Showing posts with label EQMM. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EQMM. Show all posts

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, 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. 


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, 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..."


Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Case of the Disapppearing Passenger, by Jonathan Turner,

"The Case of the Disapppearing Passenger," by Jonathan Turner, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2017.

Boy.  Where to start with this one?

I am on the  record as not being a fan of fan fiction, where people just write yet another story about Sherlock Holmes, or another novel about the characters of a dead author.

I feel differently about pastiches, where someone rethinks a familiar character or plot and does something different with it.  (Hey, I've done that myself.)

And this one falls in between the stools, you might say.  Jonathan Turner has used (with permission) Steve Hockensmith's characters Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer, and combined them with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

If you aren't familiar with the Amlingmeyer brothers, they are cowboys around the turn of the century.  Old Red is illiterate but is a huge fan of Holmes and wants to be a detective, and he's good at it.  Big Red is the narrator, as witty as his brother is grumpy.  They have appeared in several short stories and five novels. (And I have illustrated one above, rather than using the cover of the same EQMM two weeks in a row.)

This story takes place not long after the most recent (but I hope not last) novel in the series.  The first half is a letter from Big Red to Holmes explaining a case the brothers encountered in New York, which ends with the villain escaping on a ship to London (as Old Red deduces).  The second half consists of Holmes and Watson figuring out which passenger is the bad guy.

If I were Hockensmith I'd be surprised and maybe a little nervous about the uncanny way Turner captures the voices of my characters - better than he did Conan Doyle's, I think.  Here is an example.  (Gus is another name for Old Red.  His brother is talking to King Brady.)

"Enjoying things ain't what you'd call Gus's strong suit," I told him.  "You may be the King of the New York dicks, but he's the Ace of Curmudgeons."
"That makes you the Jack of Asses," Gus retorted. 

A lot of fun. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Slay Belles, by Marilyn Todd

"Slay Belles," by Marilyn Todd, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Ever drive past a small store with some strange specialty and wonder: "How do they stay in business?"

Marilyn Todd has a helpful suggestion: Maybe they are money launderers!  Get a place with a lot of customers (even if they are tourists who don't actually buy much), and a cash-heavy inventory, and the taxman won't suspect a thing.

Or such was the discovery of sisters Hannah and Lynn who have deep roots in British organized crime.  Their year-round-Christmas store, The North Pole, is doing just fine, cleaning up dirty money from various family businesses.

But the sisters have a special sideline.  The store has Santa's Mailbox where kids can ask the fat man for help.  And while Hannah and Lynn can't promise the latest video game or a pony, if the request is desperate they may be able to offer a special solution...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Way They Do It In Boston, by Linda Barnes


"The Way They Do It In Boston," by Linda Barnes, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016.

Heightened language.  What does that mean?

To me it means the words in the story do something more than get the story from the beginning to the end.  They tell you something about the characters or the nature of the universe in which they find themselves.

Here is Barnes' omniscient third-person narrator describing the main character's dog:

Gid got his name in the army.  the shredded ear is courtesy of the service as well.  the shelter dude said the dog left the service early because he lost his sense of mission, basically went AWOL and played catch with Afghan kids. As soon as she heard that Drew felt a sense of kinship with the dog, a bond.  She got blown up and put back together in Iraq.  Lost her sense of mission, too, in the desert near Fallujah.  The shrapnel in her left leg sets off screaming alarms in airports.

Yeah.  Heightened writing.

Drew wants to be a cop in Boston but it's hard to make the resident-for-a-year requirement when you are living in your car with your only friend, a beat-up ex-army dog.

So she's working night security on a tow service parking lot, down by the river.  One night a crate of assault weapons washes up on the shore.  Something bad is going on.  Does it involve the lot?  Can she survive long eonough to find out?

Good stuff.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Voices in the Cistern, by William Burton McCormick

"Voices in the Cistern," by William Burton McCormick in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 2016.

This is McCormick's  second story about Quintus the Clever, a thief in the early days of the Roman empire.  And Quintus is having a bad day.

It isn't enough that he is in a city under seige by the Roman's deadly Scythian enemies.  No, he also has to deal with Vibius, a large, nasty, unscrupulous rogue.  The brute has decided Quintus is the perfect co-conspirator to help him with a dangerous scheme.  The last person involved was actually killed by, uh, Vibius.  So, what could go wrong?

At one point they pass through a house whose residents had been killed, supposedly in a Scythian attack.

"Since when do the Scythians use short swords, Vibius?"
"Since I sold them short swords," he grunts.

So things are pretty bad for Quintus.  But don't worry; they will get worse.  And then Quintus has to make a decision and either choice will break his tiny, larcenous heart...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Flight, by Trina Corey

"Flight," by Trina Corey, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in July 2016.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a story featuring amnesia and said that what matters is not that a device has been used before, but what you do with it this time.  This week the device is paralysis

Rachel is in a nursing home.  She can only move a few facial muscles and, on a good day, twitch the fingers of one hand.

