Showing posts with label stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stories. Show all posts

15 February 2017

Right Way to Do the Wrong Thing


by Robert Lopresti

I'm not sure this title fits the subject matter, but it's a pretty song.

As you are probably sick of being told, I review a short story every week.  I try to be a fair judge, treating every candidate equally but I admit that sometimes I will find myself rooting for a story to succeed because of a wonderful opening line, beautiful writing, or a great concept.  It's yours to lose.  Don't blow it!

And sometimes they succeed. But sometimes they blow it.

Recently I read a story with a great premise, one I loved so much I read a few key lines out loud to my wife.  I kept rolling along, having a great time, for the first three quarters of the narrative.  Then all four tires slowly deflated.

I'm not going to get specific because I don't say bad things about individual stories.  (There's a reason I review the best story each week.)  But vaguely, here's the plot:

The author establishes the great premise and deals with it, apparently resolving it.  Then a character is murdered.  The hero, call him Sam Sleuth, starts to investigate.  The character closest to him, call him X, is the Most Likely Suspect.

All of which is great.  Still rolling merrily.  But we are at the three-quarter point.

Sleuth begins to suspect that X really is  the killer.  He digs more, and finds evidence pointing in that direction.  He confronts X who more or less admits his guilt, but not in a way that would hold up in court.  And Sleuth vows to find a way to prove it.  The end.

That's no ending, says me.  Not a good  ending, anyway.  Our hero has been treading water for the last quarter.

So here are some suggestions as to how the author might have created a better conclusion, one which might have made my Best of the Week, if I liked the writing, and was in the right mood, and Saturn was on the cusp of Capricorn.

Good for the Soul.  Sleuth could have tricked/guilted X into a confession that would have held up in court.

In the Pudding.  Sleuth discovers proof that X did the killing.

Had it coming. X reveals (this requires a ton of foreshadowing) that the victim was such a horrible person that he deserved what he got.  Sleuth is convinced and tells him to go and sin no more.

Surprise Party.  It wasn't X at all!  Turns out it was Y, that dirty devil!

Reverse Surprise.  If our author really wants to end with Sleuth vowing to catch X, then Sleuth needs to think it is Y until - Boom - the Big Reveal.

Immune to Murder.  Sleuth is sure that X is guilty but he can never be convicted because he is the nephew of the President/Mafia Chief/Billionaire, or is the Ambassador from Barataria.  Much noirish brooding in bourbon follows.

Any of those had a chance to be better than what I got. But on the bright side, I got a blog out of it didn't I?  Now, back to a hunt for the Best.



12 September 2016

Father and Daughter Act

by David and Bridgid Dean

Part One: Father Knows Best

If I had to choose a few adjectives with which to describe my life, it might be these: fortunate…blessed…lucky…providential. It’s not that I haven’t had a few set-backs and trials along the way—I wouldn’t be human if that weren’t true, but I have a lot to be grateful for—I have Bridgid… my daughter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for her siblings, too: older sister, Tanya, and younger brother, Julian. But, Bridgid and I, over the years, have forged a writing connection. I’ve shared a reading connection with all of them, but Bridgid evolved into a writer and that, as the Wizard says, “Is a horse of a different color.”

In order to properly train her for her chosen profession I’ve required that she read and edit nearly everything I’ve written over the past decade. This was not done, as some may suspect, because I am one of the cheapest SOB’s on the planet, but in order to provide depth to her appreciation of fine literature (mine) and round out her college education. The fact that her editorial eye virtually removed the element of chance in my story acceptance ratio is neither here nor there. I would have done her this fatherly kindness in any event. Plus, I did pay for that education. Now she’s gone and penned a novella.

Yes, for those of you who suspected this was going to be a shameless plug for mylatest non-selling novel, you were wrong. It’s a shameless plug for Bridgid’s book, The Girl In The Forest.

No, it’s not crime fiction like her old man pens, but it does contain intrigue, shady characters, and betrayal. Something we can all relate to. My daughter’s story is set in a world in which the border between reality and myth blurs and no one you meet is exactly whom they may appear to be. It’s fast-moving, readable, and features a very sympathetic heroine. As to how it came about, well, that’s a story I’ll leave for Bridgid to tell, as it’s as unique as the book she’s written. Oh, by the way, I finally returned the favor by helping to edit this, her first published work.

I also want to thank mighty Leigh Lundin for suggesting this post in the first place. Thanks, Leigh!



Part Two: When Life Serves You Lemons…

by Bridgid Dean

Bridgid Dean
Bridgid Dean
The idea behind The Girl in the Forest was born of a rather unfortunate event. In August of 2011, shortly after we were married, my husband and I had a tree fall on our house. Not a limb, and not a small tree, but a massive oak.

We were at a dinner party at my in-laws when it happened; when we drove around the corner and saw our little hundred year old house, half smushed, my Volvo buckled under a thousand pounds of oak, I could only laugh. A crazed, reality-is-standing-on-its-head kind of laugh.

My husband went inside and found the house full of gas. We waited in the back yard for the fire department to arrive, our cat Zelda looking from us, to the tree, to the house, as though asking, "Do you see this?"

After the fire department turned off the gas connection my husband drove us back to his parents' house. We spent the next ten weeks living in their guest room before we acknowledged that this process was going to take a really long time, and we'd better rent something. In the end it was almost a year before our house was fixed and we were able to return home.

Volvo
smushed
Those first two months were incredibly stressful, but things began to look up when we found our rental, the little cottage in the woods. We'd never lived outside of town before- we loved it!

Our landlord had a grand old home on what felt like hundreds of acres, with three rental cottages on the property. Ours was a five hundred square foot cottage surrounded by trees. It had a green metal roof, wisteria climbing the porch railings, and was so small as to be almost one room. We slept in a loft that looked out over the great room and the huge wood stove. As night fell you could sit on the porch and watch the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains, linger while the stars came out, then hurry inside when the coyotes started to howl.

The combination of natural beauty, isolation- and even something about the self-contained quality of a house that small- had me, before long, thinking about fairy tales. In so many of them, there is something magical about the cottage in the woods. I suddenly felt I was experiencing a bit of this first hand. Inspired by the surroundings, (and with the peace and quiet to really think!) I began to write the first draft of “The Girl in the Forest.”

