Saturday, February 19, 2005

Graffiti Red by Jason Duke

Graffiti Red” by Jason Duke, Shred of Evidence, February 2005

This story starts off with the attempted assassination of a gang leader by the main character, Joseph Ortiz. Apparently Joseph is a tagger, a graffiti artist. A friend of his tried to do some tagging in the subway tunnels claimed as territory by the Tunnel Bombers, led by a punk with the appellation, Dreadhead. As retribution, he was forced to do something that got him killed.

Now Joseph is being forced to take up where Carlos left off. He is given three suction cups, one for his left hand and one each for his knees, and five cans of paint in five different colors. He is supposed to attach himself to the side of a train with the suction cups and paint something with the cans of paint, ending with the red, graffiti red.

Frankly, I didn’t understand this part at all. Was he supposed to leave long streaks of paint on the tunnel walls as the train traveled through them, or was he supposed to paint something on the side of the train. It wouldn’t be much more than a blob of paint considering that the train is moving, and he was attached to the side of it. I wouldn’t think, once the suction cups were applied, that he could move along the side of the train. And the author did nothing to correct this assumption.

Moving on. Dealing with the moving train, the rush of the air, the nearness of the tunnel walls, the insecurity of the suction cups, and rats the size of Shetland ponies, Joseph has used up all the cans of paint except the last, graffiti red, which was sucked from his hand by the rushing wind.

Joseph detaches himself from the train at the next stop where he gets involved in an imbroglio with Transit Authority cops and Dreadhead. There’s fighting and killing and a surfeit of “graffiti red” in the ending.

Now, how Dreadhead saw Joseph off at one station and met him at another further down the line is not explained. I guess if I had lived in New York (I assume this was New York) perhaps I wouldn’t need any explanations about the intricacies of the subway system and the tagging of same. But I’m just a pore ol’ country boy that don’t know much about such big-city things as subways and Metro Transit Authorities. And the author didn’t seem to think he was going to have any readers like me.

In case you hadn’t guessed, that annoyed me somewhat. I know, I know. I’ve done the same damn thing myself, and, believe me, I’ve been called on it.

However annoying I found Mr. Duke’s failure to make me comfortable in the scene of the crime, his description of Joseph’s trip through the tunnels attached to the side of a train was well done and suspenseful.

Unfortunately, given Joseph’s and Dreadhead’s behavior at the beginning of the story, I couldn’t believe in their behavior at the end. If, at the beginning, Joseph had actually fired his weapon, the ending would have been more believable.

In short, too many holes.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Crimson Dagger: Online Mystery Fiction Magazine

This February issue launches Crimson Dagger: Online Mystery Fiction Magazine. Since this is the most recent ezine to actually charge real money for granting one the privilege of reading it, I simply couldn't resist purchasing a copy. In this post I'm going to review the overall magazine itself, it's "look and feel", and then review the stories separately.

In general the zine has an attractive look. The pages are attractive and easy to read. In this issue there are three stories, three book reviews, and four regular columns. I was familiar with two of the authors, Charles Schaeffer and Jeffrey Marks. Mr. Schaeffer had a short story, and Mr. Marks is one of the regular columnists.

The columns deal with craft and networking. Mr. Marks' column, "To Sign or Not To Sign", talks about author signings taking off from the Atwood imbroglio. It was well done and offered some sound advice. Another column about punching up dialogue, "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" by Roseanne Dowell, also offered some excellent pointers. The other two columns, "Extreme Mystery Makeovers" by Janet Elaine Smith and "So You Want to Write a Mystery" were more introductory in nature and were of a survey nature, trying to cover an enormous amount of ground in under a thousand words. Definitely targeted to the rank beginner, which is not a bad thing.

Now let's get to the nitty-gritty, the cost. Crimson Dagger, ostensibly to be issued monthly, is available for $2.50 for a single issue, an annual subscription for $24.00, or they have a pay-as-you-go subscription for $2.00 a month. One thing here that raised a red flag to me was the fact that on the page titled "Coming Up In The March 2005 Issue" was nothing more than "To Be Announced". Now it seems to me that a zine that wants to publish on a monthly basis would be well served to have a couple of months' worth of material already in hand before publishing their first issue. I fear that their publication schedule is in grave danger.

