Sunday, December 24, 2017

One at a Time, by Lissa Marie Redmond

"One at a Time," by Lissa Marie Redmond, in Down & Out Magazine, Issue 2.

It's just my luck to get locked in a trunk of a car so old there's no emergency latch.

Some people will whine about anything, won't they?  That opening sentence stole my heart, in part because I know that if I had been writing this story I would have gone for the cliche: I was trapped in the trunk of a car, on my way to certain death, or the like.

Instead our hero is griping about the lack of modern conveniences.  That's just lovely.

Marcus is, as he admits, a screw-up.  In and out of jail.  Now a  bad guy gives him a simple job: pick up this 1969 Ford Fairlane and drive it to a specific spot.  Collect five grand out of the glove compartment and walk away clean.  Easy peasy, no?

Except that on the drive over Marcus hears strange noises from the trunk, like someone trying to get out...

I love stories about a guy who is ashamed of himself for what he sees as weakness, namely having done  the right thing.  

By the way, the publisher sent me this magazine for free.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Burnt Orange, by Shawn Reilly Simmons

"Burnt Orange," by Shawn Reilly Simmons, in Passport to Murder, edited by John McFetridge, Down and Out Books, 2017.

This is Simmons' second appearance in this blog.  "Burnt Orange" is a fresh tale, by which I mean it went in directions I did not expect at all.
Shelby is a teenager with a problem.  She likes to burn things.

Her mother is driving her to a reform school.  Her mother, by the way, is a narcissist and a bit of a fabulist, which is no doubt is connected to the roots of Shelby's problems.  

So I was expecting a story about a troubled kid, and I suppose in a way that's what I got.

But there are worse people out there than Shelby and her mother, and folks with worse problems.  And if Shelby thinks fast enough she may be able to save a few lives.  She may even get to use her, well, special talents to do it.

A clever tale.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jerusalem Syndrome, by Hilary Davidson

"Jerusalem Syndrome," in Passport to Murder, edited by John McFetridge, Down and Out Books, 2017.

This is Davidson's second appearance in this column.

Usually when I point out that I might not be objective about a story it is because I am friends with the author (like last week).  This week the reason is different: I have visited most of the places she describes.

Suzanne is visiting Israel for the first time.  It would be a great visit except for the people she is traveling with, a group from her church.  Well, not exactly her church.  Husband Bobby made them join it because it is the road to promotion at his company.

And the head of the church, Pastor Ted, is a major jerk.  He's the one who brings up Jerusalem Syndrome -- and let's talk about that for a moment.  It refers to a mental derangement in which the patient, typically an American or European Christian visits the Holy Land and freaks out.  Suddenly they are out on the streets of Jerusalem, wrapped in bed sheets, proclaiming themselves John the Baptist or Mary Magdalene.

I understand why it occurs.  People have heard about these places since they were toddlers and suddenly each one is real.  The road you take to Jericho is the same one in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It's sort of like visiting the Black Forest and the tour guide casually pointing to a decaying cabin and says "That's where Goldilocks met the Three Bears." Except more so, because this is about your religion.  Some people's heads just explode.

When I read the story I thought it was odd that Pastor Ted describes something much more minor as Jerusalem Syndrome, but it actually makes perfect sense.  He is a control freak and part of that is attacking any sign of rebellion.

And Suzanne is beginning to rebel...  I enjoyed this story a lot.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Black Friday, by R.T. Lawton

"Black Friday," by R.T. Lawton, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2017.

I knew that if I wrote these reviews long enough I would eventually have to tell you about George F. Will.  That day has come.

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter debated candidate Ronald Reagan.  Among those asked on television to evaluate their performances was conservative pundit George F. Will.  Not surprisingly he praised Reagan's showing.  More surprisingly, it turned out that he had been one of Reagan's debate coaches.  So he was praising his own work without bothering to mention it.

And that's why you have never heard of George F. Will again.

Here's why I bring this up.  R.T. Lawton and I are first readers for each other.  Before I send a story to an editor I ask him to critique it. He does the same with me.

That means I read an earlier version of this story and made some suggestions for improving it, a few of which, I think, the author took.  So you can argue that I have no subjectivity about it now.  All I can say in reply is that the first version I read would also have been the best of the week, before I got my grubby hands on it.

This is part of a series of stories about Yarnell and Beaumont, a sort of low-rent version of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder and Kelp, marginally successfully thieves.  It is the day after Thanksgiving and Yarnell is visiting a pawn shop to retrieve his wife's wedding ring.  Unfortunately there is a robbery going on.

"Not so fast," said the robber.
Yarnell wasn't sure if that meant he was now supposed to move in slow motion or not at all, so to be on the safe side, he quit moving altogether.  In fact, he thought it best under these circumstances to have his brain check to see if his lungs were still pumping air. 

Eventually Beaumont shows up.  He is the smarter half of the team - although that is not a fast track by any means - and finds a hilarious way of settling the issue.