This novella is a modern retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, set it in a town not unlike Charlottesville, VA, where I currently live. The protagonist, Jolie, is new to the town, having moved there after her mother's death. She feels alienated and lonely, friendless at a crappy job, with only a cat for company. The recurring nightmares keep her from sleeping well, and she eventually gets fired from her job. At a bookstore she meets Jamie, a strange man with a past who secures her a job at his friend, Greta's, bakery. As Jolie starts to learn the ropes at this new job, the questions stack up quickly: What are Jamie and Greta planning? Who is Greta running from? And what is the creature that Jolie sees in her dream each night? And, perhaps most puzzling, why is Jolie the only one who can see the cottage in the woods?

It was not until I'd finished writing the fourth draft and handed it to my dad that I realized I'd written something of a Fantasy/Mystery crossover. You might think, after editing so many of my dad's stories, that a fact like this would not sneak up on me. Yet somehow it did, in the same way, I hope, that the inevitable conclusion to my story will sneak up on the unsuspecting readers. Like a coyote, or a wolf, or some other hungry creature, waiting in the shadows of the forest.



Thank you to Leigh Lundin and the SleuthSayers audience for the opportunity to tell my story-it's been a privilege!

30 March 2016

The Fatal Cup Of Tea

by Robert Lopresti

Arlo Guthrie tells a story about performing in a bar in Chicago in 1971.  After the show a stranger came up and said he wanted to play him a song he wrote.

Well, Arlo had experienced that before and as a result had heard a lot of bad songs.  So he told the stranger, you can buy me a beer, and for as long as it takes me to drink it, you can do whatever you want.

Today he notes, dryly: "It turned out to be one of the finer beers of my life."   The stranger was Steve Goodman and his song was "City of New Orleans."  Arlo's recording of it reached the Billboard Top 20 and made them both a nice chunk of change.

I was reminded of that while pondering a dose of beverage that had a profound effect on my life, albeit not such a lucrative one.  It was tea, not beer, and I drank it in a little cafe in Montclair, NJ, about 30 years ago.

I was with my wife and a friend and while they were chatting I found myself looking out the window at the street and, being a writer of the sort I am, wondering: what if I saw a crime taking place?  And what if there was a reason I couldn't just leap up and do something about it?


Cut ahead two decades and "Shanks At Lunch" appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (February 2003).  I mention all this because the hero of that story, conceived in that Montclair coffee shop, is making his ninth appearance in AHMM  this month (well, the issue date is May 2016, but it is available now).

"Shanks Goes Rogue" was inspired by three different things.  First of all, I wanted to bring back Dixie, a character who had appeared in the story "Shanks Gets Killed."  She is an eccentric woman who runs the charity favored by Shanks' beloved wife, Cora, which gives her plenty of opportunities to annoy my hero, and that's a good thing for my stories.

The second inspiration was this: I had thought of a clue.  Clues are hard for me and I wanted to use this one.  I figured out how Shanks could take advantage of it.

And finally, I had a hole in the book of stories I was putting together.  To be precise: the last story ended on a gloomy note and that would never do for a book of mostly funny stories.  As the saying goes, the first page sells this book and the last page sells the next one.  So "Shanks Goes Rogue" was created to round out my collection of tales.

But then I had an unpleasant encounter with a telephone scammer, which led me to write a quicky story called "Shanks Holds The Line."  I decided as a public service to offer it to Linda Landrigan  for Trace Evidence, the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine website.  She put it up the next day.  But there was no reason I couldn't use it to round out Shanks On Crime, so I did.

Which left "Shanks Goes Rogue" looking for a home.  Linda adopted it and here we are, happily ensconced in the annual humor issue.  I hope it gives you a chuckle.   Personally, I will celebrate with a nice cup of tea.





20 January 2016

Nothin' But The Best


by Robert Lopresti

As part of my tireless effort to make the world a better place I am once again listing all the best short mysteries of the year, thereby saving all the other award judges from a lot of tedious reading.  (Well, they could add these to their assigned list. I wouldn't mind.)

I recommend that all those judges take the time they save and do something good for society.  I would help, but I have to start reading next year's stories.

This is the seventh time I have made an annual list.  By coincidence, there were 14 stories on last year's list, and the same number this time.

The big winner this year was Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, with four stories.  Tied with two each are Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Strand Magazine, Thuglit, and the Jewish Noir anthology.

Nine stories are by men; five by women.  (That's one more female winner than last year.)  Four are historical, four are funny, two are parody/pastiches.

Okay.  Drum roll, please...

Camilleri, Andrea.  "Neck and Neck,"  in The Strand Magazine," October 2015-January 2016.

Montalbano,  Camilleri's series character, is appointed Chief Inspector in a village in Sicily, and discovers that a Mafia family feud is well under well.  A member of the Cuffaros is snuffed out with an old-fashioned shotgun, and then one of the Sinagras dies the same way.

But then something highly irregular happens.  Two members of the same family are killed in a row.  How unseemly!  And Montalbano spots a way into the maze of silence...

Faherty, Terence.  "The Man With The Twisted Lip," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2015.

My former co-blogger Terence Faherty is making his third appearance on my annual best of list.  Only three other  authors have scored that many times.

Faherty claims to have discovered Dr. John Watson's notebooks, containing the rough drafts of Sherlock Holmes adventures, before they were "cleaned up for publication."  This is the fourth in his series.

Both versions begin with a woman calling at the home of Watson and his wife, desperate because her husband has disappeared.  In Doyle's version the man is a drug addict and has vanished into an opium den.  In Faherty's tale the same man is a serial philanderer and is apparently staying in a hotel of bad repute. 

"My husband returns!" Rita exclaimed.
"Not a moment too soon," Holmes said.
"You don't understand.  He's insanely jealous.  And violent.  If he finds me in here--"
Holmes sprang up.  "Watson, I bow to your experience.  Under the bed?"

Gould, Heywood.  "Everything is Bashert," in Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishnia, PM Press, 2015.
I have a story in this book.  Heywood Gould's tale is about Franny and Larson, two petty lowlifes who like to spend their days at Aquaduct. And it is at that race track one day that they run into a hasidic gentleman they call the rabbi (he isn't).  The rabbi has a Bible-based system for betting on the horses, a sure thing of course, and yet somehow he is short of money.  Go figure.  Our heroes lend him some cash and, well, a wild ride commences that involves among other things, breaking into a morgue, and ends with a sort of spiritual enlightment.  A treat from start to finish.

Hockey, Matthew J.  "Canary,"  in Thuglit, 18, 2015.

