With crime stories, it’s all about the framing: how the author—or the narrator—selects what goes into the story, and what gets left out, and how the sleuth reframes the story to get at the truth of the situation.
In Steven Gore’s procedural “Inflection,” detectives must look beyond carefully laid out clues when a rare books dealer is found dead from an apparent mugging. A passion for truffles is the link between two competing narratives when a politician’s young mistress disappears in “Fruiting Bodies” by Jane Pendjiky. Set during WWII, a stranger’s story resonates for a boy enamored with true crime pulps in “Old Echoes” by Michael Nethercott. Equadoran P.I. Wilson Salinas is inspired by a missing person flier to track down the real story in “Buscando Túpac” by Tom Larsen. After a writeup in the papers, the price of fame is high for a local hero in Dave Zeltserman’s “Past Due.” A librarian revisits the stories behind miscellaneous artifacts prior to a fateful renovation in “Storage” by Dan Crawford. A cabby proves the perfect sounding board for a St. Louis riverboat gambler cum unofficial private eye in Christopher Latragna’s “Call It Sad, Call It Funny.” And a review of old case notes draws a retired divorce lawyer into a murder case in “Who Killed What’s Her Name?” by Sharon Jarvis.
Meanwhile, commercial crime in ancient Babylon threatens plans for a caravan in Richard Freeborn’s “Family Harmony,” while a shipping company’s secrets are dinner conversation fodder in “You Said This Was Business” by Bob Tippee. A hermit on an island retreat off the coast of Ireland seeks to preserve his artist father’s legacy in “Limited Edition” by John Paul Davies, while an artisan in Amsterdam becomes unmoored in “Anchored” by Wouter Boonstra. A hitman’s latest job leads to a new vocation in “The Beauty of Sunsets” by Jim Sallis. And for Kasper, a London-based P.I., a homeless woman seems an unlikely murder victim in “Mrs. White Hart” by Elliot F. Sweeney.
In our Booked & Printed column, Laurel Flores Fantauzzo steps outside of the box to look at some recent crime-related podcasts that are worth a listen. And an endearing character returns in Our Mystery Classic, Johnston McCulley’s “Thubway Tham and the Hoodoo Roll,” in which the lucky pickpocket evades a police setup. The story is introduced by master storyteller Josh Pachter.
Getting trapped is a primal fear, and our modern world offers no reprieve. Daily we’re caught in traffic jams, shut up in elevators, chained to a desk, and for some, nabbed by the police. Nor are we free of psychological traps: abusive relationships, obsessions and compulsions, and cycles of revenge. Fiction is one way to work through your fears, and this issue of AHMM offers some thrilling stories of entrapment and escape—our means of ensnaring you in our pages.
In our cover story by Joslyn Chase, a young woman must leave her Yorkshire home to work at her uncle’s Whitechapel pub, “The Wolf and Lamb,” during the terror wrought by Jack the Ripper. Joseph Walker describes the desperate journey of a woman escaping an abusive marriage in “Etta at the End of the World.” Three characters revisit the heady days of college—and the jealousies that festered for thirty-five years—in Elizabeth Zelvin’s “Reunion.” A private jet on the way to a corporate retreat is the setting for Ken Brosky’s locked-room story, “Airless Confinement.” In 1920s New York City, a shoeshine gets caught up in another man’s betting scheme in “Probable Cause” by John G. Wimer.
Meanwhile, real estate and revenge motivate the characters of Sarah Weinman’s “Limited Liability,” and Janice Law’s prim widow takes justice into her own hands years after the death of her husband in “The Client.” Bob Tippee’s executive draws on his own character failings for drastic ends in “A Bias for Action,” while Officer Grant Tripp’s brother falls under suspicion for a string of robberies in Eve Fisher’s “Brother’s Keeper.” And the perpipatetic Buck and Wiley return in Parker Littlewood’s “Buck Solves the Case,” while two girls find the body of a drowned bank robber in Michael Bracken’s “Sleepy River.”
