Sunday, February 24, 2013

Downsized, by Doug Allyn

"Downsized," by Doug Allyn, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 2013.

Trish is a reporter, just laid off from the Detroit Free Press.  Her friend Jane, still employed there, suggests they start a lunch club, mostly for laid-off reporters.  And things go nicely until one member, Grace, brings a friend from church.

Mrs. Alva Warren was pushing sixty, a heavyset widow in a flowered dress.  I doubted she'd stay fifteen minutes.

But stay she did.  And when one of the members suspects that her husband is having an affair Mrs. Warren reveals some surprising aspects of her past and philosophy.

"In my daddy's time we had a few more options."

"What options?" Grace asked.

"Justifiable homicide for one," Mrs Warren said lightly.

I may be giving the wrong impression; this is not a light story and it only gets grimmer.  But it is worth a read.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Button Man, by Joseph D'Agnese

"Button Man," by Joseph D'Agnese, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 2013.

I have said before that my favorite stories tend to have at least one of three characteristcs.  Either they have brilliant basic concepts (like last week's example), or they have surprise endings, or they have what I call heightened writing.  Heightened writing means that the language does something more than merely carry you from the beginning of the plot to the end.

And that is what stands out about this story for me.

He was a nice guy to know, for all his bigness.  He knew how to make animals out of folded paper, and his name was Happy Phelan.  

The nickname arose from many things.   His round baby face.  His strawberry nose.  Those huge hands.  And, no doubt, his colossal innocence.  How he got the lieutenant bars I'll never know.

Frank, the narrator, meets Phelan in the army.  In civilian life they both wind up working in the garment district.  Frank moves ahead but Phelan, despite the advantage  of having a father who owned a company, had a handicap: that innocence and a sense of justice that makes him unable to ignore or forgive the greed and graft that makes the world go round?

Will he adjust to reality, or will it break him? 

"I should have been a cop," he said quietly.  "I wanted to, years ago.  My old man said it was a dirty business.  I don't know why I listened to him.  Is this any better?"

A gripping tale.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Auction, by Christopher Reece.

"The Auction," by Christopher Reece, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2013.
I read my EQMMs out of order.  So sue me.

As the editors note, it is always a treat to read a good story written in an unusual format, especially from a new author.  And that is what Mr. Reece provides us with.

The tale relates the history of an unhappy marriage told entirely through the patter of an auctioneer describing the items available at an estate sale.

Those of you familiar with the Inman family  know this room, I'm certain.  Unlike most of the items we've already seen, many of the objects within this room have gained a certain, shall we say, notoriety?  Other things in the collection are valuable because they come from a particular era of history.  These items, why, these items are part of history!  Ladies and gentlemen, you are being granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase these treasures directly from the estate.  Shall we begin?

I recommend you do.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Scandal in Bohemia, by Terence Faherty

"A Scandal in Bohemia," by Terence Faherty, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2013.

This is embarassing.  I am in danger of being labeled a Faherty fanboy. 

For the first time since I started these reviews I am featuring the same author two weeks  in a row.  Is it my fault that Terence Faherty has stories in both AH and EQ, and that both are fine?

The title of the story is, no doubt, familiar. This is a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, which brings me to an old rant.  As I have said before some people use the word pastiche to mean a story about a character written by someone other than the original author.  To me, that is something different (how about "fan fiction?"). 

I argue that to create a pastiche the author has to re-think the original stories in some way, not just add another one to the series.  And a pastiche is not a parody either , which is simply making fun of the original.  To use a popular recent term, a pastiche is a reboot.

Bringing us to Faherty.   He begins by referring to "the recent discovery of the notebooks of Dr. John H. Watson," which allow us to see the rough draft of this famous story, including Watson's editorial notes to himself.  The result is a hilarious fresh look at the "real" story of the famous partnership. 

"And now to work.  Are you willing to break a law or two and perhaps even land yourself in the jug?"
 "In a just cause."
"We're helping a serial defiler of women recover evidence of same from a blackmailing prostitute, so you can work out the justness of our cause at your leisure.  the venture does, however, ensure you an evening out of the house."
"Then I'm your man."