Booster is a fireman with a chemistry degree, which earns him the dubious privilege of being the first into a meth lab gone deadly.  He's the one who enters in full HAZMAT gear and has to determine if all the idiots inside were killed by the poisonous brew they created or whether there might be survivors. And this time he finds  a bag stuffed with four hundred grand.  Obviously he ought to leave it where it lies, but who will know if he doesn't?  And so he takes one step off the straight-and-narrow...


Kareska, Lane.  "Big Hard Squall,"  in Thuglit, issue 17, 2015.

Abby has been brutally attacked and locked in the trunk of her car, which is now headed for parts unknown.  We stay in Abby's head as she runs through her life and concludes that there is no one who would want to do this to her.  Therefore the target must be her daughter Margaret, a prosecuting attorney.  Either someone wants to punish Margaret or else put a squeeze on her, and Abby is the pawn in jeopardy.  But when the trunk lid opens Abby and us - are in for surprises.


Lewis, Evan.  "The Continental Opposite,"  in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2015.

What chutzpah.  Lewis has revived Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op.

This story takes place in the fifties, decades after the Op's last appearance.  The main character is a young detective named Peter Collins (he notes bitterly that his father deliberately gave him a name that is gangland slang for "nobody").  Peter works for the Portland, Oregon branch of a national detective agency and when he accuses his boss of corruption the company sends in a retired op who used to work for the San Francisco branch ("sometime in the forties Continental had put him out to pasture, and he'd spent the years since killing a vegetable garden, sneering at golf courses, and not catching fish.").  This guy strongly resembles Hammett's hero, much older and, if possible, more cynical. A brilliant story.

Liss, David.  "Jewish Easter,"  in Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishnia, PM Press, 2015.

Al's family moved from Long Island to Jacksonville, Florida, when he was in third grade, because of his stepfather's import business.  Now he is thirteen and has begun to figure out exactly what is being imported.

But that's not his immediate problem.  There are a couple of anti-Semetic rednecks in his class and when they hear about Passover (which the sensitive teacher helpfully describes as "Jewish Easter,") they decide to invite themselves forcefully to the seder.  Let all who are hungry come and eat, right?

What I loved about the story is not the suspense but the surprising choices the characters make (especially the grandmother).  It kept me guessing right up to the last paragraph.

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

Greg McInnis is a DEA agent who prefers to travel 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...

Newman, Kim.  "Red Jacks Wild,"  in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 17, 2015.

John Carmody is a psychologist in New York in 1951.  He also happens to be Jack the Ripper.

Wait a minute, you say.  He'd have to be a hundred years old.

Well, he is.  But he looks the same age he did in the 1880s when he started making human sacrifices to the evil goddess Hecate.  Which he still does, every three years.

But not prostitutes every time.  He alters his "disposables,"  choosing victims from a  group no one will care about.  Which makes him a weathervane pointing at whoever is on the bottom of the social pile.  This story is all about America's twisted psyche, and I loved it.


Opperman, Meg.  "The Discovery,"  in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 18, 2015.

While studying at a university in her native Venezuela Celeste meets and marries Robert  and moves to Washington, D.C.  Robert is  a classic abusive, controlling, husband.  Celeste's every move is watched, her phone calls monitored.  When her bus home is late she is beaten.

 Reaching into a hand-carved box, I sort through the gold jewelry and select Robert's latest apology.

But what makes this story more than just a tale of domestic misery is that each scene is prefaced with a quotation from Christopher Columbus's letters or logbooks, describing his encounters with the natives of the new world.  It is no accident that Celeste and Robert get married on Columbus Day.

Palumbo, Dennis.  "A Theory of Murder,"  in And All Our Yesterdays, edited by Andrew MacRae, Darkhouse Books, 2015.

The publisher sent me this book for free.

It's Bern, Switzerland, 1904.  Hector, a clerk in the patent office, is suspected of a series of grisly murders.  Luckily a friend of his, also a patent clerk, is looking into the crimes.  And Albert Einstein is a pretty bright guy...  Wish I'd thought of that.

Ross, Gary Earl.  "Good Neighbors,"  in Buffalo Noir, edited by Ed Park and Brigid Hughes, Akashic Press, 2015.

Lou and Athena have retired after running their Greek restaurant for decades.  Lou's hobby is antiques.  He doesn't collect them, he just wants to buy low and sell high.  But then he discovers that his elderly neighbor Helen has a house full of the things.  And Helen has no relatives, no favorite charities, no one to leave her precious belongings to. So Lou and Athena set out to become really good neighbors and wait for Helen to pass away.

But then the Washingtons  move in on the other side, and it turns out that they are good neighbors too. This story is well-written, beautifully structured, and  one of those rare pieces I reread as soon as I finished it.

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

This is my buddy S.J. Rozan's second story told by the  formidable mother of her series detective Lydia Chin.  When Mrs. Chin  gets a phone call from Gerald Yu she is annoyed  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."




Rusch, Kristine Kathryn. "Christmas Eve at the Exit,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2015.

This is Ms. Rusch's second appearance on my annual best list.

It is Christmas eve and Rachel and her little girl are on the run.  Many pages will pass before we find out from who, and about the shadowy support system that is helping them.

Rachel is terrified, not sure who to trust, and desperately trying to keep up an appearance of normality for her daughter who, heartbreakingly, seems mostly concerned about Santa Claus. This story will appear in holiday-themed anthologies for years to come.

30 December 2015

Good Cop Story, Bad Cop Story

by Robert Lopresti

I read a lot of short mystery stories. I like them, plus they are market research.  And of course I need them to create this and this.

By coincidence,  in the last week I read two tales about tough, world-weary homicide cops.  One was pretty good.   The other was  - meh.  I didn't bother finishing it.  Naturally, I was curious about why one worked, for me, and the other didn't.

I am not going to identify the story I didn't like - what would be the point?  But the story I did enjoy was "Rizzo's Good Cop," by Louis Manfredo. It appears in the December issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

The story I didn't like is about an obvious murder.  Manfredo's is about a suspicious death. Did the vic jump out the window, fall, or get pushed? 


But that's not the important difference between the stories.  Here is what I concluded about that.

In the other story we are told the cop is weary, that the job is soul-killing, that he's frustrated, that things don't make sense.

In Manfredo's story the two police detectives take beer out of the victim's fridge and help themselves.  Rizzo, our hero, says "We got us a murder here, buddy.  A genuine, twelve-hour-a-day pain in the ass murder."  When a female cop jokingly asks "So whatcha got for me, honey?" Rizzo replies "Thirty years ago, plenty."