Moving on. When you buy a single issue of the zine, that issue is delivered to you by email in a zip file. Apparently if you buy a subscription you are issued an ID and password to access the online version. The file extracts into its own separate directory. The zip file contains a myriad of HTML and image files. Not one of those files is named "Hey Dummy! Start Here." After my initial shock, I found two files, one named "index" and another named "menu". I picked one at random and was able to get into the zine. Basically it recreates the website on your computer with all the hyperlinks and formatting intact. This was annoying. I virtually never read ezines on my computer. I convert them to PDF files or ebook files for reading on my PDA. I would have thought that a zine delivered by email would have been a single file. Goes to my Third Pillar, Ease Of Use that I'm going to discuss this weekend.

Once I discovered the form, I converted the zine to a PDF file myself which took about 3 minutes. Not onerous, but an annoyance. The publishers could have done that for me in the same amount of time and kept all the hyperlinks intact. The PDF was only 750kb, so the bandwidth needed to transfer it would have been endurable even on dial-up especially given the convenience of the resulting file. Something the publishers should consider for the next issue.

Promotion is also seriously lacking. I saw only one mention of the launch on the Short Mystery Fiction Society list. Nothing else. You can't expect people to buy your zine if they don't know it exists.

My most serious concern with this zine, other than promotion, is the fact that they pay their writers in subscriptions, not in real money. Of course, they promise that sometime in the unspecified future they may start paying actual money to the people that make their magazine worth reading. This zine charges for the advertisements and classifieds that they publish. They charge you, the reader, for the privilege of reading their publication. So why can't they pay, even at the beginning, an author $5 or $10 for the sweat of their brow? Of course they have other expenses, but nothing compared to a print publication. If Shred of Evidence can pay $10, without all the advertising and subscription and single-issue income, why can't Crimson Dagger? Once they begin really making money, they can increase the author's remuneration.

In short (too late for that), Crimson Dagger shows promise, and I hope they succeed; but if they don't address some issues quickly, I fear for their future.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

An Unwilling Witness by Stephen D. Rogers

An Unwilling Witness” by Stephen D. Rogers, Shred of Evidence, February 2005

This short-short story is a tale of betrayal, murder, revenge, and – a little something else. A lot to get in a short-short.

The main character, Patrick, is apparently a PI, though it’s never specifically stated. Within the first two paragraphs of the story we know that he’s not terribly discriminating about the types of jobs he takes.

Patrick’s partner, Herman, was murdered before the story begins, a murder with no clues to the perpetrator. Herman’s wife, Marilyn, is desperate to find out what happened, so she hires a medium to contact the spirit of her dead husband. She wants Patrick to be at the séance to see if the medium, a man named Endicott, is faking.

Patrick isn’t thrilled about the prospect. He doesn’t have any experience with debunking, but he finally agrees. The séance is to be held in Marilyn’s house, so Patrick searches it beforehand to make sure Endicott hasn’t hidden anything. When Endicott arrives, Patrick stays with him so he won’t have a chance to plant anything before the performance.

Imagine Patrick’s surprise when during the séance a ball of mist materializes over the table and forms into Herman’s face. The Herman-face then says, “Patrick. Double-cross.”

At this point Patrick jumps up, overturning the table, plunging the room into darkness, and waves his hands frantically through the ball of mist. Trying to find out what made it, of course.

The story moves on to disclose the identity of the murderer, which, if you read closely, isn’t totally unexpected. The final twist however is unexpected.

Mr. Rogers is a prolific author with many hundreds of stories published. His skill is evident in this story, easy to read and fast moving. You won’t find any deep meanings or emotions here (tough to do in a short-short), but it is entertaining.