My favorite element of this story is Lebanese George, owner of the pawnshop who remains unflappable.  Another day, another hold-up.  Ho-hum.

This is a treat.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Mechanical Detective, by John Longenbaugh

"The Mechanical Detective," by John Longenbaugh, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, October 2017.

The more observant among you may be wondering why I am reviewing a story in the October issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine when last week I covered a tale from their November issue.  The answer is that I am a wild soul, a born free spirit who scorns chronological order.  Ha ha!

Sorry.  Where was I? Oh, yes.

Another thing I scorn is fan fiction, where a person attempts to add another story to someone else's ouevre, either taking advantage of public domain, or with permission of the heirs, or just hoping that they will never notice or care to sue. Not fond of those stories. But I sometimes enjoy what I call a pastiche in which the writer uses elements of another writers world to create something different.  Heck, I have even indulged in that game myself.

And so has Longenbaugh.  In his world it is 1889, eight years after the Great Detective (unnamed, but you-know-who) has arrived on the scene, and London is stinky with consulting detectives, each with their own gimmick.  Allow me to introduce Ponder Wright, the Mechanical Detective.

Wright is not truly mechanical but rather what we would call a cyborg, having had various parts of his body replaced by machinery after an accident.  This was due to the kindness of his wealthy and influential brother.  "I daresay my soul is my own," he notes, "but far too much of the rest of me is merely leased from Mordecai."

He says this, by the way, to his roommate and biographer, Danvers, who is a "mechanical surgeon,"
fully human, but skilled at repairing delicate bio-gadgets.

In this story Wright has been summoned to examine the case of a professor who has apparently been killed by one of his automatons.  But these robots can only do what they have been programmed to do.  Has the War Department violated treaties by asking the professor to build killing machines?  Or is there another explanation?

One thing that requires an explanation, of course, is how steam-powered London possesses such advanced machinery.  Longenbaugh offers one which requires more suspension of disbelief that Ponder Wright's solution to the mystery, but I enjoyed it all.  This is a fun piece of work.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Last Evil, by David Vardeman

"The Last Evil," by David Vardeman, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, November 2017.

Hooboy.  What to say about this week's entry?  It reminded me of Shirley Jackson, John Collier, maybe some shadowy corners of Flannery O'Connor and even James Thurber.  In other words, we are in the strange part of town.

Our protagonist is Mrs. Box, who believes that suffering is good for the soul.  Hence she wears flannel lined with canvas, because parochial school taught her "the value of chafing."

She also believed in doing "a lot of good in the world. But there  was another tinier but just as important point, and that was to get the leap on people.  In her own life she felt a lack of people leaping out at her.  In the past forty days and forty nights, not one soul, nothing, had given her a good jolt.  Mr. Box certainly had not."

Which is why she keeps a live tarantula in her purse, which she pulls out to shock people.  As a good deed.  Or does she do that? 

One thing she does do is meet a man on a train who has something in his briefcase even more frightening than a live tarantula.  Or does he? 

Enough. Read the thing and find out.  It's worth the trip.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Precision Thinking, by Jim Fusilli

"Precision Thinking," by Jim Fusilli, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2017.

Last week I wrote about a story that felt like it belonged in Black Mask Magazine.  By coincidence I am now covering a story that appears in the Black Mask department of Ellery Queen.  Go figure.

World War II has just started and the German owner of Delmenhorst Flooring has just died.  The business is in Narrows Gate, a fictional town which strongly resembles Hoboken, NJ.  The Farcolini family decide to take over the flooring  business, replacing the German employees  with "locals, mostly Sicilians and Italians who couldn't spell linoleum on a bet but had a genius for theft."

It's a cliche, I suppose, that gangsters take a successful business and turn it crooked, even though it was making good money on the up and up, because they can't imagine not doing it crooked.  See the fable of the scorpion and the frog.

But in this case there is a low-level mobster who discovers he likes laying linoleum, and he's good at it.  Can he find a way to keep the crooks from ruining a good thing?

Fusilli captures the tough guy tone perfectly, in a fun tale.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"The Black Hand," by Peter W.J. Hayes

"The Black Hand," by Peter W.J. Hayes, in  Malice Domestic: Murder Most Historical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly, Simmons.

It seems like every year or so I have to chide some editors who don't know what a noir story is supposed to be.  Today I feel like I have the same problem in reverse. Sort of.

I am not sure of the definition of a "Malice Domestic" story, but I know this one is not what I expected, or what the rest of the anthology (so far) led me to anticipate.  Hayes' story is not cozy.  It would, on the other hand, would feel quite cozy between the pages of Black Mask, circa 1928, which is around the time it is set.

Brothers Jake and David fought over a girl named Bridgid and Jake left Pittsburgh for logging work in the midwest.  David became a very successful mobster, until his body shows up in a river.

The story begins with Jake coming home to try to discover how his brother died and who is responsible.  The first thing he learns is that Bridgid was murdered a few weeks before, and a lot of people think David killed her.  Is there a connection between the deaths?  Can Jake stay alive long enough to find out?

