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]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Montclair Dead-Star Comedy Revue, by Michael Mallory

"The Montclair Dead-Star Comedy Revue," by Michael Mallory, in The Mystery Weekly Magazine, May, 2017.

First of all, congratulations to The Mystery Weekly Magazine.  I understand that a story they published will be in the 2017 edition of Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories, and another made the Distinguished Story list in the back.  That ain't no small stuff.

This is a good issue and the best story I have read so far is this historical show biz tale by my friend Mike Mallory, making his third appearance in this space.

Buddy Barker is short, fat, and funny.  He was born to be a second banana comedian in vaudeville, but it's the 1950s and vaudeville is dead.  Lucky for him he has found a job in live TV.  Unlucky for him somone commits a murder in the theater.  The producer decides that Buddy, who is liked by everybody involved, is the right guy to look into the matter for him.

But playing detective is not one of Buddy's specialties.  He's trying to stay out of the way of the cops and - much worse - an investigator for the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

The story has some clever twists and the murderer's, shall we say, career path, is unique.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Money Maker, by Jas. R. Petrin

"Money Maker," by Jas. R. Petrin, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 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'm in."
"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, May 1, 2017

Little Big News: Derringers announced

It's that time of year when you can't turn around without more well-deserved mystery awards being bestowed.  Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 Derringer Awards, just announced by the Short Mystery Fiction Society!




Best Flash Story (1 - 1,000 words)
 Herschel Cozine
“The Phone Call” 
(Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2016)

Best Short Story (1,001 - 4,000 words)
Linda Barnes
“The Way They Do It in Boston”
(Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2016)

Best Long Story (4,001- 8,000 words)
Victoria Weisfeld 
“Breadcrumbs”
(Betty Fedora: Kickass Women In Crime Fiction, Issue 3, September 2016)

Best Novelette (8,000 to 20,000 words)
Terrie Farley Moran 
“Inquiry and Assistance”
(Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2016)

Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer (Lifetime Achievement)
Robert Randisi

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Little Big News: Art takes home Agatha

Congratulations to Art Taylor who won the Agatha Award at last night's Malice Domestic banquet.  The prize was for "Parallel Play," hist story in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warnings. 

A Clown at Midnight, by Marc Bilgrey

"A Clown at Midnight," by Marc Bilgrey, in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, #22.

I have talked before about the characteristics my favorite stories tend to have in common.  One is "heightened language," by which I mean that the words do something more than just get you from the beginning to the end of the tale.  Usually that means high-falutin' talk, but in this case, it is the flat, declarative sentences that Bilgrey uses to ground us in a bizarre tale.

Stevens asked Jack if he knew what time it was.  Jack shrugged and said that he thought it was about ten thirty.  Stevens told him it was eleven and that the store opened at ten.  Stevens frowned and said that had this been an isolated incident...

 Jack dreams of a creepy clown.  He has done it all his life: a recurring nightmare of a clown who chases him and tries to strangle him.  This has ruined his life, destroying his sleep, which loses him jobs, ruins relationships, etc.   Various treatments have been no help at all.

A friend suggests a hypnotist who helps him find the root of the problem: an actual assault when he was seven.  With some clever research he figures out who that clown had been.  Now, what to do about it?

It might be time to remember the old saying, supposedly from Confucius, about what you should do before you seek revenge...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Little Big News: Another Edgar for Lawrence

Congratulations to Larry Block who receive dthe Edgar for Best Short Story tonight. 

“Autumn at the Automat,” by Lawrence Block (from In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block; Pegasus)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Double Slay, by Joseph D'Agnese

"Double Slay," by Joseph D'Agnese, in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2017.

For some reason suspense and humor go very well together.  Ask Alfred Hitchcock or my friend Joseph D'Agnese.

This story is about Stan and Candace, a cheerful retired couple traveling through Canada towards Alaska.  They pick up a hitchhiker who informs them that he is a serial killer.

Uh oh.

But don't despair.  Turns out he's not a very good serial killer.  In fact, if he manages the job this may be his first successful killing.  And that's a big if...

Made me laugh.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Game, Set, Match, by Zoe Burke


"Game, Set, Match," by Zoe Burke in Bound by Mystery, edited by Diane D. DiBiase, Poisoned Pen Press, 2017.

Macy Evans is a middle-aged woman who has just been kidnapped by a younger man.  He has locked her in his basement and his plans for her future seem vague, or rather changeable. They seem to involve his wife and Macy's husband, and one or more persons leaving this mortal coil.  And you can bet that will happen.

This story has a sizeable  plot hole (unless I am missing something).  But I liked the style and suspense.