There are few better sources of drama than the family, as many of the stories in this issue illustrate. If one is well advised to keep friends close and enemies closer, then perhaps one must keep family members closest of all.
A death in the family often provides an occasion for changes—such as for the widow in Charles Todd’s “The Trophy” who seeks solace in the countryside of southern Wales, or the woman in Jane K. Cleland’s “Night Flight to Bali,” who is suddenly freed to cash in a forged painting upon the death of her domineering mother.
Or family ties may throw up walls that are difficult for outsiders to penetrate, such as in the investigation into possible insurance fraud involving a disabled teen and his mother in John Shepphird’s “Electric Boogaloo,” or the tangled relationships revealed by the court transcript of a case of a contested will in Eve Fisher’s “Happy Families.”
But sometimes such ties can be powerful motivators—such as for the Muslim woman who hires Beijing P.I. Il yong to find the Uighur son she’d given up for adoption in Martin Limón’s “The Smuggler of Samarkand”—or sources of support and encouragement, such as Jack Tait finds in his formidable aunts as he tries to prevent a rush to judgment against a black tenant farmer in the Depression-era South in “How Lon Pruitt Was Found Murdered in an Open Field with no Footprints Around,” by Mike Culpepper.
Other stories in this issue feature a perfect storm of disasters for Deputy Hector Moody when his car breaks down in the Gallatin mountain range in David Edgerley Gates’s “Cabin Fever”; the outsized dreams of a mid-level accountant in Max Gersh’s “Self-Portrait”; a copyeditor using her wits to foil an e-mail scammer in Steve Hockensmith’s “i”; a volatile partnership between a writer and an actor in Janice Law’s “The Front Man”; an aging spy recalled to action in Michael Mallory’s “Aramis and the Worm”; Dr. John H. Watson encounters a gentleman with a strange health regimen in “The Vampire of Edinburgh” by James Tipton.
No matter the state of your relations with other relatives, our readers are valued members of the AHMM family.
History is being made this fall with the first major-party female candidate for president of the United States, and in keeping with this moment of girl power, several of the stories in our October issue highlight women exhibiting their strength of character in a variety of ways. Strong, resourceful women strut their stuff in Susan Oleksiw’s “Variable Winds,” Janice Law’s “Votes for Women,” and Gilbert M. Stack’s “Pandora’s Bluff.” Women challenged by circumstances, bad choices, or malevolent men feature in “Breakfast with Strange” by Martin Limón, “The Book of Judges” by Kevin Egan, “Close Scrutiny” by Elaine Menge, and “Stella by Starlight” by Con Lehane.
In addition, two master storytellers, Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg, collaborate this month on “The Crack of Doom,” while William Burton McCormick chronicles “The Last Walk of Filips Finks.”
Whether damsels in distress or femme fatales or smart cookies, women of mystery always make for reading pleasure!
Over the past sixty years, it has regularly been our pleasure to welcome new voices, writers either new to our pages or making their publishing debut. This double issue continues that legacy. Congratulations, then, to two authors appearing in print for the first time: Jason Half with “The Widow Cleans House,” and Mark Thielman with his Black Orchid Novella Award–winning “A Meter of Murder.” And welcome to three authors new to AHMM: Alan Orloff, author of “The Last Loose End;” Andrea Smith, who introduces to our readers her intrepid beauty salon proprietor Vera Ames in “Beauty Shop of Horror;” and James Nolan, who brings us a tale set in Mexico in “Shortcut to Gringo Hill.”
As it happens, the notion of legacy plays an important role in several of this issue’s tales. Our cover story, Eve Fisher’s “Great Expectations,” examines a family’s handling of a small inheritance. Attorney David Crockett, in Evan Lewis’s “Mr. Crockett and the Indians,” carries with him a rather uncomfortable legacy—the crotchety voice of his ancestor Davy. Kevin Egan’s “The Heist,” set in the New York State Supreme Court building in Manhattan, involves the cultural legacy of a Hungarian émigré. And a legacy of Mob violence drives the latest installment of Janice Law’s series featuring Madame Selina and her young helper Nip.
