Sunday, March 26, 2017

Underground Above Ground, by Robert Tippee,

"Underground Above Ground," by Robert Tippee, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.

So, when do you know you are reading a terrific story?

Sometimes there's a knock-em-dead opening paragraph and you spend the rest of the story thinking: Don't blow this.

Sometimes a story starts slow and builds and builds.

And some stories take your breath away with a great twist ending.

But maybe the rarest is the story that catches you later, because you can't stop thinking about it.  You read it again, not because you want to figure out how a trick ending worked, but because you want to savor the nuances, admire the architecture.

In other words: I had to sit with this one for a while, as the saying goes.

The nameless narrator is a young man who has mastered the art of disappearing.  He dresses in black, with a stocking cap that hides his face.  And as the story begins, it is after ten PM and he is sitting in the darkness near a city tennis court, watching a young man and his beautiful girlfriend as they volley the ball, flirt, and discuss Facebook.

Facebook.  They ought to call it "Gutspill."  I don't do Facebook.  Somebody like me can't.  But why would anybody?

This is a guy with nobody to "friend" on Facebook anyway.  It's clear that there are bad things in our narrator's past, although it is not clear at first whether they were done to him, by him, or both.

And then the story takes several unexpected twists, which is all I can say.  Except this: I loved it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Renters, by Tim L. Williams

"Renters," by Tim L. Williams, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.

It's rural Kentucky in the mid-eighties, a hard time in a hard place.  Davy is fifteen years old.  His father, a Vietnam vet, lost his job years ago and now puts food on the table hunting and fishing.  Dad has what we might call anger issues.  When his wife said something he didn't like he: "grabbed her by her hair, dragged her to the back door, and threw her into the yard.  'Come back in when you find a cure for stupid.'"

The fourth character in this situation is the family's landlord, Ben Daniels, the richest man in the county.  Daniels wants to bring rich tourists to hunt on his land, which means he has to stop Davy's dad from hunting there for the pot.  Oh, did I mention that Davy's mother is young and beautiful and when she is around the good-looking landlord has "busy eyes?"

So we have all the makings of a tragedy here.  The only question is who is going to end up doing what to whom.  And there Williams offers us some surprises, which is what I liked best about this well-written story.

  "There are some things that need killing..."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Gold Digger, by Reavis Z. Wortham

"Gold Digger," by Reavis Z. Wortham, in Bound by Mystery, edited by Diane D. DiBiase, Poisoned Pen Press, 2017.

Most of this story takes place in May 1934, on the night Bonnie and Clyde died, although that has nothing to do with the story.  (Well, now that I think of it, it might explain a bit of one character's motivation.  Subtle, that.)  It's rural Texas and our narrator is a ten year old boy at a barn dance, with no less than Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys performing. He witnesses a murder, a pointless killing involving that ancient cause of trouble, an older husband a younger wife.

Then we jump to the same guy in World War II, and then many years later to his old age.  And only at that point does he, and do we, figure out exactly what was going on back in 1934.  I didn't see the twist coming at all. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Farmer and His Wife, by Earl Staggs

“The Farmer and His Wife,” by Earl Staggs,  Mystery Weekly Magazine, March 2017.

Ever notice that private eye fiction is full of missing daughters?  Ross Macdonald did.  One of his books begins: "It was a wandering daughter job."

 Earl Staggs seems to have noticed, too, but he does a neat role reversal.  His P.I. is hired to find a missing son.  Oh, by the way, here is Staggs' opening sentence:

"She had me from the first teardrop."

Aw, the big sentimental lug.

"She" is the mother. Her son disappeared while working on a farm to earn college money.   And we won't go any farther, although, naturally, the hero does.