This is an excellent salute to a classic subgenre of pulp fiction.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

PX Christmas, by Martin Limón

"PX Christmas," by Martin Limón, in The Usual Santas,  Soho Crime, 2017.

Martin Limón writes exclusively about Asia and most of his novels and stories are set in South Korea in some vague part of the 1970s.  His heroes, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, are investigators for the CID of the American Eighth Army.  

This story involves two events that come together.  The Army decides that suicides brought on by holiday depression are bad publicity so the cops are assigned to collect soldiers suspected of being depressed and making sure they are cared for. 

"They'll be locked up," Ernie said.
Riley glared at him.  "Not locked up.  They'll be provided extra care.  And extra training."

And not allowed to leave until after the holidays.

Meanwhile the CID has also been ordered to crack down on the black market.  Specifically Korean wives of GIs using their PX privileges to pick up subsidized goods which they can then sell.  Sueño thinks this campaign has less to do with saving tax dollars and more to do with officers not wanting to see Korean women on the base.

It was my job, and Ernie's to arrest these women for black marketing and thus keep the world safe for Colonels and their wives to be able to buy all the Tang and Spam and Pop Tarts their little hearts desired.

Neither of these cases may sound like they will result in riots, encounters with a man named Mr. Kill, and tying someone to a railroad track, but our heroes have a way of following a trail wherever it leads.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Making It, by Michael Wiley

"Making It," by Michael Wiley, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.

Last week I had the privilege of being on a panel at Bouchercon in Toronto.  One of the questions was: How do you find new authors to read?  I responded that every new short story is an author auditioning to be your latest favorite.  And Michael Wiley certainly did a job here.  I will definitely try one of his books.

Let's see how he starts:

When Skylar Ricks carjacked Gerald Johannson's Ford Taurus on a February morning in Chicago, climbing into the passenger seat at the corner of Granville and Clark, his hand wrapped neatly around a .44 Smith & Wesson, an unlighted Marlboro between his lips, Gerald said, "Oh, now you're in trouble."

Well, that took an unexpected turn, didn't it?  As the story goes on we will learn the reason for Skylar's rash act and a good deal about the personality of Gerald.  He is an older man, missing his late lover, and remarkably imperturbable.  Even when being carjacked.

Gerald has some definite views on life.  Later in the story he offers another character some, well, I won't call it wisdom.  Advice.

"When a man cares enough about you to shoot your boyfriend, you owe him kindness."

Somewhat later Gerald is being pursued on the highway by some bad guys.  He manages to get behind them and, rather than escaping, he decides to chase them.  "To break their spirit."

I don't know what he does to their spirit, but he certainly raises mine considerably.  It seems unlikely that there will be more stories about Gerald but I would certainly like to read one. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

e-Golem, by S.J. Rozan

"e-Golem," by S.J. Rozan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.

This is the fourth appearance here by my old pal S.J. Rozan, and a doozy of a tale she has chosen to tell.

Judah Loew runs a used bookstore on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.  Most similar stores have been killed by the Internet but Loew's specialties - including Judaica and mythology - have kept him holding on.  Not much longer, alas.

But then a newly arrived book claims to offer a spell for creating a golem , the clay humunculus that a medieval rabbi, also named Judah Loew, built out of dust to save the Jews of Warsaw.  Of course, the results back in the middle ages were disastrous.

Can our modern Loew have better luck?  Can a medieval invention cope with the Internet?  Just remember that bookstore dust is special dust so you can't expect an ordinary golem.  If such a thing exists...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Pie to Die For, by Meg Opperman

"A Pie to Die For," by Meg Opperman, in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue 1.

I have been asked recently about my policy so it may be time to repeat this.  Most of the publications I review I either purchase or borrow from libraries.  You can send me a free copy of an anthology, collection, or magazine if you want, as long as it is published this year.  I promise to start reading each story.  If it is the best I read that week I will review it here.

First of all, congratulations to Wildside Press for the first issue of their new baby.  Long may Black Cat Mystery Magazine prowl the mean streets.

This is Opperman's second appearance in my column.

It's Thanksgiving and newlywed Annie is supposed to be preparing a feast for her doting husband and his ungrateful mother.  But then she gets a phone call from Benedict, who she hasn't heard from since before the wedding.

Ah, Benedict, who makes her skin flush and her heart race...  He tells her to be at the Palisades apartments in half an hour and she is eager to oblige.

That means she has to find an excuse to slip out. Which turns out to be tougher than you might expect. And...

And I have to stop there.  But, boy, I never guessed what was coming.  Nice light writing, lovely ending.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Do Not Pass Go, by James Blakey

"Do Not Pass Go," by James Blakey, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, September 2017.

I admit it.  I am a sucker for this sort of thing.  Your mileage may vary.

The narrator has just arrived in a town and quickly discovers that the cops are corrupt, the wealthy run things to suit themselves, and the employers rip off the workers.

Yeah.  Thousands of crime stories start like this.  What makes this one stand out?

