Sunday, February 26, 2017
If you took a Bob Dylan song full of surreal imagery, say "Desolation Row" or "Just Like Tom Thumb Blues," and turned it into a crime story the result might be a bit like "Mad Still."
The anonymous narrator is a retired boxer (mostly a sparring partner). He is newly arrived in New Orleans and he is meeting with the Clown.
The Clown is the leader of a group of street performers and they are having a problem with a human statue, the one nicknamed Mad Still because he can stand unmoving all day, hogging one of the best places to attract crowds. "He doesn't even take tips." The Clown and his associates want him moved by any means necessary.
But it turns out there is a rival group of performers that want Mad Still to stay where he is. They are the ACTors, movie star look-alikes who earn their daily bread posing for photos with tourists. There leader is Clint Eastwood, more or less. Both groups want our boxer hero to enforce their will.
Violence happens. Someone is kidnapped. Golems are invoked. Then things turn weird.
What I am saying is, if you want a straight road to a logical conclusion you shouldn't be on Highway 61 in the first place.
I enjoyed this story a lot.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
This is the fourth time my friend and fellow SleuthSayer has made it into this column.
Raymond Wilde is a private eye in a small town in Connecticut where high school football is a big thing. His client is Harold Bain, a wealthy and abrasive man, who wants Ray to prove that the school quarterback is a ringer, not really living in the town. He says that he's concerned about the taxpayers being ripped off, but he really wants to get the outsider out of the way so his own son can move up to quarterback.
Ray investigates but quickly gets distracted by another house on the same block where mysterious goings-on are, uh, going on. Some of them involve Harold Bain, Jr.
What I liked best about this story is the ending, in which several characters show unexpected sides of their personalities. You might even call it a happy ending.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
What a long story title. This, by the way, is Bracken's third appearance in this column. It takes place in Waco, Texas, where Blake is a former cop (he arrested the son of the wrong millionaire) turned private eye. Mrs. Watkins hired him to get proof that her fat rich husband is cheating on her. She might want more from Blake than just that.
And so might Ashley, a wealthy blond he meets in downtown, near the food trucks. For one thing, she would like to accompany him on a case... We will leave it there, I think. It's a good story.
But let's talk about the art of building an anthology. There is a story earlier in this book that, shall we say, runs from Point A to Point B, with B being the revelation of a particular plot device.
Bracken's story includes the same device, but it runs past it to Point C. (Which does not automatically make it a better story, by the way.)
If the editors had put Bracken's story earlier on than the other tale would be a disappointment. But by running it first the alert reader says "Ah, I see where Bracken is going" - and is pleasantly surprised when he goes past it. So, good job, editors.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
This is the seventh appearance here by fellow SleuthSayer, Terence Faherty. He remains the World Champeen in my blog.
Let's talk about pastiches. Again. It seems like there is something in the air, or the zeitgeist that is pulling htem at a high rate and high quality.
Last week it was Jonathan Turner's mash-up of characters created by Steve Hockensmith and Arthur Conan Doyle. Faherty himself has written clever send-ups of Doyle's work. And Evan Lewis dazzled us with a reboot of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories.
But today's story more closely resembles another series of Mr. Lewis: those about state legislator David Crockett who is the unfortunate bearer of the consciousness of his ancestor Davy Crockett.
Mr. Faherty introduces us to Kelly and David, a married couple who visit Hawaii. David has some annoying habits, wanting to tell his wife everything he knows, especially about whatever book he is reading. (Why no, I am nothing like that myself. Just ask my wife. Or better yet, don't.)
But David is reading one of S.S. Van Dine's novels about that most irritating of Golden Age amateur sleuth's, Philo Vance. (Ogden Nash wrote that he needed a kick in the pance.) And when David suffers a concussion he becomes convinced that he is the great and annoying detective. Bad for his wife, but good for justice since a mysterious death has just occurred...
Very funny and clever.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Boy. Where to start with this one?
I am on the record as not being a fan of fan fiction, where people just write yet another story about Sherlock Holmes, or another novel about the characters of a dead author.
I feel differently about pastiches, where someone rethinks a familiar character or plot and does something different with it. (Hey, I've done that myself.)
And this one falls in between the stools, you might say. Jonathan Turner has used (with permission) Steve Hockensmith's characters Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer, and combined them with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
If you aren't familiar with the Amlingmeyer brothers, they are cowboys around the turn of the century. Old Red is illiterate but is a huge fan of Holmes and wants to be a detective, and he's good at it. Big Red is the narrator, as witty as his brother is grumpy. They have appeared in several short stories and five novels. (And I have illustrated one above, rather than using the cover of the same EQMM two weeks in a row.)
This story takes place not long after the most recent (but I hope not last) novel in the series. The first half is a letter from Big Red to Holmes explaining a case the brothers encountered in New York, which ends with the villain escaping on a ship to London (as Old Red deduces). The second half consists of Holmes and Watson figuring out which passenger is the bad guy.
If I were Hockensmith I'd be surprised and maybe a little nervous about the uncanny way Turner captures the voices of my characters - better than he did Conan Doyle's, I think. Here is an example. (Gus is another name for Old Red. His brother is talking to King Brady.)
"Enjoying things ain't what you'd call Gus's strong suit," I told him. "You may be the King of the New York dicks, but he's the Ace of Curmudgeons."
"That makes you the Jack of Asses," Gus retorted.
A lot of fun.
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Best Short Story
"Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
"The Best-Laid Plans" by Barb Goffman in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)
"The Mayor and the Midwife" by Edith Maxwell in Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)
"The Last Blue Glass" by B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
"Parallel Play" by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Ever drive past a small store with some strange specialty and wonder: "How do they stay in business?"
Marilyn Todd has a helpful suggestion: Maybe they are money launderers! Get a place with a lot of customers (even if they are tourists who don't actually buy much), and a cash-heavy inventory, and the taxman won't suspect a thing.
Or such was the discovery of sisters Hannah and Lynn who have deep roots in British organized crime. Their year-round-Christmas store, The North Pole, is doing just fine, cleaning up dirty money from various family businesses.
But the sisters have a special sideline. The store has Santa's Mailbox where kids can ask the fat man for help. And while Hannah and Lynn can't promise the latest video game or a pony, if the request is desperate they may be able to offer a special solution...