You see the point?  Very similar character.  But one story tells.  The other shows. 

It's an old rule of story-telling (uh, story-showing?). And like all such rules, it isn't true every time.  But in this case it makes all the difference to me.


31 December 2014

Return to the Theme Park


by Robert Lopresti

Recently a friend told me that Barbara Kingsolver says she begins writing her books by deciding on a theme.

My reply was: "And you believed her?"

Not that I am calling Ms. Kingsolver a big fat liar.  But I always have my doubts about authors who claim their creations comes from what you might call a process of scholarly introspection. 

Prime example: this essay by Edgar Allan Poe explaining how he wrote "The Raven" (which is  the only poem to give its name to a pro football team).  He claimed that he chose the theme and worked out the details carefully, bit by bit, etc.  Personally, I think he woke up from a nightmare and grabbed for an ink well and quill. 

The one person I know who claimed to believe Poe's explanation was Umberto Eco, in the process of explaining how he wrote  The Name of the Rose.  And I don't believe his explanation either.

It all comes down to what D.H. Lawrence said: "Never trust the teller, trust the tale."

But I am not writing today merely to cast aspersions on my betters (although that's always fun).  The day after my chat about Kingsolver I blundered onto this piece I wrote in 2013 in which I attempted to analyze the themes of my five stories that were published that year.  So since the end of the year is a good time for reflection, I decided to look at my stories published in 2014 and go on a theme-hunt.  This time I will only point out the ones where I found something worth mentioning.

My most recent story is "The Roseville Way" in The Anthology of Cozy-Noir.  It contains one of my favorite themes, and shares it with "Devil Chased the Wolf Away," which appeared in the January/February issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  "Devil" is about an elderly Kentucky fiddler who, in his previous appearance in one of my stories, did a bad thing.  In the new one he tries to make up for it.  "Roseville" is about a ganglord who retires to a small midwestern town and - contrary to the way such stories usually go - improves the lives of everyone he gets involved with.  The theme of both stories is the possibility of  redemption.

My other appearance in Hitchcock's, "A Bad Day For Bargain Hunters" is a story about an estate sale and it has a simple theme too: everyone is crooked.  Well, that isn't quite true.  The police officer in the story is honest; he's merely incompetent.

As for "The Accessory" which appeared in Ellery Queen,  and "Shanks Holds The Line," which showed up on Hitchcock's website, the only theme I can find is what Jim Thompson called the only plot: "things are not what they seem."

But looking at some of the stories that made their first appearance in my book
Shanks on Crime, I find some more suggestions.  "Shanks' Mare" is about misplaced priorities.  The motive for the theft of the horse is the criminal's bad priorities, and the reason he or she thinks it will be effective, is because of another character's equaly screwed-up ambitions. 

"Shanks At The Bar" and "Shanks' Ghost Story" consist of people sitting around telling tales, and they are both about the power of storytelling.  This theme also came up in "Two Men, One Gun" which appeared in 2013.

As you may know I also write songs and in those I have one overwhelming theme: guilt.  So, here are the lyrics to one of my newest songs on that subject.  And I wish you a guilt-free New Year.

I’m sorry you feel I misled you
I’m sorry you fell for my pose
I’m sorry you ate what I fed you
You have to admit you believe what you chose
  I’m sorry that after you helped dig the pit
  You fell in it unknowingly
  I’m sorriest that you refuse to accept
  My sincere apology
  My sincere apology
 
I’m sorry about my advisors
I’m sorry that I was betrayed
They lied to us through their incisors
I freely admit that mistakes have been made
  I’m sorry you think this is somehow my fault
  Though I take responsibility
  I’m sorriest that you refuse to accept
  My sincere apology
  My sincere apology
 
      How many times must I say that I’m sorry?
      It’s getting a little bit dull
      I’ve bent over backwards to show I respect you.
      When will you get that through your thick skull?
 
I’m sorry you found this offensive
I’m sorry you can’t take a joke
I’m sorry you got so defensive
If I knew you were thin-skinned I never would have spoke
  I’m sorry you feel that your feelings were hurt
  and sorry you blame that on me
  I’m sorriest that you refuse to accept
  My sincere apology
  My sincere apology

30 October 2013

Media Blitz

by Robert Lopresti

A long time ago, Robert Benchley wrote the following about his most famous piece, "The Treasurer's Report:" I have inflicted it on the public in every conceivable way except over the radio and dropping it from airplanes.  (And as proof, here is a short, hilarious movie version.)

I am thinking about that because this autumn is seeing my own work coming at the public from a variety of directions.  Not to worry; the phase will pass and by December I will sink back into obscurity.  But let's go over the details of my temporary onslaught.

As I wrote last time, September marked my first appearance in an e-book anthology.  I am sure by now you have all run out (or run your cursor over) to buy a copy of Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble.  Right?

I am happy to inform you you won't have to spend any money for this next feature (although I do like dark chocolate if you're thinking of a gift).  This one is a freebie.

Linda Landrigan, who edits Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, suggested doing a podcast of my story "Snake in the Sweetgrass," which appeared in the December 2003 issue of AHMM.  And if it isn't up now here  it should be by next week.


She sent me the recorder they use and after much diligent practice I was able to record the story with only three mistakes.  And that was the best I could do.  Three different mistakes every time.  (It wasn't like I consistently tripped over the same tongue-twisting phrase, alas.)  Linda assures me they can clean that up.

But here is the cool part.  My story is about an elderly Kentucky fiddler and the title refers to a traditional fiddle piece that is his personal signature tune.  It seemed logical to include a recording of that tune in the podcast.

The problem with that is that I made up the name.  There is no such tune. 

No biggie.  My daughter, Susan Weiner, is a fine composer so she created a tune that matched the description in the story.  And then, extra special treat, my wife Terri Weiner recorded it on the fiddle.

So it is a real family operation and I recommend it highly.  But if that isn't enough to entice you to give it a listen, here is a bonus.  Remember, I said this is a media blitz. 

The January/February issue of Hitchcock's comes out November 4 and I am thrilled to report that the cover story is "Devil Chased The Wolf Away," a sequel to "Snake."  And while you can read "Devil" without experiencing "Snake" you will definitely enjoy them more if you read (or listen to) "Snake" first.

And next Wednesday I will explain how "Devil" came to be written, much to my surprise.