Well, he gets a job at the Water Works where people get paid in brightly colored scrip.  He doesn't earn enough to rent one of the identical houses on New York or Kentucky Avenues. He almost gets sent to jail for not paying the poor tax.   There's a casino on Boardwalk and gambling everywhere  in town.  Everybody loves to roll those dice...

And the Parker Brothers run everything.  It's like they've got a -  What's that word again?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Aramis and the Worm, by Michael Mallory

"Aramis and the Worm," by Michael Mallory, in ALfed Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017.

My friend Michael Mallory is making his fourth appearance in this space, his second time this year.  Being an actor he often writes about show biz and this is the case today.

Adrian Keel used to star in a lot of Grade-B movies filmed in exotic locations.  Key phrase is "used to."  He is ninety years old, lives in an apartment in London, and has all kinds of medical problems.  He wears adult diapers.

But he is called back to duty once more.  Not because of his acting talents, but because of his other job.  You see, he worked for MI-6, taking parts in terrible movies so he could go to trouble spots and report back.  Now his old boss has set him up in a movie that is filming in Cuba, so he can spot the Russian spy

"The Cold War is coming back, Adrian, and worse than ever."
"You believe Putin to be that dangerous?"
"Vladimir Putin is dead."
Adrian set down his wineglass.  "I've heard nothing of that."
:Nor has anyone else on the outside.  That bald, glowering, bare-chested man you see on the television is not Vladimir Putin., it is a brilliant double."

And then things get complicated.  A wild ride.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cabin Fever, by David Edgerley Gates

"Cabin Fever," by David Edgerley Gates, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  September/October 2017.

This is the fifth appearance in this space by David Edgerley Gates, which ties him with James Powell, and leaves him topped only by Terence Faherty.  It is his second showing here since he joined SleuthSayers where I also blog.

Somebody said the essence of story is this: throw your hero in a hole and drop rocks on him.  Let's count how many rocks fall on Montana deputy Hector Moody.

His truck breaks down in the mountains miles from anywhere.  No phone reception.  A thunderstorm approaching fast.  And oh yes, unknown to him, to prisoners have escaped from prison and they have already killed to stay free...

That's just the set-up. The situation will get much  worse.

A real nail-biter, with terrific dialog.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sure Thing, by David Rich

"Sure Thing," by David Rich, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

If a leopard had strolled up the stairs and into the big room, or a giggling leprechaun had slid down a light beam, the reactions of the patrons at Sports Haven could not have been any stronger.  

Nice writing, that.  The cause of the shock was a beautiful actress named Addie walking into the sports bar.  Not a very classy place, apparently.

"What kind of wine do you have?"

"The kind that used to be red when I opened it three weeks ago and the kind that used to be white."

The bartender delivering that bad news is Pete, and Pete has a secret or two.  He helps Addie out of a messy situation and some secrets are revealed.  The result puts both of their lives in danger.   

Very satisfactory story.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Crossing Harry, by Chris Knopf

"Crossing Harry," by Chris Knopf, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

Knopf is making his second appearance here.

I am very fond of what I call heightened language, which simply means that the words do something more than get us from the beginning of the story to the end.  It doesn't have to been high-falutin' fancy words.  Hemingway's monosyllabic language told us a lot about the world he was describing.

This story has a good plot but it is the language that puts it over the top.  Here is our nameless protagonist, a homeless man, explaining his love of biology.

I'd loved it since I was a kid.  I'd absolutely be hunched over a lab counter right now if I hadn't had that little hiccup with the voices in my head and the collusion of the Yale Board of Trustees, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the Satanic Monks of Aquitaine to deprive me of my undergraduate position.

Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

But our hero is pretty cheerful.  He likes his "house [which] is this nice little spot under the railroad tracks that mostly keeps out the rain and snow."

Of course, some conflict must occur even in this paradise, and it takes the form of a very strange man at Union Station whom no one notices except the homeless man and Harry.  Did I mention Harry?  No one can see him except our narrator, because he's from another dimension.  But Harry isn't the problem.  It's the elegantly dressed man with a canvas bag full of-- well, nothing nice.

Don't worry, though.  Our guy and Harry are on the case.  And a terrific case it is.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Playing Games, by Elaine Togneri

"Playing Games" by Elaine Togneri, in Noir at the Salad Bar, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017

When Mai was thirteen she was kidnapped from the docks in VIetman.  For the last three years she has been  a slave, working long hours in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in the United States, sleeping six in a room. She dreams of escaping, but caan that ever happen?

Noir at the Salad Bar is what the title of this book promises.  Ms. Togneri brings the noir very well.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Bubble, by Jennifer Harlow

"The Bubble," by Jennifer Harlow, in Atlanta Noir, edited by Tayari Jones, Akashic Press, 2017.

I have started reading the Akashic Press Noir City volumes for 2017, so it must be time for my annual rant: Noir does not mean gloomy.  Noir fiction must involve crime or the threat of crime.  Okay?

