The great attraction of short fiction for me is the sheer mastery it takes to develop a character, often many characters, lay out a plot that has to grab the reader right away and then tell a tale that will leave the reader not only entertained but thinking about it long after it is finished. This is harder than it sounds and can be much harder than writing a full length novel.
Lucky for us readers, there are some authors out there that have mastered the form and in this book from CreateSpace and the Top Suspense Group 12 of those award winning masters have put together a collection of 13 Classic Stories that fulfill those requirements.
Unreasonable Doubt by the prolific Max Allan Collins is batting lead off. This is a tale of greed and murder taken from a real life story in the 50’s with Mr. Collins iconic hardboiled detective, Nathan Heller, from True Detective (November, 1983) and The Million Dollar Wound (1986). Nate is on vacation, but he is on the case. Max Allan Collins has written novels, screenplays, comic books, comic strips, trading cards, short stories, movie novelizations and historical fiction. He wrote the graphic novel Road to Perdition which was developed into a movie starring Tom Hanks.
Next up is Deaths Brother by Bill Crider, perhaps most famous for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. Bill Crider has a PhD. and wrote his dissertation on the hardboiled detective novel. Deaths Brother is the tale of a college poetry professor who has fallen in lust with one of his beautiful students and perhaps picturing himself as Dr. Jonathan Hemlock the Art History Professor and hit man of The Eiger Sanction fame, decides to help her kill off her rich but terminally ill father..except her father isn’t the man he is sent to kill.
Next up is Poisoned by Stephen Gallagher who has written several novels and television scripts, including for the BBC television series Doctor Who. Poisoned is an eerie story about a “boy” bullied by the neighborhood kids except this story and this boy have a twist.
Poisoned is followed by perhaps my favorite, Remaindered by Lee Goldberg probably best known for his work on several different TV crime series, including Diagnosis: Murder, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Hunter, Spenser: For Hire, and Monk. Lee also wrote and directed the short film Remaindered, based on this short story originally written for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
The story involves an author who was touted as“The Voice of a New Generation” after his first novel, but finds himself signing books in a K-Mart a few years later amongst the Kotex sales and the potato chip sales, and taking advice like, “write a book about cats if you want success.” He sees redemption when a young, beautiful fan shows up and asks him back to her place to “see her library.” After an afternoon of fan appreciation, she want him to sign her autograph book which is filled with the signatures of all the other authors she has “appreciated”. Kevin Dangler learns the price for artistic redemption, ardent fan appreciation, and just how hard it is to write, or live, the perfect crime.
Next up is Joel Goldman’s Fire In The Sky a tale of a couple of good old young boys who dream of breaking out of the hum drum life in the American Heartland and also of the seemingly unobtainable girl in the fountain at a local water park. They might just get their chance during a fire which consumes not only the park, but a number of lives. Joel Goldman is a fourth generation Kansas Citian, and spent twenty-eight years as a trial lawyer and plan to spend at least as many as a writer. Check out his great novel, No Way Out.
The Baby Store is a futuristic story from Ed Gorman, the award winning American author best known for his crime and mystery fiction. He wrote The Poker Club which is now a film of the same name directed by Tim McCann. I first became aware of Ed through his contributions to The Book of Noir . A collection that explores the sense of existential nihilism, where betrayal is how romance best expresses itself and fear is only another name for foreplay.
Next on our plate is a great crime story by Libby Fischer Hellmann, The Jade Elephant, a tale of a burglar who after escaping cancer, suddenly grow a conscience. After getting the good news in the hospital, he over hears a woman being given a death sentence because she can’t afford a kidney transplant. The woman is a past victim of Gus and his partner in crime. Because they cleaned her out when they robbed her apartment and left her tied up, she is now destitute and destined to die. Unless Gus finds a way to right wrongs and return the Jade Elephant they stole from her.This would allow her to sell it for money to pay the doctors. There is only one problem…or two….or three. Charlieman, the fence who has the artifact and Pete, his greedy partner.
Hellmann’s first crime fiction novel, An Eye For Murder, was published in hardcover in 2002 by Poisoned Pen Press and in paperback by Berkley Books. It was nominated for an Anthony for Best First, and won the Best First Readers Choice Award at Chicago’s ‘Love is Murder’ conference. Last years, Set the Night on Fire,
was one of my favorite novels of the year.