27 October 2013

Stranded and Kwiked

by Louis Willis

I began thinking last month what I’d write about this month and my mind was totally blank until I received my first issue of the Strand Magazine. Imagine my delight when I saw John Floyd’s “Secrets,” a slow-paced story with a fast moving plot and rising tension in which two strangers, a man and woman, meet on a ferry boat in what appears a coincidence (it’s not but to say anymore would be a spoiler). The plot ends, but the tension doesn’t drop and the story doesn’t stop because the plight of the two characters continues, suggestively, in the reader’s imagination.

The other stories in the magazine are good, but the one that also interested me was Joseph Heller’s (1923-1999) unpublished "Almost Like Christmas,” written sometime between 1945-1969. Why would the editors publish a story about Christmas several months before Christmas. Because it is not about the holidays; it is a story that “ ...gives readers a provocative glimpse of seething race-related prejudice in an otherwise respectable small town,” (editor). In a town where black farmers from the south are allowed to buy land, a white teacher’s effort to integrate the schools results in three white boys badly beating a black boy. One of the white kids is stabbed, and the black kid is blamed. As an angry mob begins to form with the intention of hunting down the black kid, the atmosphere becomes “Almost Like Christmas.” In view of some of the violent incidents involving race these days, the story is very topical.

Reading Janice’s post on length prompted me to reread Poe’s essay “Philosophy of Composition” in which he states “It appears evident...that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art — the limit of a single sitting....” but he admits this limit may be “overpassed” except in poetry. Her post also sent me to Amazon to buy Kwik Krimes. Editor Otto Penzler “thought it would be fascinating to see what authors could conjure if given the specific assignment of producing a mystery, crime, or suspense story of no more than one thousand words.”

I didn’t read all 81 stories before having to post this article. All, except one, of the 34 stories that I managed to read are well crafted and seem to comply with the word limit, plus or minus a word or two. I say seem because I didn’t count the words of each story, but based on page length, each is four pages long, plus or minus one or two pages. The disappointing story was the page and half “Acknowledgement.” It has no conflict though it suggests what happened to the narrator. It is like the acknowledgements in books thanking mama, daddy, uncle, aunt, agent, and anybody else who may have helped or hurt the author. To say what the ending suggests would be a spoiler. Since there is no mystery, suspense, or crime, it isn’t a story and seems out of place in this collection.

I give a big shoutout to Janice’s masterful story “The Imperfect Detective” in which the detective comes up with the perfect solution. It is so well crafted that any discussion of the plot would be a spoiler. 

If you haven’t already, add Kwik Krimes to your to-read list. Not only can you read one story in a single sitting, you can read three or four or, if you’re a speed writer, even more. 

One problem I have with reading flash fiction, short stories, and short short stories is the difficulty of avoiding spoilers in discussing them. If anyone has a solution to this problem, help.

But maybe I don’t need help because, according to an essay I read by Jonah Lehrer in the Internet magazine Wired two minutes before posting my article, “Spoilers Don’t Spoil Anything.” The article is certainly food for thought and a post on SleuthSayers if I can get around to thinking about what spoilers really do.

02 October 2013

Trouble with Girls, Crows, and Hurricanes

by Robert Lopresti

I am happy to announce that I have a story in the first issue of Malfeasance Occasional, a new ebook series from the folks at Criminal Element.  The idea is that each issue will have a theme and this issue is "Girl Trouble."  It is available now.  Follow the links and get your hands, uh, hard drive, on it.

Oh, I should mention that I learned about this opportunity through Sandra Seaman's webpage My Little Corner, which is indispensable to anyone who wants to publish short genre fiction.  I have already told her I owe her a coffee.

Having said all that, I don't know whether this will really turn out to be a series or a one-off.  When they announced it in August 2012 they intended to move at a breakneck pace, with the first issue appearing in December of that year.   Obviously with one thing and another (one big thing being Hurricane Sandy, which blew through their offices like a, well, superstorm) the deadline has slipped a tad.  I suppose M.O. will turn out to be a series if the first book sells enough.  So. follow the links and get your-- did I already say that?

I know I haven't talked about my contribution, so let's go there.  "Crow's Lesson" is my first story in many years about Marty Crow, a private eye in New Jersey.  Marty was my first series character, and he was a reaction to my native state's decision to allow casinos in Atlantic City.  I'm not a huge fan of them.  (One of the reasons Jerry Izenberg was my favorite sports columnist in the Garden State was that he kept hammering on how much the state received on gambling (millions) and how much they spent on people with gambling addictions (zero).)

So I invented Marty Crow, a native of A.C. and a private eye.  He is a pretty sharp guy with one huge blind spot: he refuses to admit that he has a gambling problem.  And that winds up twisting things up for him as surely as if he insisted on walking with a fake limp.

Marty's first three appearances were in P.I. Magazine, which is still around, but stopped publishing fiction decades ago.  (S.J. Rozan's Bill Smith made his first showing in one of the same issues, oddly enough).  Since then Marty has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and anthologies. One of those tales earned me my only Anthony Award nomination. 

And you can even hear (for free) dramatic performances of two Crow stories, thanks to the Midnight Mystery Players, who carry on the great old tradition of radio drama. 

This particular story was inspired by a story I read in the New York Times many moons ago.  Some boards of education were so concerned about the possibility of children from other districts sneaking in to use their (presumably better) schools, that they hired private eyes to trail kids back to their homes.

Hmm, I thought.  Sounds like a case for Marty Crow.  As it happens, the young lady he follows leads him into a very bad situation.  (The other inspiration for the story was Dashiell Hammett's classic Continental Op story, "The House In Turk Street."  For some of you, that's a big hint as to what happens to Marty.)

So let me wish the best to my fellow M.O. authors (Brendan DuBois, Eric Cline,  Hilary Davidson, Chuck Wendig, Patricia Abbott, Jeff Soloway, Charles Drees, Sam Wiebe, Cathi Stoler,  Milo James Fowler, Caroline J. Orvis, Ken Leonard, Travis Richardson), and to all  those who choose to get in trouble with us.

31 August 2013

Marketing 101

by John M. Floyd



A quick explanation: my title implies that this is an instructional piece, but it's not. My plan today is to tell you a little about how I approach marketing my writing, and to--more importantly--ask you what your approach is. So this is actually sort of a fishing expedition. Besides, I once heard some good advice about teaching and mentoring. I was told that good instructors don't say "This is how you do it"; good instructors say "This is how I do it," and then let the student take it from there. Not everything works the same way for everybody.

Another qualification: this is a discussion about marketing short stories, not novels. Most of us here at SleuthSayers have written both, but my expertise (if I have any at all, which I often doubt) is in the area of shorts rather than longs.

