Tag Archives: John H. Dirckx

All in the Family (September/October 2018)

Old songs notwithstanding, we are not, strictly speaking, required to always hurt the ones we love—but as this issue’s stories demonstrate, things often work out that way. Ah, family!

Consider siblings. In R. T. Lawton’s “The Chinese Box,” for instance, the city-bred and educated son of a Shan Army warlord finds himself in stiff competition with his own older half-brother, while two actors who once played brothers on a hit TV show have a very different off-screen dynamic in Brendan DuBois’s “The Wildest One.” Ecuadoran P.I. Wilson Salinas, meanwhile, must retrieve his neighbor’s granddaughter—snatched by her own father in Tom Larsen’s “En Agua Caliente.” A woman working a prison kitchen is tested when the man who killed her father demands that she help him escape in Janice Law’s “Good Girl.” And a family inheritance is at stake in our Mystery Classic, “Betrayed by a Buckle” by Louisa May Alcott, introduced by Marianne Wilski Strong.

Conventioneers extraordinaire Spade and Paladin see their extended family of SF fans and writers divided by a bitter schism with criminal consequences in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Unity Con.” A mob family’s brutal management of a co-op inspires two retired seniors to act in “Rats” by Tom Savage. And new to our pages this month, Matthew Wilson brings a tale of an army sergeant confronting racism among his brothers-in-arms at a training base in Germany in “The Cook Off.”

A man who once looked for unexploded WWII ordnance in Europe must confront his own past when he encounters an old lover in Mark Thielman’s atmospheric “Buried Past.” Loren D. Estleman’s Four Horseman return with a case involving a patriotic “Scrap Drive.” Feuding neighbors bring color and headaches to Detective Sergeant Fritz Dollinger’s investigation of the murder of a young musician in John H. Dirckx’s procedural “Counterpoint.”

History repeats itself in Dennis McFadden’s dual coming-of-age story, “Coolbrook Twp.” And a bad actor gets a shot at auditioning for a psychological thriller in this month’s cover story, James Lincoln Warren’s “Casting Call.”

Once again, these stories show that blood will tell.

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“Something Old, Something New . . .” by John H. Dirckx

 

John H. Dirckx is the author of Dr. Thorndyke’s Dilemma (Aspen Press) and short fiction in AHMM, EQMM, and Woman’s World as well as nonfiction in the medical field. Today he talks about handling clues in mystery fiction, and in particular his short story “Go for the Juggler,” the latest in the series featuring Detective Sergeant Dollinger and Lieutenant Auburn, from the current issue of AHMM.

A detective story needs a crook, a crime, a sleuth, and one or more clues that enable the sleuth to pin the crime on the crook. Not all clues in mystery fiction, however, point to the identity of the criminal. Some merely help to establish a chronology of events, provide background details, or exonerate suspects. Others are blatant red herrings, designed to bewilder or mislead the detective for a while and, perhaps for a while longer, the reader.

But somewhere in every story there must be at least one piece of evidence that unerringly incriminates the guilty person by a rigorous and intellectually satisfying application of Aristotelian logic, thus ensuring a fitting sentence in a court of law. (Often overlooked or ignored in classic mysteries of the Golden Age was the difference between a damning clue, such as the ineluctable bloody thumbprint, and a mere hint or suggestion, such as the depth to which the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day.)

Whence does the mystery writer garner clues that meet the requirements of both plausibility and evidential value? Often they turn up in the ongoing series of occurrences, mostly banal, that weave the fabric of daily life: the broken shoestring, the misread headline, the book put back on the wrong shelf in a moment of distraction.

In “Go for the Juggler,” Detective Auburn tumbles to the killer’s trick of insulating a car battery terminal with a plastic cap because he had once made the mistake of wiring up a new battery without removing the protective cap placed on the negative terminal by the manufacturer. That idea occurred to me because I once made the same mistake myself.

Auburn finds a cache of gold and jewelry by observing that the discoloration on the underside of a kitchen cabinet caused by rising heat doesn’t match the present location of the electric toaster. Over the years I’ve noticed several such discolorations while sprawled on various kitchen floors installing or repairing appliances.

Clues mustn’t be too conspicuous or too transparent—otherwise there is little or no mystery. The word kieselguhr has had an intriguing and exotic ring to my ears from the first time I heard it in a chemistry lecture decades ago. Kieselguhr may not be in your working vocabulary, but you can find out more about it than you could possibly want to know with a simple Internet search.

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried . . .” Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade never heard of surveillance cameras, but they’re ubiquitous today, and they pop up often enough in crime fiction. In this story, taped video footage enables the detectives to identify the “juggler.”

“Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.” In the construction of the modern detective story, convention permits an occasional nod to the venerable past of the genre. For the piece of evidence that clinches the guilt of the killer in “Go for the Juggler,” I fell back on that hoary cliché, fingerprints found on articles used in the commission of the crime. Who says tradition isn’t what it used to be?

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Expect the Unexpected (January/February 2018)

There’s always an extent to which crime is unexpected, except for the perpetrator—that is, if things go off as planned. It’s often the surprises, though, that make a great mystery story.

You don’t expect a killer to make an appearance at a holiday party, unfortunately for the revelers in Michael Nethercott’s “Sinners at Eight.” And when you’re a young, naïve bookstore clerk, you don’t expect that doing someone a favor will have the repercussions seen in Peter Sellers’ “Christmas Help.”

A corporate attorney doesn’t expect to take on a murder case for a former client in “Coroners Don’t Change Faces” by S. Frederic Liss. But the unemployed nephew of a Hollywood mogul does expect to do great things as a masked crime fighter in James Lincoln Warren’s sendup “The Chinese Dog Mystery.”

A homeless bum doesn’t expect to have a visitor in jail in Robert Lopresti’s “Train Tracks,” but it changes his life. While an unexpected visit from U.S. Postal inspectors confirms a young Navajo boy’s suspicions in David Hagerty’s “Fair Trade.”

In Marianne Wilski Strong’s “Louisa and the Lighthouse,” a beach stroll leads to the unexpected finding of a prized necklace, while the writings of Louisa May Alcott help knit together the clues. In Alex C. Renwick’s “Shallow Sand,” a beachcomber finds more than he expected with the help of a metal detector. An unexpected windfall brings trouble for a woman with a gambling bug in John M. Floyd’s “Scavenger Hunt.” And a seemingly chance purchase from a sidewalk vendor unexpectedly troubles long-buried memories in Janice Law’s “The Crucial Game.”

Plus we have two great (only to be expected) procedurals from John H. Dirckx (“Go for the Juggler”) and David Edgerley Gates (“A Multitude of Sins”).

Finally, this issue’s Mystery Classic is “Nebuchadnezzar” by Dorothy L. Sayers. The story was selected for us by B. K. Stevens, a life-long admirer of Sayers. Sadly B. K. Stevens died before she had a chance to write the introduction, though I know she chose it in part for its humor and because it’s one of the author’s lesser-known stories.

As always, our tales may take some unexpected turns, but you can always expect to find great crime fiction in these pages.

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A Legacy of Crime (July/August 2016)

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.

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All in the Family

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.”

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