Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Half-Life" by Kate Ellis

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018, p. 95–105

An "incident" at a nuclear power station brings PC George Jenkins to Primrose Cottage to evacuate elderly Rosa Cage. Jenkins has a personal reason to visit, too: the chance to gain insight into his father, who disappeared before George was born.

From Jenkins' viewpoint, we read letters his father wrote his mother while staying at the cottage in 1965, helping to build the power station, and we follow the present questioning of potential witnesses to his father's stay. Ellis also lets us into Rosa Cage's patchy mental state, which effectively deepens the mystery, and a third and final viewpoint, PC Karen Dawson, who arrives to back up Jenkins when Cage proves a challenge.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Remembering Tally" by John M. Floyd

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2009, p. 102–109

At what his campaign calls their "blue-collar" office, short and shady gubernatorial frontrunner J. Talmadge "Tally" Byrd takes a phone call that turns out to be a bomb threat. The bomber gives Tally a character-defining choice—tell everyone in the office about the bomb, or save only himself—saying he has three minutes left.

Real politicians are seldom this starkly put to the test, and their bad decisions don't come back to bite them quickly enough for my taste, so I'm grateful all that does happen in this story.

Multiple Derringer Award winner John M. Floyd currently blogs at SleuthSayers.

Friday, January 19, 2018

"Murder on Rue Royal" by Angela Crider Neary

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018, p. 67–75

The staff of New Orleans' Cafe Alcide is eager to impress important—and self-important—food critic Niles Breaux and make up for his previous negative review. They do impress Breaux, only to see him gasp to death minutes after complimenting chef-owner Jean-Claude Alcide.

Our own Bill Crider's daughter makes her EQMM debut with a twist on the multi-culprit "perfect" crime. Neary goes into many characters' viewpoints, showing three had grudges against Alcide. NOPD Det. Charles Rousseau arrests these three, citing evidence they conspired to frame Alcide for Breaux's murder, but—I'll just say Rousseau is no Poirot.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"A Poison That Leaves No Trace" by Sue Grafton

Kinsey and Me: Stories, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2013, p. 127-146

The pioneering and prolific author of the Kinsey Millhone P.I. series died December 28, 2017 aged 77. First appearing in Sisters in Crime 2 (Berkley, 1990), "A Poison That Leaves No Trace" was one of her favorites, reprinted in at least two later anthologies at her request.

After giving the impression she thought Kinsey would be a man and suggesting her fee of $30 an hour is too steep, Shirese "Sis" Dunaway hires Kinsey to investigate her estranged sister Marge's death. Not believing the official finding Marge's death was without foul play heart-related, Sis casts suspicion on Marge's daughter, Justine.

Confirming the official finding with the hall of records and the funeral director, Kinsey then visits Justine on the pretense of owing Marge $600. Justine's eagerness to claim the money makes Kinsey suspect she's lying about something.

When you get to the twist that Sis and Justine both lie to Kinsey, you have to admire how convincing Sis is, her skepticism teasing out Kinsey's desire to prove herself.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Haven't Seen You Since the Funeral" by Ernest B. and Alice A. Brown

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 2008, p. 25–41

Out jogging, Boston P.I. Valerie Dymond gets a cell phone call from a stranger apparently watching her. Dealing with her fear, Val goes about tracking down the stranger through her open cases and a car she spots.

Created by husband-and-wife team Ernest B. and Alice A Brown, Val is tough enough, but she's introspective enough to explore why this stranger gets to her more than a simple prank caller might.

The mention of a funeral brings to mind "Grave Trouble" from the same issue. While that story quickly sets a humorous tone, the cover story just as quickly sets a chilling one.

Monday, January 08, 2018

"Grave Trouble" by R.T. Lawton

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 2008, p. 60–73

With a nod to Lawrence Block and a dash of Donald E. Westlake, this comedic caper finds claustrophobic, cash-strapped Yarnell going along with his partner Beaumont's plan to rob a jewelry store through the sewer system the night before Halloween. Due to a forgotten tape measure, however, Beaumont misjudges the distance underground, and they wind up tunneling into a funeral home.

Retired federal law enforcement agent Lawton currently blogs at SleuthSayers.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

"Dysperception" by Larry Light

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018, p. 85–94

I admit up front this story caught my eye for its protagonist, Gerald, father of college-aged daughter, Ashley, to whom he breaks the news her mother, Jenna, wants a divorce. To Ashley's protests, Gerald pleads Jenna's habit of "dysperception," seeing things incorrectly to bad ends.

The coined term fits the story overall in that Gerald—a popular athlete back in school who's taken to living off Jenna's money—has a rather inflated image of himself. That overconfidence compels him to manipulate not only Ashley but also neighbors Tim and Mindy Heston in an elaborate plot to kill Jenna, a plot largely foiled by the same overconfidence.

A well-conceived, well-told EQMM debut for Larry Light.