Tag Archives: Short Stories

Homage to Sherlock Holmes

holmesAs you know, the Edgar nominees are out and I am eager to begin reading, reviewing, and ranking, but first I have a number of other books to address, Lunchbox-wise.

One that caught my eye in the New York Times book review section was In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.  This book of short stories is edited by Laurie King, who writes the Mary Russell series, and Leslie Klinger, a Holmes expert.

The stories are inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and were written by some mighty familiar names, including Sara Paretsky, Jeffrey Deaver, Denise Hamilton, John Lescroat, and Michael Connelly, among others.  Andrew Grant contributed “Dr. Watson’s Casebook,” a story told social media-style, including thumbs up and thumbs down, invitations to events, and chat rooms.  There’s a story told in graphic novel style, by Leah Moore and John Reppion, with illustrations by Chris Doherty and Adam Caldwell.  I will admit that neither of these two genre-benders were my favorite!

Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky

That honor goes to Sara Paretsky, whose twist on Holmes (in “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer”) pits the acknowledged expert against the even more clever American detective, Amelia Butterworth.  Holmes underestimates Miss Butterworth, who handily outsmarts him.  The Butterworth character was created by American crime novelist Anna Katherine Green ten years or so before Holmes made his appearance, so this clever pairing of dueling detectives works on two levels!

Sherlock Holmes is clearly enjoying a resurgence of popularity – I love both the  Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman and the Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu versions on TV – and both casual and committed fans should enjoy this book!

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock.

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock.

Lucy Liu as Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in Elementary

Lucy Liu is Dr. Watson and Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes in Elementary.

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Bradbury tribute book a winner

bradburyI’d forgotten how much I love Ray Bradbury.  He died last year at age 91, and left behind a treasure trove of novels and short stories.   Bradbury was a “genre” writer and helped bring sci-fi and fantasy into the mainstream.  I imagine his most famous work is Fahrenheit 451, which envisions a particularly chilling world where the printed page is forbidden.  He started publishing in 1941, so by the time I discovered him in the late 60’s, there was already a rich backlist to discover, starting with The Martian Chronicles.  Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison… crazy reading for a hot-pants-wearing blonde with braces in 1972.

Shadow-ShowNow comes a new anthology called Shadow Show“all-new stories in celebration of Ray Bradbury.”  It’s edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle (love Mort!) and features stories by such literary luminaries as Margaret Atwood, David Morell, Joe Meno, Audrey Niffenegger, Julia Keller, Dave Eggers, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Dan Chaon, Joe Hill – even Harlan Ellison.  And many more.   Each story is followed by a brief note from the author, explaining the inspiration.  Here’s what I liked about the book:

  1. The stories – totally channeled the point of view and voice of Ray Bradbury.  Made me want to go back and read Bradbury.
  2. The author notes – the obvious affection the authors have for Bradbury’s works. Made me want to go back and read Bradbury.

The takeaway:  Read this book.  Then go back and read Bradbury one more time.  I plan to start with Bradbury Stories:  100 of his Most Celebrated Tales.   (It’s in my Kindle Cloud Reader … right…. now.)

Chicago Blues hits its mark

Editor Libby Fischer Hellman put together a worthwhile collection of Chicago mystery/crime stories in Chicago Blues, published in 2007.   I can’t believe it took me until 2010 to buy and read the book!

As she wrote, “Some of the twenty-one dark, edgy stories in Chicago Blues are about people who sing the Blues, and some are about people who wear the Blues.”  I meant to do a wrap-up of the stories, as each one seemed even better than the last, but neglected to do so until Jenny reminded me.

Although all 21 of the stories are well-chosen, well-written, and fun to read, the ones that featured music had an edge for me.  I set out to rate the stories, but found that they were so consistently top-notch that my ratings were a series of very fine gradations.  And who’s to say that my four-star stories wouldn’t be five-star in your estimation, and vice-versa?

So, instead, here’s a listing of the short stories and a short comment from me. My top five stories – the ones that made me say “Wow” – are in bold.