That's essential, but we can expand.  Ideally, noir involves this: A nobody tries to become somebody.  For this effrontery they are curb stomped by the universe.  Crime in involved.   Often the nobody is led to disaster by a love/lust interest.

Jennifer Harlow certainly understands all of that.  Her story involves not only noir but another French term: femme fatale.  That would be Maddie, a teenager in Peachtree City, who is sick to death of her privileged life among snobs, absentee parents, and the self-medicated.  She decides to commit murder, just for excitement, and power, and, let's face it, because she is evil.

But she isn't working alone.  Her reluctant partner in crime is Emma, who is not as smart, not as pretty, and desperately in  love with Maddie.  Is Maddie willing to use her sexuality to manipulate Emma into crime?  Oh, yes.

Does our tale of thrill killers meet the definition of classic noir?  To some degree that depends on whether you think Emma has interpreted events correctly. I'll let you decide.  But I'll tell you for free that it's a very good story.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Sleeping Beauty," by Gerald Elias.

"Sleeping Beauty" by Gerald Elias, in Noir at the Salad Bar, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.

A long way from noir, but an interesting piece of work.  The nameless narrator is a classical musician and, while eating at an elegant restaurant in  Manhattan, he witnesses a woman attacking a waitress for no obvious reason.  It turns out that she is a former star ballerina.

By coincidence, our narrator meets the ballerina a few years later and learns the reason for the attack.  This is a subtle little story, more about nuance and emotion than action, which seems somehow fitting for the professions involved.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Smoked, by Michael Bracken

"Smoked," by Michael Bracken, in Noir at the Salad Bar, eidte by Verena Rose, Harriette Sacker, and SHawn Reilly Simmons, Level Best Books, 2017.

This is Bracken's fourth appearance in this space, which puts him in the top five repeat offenders, I believe.

Beau James had built a nice life for himself, operating the Quarryville Smokehouse, and living with a girlfriend and her daughter.  When his restaurant is featured in a magazine with his picture he knows that the good times are over.  He is in the Witness Protection Program and the motorcycle gang he turned state evidence against are bound to see the picture...

The story takes place in modern Texas but it has the feeling of an old-fashioned Western, with the bad guys getting closer and the townsfolk having to decide where they stand.  A good story.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Publish or Perish, by Kevin Z. Garvey

"Publish or Perish," by Kevin Z. Garvey, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, July 2017.

Every twist ending is a surprise. Not every surprise ending is a twist.

Stories written in second person are not everyone's cup of espresso, double tall skinny.  This one works pretty well for me.

The main character ("You," obviously) has just kidnapped the editor of a mystery magazine.  You are a frustrated unpublished author.    Frustrated to the point that you are convinced that there is a conspiracy against you.  How else is it possible to explain that no magazines will accept your utterly brilliant stories?

You are determined to get to the bottom of the puzzle, even if you have to do nasty things to the editor.  What's your long-range plan, though?  Well, that's a bit of a mystery.

This story won the prize for the week because of the ending which surprised me, but (see first paragraph) was not a twist.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Monday, July 24, 2017

An End in Bath, by Janet Laurence

"An End in Bath," by Janet Laurence, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

Irene Wootten lives a peaceful, quiet life in Bath, ever since her father died.  One day an extroverted young man arrives, informs her that he is her cousin Rod from Australia, and he wants to stay for a while.  Rather disturbing, but she enjoys his company.

More disturbing is the fact that Rod feels his side of the family was cheated out of their inheritance by Irene's father.  And worse is her discovery of the assorted crimes that led to Rod's grandfather being pushed off to Australia.  Is this a man she can, or should trust?

There is a lot more to this complicated and enjoyable tale of family intrigue.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The False Inspector Lovesey, by Andrew Taylor

"The False Inspector Lovesey," by Andrew Taylor, in Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards,  Crippen and Landru, 2017.

This anthology is s festschrift, if I may get all librarian-y at you, a tribute by the Detection Club to Peter Lovesey on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

My favorite Lovesey novel is Waxwork, the summit of his Victorian series about Sergeant Cribb.  But my second favorite is The False Inspector Dew, about a mild-mannered man who decides to kill his wife and escape disguised as - why not? - the most famous police officer in Britain.

So as soon as I saw the title of this story I was prepared to enjoy it.  I did.

It is England sometime after the war.  1950s, I think?

Our heroine is hired help (not a servant, she says firmly) for the rather dreadful Auntie Ag, who takes in boarders.  Ag is not really her aunt because, well:

The only thing I know for certain about me is that my name is Margaret Rose, like the Queen's sister.

I know that because when they found me in the porch of  St. John's Church I was wearing a luggage label attached to a piece of string around my neck, and the label said 'My name is Margaret Rose.' 

So she has not had the easiest time.  But Margaret Rose has dreams.   To make them come true she will need to get to London.  To get to London she will need money.

Enter the new boarder, Mr. P. Lovesey, with "a droopy face like Mrs. Conway-down-the-road's basset hound."  He says he is a tax inspector, but Auntie Ag and Margaret Rose, both excellent snoopers, soon have reason to doubt that. 

