Sunday, May 21, 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."
Sunday, May 7, 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 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, April 10, 2017
I am very fond of Mitch Alderman's stories about Bubba Simms, the best and largest private eye in Winter Haven, Florida. (His hobbies are eating and working out.)
His client this time is a wealthy heavy equipment dealer named Hank Langborn, who is dying of cancer. "I've been putting my ducks in a row before flying south for the long winter."
Someone is threatening Hank's grandchildren and he wants Bubba to find the bad guy. Bubba is afraid if he does Hank will kill the villain. What does a dying man have to lose?
There are surprises in store, both in terms of the bad guy's identity and how the case is resolved. Bubba is always an enjoyable comanion.
Sunday, March 26, 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, 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, October 23, 2016
This is the fourth appearance by David Edgerley Gates in my Best-of-the Week list, the first since he joined me on the SleuthSayers blog.
It is also the second appearance here for Mickey Counihan, who works for the Hannahs, an Irish crime family in 1940s New York. Mickey describes himself in this story as "muscle," but he's being modest. I'd call him a fixer, running some low level schemes, and looking out for the family's interest. Here is Mickey describing the status quo:
We'd made peace with the capos, the money my kids brought in from the numbers racket was steady, wagers at the racetrack books were up, sin was paying off on our investment.
But sin was the problem facing a guy named Hinny Boggs, who asked Mickey for help. His wife's second cousin, Ginger, was pregnant and unwed. Worse, she wanted to keep the baby. Much worse, the father was Monsignor Devlin, the cardinal's right hand man. Which meant Ginger had to vanish before she wound up in much worse trouble than just being in trouble.
She doesn't need a white knight, though. Just a black hat like Mickey, willing to pull in favors and negotiate deals with some of his personal enemies for a woman he's never met.
My one complaint about this story is that Gates under-utilized the metaphor in his title. As I recall, in the old tale it took a whole village to make stone soup, which is relevant to the events here.
Very satisfactory piece.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
I am very fond of Stack's Western stories about an unlikely trilogy of travelers. Corey is a professional bare fist boxer, brave and strong and kind. Patrick is his manager, more likely to cause trouble than solve it. Neither of them is very bright but the difference is Corey knows it. Their companion is Miss Pandora Parsons, a professional gambler, and she is the brains of the outfit.
This story begins with Miss Parson deep in a poker game somewhere in Idaho. Also playing is a doctor and a banker who wants some land the doctor owns. It's pretty clear what's going to happen, but can Pandora straighten out the mess that follows?
Well, of course she can. The plot is no big puzzle, although her quick-thinking provides a nice twist. The real pleasure of this series is running into these old friends again.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
This is the second appearance in this space for Estleman and his stories of the Four Horsemen. While it is not a whodunit there are mysteries of a sort that left me pleasantly puzzled. We will get to them.
The Four Horsemen are what remains of the vice squad of the Detroit Police Department during World War II. They are not popular with the bosses but are determined to stay in nice safe Michigan and not get sent to, say Iwo Jima.
In this case they are given the job of bodyguarding a flying ace who is in Detroit on a tour to promote war bonds. Problem is he turns out to not be a very nice person. And that's putting it mildly. So our alleged heroes have to decide what to do about that.
Which brings up my puzzles. If this a crime story, what crime exactly is the subject? And are the Horsemen working for or against the war effort in this affair?
Read it and decide for yourself. You will enjoy it.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
In his first published story (!) Mark Thielman seems to have played midwife to the love child of Rex Stout and Lillian de la Torre. Or maybe I have just been infected with his characters' love of metaphor.
"A Meter of Murder" is this year's winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award, which is co-sponsored by AHMM and the Wolfe Pack, dedicated fans of Rex Stout. Often but not always the winner follows the formula of Stout's Nero Wolfe stories: a genius detective who seldom goes anywhere, and a narrator who does the footwork. So it is in Thielman's story.
