Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Wentworth Letter, by Jeff Soloway

"The Wentworth Letter," by Jeff Soloway, in Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, edited by Clare Toohey.

The folks at Criminal Element have produced what they (and I) hope will be the first in a long series of e-anthologies.  I should say I have a story in this collection, so I have reason to be fond of it.  Editor Toohey has organized these stories of "girl trouble" in a way that I have never encountered before: from least to most graphic.  In other words, things will get nastier as you move through the text.  (My story comes about halfway through.)

I am still in the light and fluffy section I guess, and very much enjoyed this story by Jeff Soloway.  It starts with a new student arriving in a college class studying the works of Jane Austen.  Alex is the only man in the class and he is vulgar and rude.  He also claims to have a rare letter written by Austen (and recently stolen from a museum).

The professor, Charles, happens to be the son of a wealthy woman who is an Austen fanatic.  He's also sleeping with one of his students.  Things get very complicated fast.

And besides a clever plot there is wonderful writing.  Take the scene in which the professor's overbearing mother meets his lover for the first time, semi-dressed in his bedroom.

"I suppose your father is something virtuous, like a policeman or a tennis instructor?"
"You'll have to ask him," said Cheryl.  "First you'd have to find him.  My mother's a bank teller."
"And you're an English major.  I'm sure she hopes you go to law school."
"All she wants for me is a job where I don't have to make change."
"Consider taking credit cards, dear.  Charles, when you're done disgracing your profession, please make an appearance downstairs....Without concubine." 

This story plays in two ways on the theme of girl trouble.  First is the professor's involvement with his student.  Second is the debate over whether Jane Austen is merely "women's fiction," and somehow less worthy of study than serious fiction written, by male authors.  In light of the recent David Gilmour controversy the tale is oddly topical.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Queen of Yongju-gol, by Martin Limón

"The Queen of Yongju-gol," by Martin  Limón, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,
November 2013.

As I said last time I reviewed one of Martin's stories here, all of his books are set in South Korea in the 1970s.  In this tale he has changed time but not place, and his series characters, two army investigators, are nowhere to be seen.  Instead the hero is Roh Yonk-bok, one of the wealthiest men in Korea.

But, as we learn, he didn't start out that way.  He was able to get an education only through  money sent back home from his big sister who was working as a bar girl in Yongju-gol, a community that served American G.I.'s, where Koreans were forbidden as customers.  One day his sister disappeared and now, years later, Roh is determined to find out what happened to her.

It is a dark tale, full of betrayal and hard-learned cynicism.

"Canyou trust these people, sir?"
Roh turned to look at his bodyguard.  He was a faithful man -- in fact chosen for that quality -- and competent at his job, but he had little imagination.
"They want money, don't they?" Roh replied.
"Yes, sir."
"Then I have trust.  Not for them but for their greed."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Small Kingdoms, by Charlaine Harris

"Small Kingdoms," by Charlaine Harris, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 2013.

On this particular spring Tuesday, Anne Dewitt was thrown off her regular schedule.  Between brushing her teeth and putting on her foundation, she had to kill a man.

Got your attention?  I would think so.  This story has a lovely opening, reminiscent of my favorite start to a Richard Stark Novel: When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.  (Firebreak)

I have never read Ms. Harris before but as I understand it she had made her reputation throwing unlikely worlds together.  Anne DeWitt is, of all things, a high school principal, but as you can guess from her ability to off a bad guy in her bathroom before breakfast, she has a past.  The past not only explains her ease at handling a killer, but also the presence of the killer. 

Besides transporting a dead body she also has to deal with unreasonable demands and criminal behavior by the shcool's star athlete.  Fortunately she finds an unlikely ally.

Was this story a bit of wish-fulfillment?  If every school had a staff member who could handle problems so efficiently,  our academic careers might have been more pleasant.  For the good guys, at least.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Sons of Tammany, by Mike Carey

"The Sons of Tammany," by Mike Carey, in Beyond Rue Morgue, edited by Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec, Titan Books, 2013.

Ever look at something simple and brilliant, like a Post-It Note, or White-Out, and say "why didn't I think of that?"  Well, I have just had two of those Post-It moments.

There have been approximately seven gazillion attempts to rewrite Sherlock Holmes or create new stories about him but as far as I know Kane and Prepolec have come up with a brand new idea: invite the creation of new stories about the first literary sleuth, Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin.  Brilliant idea!  After all, Poe only wrote three.  Plenty of room for more.

Honestly I don't know how good the book turned out, because I have only finished the first story.  But that one is a doozy of a pastiche.

Let's take a moment to define pastiche, shall we?  Some dictionaries say it means the same thing as parody.  They're wrong.  Some people use it to mean a new story about existing characters in imitation of the original; i.e. seven gazillion new Sherlock Holmes stories.  I think there is another name for those: "fan fiction."

I reserve the word pastiche for stories that rethink the original and take a new take on it.  See the British series Sherlock, for example. 

It's possible that the rest of the stories in the book are fan fiction; I don't know.  But Mike Carey has written a clever pastiche.  "The Sons of Tammany" takes place in 1870 when an elderly Dupin visits New York and is shown around by a young cartoonist, the soon-to-be-famous Thomas Nast.  As the title implies, they get involved with the corrupt gang at Tammany Hall -- and also with one of the greatest construction jobs of the ninetheenth century, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Clever idea, and amusing writing.

 Dupin had gotten the hang of summoning cabs now, and that was a terrible power to put in a Frenchman's hands.

Read it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Game Played, by Jonathan Rabb

"A Game Played," by Jonathan Rabb, in The Strand Magazine, June-September 2013.

Last week a private eye story, this week spies. 

George Philby is a member of Britain's diplomatic core, stationed in Washington.  He is a quiet, self-effacing man, and his great burden is his name.  Kim Philby was the most famous British traitor in a century, so he is somewhat in the position of a man named Benedict Arnold joining the U.S. Army.  "It made them all think too much, a sudden hesitation in the voice."

And in D.C. it leads to an odd friendship with Jack Crane, an American oil man.  Crane brings Philby out of his shell a bit and the relationship leads to -- well, that would be telling.  But one question this story asks is: Does your name determine your destiny?

I liked this low-key tale better the day after I read it.  Then I read it a second time and liked it more.