At night, some creepy man has been coming into her dark room to cheerfully tell her about his career as a serial killer and his plans to kill another of the residents.  Is he a resident, a staffer, or someone else?  She can't see him.  But clearly he is getting pleasure from telling his plans to a person who can't tell anyone.

Can Rachel find a way to tell someone what is happening?  Will anyone believe her?  A very suspenseful story.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Jaguar at Sunset, by John Lantigua

"The Jaguar at Sunset," by John Lantigua, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2016.

A nice private eye story by Mr. Lantigua. 

A Brazilian couple named the Mattos led the fight against development in their region and are murdered for it.  Now their daughter Constancia has taken up the cause and is supposed to make a speech in the Everglades National Park in Florida.

The bad guys would like to her silence her too but they know that a political assassination in the United States would cause more trouble than it would end.  But they can give a plane ticket to Constanzia's bitter former lover, and set him loose in Florida.  A lover's quarrel ending in tragedy is no cause for an international incident.  Did I mention he is an expert marksman with a rifle and a bow and arrow?

Connie's new lover contacts Mimi P.I. Willie Cuesta, and Willie, trying to provide bodyguard service on a shoestring, gathers some unlikely allies...

A good tale with a strong sense of place.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Blue Carbuncle, by Terence Faherty

"The Blue Carbuncle," by Terence Faherty, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2016.

This is the sixth appearance in this space by my former fellow-SleuthSayer, Terence Faherty.  That puts him ahead of all the other writers in the universe.  No doubt he is thrilled.

And this is the third winner in this bizarre series.  You see, Faherty claims to have found Dr John Watson's notebooks, containing the original drafts of the Sherlock Holmes stories, explaining what really  happened.  And they are pretty hilarious.

You may remember that in Doyle's version someone has stolen the precious jewel of the title from the Countess of Morcar.  A plumber is arrested but then Peters, a hotel commissionaire, gets involved in a street fight and ends up with a goose which, turns out to contain the precious bauble.  Now let's look at a passage from Faherty's tale:

    "Until now," Holmes added as he tossed the paper aside.  "The question before us is how the stone got out of the jewelry case and into the goose."
     "Excuse me for saying so," Peters interrupted, "but who gives a tinker's tintype?  We don't need to explain how it got in the goose to collect the reward."
    "What was I thinking?" Holmes said.  "Right you are.  Case closed.  Drinks all around."

Which might have been an amusing place to end the story, but Faherty has other, uh, geese to roast.  In fact he is about to skewer one of the great mystery tales of all time, and it is not by Doyle.  I will stop right here except to say the whole piece is very funny and clever. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

To Kill a Rocking Horse, by James Powell

"To Kill a Rocking Horse," by James Powell, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2016.

I have said it before.  My friend James Powell (who makes his fifth appearance in this column today) has more imagination that any three authors should be permitted to possess.   This is particularly obvious in his annual Christmas stories in which ideas go flying across the page like bullets from a machine gun.

Exhibit A is this tale about Canadian private eye Gladstone Tydings (ponder that name for a moment), who gets visited by Santa Claus.  The fat man needs help because his elves have gone on strike.  They feel that someone is trying to destroy all the rocking horses they created in honor of the now extinct species of ski-footed ponies that helped the elves survive when they first came to the Americas.  (Why did the elves wind up at the North Pole?  They were the last to cross the Bering Sea land bridge, because they had the shortest legs, of course).

I won't give away much more except to tell you about two groups who appear in the story: militant women who attack phony santas and are known as the Slay Belles,  and the North Pole's crack paramilitary unit, the Christmas Seals.  And then there is the rule about camp followers with a heart of gold, and --  Somebody stop me!

Read the story.  You'll love it.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Shooting Stars, by Richard Helms

"Shooting Stars," by Richard Helms, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2015.

Mr. Helms makes his third appearance on this page, with his second story in this series.  (Here is the first.)

Boy Boatright is a down-on-his-luck police detective, as you can tell from this opening sentence:

Even after the crime-scene guys finished wrecking it, Nigel Bowles's trailer looked nicer than my apartment.

Lovely.  Bowles is, or was, the favorite judge on a top TV talent show, visiting town to film a special episode.  Everyone involved in the series had multiple reasons to want him dead, and most had opportunities.


But that isn't Boatright's real problem.  That would be the fact that one of the other judges is a client of an alleged psychic with the amazing name of Bowie Crapster, and he is the reason Boyright keeps threatening to retire.  Forced, again to work with the Crapster - No more than five and a half feet tall, built like the Pillsbury Doughboy, resplendent in an Italian ice-cream suit with silk cravat and gleaming white patent-leather shoes. His hair, cut in a sort of Caesar style with short bleached bangs, was reflected in his silver Elvis sunglasses.  He looked like a Good Humor Man in Key West. - our hero threatens to resign , but that would spoil the fun.

Crapster isn't quite as charmingly annoying this time, largely because he explains to Boatright and us how he achieves some of his allegedly mystical effects.  A nice example of working your way through the suspects.