This issue also offers whodunits featuring distinctive PIs. Jeff Cohen’s Samuel Hoenig finds that his experience of being on the autism spectrum gives him an edge in parsing the cryptic statements of a young man awaiting trial for murder in “The Question of the Befuddled Judge.” Mark Thielman’s handsome PI—known as the Spud Stud for his side work as a special assistant in potato promotion—solves the murder of a natural foods store manager in “The Case of the Cereal Killer.” The mystery writer Shanks is called to locate old associates of a wealthy music producer on the eve of his death in Rob Lopresti’s “Shanks Saves the World.”
Finally, we are delighted to introduce a new feature, knowing that our readers often take a keen interest in the realities behind the fiction: former police detective Lee Lofland will offer in each issue insights into the working lives and daily realities of those involved in law enforcement.
Crime is character building, at least in crime fiction, because it is characters, their dark psychologies and questionable motivations, that drive compelling stories—as the tales in this issue amply demonstrate.
What compels a model prisoner, in Tony Richards’s “Magpie Man,” to burst out of jail just before he is to be lawfully released? What motivates a desperate woman, in Dale Berry’s graphic story “Dead Air,” to strike up a conversation with a radio DJ? Why does a detective, in Wayne J. Gardiner’s “Bygones,” return home for the funeral of his high-school adversary?
Interpersonal entanglements complicate Charles John Harper’s police procedural “The Echoes.” A man seeking invisibility is driven from the dangerous shadows in Bob Tippee’s “Underground Above Ground.” Susan Oleksiw’s “How Do You Know What You Want” is a poignant story of a teen in foster care and the woman who tries to connect with her, and Martin Limón’s P.I. Il Yong pursues a case that takes him to the remote reaches of the Himalayas, where survival may depend on the uncertain kindness of othes, in “hominid.”
Social institutions and conventions are questioned in Alan E. Foulds’ “Razor’s Edge” when a reporter revisits a long-ago cold case, and in Mitch Alderman’s “Bleak Future” when P.I. Bubba Simms looks into extortion among central Florida’s genteel society. An old injustice gets a fresh look in “Rough-Hewn Retribution,” Nancy Pauline Simpson’s historical set in the early twentieth century South. A homicide detective and suspect match wits in the interview room in Chris Knopf’s “A Little Cariñoso.” And a land dispute is complicated—and deadly—in Gilbert M. Stack’s British historical whodunit “Greed.”
Watch out, these complicated characters will steal your attention—and perhaps your sympathy.
Disfunctional family dynamics provide rich ground for crime stories, as three of September’s stories demonstrate. A well-off London woman hears unsettling news about her fourth husband in Neil Schofield’s “Middleman.” Two vacationing sisters skirt dangerous emotional territory in “Ross Macdonald’s Grave” by Terence Faherty. And a would-be burglar provokes unsettling memories in Bob Tippee’s “A Pushover Kind of Place.”
We’re delighted to make two introductions this month. Kathy Lynn Emerson’s new series character Mother Malyn makes her AHMM debut in “The Cunning Woman.” And we welcome Christopher Latragna, whose AHMM debut “Well-Heeled Shooters” is set on a St. Louis riverboat casino.
Also this month, R. T. Lawton continues his series featuring a Chinese youth thrust into his father’s drug trade and surviving by his wits in the jungle in “On the Edge.” C. B. Forrest returns with “The Runaway Girl from Portland, Oregon,” set in a San Francisco alley during the “Summer of Love.” And Lieutenant Cyrus Auburn and Sergeant Dollinger look into the murder of a traveling salesman in “Solo for Shoehorn” by John H. Dirckx.
Finally, we are saddened to note the passing of Maynard Allington, who died before we could publish his espionage story this month, “The Rostov Error.”
Bob Tippee is an award-winning business journalist who writes about the oil and gas industry. His stories for AHMM are often set in fiercely competitive workplace cultures; our June cover story, “The PLT,” is an excellent example.
Fiction, of course, must transport the reader beyond immediate reality into a world of the writer’s imagination. Hugely important to that world is setting, a bundle of qualities unique to any story that might be said to fit along a spectrum defined by other-worldly fantasy at one extreme and here-and-now familiarity at the other. Settings between those poles must be somehow exotic: places where a reader might wish or be loath to go but cannot, possibly in combination with times inaccessible as well. Continue reading