Sunday, December 3, 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, September 24, 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
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, June 25, 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, May 28, 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
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.