One complaint:  Helms is stuck with the names he chose for his heroes but with so many letters in the alphabet why does this story include: Boy Boatwright, Bowie, Belinda, Billy, Baggs, and Bliss?  Why make it harder for the reader to keep the characters straight?


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mr. Kill-Me, by David Dean

"Mr. Kill-Me, by David Dean, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 2015.

With this story by my SleuthSayers blogmate David Dean, it seems unnecessary to ask: where did you get your idea?  Anyone who has ever had a close call on the road will probably think they can guess.

Larry is a real estate agent in a shore town.  One day he backs his BMW out of a driveway and almost hits a man on a bicycle; a strange homeless-looking guy with angry eyes and a weird smile.  The biker disappears before Larry can confront him. 

A few days later, driving down the road, the biker pulls out in front of him again, seeming to demand to be run over.

What the hell is going on?  Is Larry imaging things?  Is someone plotting against him?  If so, what the hell is the purpose?

I should say I saw the end pages before it arrived, but it's a hell of a tale, and worth the trip.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On Borrowed Time, by Mat Coward

"On Borrowed Time," by Mat Coward, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 2015.

I'm a big fan of Mat Coward's funny stories about muddled and desperate  criminals.  The hero, if that's the word I'm looking for, in this story is Nash, a British public servant, of sorts.  He is paid by the government but he is frank that he works for big business.  The job of the Section is to spy on labor leaders, and non-profits, anyone who might upset the corporate status quo.  His personal tasks include secretly opening the mail of a major union boss.

And one day he finds a very expensive watch in the man's mail. Being desperate for money - we don't find out why until much later - he swipes it.  Then he gets worried that - well...

There were several people he might need to kill, and the way he saw it, if all of them were still alive a week from now, that'd be the nearest thing to a proper result he'd have achieved in years.  

It's always good to have goals.
 
Indeed it is.  You might not think a civil servant would be well-equipped to kill people, but you wouldn't know about the special training sessions the Section provides for it's worker bees. 

Nash had once attended an upskilling weekend on The Rudiments of Self-Defence, which included rudiments such as how to sneak up behind someone in the dark and self-defend yourself against them with a garrotte.

 A very funny tale with a lot of pointed comments on the world we find ourselves living in

Sunday, April 26, 2015

We On The Train! by Margaret Maron

"We On The Train!" by Margaret Maron, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 2015.  

If you have ever read a book to a small child you know that the highest possible accolade they can offer is an immediate "Read it again!"  The first thing I did after finishing this story is start it over.

Of course, it helps that the story is very short - flash fiction or close to it - but it is so clever that I had to take another look at.

Greg McInnis is a DEA agent who prefers to do his business traveling by train.  On a trip up the east coast he is amused by a young African-American woman who is gleefully phoning everyone she knows to tell them that she is going to visit New York with an older man she says is her Uncle Leon.

Sounds innocent enough, but this is a crime story, so something else must be going on here.  Will our hero figure it out in time?  He only has four pages...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Chin Yong-Yun Meets A Ghost, by S.J. Rozan

"Chin Yong-Yun Meets A Ghost," by S.J. Rozan, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March-April 2015.

My buddy S.J. Rozan does her best work in the first person.  She started out writing stories about New York private eye Bill Smith.  When she switched to novels she added Smith's occasional partner Lydia Chin.  Now there is a third voice in that universe.  This is the second story told by Lydia's formidable mother.

And what a wonderful voice Mrs. Chin has.  "The other ladies agreed with me, as they often do, because I am usually right."  

The lady is making dinner when she gets a phone call from Gerald Yu.  This is annoying for three reasons.  First, Yu is a gambler and not very bright.  Second, he wants to involve daughter Lydia in his troubles.  And third, he happens to be dead.

"It's about my death, but it's not vengeance I'm after.  Also, it's not really about my death, because I'm not dead."
"Who told you that?  They're lying."

I almost wrote that Chin seems confused about whether Yu is alive or a ghost, but that would be precisely wrong.  She is completely unconcerned about the question, and seems to find the two conditions fluid.

So she decides to solve Yu's puzzle to keep her daughter from getting involved.  Her daughter disapproves of her doing detective work.

"Why?"  I asked her quite innocently.  "Is it dangerous?"

Try to think of a way Lydia could answer that one.

Wonderful, character, wonderful story.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Trouble With Virgins, by Thomas K. Carpenter.

"The Trouble With Virgins," by Thomas K. Carpenter, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2015.

Interesting title. 

This first story by the author of several historical novels is set in first century A.D. Alexandria. Magistrate Ovid, an unambitious son of Roman aristocrats, has the job of administering justice in a section of the city.  Alas, he finds himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

A vestal virgin informs him that a crime has been committed: a body has been burned in the city proper.  The culprit, a young man, cheerfully admits to the crime.  But his father, a senator, demands that Ovid find him innocent.  Either the virgin or the senator can destroy Ovid's career.  How can he satisfy both?

The answer requires a knowledge of Roman law and a willingness to stretch the truth.  Very clever story.