In short, a fun story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Reptile Smile by David White

"Reptile Smile" by David White, Shred of Evidence, February 2005

This story fills in more background on Mr. White's series sleuth, Jackson Donne. It is actually a "sequel" to his story, "
Darkness on the Edge of Town", published in Thrilling Detective, taking place two months after the events in “Darkness”. The time is 1998, and Jackson Donne is still a cop, a newly minted detective.

Jackson's partner, Detective Bill Martin, is the viewpoint character of this story. This is a double departure from the contemporary stories in that not only is Donne not the viewpoint character, this story, like "Darkness", is told in third person. Mr. White doesn't seem quite as comfortable in third person as he is in first, but I noticed that there is an improvement from "Darkness". In any case, that wasn't enough to affect my enjoyment of the story.

The story opens with Martin and Donne shaking down a rich banker who had been filmed buying drugs. As you might guess Martin and Donne, members of the Narc Force, are not the cleanest cops in town.

During a conversation Martin discovers that Donne is going to get married. Martin worries about how much Donne’s intended, Jeanne, knows about their little side business. Donne says she doesn’t know anything, but Martin has a feeling that Donne will eventually tell her.

Martin goes to see the head of the Narc Force, Leo Carver, to drop off his cut of the “donation”. Between them they decide to have Jeanne killed. Martin then goes to see a hitman they have used before, and arranges the hit.

On the night the hit was supposed to take place, Martin and Donne are out cruising the streets. Martin decides to stop and talk to one of their snitches. The snitch, Jesus, tells Donne that the word on the street is that someone is going to kill him and his woman. Not what Martin wanted to hear.

Donne and Martin pile back into the car with Donne urging Martin to step on it. They have to get to Jeanne’s apartment. Martin doesn’t have much of a choice. When they arrive the hitman’s there, but Jeanne’s still alive. The hitman surrenders peaceably, and Donne rushes into the bedroom to comfort Jeanne. From this point to the end of the story, the situation is pregnant with possibility.

I like Mr. White’s use of language: “He wore sweatpants and a thick black parka that looked like a burnt marshmallow.” That’s particularly nice.

The reader’s identification with Donne isn’t as strong in this story because of the third person and Martin being the viewpoint character, but I understand why Mr. White did this. The third person separates the background stories from the contemporary stories, and this particular story would have been very difficult to tell from Donne’s viewpoint.

In short, an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

New Issue of Thrilling Detective

There's a new issue of Thrilling Detective out with all kinds of goodies. There are new stories by Stephen D. Rogers, Mark Best and Christopher Gooch. In honor of the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Maltese Falcon, Thrilling has an excerpt from the novel AND a link to a recording of the Maltese Falcon radio show starring Humphrey Bogart. Way to go, guys!

Misty's World by Victor Gischler

"Misty's World" by Victor Gischler, Shred of Evidence, February 2005

This story is as noir as the devil's heart, something Mr. Gischler does as well or better than anyone else currently writing.

Misty makes her living by taking off her clothes and dancing. She makes a decent living, kind of a mid-list stripper, though not decent enough to be able to save to get her teeth fixed. She wants to go to California and become a porn star, and her teeth are the only things standing in her way. She says, "They come together and stick out like the prow of a sailing ship."

Misty's dreams, to be a porn star, to escape the dreary cold for sunny SoCal, may not be things we would think desirable, but to her they are real and important. That's one of the things Mr. Gischler handles so well, leading us to believe that her dreams are vital to her. That makes Misty as real as any character I've read about lately.

Unfortunately Misty has a no-account boyfriend, Ted, and even more unfortunately she loves him. He's one of those guys that always has a plan; a plan that will make him rich with little or no work on his part; a plan that never works out. Ted has a new plan. It's a big enough score that he will be able to pay for Misty's braces and then some. But Misty has a bad feeling. She knows how his plans come out.

Misty's actions, however, just push Ted harder. He has to make this work to prove to her that he isn't a screw-up. The characters are so well drawn that they push each other's buttons effortlessly, leading to an inevitable conclusion.

Be warned. This is not a story to be read when you're already feeling down. But it is a story you should read.