The Big O by the great “Tart Noir” writer, Vicki Hendricks is a white trash tale of a swamp, a couple of losers and a hurricane and how one not so innocent woman uses sex and her child to escape. if she can pull this off, she just give her son, Chance, a chance in life. It’s a memorable story of the extremes the “weaker sex” can employ. Ms. Hendricks is best known for her noir novels, MIAMI PURITY, IGUANA LOVE, VOLUNTARY MADNESS, and SKY BLUES. Her novels invoke James M. Cain, the author of the noir classic, The Postman Always Rings Twice, but contain graphic sex that would never have gotten by the censors back in Cain’s day. Her work will give you many hot sweaty days and nights of reading fun, even in the dead of winter in Portland, Oregon surrounded by cold, drizzly, and damp that can’t even cut through her heat.
The Chirachi Covenant by Naomi Hirahara, the 2007 winner of The Edgar Award for Snakeskin Shamisen is a tale taking place right after WWII when the Japanese-Americans were allowed to return to their homes and lives after the internment camps.
It’s an insightful tale of the clash of cultures, lust and honor. You’ll want to read more of Ms. Hirahara’s work after this story.
El Valiente En El Infierno is a border tale of a boy trying to reach his father in North America after the death of his mother in Mexico. he must pay a Coyote and make a quick night trip over the fence, dodging vigilantes with rifles and cruel streaks. Along the way he meets and confronts xenophobes, his own manhood and pride as well as the unscrupulous coyotes who ply their trade by exploiting their own people. Paul Levine, as usual, writes a poignant story that you will think about many times over the next few days.
This was another of my very favorites from this marvelous collection. Paul is probably best known for his Jake Lassiter Series. Jake is “Travis McGee with a law degree.” of crime fiction. Paul also writes the humorous "Solomon and Lord” series and moonlights on Facebook as a food critic….okay, I made that part up, but the man seriously knows the best restaurants anywhere in the world.
A Handful of Dust is the next story in this great collection. It is by Harry Shannon, the novelist, songwriter and entertainer who coincidentally lived in my home town of Pomona, California and attended Ganesha High School about the same time as my father. Besides being a great fiction writer, Harry co-wrote a number of songs recorded by artists such as Eddy Arnold (Cowboy), Reba McIntire (Small Two Bedroom Starter), Engelbert Humperdinck (Love You Back To Sleep), and Glen Campbell (Why Don’t We Just Sleep On It Tonight).
The immensely talented Mr. Shannon also writes the Mick Callaghan novels. In A Handful of Dust Harry tells the story of a professional hit man, a monster named Pike and a late night meeting with a client at a road side bar. Pike, more at home in Vegas in his Armani suits and city slicker shoes, may just have run into a killer more deranged than himself. He’ll find out as he runs through the desert and finds fear in a handful of dust.
The 12th author to entertain us here is Dave Zeltserman the winner of both the Shamus and Derringer awards for his novelette "Julius Katz" in 2010. His ‘man out of prison’ crime noir series features the novels Small Crimes, Pariah and Killer. Small Crimes was one of my favorites of 2008, featuring corrupt cop Joe Denton, just out of prison after serving seven years for a drug fueled assault that left a D.A. permanently scarred. The Canary, The story presented here, is the story of a big time bank robber and armored car robber Karl Haskell and his attempt to reclaim the key to the storage shed where the $300,000 is stashed. The key is hidden inside a painting that, until recently, was in the possession of his partner, Pete Sifer. Sifer has been busted for drugs, and all his property, including the painting where the key is hidden is to be sold at auction. When Haskell can’t buy the painting legitimately at auction, he resorts to nefarious means. A neat, tidy little tale proving that crime might pay, but the tax on greed can be your undoing.
The final tale here is The Chase, this is a great little story written by all 12 of the authors. The deal was that each would write 250 words, then pass the story to the next author on the list. This sounds complicated, but these folks demonstrate why they are the award winners. The story is seamless! I seriously resorted to counting words trying to determine where one author stopped and the other took up the story. That didn’t help. Even once you figure out where the “breaks” must have been you can’t guess who wrote what. You’ll just have to buy this great collection, and read through the end to receive the link that will reveal who wrote what. Besides the “whodunit” of figuring out the last story, it is a great story and well worth the price of this great little book. get it here, today.
The Dirty Lowdown