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  You are a frustrated unpublished author.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: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2017/06/macavity-award-nominations-2017.html

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 РAngel 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]