Given those clarifications, here are a few random notes on the topic of selling what you've written.

Beating the bushes

In the old days I usually located markets for my stories via the Novel & Short Story Writers Market, an outstanding print reference by Writers Digest Books, published each fall. I still buy every new edition, and I still look at it from time to time, but most of my scouting is now done via the Internet. I either consult a list like the ones at ralan.com or my friend Sandra Seamans's blog, or I Google phrases like "short fiction markets" or "short mystery markets" and see what turns up. If a particular site looks promising, I find a hotbutton called "submission guidelines" or "writer's guidelines" and I'm in business.

Question: How do you go about finding markets for your stories?

The latest and greatest

I usually submit my new mystery stories to one of four places, first. They are The Strand Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Woman's World. How do I decide which? That's usually based on either content or length, or both. The Strand prefers stories of between 2000 and 6000 words; EQMM will consider stories up to 12K; AHMM will also take submissions of up to 12K, and seems to be more receptive than EQ to occasional stories with paranormal elements; and WW wants 700-word mysteries featuring a "solve-it-yourself" interactive format.


Another good print (and paying) market is Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and I've sold several mysteries to a Colorado publication called Prairie Times (which also pays). Online markets (e-zines) include Over My Dead Body, Mysterical-E, Kings River Life, and Orchard Press Mysteries. OMDB is a paying market, Myst-E and KRL are not, and I'm not sure about OPM. There are certainly others I haven't mentioned--if any of you have favorite markets for mysteries, I'd like to hear about them.

The other two possibilities for short stories are anthologies and collections. The already-mentioned ralan.com features a number of current anthologies, and there are many more that are associated with organizations, writers' groups, charities, etc. (Anthologies also often seek reprints, which can be handy.) Collections are, well, collections--of one author's stories rather than those of a group of writers.

Submission accomplished

The way you submit a fiction manuscript is determined from the writer's guidelines for that market, and it's usually done in one of three ways:

Snailmail. It seems a little out-of-place in this day and age, but some short story markets, including AHMM, still require submissions via regular mail, along with the cover letters and postage and envelopes that have to accompany them. A disadvantage of this method, besides the time and expense, is that responses sometimes seem to take longer.

Submission via the publication's website. A growing number of markets (EQMM is one) now allow fiction subs via an online "form." You just (1) enter your name and the title of your story, (2) type a cover letter into the appropriate box, (3) browse and select the computer file containing your manuscript, and (4) click SUBMIT. A good thing about website submissions is that you can then check the status of your manuscript (received, rejected, accepted) online, at any time.

E-mail. Sending your stories this way involves one of two approaches: (1) attaching the manuscript or (2) copy/pasting the text of the story into the body of the e-mail. The first is the easier--you just type your cover letter into the e-mail and then attach the manuscript's file. NOTE: When e-mailing a story I always use the word "submission" somewhere in the subject line, whether I'm told to or not.

The care and feeding of editors

There are a few rules of thumb on this subject, and I think they're mostly just common sense:

- Don't contact editors via phone. Stick to snailmail or e-mail.
- Don't pester them unnecessarily.
- Don't include anything in your cover letter that's not relevant.
- Don't staple your manuscript.
- Don't tell them where your manuscript has been rejected.
- Don't use uncommon fonts (Courier and Times New Roman seem to be the standards).
- Don't put a copyright notice on your manuscript.
- Don't use a font size of less than 12-point.
- Don't divulge your Social Security number until/unless your story's accepted.


By the way, if an editor asks me to change something in my story, I do it. I mean, why not? When I try to later sell it someplace as a reprint, I can always change the story right back to the way I had it originally. Question: What's your take on editorial changes, requested or otherwise?

The Hints & Tips file

A few pointers, for anyone who might find them useful:

To prevent spacing and formatting errors when copy/pasting a manuscript into the body of an e-mail: (1) take out any special characters like italics--you can substitute an underscore before and after the text to indicate italics, (2) single-space your story with no indentions and with double-spacing between paragraphs, (3) save the story as a .txt file, (4) close the file, (5) open the file again--it will now be in Courier 10-point font--and (6) copy/paste the newly formatted manuscript into your e-mail after the cover letter. To be absolutely certain everything looks right, you can always e-mail it to yourself first.

If I want to snailmail multiple stories to the same market in separate mailings, I usually print the story's title in pencil on an inside flap of its SASE. That way, if I get a rejection letter that doesn't mention the title of the rejected story (many of them don't), I can look inside the SASE flap and see which story it was.

I don't use an editor's first name until after he or she contacts me and either (1) uses his or her first name or (2) addresses me by my first name. After that, we're on a more casual basis forever, but until that time it's Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Ms. Jones. And if I don't yet know for sure if an editor is male or female, I play it safe and use the full name in salutations: Dear Pat Jones, Dear Lee Smith.

I used to fold shorter stories (less than five pages, say) in thirds and mail them in #10 business envelopes, but lately I've been submitting my snailmailed manuscripts flat and paper-clipped in a 9 x 12 envelope, no matter what the length. (For stories of more than 25 pages I use a butterfly clip instead.) Editors have told me they hate folded manuscripts, and--believe me--I want to make reading my stories as easy for them as possible.

More observations, more questions

- E-mailed submissions and online plug-it-into-the-box-at-the-website submissions are easy and economical, but I suspect that those processes (because they're easy) have led to a higher number of submissions to those publications. Even though snailmailed subs are a lot of trouble (and expensive, if you do enough of them), there are those writers who say it might actually be an advantage, since it probably means less competition. Once again, though, this isn't a decision the writer makes--it's usually dictated by the publication.

- Would you ever consider collecting your unpublished stories into a book? So far I have chosen not to. Only two of my 130 stories collected in my four books were originals--the rest were previously published. Not only did that allow me to get double duty (and double payment, I suppose) out of those stories, my publisher said he felt more comfortable with that approach because it was less of a financial risk for him: each of the stories had already been "vetted" and accepted someplace by at least one editor.

- I don't think writers should ever pay anything to anyone--an agent, publisher, editor, anybody--to consider or publish their work. I don't pay reading fees or even contest entry fees. Maybe I'm just cheap, but there are plenty of editors and publishers out there who'll pay you for what you write--I can't see doing it the other way around. What are your views on this?