But this novella is also part of a subgenre which, as far as I know was invented by Lillian de la Torre. I assume she was reading Arthur Conan Doyle one day and noticed that Holmes referred to Watson as "my Boswell." And she thought: If Watson is Boswell why can't Boswell be Watson? And so she created the Samuel Johnson: Detector series, the first mystery stories to make use of a real person as the fictional hero.
And now, at last, we can get to Thielman's story.
London in 1661 was a very dangerous place. King Charles II had just taken the throne and anyone who had been on the Roundhead side in the Civil War, or worked with Cromwell after, had to keep one eye over his shoulder, expecting arrest or worse.
One of those was the blind poet John Milton, not yet the creator of Paradise Lost. The narrator of the novella is Milton's younger friend, Andrew Marvell, who was both a member of Parliament and a poet.
At the beginning of what turns out to be a very long day Marvell comes to tell his friend that a royalist member of the House of Commons has been killed in circumstances that suggest a possible political motive. If someone doesn't find out whodunit, then the people of their party may be chosen as the killer.
And so Milton gets on the case, sending Marvell out to investigate and bring back suspects. Thielman clearly knows his Restoration London and his Rex Stout. I enjoyed this novella a lot.
One line made me laugh out loud. Milton to a suspect: "Sir, don't be pugnacious. Spare us your vehemence."
Doesn't that sound exactly like Nero Wolfe?
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Lot of good stories in this issue but so far the laurel wreath goes to this somewhat bizarre story by James Nolan.
The narrator is a recovering alcoholic who gets a call from Grasshopper, for whom he has been acting as AA sponsor. Grasshopper has been diagnosed with stage-three liver cancer and has decided to drink himself to death in Mexico.
Off he goes to the sunny southland but the big C is not what takes him away. Instead his head has found on the short cut between the local village and the suburb for American ex-pats. His body never turns up. So our hero heads down there to recover the head and try to find out what happened.
Did I say bizarre? He meets an ex-stripper, a couple of midgets, a crooked cop, a grouchy dentist - and all in a town where "the funeral home is the only place open all night."
Very compelling story with well-drawn characters.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
The June issue of AHMM is awfully good, making it hard for me to pick winners. That's a better problem than the occasional weeks when I can't find a story I enjoy, so I won't complain.
This marks DuBois' sixth appearance in this space, tying him with Terence Faherty for first place.
It's 1946 in Boston. Billy Sullivan is a private eye with a guilty conscience because, as an Army MP, he spent most of the war out of harm's way, while his brother died in the infantry.
His client, Ronny Silver, is also having trouble with dealing with his war memories. But he recently spotted someone he knew from his time in Europe, a war correspondent who had promised to send the G.I.s photos. Ronny thinks if he can get those pictures he won't forget his buddies who died. Can Sullivan help him find the reporter?
If you have read any private eye fiction it won't be a spoiler if I tell you there is more going on than what appears on the surface. Interesting twists, interesting characters...
Sunday, May 8, 2016
A very touching story by this year's winner of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement in the mystery short story.
Picture a small town in Texas, one so set in its ways that the whites and blacks still use seperate cemeteries. Cody is a gay man, deep in the closet. His secret lover, Chase, on the other hand, was "leading one-man Gay Pride parades."
When Chase disappears, Cody has to decide what is more important: finding out the truth, or staying safe?
"Nobody's filed a missing person report," Junior said. "Not sure anybody around here cares one way or the other."
"I could file a report."
Junior lowered his ice cream-laden spoon and stared straight into my eyes. "You might could," he said, "but are you sure you want to do that, Cody? People will talk."
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Sunday, April 10, 2016
I am not a big fan of locked room stories. I think I only have only reviewed one here before. But I liked this one a lot.
Szu-Yen Lin is Taiwanese and his hero Ruoping Lin is as well. Unfortunately neither the editor's introduction nor the story itself tell us anything about him except that he will be moderating a panel at a book fair and that he is not surprised when a stranger knocks on the door of his office with a problem.
Oh, I should add that for that panel he is reading a mystery novel by an author "who specializes in mysteries without crimes," and that of course is called foreshadowing.