In short, don't miss this one.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Steven Torres -- Gentleman

this is an audio post - click to play

And So To Bedlam by Neil Schofield

"And So To Bedlam" by Neil Schofield, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2005

This is a humorous tale with "darkly comic situations". To tell the truth it reminded me a little of some of the old Alfred Hitchcock television shows. Except that I enjoyed those.

The story begins with a letter written by Col. Blimp - excuse me, Maj. James "Jimbo" Garside, late of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, to a magazine enquiring about the identity of the author of one of the articles. Soon after a man purporting to be said author, an old mess mate of the Major, one Clive "Loopy" Drinkwater, arrives. Since it has been ages since they last met, the Major, true to stereotype in that he isn't the sharpest crayon in the box, while amazed at the change in his appearance, invites him to bide a while.

The Memsahib, or Mems, as the Major refers to his wife, is less than thrilled at the arrival of this stranger and becomes increasingly less so as the visit stretches out. Old Loopy isn't the sort that she likes her husband to associate with. After all, the inside of his hat is lined with foil.

One day the Major comes home from a lunch with his banker to find the Memsahib layed out on the kitchen floor in pool of her own blood. The situation goes downhill from there to an ending that does have a clever twist. The only problem being that you have to read the entire story to get there.

When you read a humorous story you must expect that the author will take a certain license with regard to logic and reality. One of the best ways to take a ho-hum situation and make it funny is to take that situation to an absurd extreme. The problem with this is that if you do it too often, or get too outrageously absurd, the effect is lost.

That is the basic problem with Mr. Schofield's story: it is too long and too outrageous. I think if he could have cut the tale in half and kept the body count in the low single figures, the story would have been more successful. As it is, I kept asking, "Is this ever going to end?"

In short, too long and not funny enough.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Overtime Opportunities by Patrick J. Lambe

Overtime Opportunities” by Patrick J. Lambe, Shred of Evidence, February 2005

In this story the main character is a dispatcher for a company that supplies building materials to contractors. (I’m going to call him Harvey since Pat doesn’t name him, and this review is going to be hard to write without naming him.) Harvey has worked his way up the ladder to this position, and, along the way, he discovered how to make extra money by skimming supplies off the top and selling them to contractors at a discount. Not being a greedy man, unlike the owners of the company for which he works, he has spread the wealth around among other employees and has a nice little organization going.

Harvey has also learned to take advantage of his knowledge of what construction jobs are going on to uncover other overtime opportunities. He, his buddy, Hal, and usually one other trusted member of the organization, find a job where the owners are rich and will be away for extended time periods while the construction is going on. They then manipulate deliveries so that the site will be unoccupied for a couple of days. That gives them time to go in and rob the place.

Harvey and Hal invite the new kid at the yard to join them, saying that they expect a few opportunities to come up soon. George, the new kid, offers them a piece of a job he has been scoping out for a while. They’re a little hesitant, they don’t know the kid and don’t know the house he’s talking about robbing, but what the hell.

They do the job, but it’s too easy. The kid not only knows the exact location of the safe, he knows the combination as well. On top of that, there’s $200,000 dollars in cash in the safe. This is by far the biggest score they’ve ever made. Harvey is even more suspicious when they discover that there is a fourth person involved that George neglected to mention.

Even with his $50K share, Harvey can’t help feeling uneasy about the whole thing, so he goes out to the house to find out to whom the house belongs. He finds out when the owner, Tullio “Trifecta” Mazzucco, a Mafia member with a history of extreme violence, shows up as Harvey is leaving.

Both Hal and George are as shaken up by this knowledge. What are they going to do? Then the contractors on the house suddenly have a serious accident, one of them dead and the other nearly so. The deaths among those involved start piling up. Did Tullio find out?

This is a well-written story with a good twist on expectations at the end. Harvey, even though that isn’t his name, is well-drawn, and Hal is just full of surprises. I’m familiar with the construction industry and saw right off that Pat had done his research. I didn’t see a single false note.

In short, an enjoyable story by a skillful writer.