- I've not yet waded very deeply into the e-book/e-story marketplace. I have a couple of stories at Untreed Reads (a mystery and a western), I had twenty or so stories at Amazon Shorts a few years ago, and my most recent two books are available via Kindle, but otherwise I've concentrated more on print markets and--to a lesser degree--e-zines. I'd love to hear the opinions of those who have tested the e-waters.

- I'm sort of middle-of-the-road on simultaneous submissions. I recognize that the best way to get published faster is to send the same story to different markets at the same time, but I also know I don't want the (admittedly remote) possibility of two places accepting first rights to one of my stories. That not only puts egg on your face, it can put a black mark beside your name forever, on some editor's list--and all these editors know each other, by the way. I've heard some writers and writing teachers say you should ignore the "no simultaneous submissions" request/demand that many pubs put in their guidelines because the editors expect you to simultaneously submit anyway, but I think it's a little risky. No one wants to suddenly find out he has two dates for the dance and then have to tell one of them, "Sorry, but I've already asked this other girl, and . . ." How do you feel about this issue?

In closing . . .

I should point out that, despite all my efforts to write well and market wisely, my rejections probably still outnumber my acceptances. Sad but true. But it's also true that it doesn't bother me a lot. I just try to send out more submissions and write more stories. Today I'll be at a booksigning in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and that's a good thing, storywise--I always seem to meet people at signings who later become quirky fictional characters.

Proof of my persistence: A few days ago I submitted eight mysteries and one sci-fi story to six different markets. And this month I've sold new stories to both Woman's World and The Saturday Evening Post. The main thing is, keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting.

When someone tells me there's a lot of attrition among writers, I just say "Then don't get attritted."

I'm pedalling as fast as I can.



16 January 2013

Nothing but the Best

by Robert Lopresti

It is that time of the year again.  For the fourth time I am listing the best short mystery stories of the year as determined by a distinguished panel consisting of me.  In fact, I would like to take a moment to thank me for all my hard work.

Sixteen stories made the cut; one more than last year.  None were from websites, but that is probably because I looked at fewer of those in 2012, having plenty of paper stuff to occupy my mind.

The big winner was Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, with seven hits. Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine had four.  No other market had more than one.

For the first time ever one author has two best stories in the same year.  They had oddly similar plots, showing that a talented chef can make two very different dishes with the same ingredients.  Five stories are by friends of mine from the SleuthSayers/Criminal Brief mafia.  You can read that as blatant favoratism or an indication of the talent of that stable.

One honoree is a first story.  One is by a German (last year it was two, oddly enough).  Two have supernatural elements.  Five are funny.

And by main character we have:
criminal 5
cop 4
victim's relative 3
amateur detective 2
victim 1
witness 1
spy 1

Yes, that adds up to 17.  One character is multitasking.  And now, let us present the winners... 

Allyn, Doug.  "Wood-Smoke Boys,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2012.  

When I was ten years old, my favorite uncle murdered my favorite aunt.

Thus begins a wonderfully-written story of country folk versus city folk in the north woods of Michigan.  Dylan LaCrosse is the narrator and his back woods family suffers some terrible times, but they don't suffer quietly, which leads to the local warning: "Never cross a LaCrosse."

Now Dylan is a cop and state police are coming in to investigate the murder of a state legislator who caused tragedy to the LaCrosse family.  Can Dylan stay alive and solve the puzzle?  And whose side is he on?

 Anthony, Ted.  "A User's Guide to Keeping Your Kills Fresh,"  in Staten Island Noir, edited by Patricia Smith, Akashic Press, 2012.


Manny Antonio is a hit man, but he isn't very good at it.  This is the story of his last contract, told by someone who knew him well, and didn't like him very much, nor respect his mental agility. 
If complete clarity were an all-you-can-eat buffet of Chinese food, Manny would ask for the menu and order the chicken and broccoli.

And so we see what should have been an easy assignment turn into a disastrous trek around the metropolitan area with a trunkful of forensic evidence that grows smellier by the hour.  When we are told that shooting a rent-a-cop between the eyes was "the last rational thing he will do on the final night of his life," you know Manny is not having a good week.

Beck, Zoe.  Out There,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2012.

Among the other changes that e-mail has wrought in the world is an improvement in epistolary fiction.  It is possible to exchange letters a lot faster than when DIego de San Pedro wrote the first epistolary novel in the fifteenth century.

And that's what German author Zoe Beck presents with, a story written entirely in e-mails.  Most of them are written by Gil Peters, who is a successful author despite having agoraphobia so fierce that she hasn't left her apartment in eight years.  But that's okay, she has adjusted to it, and with her computer and her shrink on tap she is do fine.

Then her doctor goes on vacation just when an unacceptable change happens to her home.  Things start to go rapidly out of hand...The only thing I love better than a twist ending is multiple twists, and Beck provides them.

Clerici, Louisa.  "The Rose Collection,"  in Dead Calm: Best New England Crime Stories 2012, edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler, published by Level Best Books, 2012. 

Obsession is either comic or tragic, depending on how close you are standing to the fallout.  The narrator is Laura, a woman who lives a pleasant if slightly stir-crazy life in rural Indiana.  Her life is changed when an elderly neighbor leaves her a piece of costume jewelry: a brooch that was "all sparkly with a pale gold intricate rose."  Get used to detailed description, because Laura provides them for whatever she thinks is interesting, while glossing over things she considers less important.  And that, you might say, provides the key to her character.

Laura starts studying about jewelry at the library and discovers that the best chance to get more is a big flea market in Cumberland, Indiana. Problem is her husband doesn't want her to go.  That doesn't turn out to be a problem for long, because he dies.  In fact, it is best not to get between Laura and her jewelry plans.


"Halley's Comet," by Reed Farrel Coleman, in Crime Square, edited by Robert J. Randisi, Vantage Point, 2012.

The setting is the 1970s, the time of Serpico and the Knapp Commission, when the NYPD was full of dirty cops and the dirty cops were full of fear of the Knapp Commission.  In this story two police detectives are being pushed into a n action that will move them  from being bent to being totally rotten.  And just as the point of no return approaches, well, police work intervenes.  A wild and twisty climax ensues.


Dean, David.  "Jenny's Ghost,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 2012.  

Picture the setting: you are in an airport, stuck in that endless half-life between flights and suddenly you spot something that can't possibly be there: a woman who died a decade before.  Hell of a set-up, isn't it?

David noted that this is a story about consequences.  Not surprisingly it is also about guilt, and the chance of redemption.  These are subjects for fiction I am very much drawn to.



