Who Died In Here?

Author: Pat Dennis, et al
Genre: Crime Fiction
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

100804042004 seems to have been the year of the anthology. Not only do I have several to read and review in my stack, I receive several queries and proposals concerning anthologies to be reviewed a week. However, few, if any, have such a unique and laugh out loud premise.

Combining a lament heard in bathrooms and adjoining bedrooms across the country, if not the world, with crime and often murder, the resulting twenty-five stories are well worth the read. Some are downright funny from start to finish while others border on the twisted side of looking at life and death. Some readers might even find them perverse. And while each story selected by editor Pat Dennis, who also contributes one (more on that later), are good, I don't have the space here to go into all of them. So here are several in no special order, other than the order they were presented in the book that really made an extra impression on me.

"Nothing Good Ever Came Of A Bad Hair Day" by Kris Neri (page 16) tells of the ultimate revenge plot against a certain hairdresser. Image is everything and for the narrator lawyer, a bad style is unacceptable.

"What David Was Doing When The Lights Went Out" by Ben Vincent (page 67) uses the widespread blackout of last year as the setting for his story. It is a bad thing to try to commit murder and to be interrupted by a power failure. They just don't make hair dryers like they used to.

Payback, a theme used often in the anthology, is the theme for the story "One For The Road" by Pat Dennis (Page 79). "Jenkin's Service Station specialized in fixing unnecessary repairs on RV's driven by seniors." Two can play that game.

Then there is "Port-O-Prince" by R. J. Mills, (page 102) where the ultimate resting place for the recently deceased is a unique place. Sometimes your coworkers know you better than you know yourself.

Also included in this very enjoyable anthology are stories by R. T. Lawton, Thomas Bray, Terry Burlison, Michael Giorgio, Nick Andreychuk, Mike Befeler, Peggy Jaegly, Stephen D. Rogers, Michael Learmond, Kevin Carollo, David Dumitru, Beverle Graves Myers, Jeremy Yoder, James C. Wardlaw, Donna Sundblad, Sandra Levy Ceren, Lori G. Armstrong, A. S. Berman, Lance Zarimba, Joan Hall Hovey, and Dean Johnson. While I did not go into detail about their stories, that should not be construed as a negative reflection on their work. Far from it as there is not a bad story in this 190-page anthology. It is all good.

As noted on the back cover, "Twenty-five mystery stories of crimes and bathroom ranging from zany to deadly serious, by some of today's finest short story writers." That pretty much sums it up and makes this book well worth reading. Whether you read in the bathroom or not, remember, please leave the fan on.

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October 28, 2004 in Crime Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Valley Fever: Where Murder Is Contagious

Author: Sunny Frazier, Jo Anne Lucas, Cora Ramos
Genre: Crime Fiction
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

"Clear and potent in a crystal glass chilled, A lacing of poison for the next to be killed. A touch of vermouth, more generous with gin- A toast and a promise, let the murders begin." --Murderous Martine by Jo Anne Lucas (Page 11)

10080405As a native Texan, I know a little bit about the thing called summertime heat. It becomes a living oppressive thing all around you that has absolutely no escape. It can make one a little crazy as the days pass in the blinding glare and it might make one crazy enough to commit murder. Apparently, despite the picture postcard perfect image of The San Joaquin Valley in California, the heat there has the same effect. According to these three authors and this enjoyable collection, The Valley has a very violent and dark side.

Broken into five sections titled, "Fine Dining," "Valley Heat," "Stormy Weather," "Deadly Destinations," "Culture & Consequences," and "Holidays Can Be Murder," with a total of 27 stories, this 159 page read features murder and mayhem in various forms. While no two stories were alike, several stories really whet my appetite.

"Too Hot To Handle" by Cora Ramos (Page 37) features Detective Mac Mullain who wants to get out of the heat and into a bar as well as out of Vice. The beer is cold as is the plot he overhears.

"Killer Tan" by Jo Anne Lucas (Page 41) involves a young woman who is more than fed up with Stella, her deceased father's second wife.

"Final Forecast" by Sunny Frazier (Page 72) features a story where everything is blamed on El Nino with good reason.

Each story in this collection from these authors is very good with many of them having a twist at the end. They depict a variety of situations, characters, economic spectrums and lifestyles, with sometimes amusing, and often times chilling results. This is a good one to read and if you are interested in collections, one worthy of your consideration.

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October 28, 2004 in Crime Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Time To Mourn

Author: Tim Wohlforth
Genre: Crime Fiction
Reviewed by Dale Stoyer

561Tim Wohlforth’s first P.I. novel is a good balance between action and investigation. Although his P.I. protagonist laments the sometimes sedentary nature of investigative work in this monologue:

Somehow sitting in front of a computer seemed like just the desk job I thought I could avoid by being a private eye. Yet, I found I was spending more time these days in front of a computer screen than wearing down the gum on my shoes.

He doesn’t get much time for relaxation in his novel length debut. Jim Wolf is Wohlforth’s Oakland based P.I. and the main character in several of his published short stories. He lives with a 7ft Burmese Python named Monty on a 37ft sloop called the Sea Wolf anchored at the bottom of Broadway, and he works out of Big Emma’s a few blocks away.

Big Emma’s is a Victorian bar on Jack London Square run by Jim Wolf’s ex-lover, Lori Mazzetti, and her brother Joe. Jim’s office is the back booth under the picture of the bar’s namesake and it is here that he meets his client in No Time To Mourn.

Susan Henry is a drunken redhead who is so pale he describes her as appearing “as if an artist had begun to colorize her just before she walked out of a frame in a 40’s noir movie.” It turns out Susan never drank before her husband was killed right before her eyes, and now she believes someone is following her. She describes him as a red-faced thug driving a red car and is pretty sure he followed her to the bar. She is positive it is the man who shot her husband.

Jim goes to check and has his first run-in with the killer they begin to call Red. He has a few more encounters with Red before the end of the case, but it only takes one meeting to turn his client into one more hardboiled femme fatality. He laments her death, noting:

Time warp. She had stepped out of another era. Not equipped to handle our times. Destroyed by forces she could not comprehend. Forces I had to identify. One more victim of evil. I knew why I was a private eye.

It’s not smooth sailing for our man Jim though, as he has to contend with the good cop/bad cop duo of Nina Peterson and Richard “Ollie” Oliphant, his client’s stepchildren, lesbian bikers and possibly even the mob, including the troublesome Red. Wolf bends some rules unraveling the tangles of inheritance, family and secrets buried in the past. He’s comfortable with his ethics, and explains them succinctly:

I deeply believed in the right to privacy. I didn’t think the IRS, the FBI, and ATF, or the cops had the right to snoop on anyone. Keep Big Government out of our living rooms, bedrooms, trash and business files. So why did I earn my living digging out other people’s secrets? I was a hypocrite.

Jim Wolf is not a cookie-cutter caricature of a hard-boiled private eye, and comes off as human and fallible. The supporting cast is well realized and engaging and the action drives the plot without taking it over. An interesting mystery that doesn’t fall victim to cutesy twists, but entertains while it makes you think.

Tim Wohlforth has published non-fiction as well as crime fiction and his detective short fiction has appeared in leading magazines, anthologies and online. He participates in the occasional short story panel at mystery conventions and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, The Private Eye Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Short Mystery Fiction Society, and the National Writers Union.

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June 13, 2004 in Crime Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)