Everyone in this story has their own motives and their own schemes.  But one of them also has a dream... 

A worthy tribute to a master.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What could Possibly Go Boing?, by Mat Coward

"What Could Possibly Go Boing?", by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Nutty Mat Coward is making his third appearance in this space.  This time his characters are the staff of Fake Dog Dirt Etc., a rather low-end novelty shop.  Their crisis is that one of them has killed their boss.  Murder?  Well, that's debatable.  I can't find the quote I am looking for but I believe one of the characters says, approximately, "The first few blows could be self-defense, but the next half dozen were purely recreational."

The ringleader is June who proudly says that her siblings call her "the coldest June on record."  She and her co-workers decide that they can keep the store open for a while, bringing in a few precious weeks' wages.  All they have to do is find a place to hide the body. And find the boss's hidden money. And avoid the cops.  And oh yes, the blackmailer.

It all gets rather complicated. And hilarious. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hard to Get, by Jeffery Deaver

"Hard to Get," by Jeffery Deaver, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

It's a classic concept of the espionage story: an amateur is forced to into the spy game to play against the deadly professionals.

In Deaver's variation Albert Lessing is not a complete amateur.  He is an analyst for the CIA; a desk jockey.  But when an agent dies in an accident while preparing for a vital mission, Lessing is the only person with the language and academic abilities to fill the gap.

So all of a sudden he is in a small town in Poland trying to attract the attention of the deputy to the Russian spymaster who is running a ring of seditionists in the United States.  But he has to attract the man subtly.  If he is too obvious they will know hit's a trap.  Play hard to get, he is told...

And Lessing turns out to be very good at this new trade.  Or is he?  Or isn't he?  As in a lot of the best spy stories its hard to tell for a while.  And there are plenty of plot twists, one of which made me laugh out loud.  A most enjoyable trip through eastern Europe. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Little Big News: Macavity nominations

Mystery Readers International has just announced the Macavity Award nominations.  Congrats to all!  Their website won't met me copy the nominators but you can find them here:

Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)

The Macavity Award Nominees 2017

The Macavity Awards are nominated by members of Mystery Readers International, subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal and friends of MRI. The winners will be announced at opening ceremonies at Bouchercon in Toronto, Thursday, October 12. Congratulations to all.

If you're a member of MRI or a subscriber to MRJ or a friend of MRI, you will receive a ballot on August 1, so get reading. To check if you're eligible to vote, leave a comment below with your email.

Best Novel 
• You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)
• Dark Fissures, by Matt Coyle (Oceanview)
• Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley (UK, Hodder & Stoughton; US, Grand Central Publishing)
• Real Tigers, by Mick Herron (UK, John Murray; US, Soho)
• Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman (Wm. Morrow)
• A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel 
• The Widow, by Fiona Barton (UK, Bantam; US, NAL)
• Under the Harrow, by Flynn Berry (Penguin)
• Dodgers, by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press)
• IQ, by Joe Ide (Mulholland Books)
• Design for Dying, by Renee Patrick (Forge)

Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)
Best Short Story 
• “Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
• “Blank Shot,” by Craig Faustus Buck (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books)
• “Survivor’s Guilt,” by Greg Herren (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books)
• “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016)
• “The Crawl Space,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016)
• “Parallel Play,” by Art Taylor (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pain Man, by Bev Vincent

"Pain-Man," by Bev Vincent, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Last week, a long novella about drug deals, car thefts, and murder in specific rural landscape.  This week a short, funny tale of a Walter Mitty-type in Boston.  You never know where the pursuit of the Best of the Week will take you.

Raymond is a widower, pushing sixty, and waking up with new aches and complaints everyday.  One day he blundeers into a bank robbery and is both injured and humiliated by one of the robbers.  So Raymond decides to become a superhero.  Naturally. 

We then follow his training regime, his setbacks, and Pain-Man's eventual rematch with his nemesis.  Read the story.  It will take your mind off your aches and ouchies.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Short Story, by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta

"Short Story," by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta, in Matchup, edited by Lee Child, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

I'm not a big fan of thriller novels, but there are a bunch of terrific stories in this book.  The gimmick is that each story features two members of the International Thriller Writers, one male and one female, bringing their most popular characters together.  In this case it is Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta (making his second appearance in this space) and they decided to dive into their protagonists' backstories.

It's 1993 and Jeffrey Tolliver, is a young Birmingham cop.  He is in a small town in Georgia on a long weekend that has gone terribly wrong.

How wrong?  Before the tale has gotten fairly started he finds himself standing in a hotel parking lot in front of a busload of missionaries and...

"Holy crap,mister. You're in your underwear."
"Running shorts," he said, resisting the urge to cover himself.  "Training for a marathon."
"With just one shoe?"
"Half marathon."

That has a nice Groucho Marx surrealism to it, doesn't it?  And pretty soon Tolliver is in jail on suspicion of murder.

