ordinary Case of Blackmail" opens, Sir Vernon Filmer, a politician of long service and some repute, as well as a rather superior manner, arrives at the office of his very proper solicitor, Cedric Watherston. Filmer has a problem - as the title of the story indicates, he's being blackmailed. Watherston, quite naturally, wants to know none of the particulars. He does know a man who specializes in such cases, another solicitor whose morals are rather more flexible than Watherston's own.

(Watherston would normally never have associated with such an individual, but he'd been very useful when they were both prisoners of the Kaiser in 1917.)

Scroope was, in fact, a very useful indivdual, and soon he had the story out of Sir Vernon. Many years before, before the Great War even, a man had mistaken Sir Vernon for his wife's lover and viciously attacked him. Sir Vernon fought back and had killed the man, after which he and the man's body were discovered by Sir Vernon's friend. It looked damning. The fight had been brutal, and the wounds inflicted on the dead man could easily have been interpreted as deliberate murder.

Being a professional in such matters, Scroope cheerfully begins making his preparations, and with the clever way he works it, the guilty party - or parties - are guaranteed to get what they deserve.

This was a delightful comic story. Milne sketches the characters quickly but clearly, and his light touch lends an air of humor to the whole enterprise. The ending may not be strictly legal, but Scroope (and the reader) will no doubt find it just and proper.

I read this story in Masterpieces of Mystery: The Golden Age, Part 1, edited by Ellery Queen. I've read a couple of other volumes in the series (out of 20), and I'm working my way through The Golden Age, Part 2 right now. They're all excellent, and generally can be found at reasonable prices.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bill Crider Update

Last week, along with the mystery community, we learned our fellow blogger Bill Crider was diagnosed with an aggressive form of carcinoma. Next week, Bill will try to get into M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Bill's few, occasional reviews here are a small sample of what a great fan and supporter of short stories he is. The mystery genre and the short form are lucky to have him, and he will continue to inspire as much as his work does.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Death of a Feminist" by Sarah Weinman

From Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2016

This short story showed up in my current Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and I admit I read it first because I've met Sarah at Bouchercons, other conventions, book launches, etc. Not to mention her huge internet presence. I suspect she's reviewed one of my books, and I don't doubt "mildly entertaining" was in there somewhere (possibly after "could have been..."). But enough about me...

The story features a main character who is very much connected to all things internet. And that character's mother. A mother who, it appears, is in a wheelchair and never leaves the building. If there's any legwork to do, the narrator does it. So, echoes of Nero Wolfe, no?

In this case, a famous feminist is being cyber-stalked. Vicious and anonymous attacks via the internet, texts, etc. This is a part I would have liked to hear more of - it seems to me that the cyber-bully is a new and improved bully: you don't have to be on the same continent to drive someone insane with threats, slanders, etc. The schoolyard bully at least risks getting punched in the nose (though their calculations about who to pick on help them avoid this outcome), and they risked being ostracized if the bullying backfired in any way.

Still, the relationship between the narrator and her boss, Ms. Gallant, is the main draw here. That and, when you get to the end, (which I don't intend to spoil) the, possibly, psychopathic reasons for the "death of a feminist". And how much her death was motivated (if that's the right word - don't want to blame the victim at all) by her attempt to live her life and to change and grow as a person.

Anyway, go read it, then we'll talk... Then I'm sure Ms. Weinman will have another story to talk about featuring the lead characters - they deserve a series, I think...