Regular appearances by favorite writers and characters are another aspect of the AHMM legacy, and this issue features other strong installments in familiar series. John H. Dirckx, a recidivist for nearly forty years, teams Lieutenant Cyrus Auburn and Detective Sergeant Fritz Dollinger in “Can’t Undo.” R. T. Lawton, whose four different series display an impressive range of tone, setting, and eras, this time brings us “The Great Aul,” a new tale of the Armenian and his young Nogai helper. And Terence Faherty, who first appeared in our pages in 2007, offers “Margo and the Milk Trap,” his latest entry in a WWII–era series featuring radio producer Margo Banning.
Great crime fiction is a legacy our readers need not feud over.
November is our Bouchercon issue. As we prepare to travel to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the conference, the AHMM staff is in a celebratory mood. For one thing, this issue introduces a brand new series from Elaine Viets: death investigator Angela Richman makes her debut in “Gotta Go.” We also celebrate the return to these pages of some reader favorites: John F. Dobbyn with “The Golden Skull”; William Burton McCormick with “Hagiophobia”; Russel D. McLean with “The Water’s Edge”; Chris Muessig with “A Boy’s Will”; Janice Law with “The Dressmaker”; and Joseph D’Agnese with “The Truth of What You’ve Become.” And in the spirit of Bouchercon, we celebrate the genre with an essay by Ken Wishnia on the shifting boundaries of Noir.
Contributing to the celebratory mood, we note the publication of books with AHMM roots. We are proud to publish Loren D. Estleman’s Four Horseman stories set in WWII–era Detroit; he has now collected them in Detroit Is Our Beat (Tyrus Books). John C. Boland has a new collection of stories featuring his “unromantic” spy Charles Marley in The Spy Who Knew Nothing (Perfect Crime Books), all but one of which first appeared here. And B. K. Stevens’s American Sign Language interpreter Jane Ciardi, who first appeared in these pages, is now featured in a new novel, Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books).
One of the more interesting detecting teams on the scene right now is Janice Law’s medium Madame Selina, her young assistant Nip, and her spirit guide Marcus Aurelius. In addition to being a short story writer and award-winning novelist—The Prisoner of the Riviera, featuring British painter Francis Bacon, won a Lambda Award for best gay mystery of 2013—Janice Law is also a painter. You can view samples of her work at her Web site JaniceLaw.com.
I had only done one series character before Madame Selina and her assistant. That was Anna Peters, who fought crime of one sort or another through nine novels. When I came up with an idea for a story about a nineteenth century medium in New York City, I assumed that the short story would be the beginning and end of her career. However, one of my Sleuthsayer colleagues, Rob Lopresti, not only liked the story but uttered the fateful words, “this would make a good series.” Who knows what triggers the subconscious? Pretty soon Nip Tompkins had more to tell me. As a result, there have now been eight stories and counting. Why these two characters and why New York just after the Civil War? Blame a long career in academe, teaching, among other things, 19th century American lit, which inevitably involved the history of the period. Madame Selina’s dual role of medium and detective has involved the big issues of the period: the carnage of the Civil War and its consequences, the coming of the Irish, the dangerous lives of African-Americans, Spiritualism and its debunkers, along with those favorite 19th century plot lines, endangered heiresses and fiscal chicanery. As for the characters, Madame Selina came from an interest in the medicine and psychology of the period, odd mixes of science and superstition. Nip was another matter. Occasionally a character is just a gift, a quiet voice in the ear. An orphan sprung from the ghastly Orphan Home to assist in the illusions of the seances, Nip has a good heart, a sense of humor, and considerable ingenuity. I’ve found him a nice foil for the tricky yet sincere Madame Selina and an amusing narrator. Does Nip believe in Marcus Aurelius, her guide in the spirit world? He started out credulous—he was after all only eight years old. Then he grew skeptical, especially since keeping Aurelius up to date on railroad stocks and Tammany Hall required a good deal of leg work from him. But lately, he’s developed a more nuanced attitude. Although he has his doubts, he’s convinced that Madame Selina’s faith is genuine and he’s nervous until the late Emperor of the Romans answers her call.