Meanwhile, up in Cleveland, Ohio, veteran cop Joe Pritchard and his green partner Lincoln Perry are being asked by the DEA to help them track down a local drug dealer who has gone national.  Seems he has been spotted in a small town in Georgia...

A lot of stuff goes on here - in spite of its title, this is the longest novella in the book -- and there are some nice surprises along the way.and more witty lines too, as when a bad guy says:

"This ain't no Batman movie, mister.  I don't got to explain myself."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Summer of the Seventeen Poll, by Aoife Clifford

"Summer of the Seventeen Poll," by Aoife Clifford, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

I like stories of political intrigue (insert joke about current events here).  But I am not used to them taking a noir tone.

...dawn broke as gently as a politician's promise.

Nice, isn't it? 

The narrator who gave us that lovely line is Callan Valient, an operative for the Labor Party in the Australian state of Victoria. Please don't insult her by calling her a spin doctor. 

You see, I'm a "smokejumper."  I get the first phone call from the powers that be, even before they press "s" for spin.  To be able to spin, you need to how the truth.  I find that out, and then it's someone else's job to ensure the public never does.

The particular wildfire Valient is jumping into involves a long-dead corpse discovered in the seldom-used house of the head of the state, who happens to be the unpopular leader of the Labor Party.  Premier Prendergast might be a pig, but he was our pig...

Valient and her boss, Roland "Stainless" Gesink, have their work cut out for them as most of the suspects have the last name Prendergast.  The solution is quite a surprise.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rosalie Marx in Missing, by Robert S. Levinson

"Rosalie Marx in Missing," by Robert S. Levinson, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

This is the second time Levinson has made it into my column.  A lot of his stories are about fixers in Hollywood in the Studio Era.  This time we go to Las Vegas and the 1970s.

Vincent Riverbend is a private eye who works with Joyce Ryan, the daughter of his late partner from his days as a cop.  And their client is a casino mobster named Nick Simone.  Not the ideal customer but he wanted them so they didn't have much choice: "Simone wasn't somebody who ever took no for an answer.  Ask anyone who tried it, if you can find them."

Turns out the granddaughter of Simone's boss has been performing at the casino.  Turns out she's gone missing.  And if Riverbend and Ryan can't get her back a  whole lot of nasty thugs are going to be upset.

But life is not that simple.  There are wheels within wheels, and when the roulette wheel stops spinning there will be a lot of surprises.  Very satisfying tale.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tattersby and the Silence of the Lumbs, by Neil Schofield

"Tattersby and the Silence of the Lumbs," by Neil Schofield, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June, 2017.

Yes, this is the third story I have chosen from this particular issue.  Some weeks/issues are like that.  It is also the third time I have featured a story by my friend Neil Schofield.

But, just for variety, I think it is the second story he has produced about Tattersby, a retired English cop who sounds a bit like a cross between Wodehouse's Wooster and Mortimer's Rumpole.  Here he explains why he prefers curiosities to mysteries:

Because curiosity is a more interesting word. And it's more friendly.  A curiosity tickles the mind.  A mystery is obscure, menacing.  Mind you, a curiosity can become a mystery when it grows up.  I like curiosities.  I like it when a curiosity comes out of the undergrowth and rubs itself against your legs.  A mystery just runs up and bites you in the calf.

 In this story there are several curiosities (or worse) that disturb Tattersby's peace.  His friend Eggy, a former crook, needs some help with his aunt who thinks she is losing her mind.  Tattersby solves that one but quickly learns that a young constable has disappeared, a corpse has been found in the canal, and a convict named Mental George has been seen in the vicinity.  Not to mention the haunted house, or as a local kid calls it, "a ornted 'ouse."

Naturally all these pieces come together in interesting ways. More Tattersby, please.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Girl! by Jeff Cohen

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Girl!" by Jeff Cohen, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

Years ago Akashic Press published Baltimore Noir and it had a story by Charlie Stella.  I don't remember anything about that tale except that as soon as it was done I thought: I gotta get me some Charlie Stella books.

And of course, that's one reason novelists write short stories.  Getting paid to advertise your books is pretty cool.

All of which brings me to Jeff Cohen, who also writes under the name EJ Copperman.  Based on this story I gotta get me some Jeff Cohen books.

Elliot runs a movie theatre that shows nothing but comedies, most of them old.  That may explain why Sharon, a doctor, divorced him years ago.  Harder to explain  is that she's  about to have Elliot's baby.  Like today.

Elliot rushes her to the hospital and promptly bumbles into a supply closet where a man in scrubs seems to be in the act of killing a woman in scrubs with a knife. Awkward.

And when he gets hospital security and they rush back to the closet there is no one there.  No sign of a struggle.  Which leads the cops to question our hero.

"Why are you here in the hospital today, sir?
"My ex-wife is having a baby."

Oh, yeah.  That sounds good, doesn't it?

Cohen writes funny.  Here is Elliot talking to his wife.

"You keep a civil tongue in your head, young lady, or I'll marry you again."
"In your dreams."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Little Big News: Anthony Nominations!