DuBois, Brendan. "The Final Ballot,"  in Mystery Writers of America presents Vengeance, edited by Lee Child, Mulholland Books, 2012.

Beth's daughter was brutally attacked by a son of the senator/candidate.  The man-of-the-world described above is the problem solver.  "In other words, I'm the senator's bitch."  He offers her two choices which he insists on calling "avenues."  She can pursue prosecution of the senator's son, guaranteeing herself years of being stripped naked by the press, attacked by his supporters, dragged out as a symbol by his enemies... or she can agree to let the culprit get psychological treatment and accept financial aid from the senator to cover her daughter's long-term medical needs.She makes her deal but things go wrong and...

Two old sayings apply:  Never fight with someone who has nothing to lose.  And: the most dangerous place in the world is between a mother and her children.

DuBois, Brendan.  "His Daughter's Island," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2012.


Zach Ford is a mild-mannered accountant in a small town in Maine.  His beloved daughter goes off to a party at the home of a millionaire and dies.  The millionaire's son is whisked out of the country, far from the possibility of justice.

In some stories the next step would be a whole lot of guns and blood, but Mr. Ford has a different idea.  He studies up on the millionaire, and then he studies the state and local ordinances.  And starts plotting a completely legal vengeance.


Gates, David Edgerley.  "Burning Daylight,"  in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2012.

Hector is a deputy in Montana, near a national forest.  When two kids report seeing a double-wide trailer explode he knows it was a meth lab.  Since the drug-maker went up with his product Hector could have let it go at that but he is a good cop and wants to know what happened: specifically, how did a Gulf War vet wind up making drugs out in the wilderness?  And which comes first, supply or demand?  The trail becomes darker and grimmer.

"With all due respect, don't preach the law to me."

"The law's all we've got between us and the stone age."

"Frank, for Christ's sake, this IS the stone age."


Goree, Raymond.  "A Change of Heart," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2012.

Goree's first story is a wonderful debut.  The narrator is a Las Vegas cop who, at around age 40, suffers a heart attack.  Turns out his ticker is in horrible shape.  ("Like trying to sew Jell-o together," says the surgeon.)  After some more horrible luck ("Jokes on you, says God.") he gets a heart transplant.  By coincidence he had met  the donor, a cancer patient named Sammy, in the hospital.

But after the operatioon our hero gets visited by Sammy the donor.  Creepy, huh?  And Sammy wants him to prevent his daughter from getting involved in a crime.  "I can't get through to her," Sammy  complains.  "It's like I'm not even there."

Wonderfully written, one-of-a-kind plot.  


Hockensmith, Steve, "Frank," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2012.

Frank is a retired police detective, living in an assisted living complex.  Frank's memory is, at best, shaky.  He can't always remember what day it is, or the names of his neighbors (although in the case of at least one neighbor's name, Hockensmith notes drolly, "forgetting it had been a choice.")

But now a series of crimes are happening in the complex -- maybe.  Unless someone is imagining it in senile dimensia.  Can Frank pull himself together long enough to catch the culprit?  And what if he is the culprit?

Witty, touching, and a  twist at the end.  What more do you want?



Howe, Melodie Johnson, "Losing It,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 2012.

My friend Melodie has built a story is so twisty it makes a corkscrew look like a knitting needle.

Callie Taylor is a mousy manicurist.  Mike is the boyfriend, supposedly working on a screenplay, but apparently only working on the groceries Callie brings home on her paycheck.

One night Callie rebels against her life by spending a thousand dollars she can't afford on a shawl.  Mike hates it because it keeps her from looking "normal," the ordinary person he wants her to be.

And then, late one night in a bar, she loses the shawl.  And worse, one of her wealthy customers shows up wearing the shawl.  How can Callie get it back without losing her job?

Where ever you think this story is going you're wrong.

Law, Janice, "The Double"  in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 7

My friend Janice has created a little gem here, I think.

Malik has the fortune, good or bad, of resembling the General, his country's beloved dictator.  Naturally he is assigned the job of impersonating the General, saving him from boring meetings and assassingation attempts.

But the General is a far-thinker and he sends Malik, with proper supervision, to set up a new life for himself in Miami, just in case at some time in the future the General turns out not to be so beloved.  And that works fine until the inevitable happens.

Because only one person can live that new life, right?

Modrack, Barbara Arno, "Acting On A Tip,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2012.

 This is the only story on the list that didn't make the best-of-the-year cut when I first read it.  But going through my weekly bests at Little Big Crimes in preparation for this review I went oh yeah, THAT one.

Marty had been a reporter for the Detroit Free Press for decades when the buyouts started.  One day his editor urged him to take the proffered buyout, and the reason clearly had less to do with his age than with the booze Marty was drinking for breakfast.  Marty's wife made him the following offer:

They would sell the house and move Up North to the family cottage she had just inherited.  Ryan, their youngest, would complete his senior year in high school there.  Jenny would refresh her nursing license and become the breadwinner.  And if they did all that and Marty quit drinking, they could do it together and Jenny would not leave him.

A few months later Marty is clinging to sobriety by his fingernails when he wakes to a radio report of three murders in the little town where they are living.  Maybe the Free Press would like a reporter on the scene?  Maybe he can drag a scrap of self-worth out of the ruins?
Warren, James Lincoln.  "Shikari,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2012.


This novelette is the best Sherlock Holmes pastiche I have read since Nicholas Meyer turned the field on its ear with The Seven Percent Solution.

James explains in an introductory note that the idea came when he read that during the nineteenth century the British intelligence service used doctors as spies in Asia.  Of course, Dr. Watson was an army doctor in Afghanistan.  And who was the head of British intelligence?  Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft.  If Watson was one of Mycroft's spies, than surely it was no coincidence that he wound up in a position to keep an eye on his boss's eccentric brother...


A treat from beginning to end, with shrewd explanation's of some of the canon's puzzling elements, and some genuine shocks along the way.

Warthman, Dan.  "Pansy Place," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2012.

Jones is fitting into retirement. Bought his condo in Elmwood Village, voted a couple yers ago one of the country's ten best neighborhoods. Second story, corner unit, overlooking Bidwell Parkway...

At first we don't learn much about Jones, just about the young cleaning woman he hires and makes friends with. Then we are introduced to her boyfriend.

Trouble erupts in the life of the young couple and Jones shows his true colors. We meet a few new characters, finely drawn bad guys who cherish the use of the right word and the right action even while they are doing objectively wrong things.It can be good to have a tough guy on your side, even he is allegedly retired.