Getting back to the knock on the door, the knocker is a grown man named Ko who wants Ruoping to tell him whether Santa Claus really exists.
It's not quite as crazy as it sounds. When Ko was young his father, a widower, made sure a present from Santa was waiting for him every Christmas morning. When his schoolmates scorned his belief the father invited them all over on Christmas Eve to be convinced.
And proceeds to reveal a dozen presents inside a locked room, sealed with tape on door and window, after he and the boys slept on the floor outside all night.
The work of Santa or a clever and dedicated parent? I am sure you can guess but the solution is quite satisfactory.
Friday, March 25, 2016
Sunday, January 24, 2016
We start reviewing 2016 with a nice story in the P.I. vein by my friend Terrie Farley Moran.
New York City, the Great Depression. Tommy Flood, unemployed bookkeeper is looking desperately for work, and surviving through family ties.
And speaking of family, he gets an invitation from Van Helden, the wealthy man who employs his cousin Kathleen. He has a dangerously wild daughter, and Van Helden has decided the solution is to find an attractive but tame gentleman to escort her safely to the risky sorts of establishments she enjoys.
"You, Mr. Flood, are reasonably presentable and so unsuitiable that I'm sure my daughter would find you attractive."
And, of course, if anything goes wrong, cousin Kathleen will immediately join the ranks of the desperate unemployed.
Tommy meets the daughter by pretending to be a private eye. And guess what? Turns out he's good at it. The story has a couple of minor plot holes, but I enjoyed it very much.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Sorry this review is late. Bouchercon doth make sluggards of us all.
"If you want to be a good-looking corpse, carbon monoxide is the way to go. Your skin is a lovely shade of pink."
That helpful tip is the opening line of this story, which is intended to be the first in a series about Angela Richman, Death Investigator for a Missouri county. In this tale she is looking into the apparent suicide of a wealthy woman, found in her car in a closed garage. The detective in charge of the case is an "errorist," a lazy cop who makes a lot of mistakes. He wants to wrap up this obvious suicide before he goes off-shift. Angela has a couple of hours to find evidence that the death was (surprise!) murder.
The story is full of detail, and has a fair-play ending.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
For many years Dirckx has been creating a dependable series of private eye stories for AHMM about Detective (recently Lieutenant) Cyrus Auburn, set in a midwestern city.
The tale begins when Auburn meets Walter Bottrace, a seventy-five year old man with a mobile van full of vintage LPs and 45s for sale. When Bottrace is found killed in the woods with a passel of fake IDs, Auburn uncovers a complicated scheme of robberies that have more to do with drugs and, yes, shoehorns, than music.
What makes the stories work are mostly the characters and how they are described. There is a regular cast, each of whom gets their scene on stage. For example, evidence tech Kestrel dislikes Stamaty, the coroner's clerk who slows down his work, and in this episode he calls him "the Last Responder."
Sunday, June 7, 2015
Last week I said my favorite story was all about setting. And here we are again.
McAbee's story won the Black Orchid Novella Award, given each year bu AHMM and the Wolfe Pack for a novella that best carries on the Rex Stout tradition. The winners usually have a Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin format, meaning a great detective and an assistant narrates the story. This is true in "Dyed to Death," but as I said, it is the setting that is the true main character.
It is the late twenties in a company town somewhere in the south. Our narrator is Sam, a boy in his late teens. He never recovered from an injury in the cotton mill when he was fifteen (the same mill killed his father) so he works at the company store. His boss is Guy Henson who, beside running the store is also the village constable. He also is a former millworker, but experiences in the Great War left him unable to tolerate loud noises.
When Sam finds a woman drowned in the river, dyed purple from the weekly dumping of a mill vat, Henson has to find out what happened. Sam, a dedicated reader of Black Mask, is thrilled to be able to participate.
I should say I didn't think the ending of this story was as strong as the rest of it. But McAbee gives us a strong sense of what life was like in a town where the mill owner set the rules and could throw you out of your home on a whim. I hope to see more of Guy and Sam.
Thursday, May 28, 2015