The Anthony Award nominations have been announced.  The winners will be revealed  at Bouchercon in Toronto in October.  Congrats to all the nominees!  Read about the other awards here.

Best Short Story
"Oxford Girl" – Megan Abbott, Mississippi Noir [Akashic]
"Autumn at the Automat" – Lawrence Block, In Sunlight or in Shadow [Pegasus]
"Gary's Got A Boner" – Johnny Shaw, Waiting to Be Forgotten [Gutter]
"Parallel Play" – Art Taylor, Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning [Wildside]
"Queen of the Dogs" – Holly West, 44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul and Payback [Moonstone]

Best Novella (8,000-40,000 words)
Cleaning Up Finn – Sarah M. Chen [CreateSpace]
No Happy Endings – Angel Luis Colón [Down & Out]
Crosswise – S.W. Lauden [Down & Out]
Beware the Shill – John Shepphird [Down & Out]
The Last Blue Glass – B.K. Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2016 [Dell]

Best Anthology
Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns – Eric Beetner, ed. [Down & Out]
In Sunlight or in Shadow – Lawrence Block, ed. [Pegasus]
Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens – Jen Conley [Down & Out]
Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 – Greg Herren, ed. [Down & Out]
Waiting To Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak, Inspired by the Replacements – Jay Stringer, ed. [Gutter]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Montclair Dead-Star Comedy Revue, by Michael Mallory

"The Montclair Dead-Star Comedy Revue," by Michael Mallory, in The Mystery Weekly Magazine, May, 2017.

First of all, congratulations to The Mystery Weekly Magazine.  I understand that a story they published will be in the 2017 edition of Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories, and another made the Distinguished Story list in the back.  That ain't no small stuff.

This is a good issue and the best story I have read so far is this historical show biz tale by my friend Mike Mallory, making his third appearance in this space.

Buddy Barker is short, fat, and funny.  He was born to be a second banana comedian in vaudeville, but it's the 1950s and vaudeville is dead.  Lucky for him he has found a job in live TV.  Unlucky for him somone commits a murder in the theater.  The producer decides that Buddy, who is liked by everybody involved, is the right guy to look into the matter for him.

But playing detective is not one of Buddy's specialties.  He's trying to stay out of the way of the cops and - much worse - an investigator for the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

The story has some clever twists and the murderer's, shall we say, career path, is unique.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Money Maker, by Jas. R. Petrin

"Money Maker," by Jas. R. Petrin, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

I admit to being a major fan of Leo "Skig" Slorzeny.  This is his fourth appearance in my weekly best list.

Petrin's protagonist is an aging loanshark in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  There is a "demon" eating up his guts - in earlier stories it was an "imp," so I guess it is getting worse - and it will kill him if one of his many enemies don't get around to it first. 

In this story Skig has done an unnamed favor for a couple of Maine crooks and they send him the agreed upon fee.  Unfortunately, half of it turns out to be counterfeit so Skig sets out to figure out who along the line of shipment shorted him.

He is accompanied by his sidekick, Creepy Culbertson, who fixes cars in the garage that Skig has renovated into living quarters.

"I'm in."
"I thought you had a front-end alighment to do."
"It can wait."
"Won't your customer be wanting his wheels back?"
"Don't see why.  He don't even have a driver's license.  I'd be doing the world a favor, keeping that boozehound off the road." 

Not exactly the dialog of Holmes and Watson.  But that is one of the joys of these stories: the tough guy characters sound tough.   So does the narrator, describing a crime scene:

Under the chairs a sight the media might describe as "distressing to some viewers."

Another highlight of this story is meeting Saul,  Skig's attorney for, I believe, the first time.  Here they are having lunch.

"And you went to meet this man so that you could..."
"Take a delivery.  A sack of cash."
Saul clucked his tongue.  "The kitchen's noisy.  I didn't hear that."
"The kitchen's at the other end of the room."
"Yes.  They're incredibly clumsy in there."

 But the highlight of any Skig story is Skig.  People underestimate the aging thug in all sorts of ways. 
"There's nothing nice about me. Nothing at all," he says, after doing something nice. No heart of gold here, he insists,  merely balancing the books.  And that's a subject  of importance to any loanshark.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Little Big News: Derringers announced

It's that time of year when you can't turn around without more well-deserved mystery awards being bestowed.  Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 Derringer Awards, just announced by the Short Mystery Fiction Society!

Best Flash Story (1 - 1,000 words)
 Herschel Cozine
“The Phone Call” 
(Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2016)

Best Short Story (1,001 - 4,000 words)
Linda Barnes
“The Way They Do It in Boston”
(Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016)

Best Long Story (4,001- 8,000 words)
Victoria Weisfeld 
(Betty Fedora: Kickass Women In Crime Fiction, Issue 3, September 2016)

Best Novelette (8,000 to 20,000 words)
Terrie Farley Moran 
“Inquiry and Assistance”
(Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2016)

Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer (Lifetime Achievement)
Robert Randisi