  • Blue Note – Stuart M. Kaminsky   Great story with a change-up ending about the nature of love and of singing the blues.
  • O Death Where is Thy Sting – Kevin Guilfoile  Fun for its focus on obsession and twisty ending.
  • Your Sweet Man – Libby Fischer Hellman  O’Henry-esque.
  • Good Evenin’, Blues – Jack Fredrickson  In the shadow of the el, a bar owner struggles to make sense of it all.
  • Publicity Stunts – Sara Paretsky  VI Warshawski plays bodyguard for a right-wing media babe (think Ann Coulter blackmails Oral Roberts)
  • Guarding Lacey – Kris Nelscott  A Smokey Dalton story told from a kid’s POV.
  • Overproof – JA Konrath  A Lt. Jack Daniels story about suicide by cop.
  • The Non Compos Mentis Blues – Sean Chercover  Ray Dudgeon noir.
  • Scrap – Max Allan Collins  Nate Heller in a union mystery with a twist
  • Chasing the Blues – Michael A. Black  Vice cop secrets.
  • Blind Man Blues – Steven B. Mandel  Cop Billy Call carries a torch for his long-missing former flame.  Or is she?
  • A Weekend in the Country – David A. Walker  The blue brotherhood and father-and-son relationships with a bitter edge.
  • A Shade of Blue – Michael Allen Dymmoch  John Thinnes and the return of repressed memories.
  • The Test – Sam Reaves  The nature of friendship in the Outfit.  True blue, but still a downer.
  • My Heroes Have Always Been Short Stops – D.C. Brod  True blue Cubs fan and murder.
  • Code Blue – Mary V. Welk  Vigilante nurse.  A little over the top.
  • The Sin-Eater – Sam Hill  Powerful short story about family redemption.
  • No One – Marcus Sakey  Mr. Ordinary fights his hair-trigger temper, and loses.
  • The Blue Line – Ronald Levitsky  Body guard but all goes wrong
  • Lower Wacker Blues – Brian Pinkerton  Childhood games carried into adulthood lead to tragedy
  • The Lower Wacker Hilton – Barbara D’Amato  Suze Figueroa and Norm Bennis find out that the lowest of the low still own things worth killing for.

If you’ve read the book, take a minute and let me know what stories were your favorites!

Halfway through Chicago Blues

Yesterday I hit the Book Table looking for a couple of presents and snatched up a copy of Chicago Blues.  This anthology of mystery/crime stories is edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann and features tons of familiar Chicago authors.  I am supposed to be working on minutes of a staff meeting and an agenda for an advisory group meeting at work… and I don’t wanna!  Chicago Blues has me totally hooked.

I’m transitioning from fun to work with this blog post.  After I finish the book, I’ll write again to say what stories were particularly good… but I have to tell you, I’m halfway through and there is not a clinker in the bunch.  Thumbs up.

Also – thanks to the Book Table!  This great Oak Park independent bookstore has books and more, all at a discount, and there are always great finds.   As it is Small Business Saturday, I will suggest that my dozens of readers all stampede down there right away to support them… or, if impractical, stampede someplace closer to support your local independent bookstore.

Best American Mystery Stories ala Lunchbox

In a previous post, I promised to rate the stories in the 2010 edition of The Best American Mystery Stories.  Here they are!  Ratings are done by number of stars, and vary from 2.5 to 5 stars.  Just to make it clear,  these are all great stories, all well worth reading.  And although I have quite a few 5’s on the list, there are three stories that are my absolute favorites:  Blood and Dirt, The Emerald Coast, and Animal Rescue.   They’re all kind of gritty and have an air of hope in hopeless circumstances .

Tell Me – 4 stars.  Compelling story of a woman who was the victim of rape and attempted murder who is being victimized again by a well-meaning family who won’t tell her what happened to her.  Her only true friend is punished for her honesty while the victim summons up the fortitude to rebel the only way she can.

The House on Pine Terrace – 3 stars.  Twisty story about a female cop with a desire for a wealthy lifestyle who is betrayed by her lover, goes to jail, but still dreams of the life that could have been.

Bias – 4 stars.  Solid police procedural, but deeper, exploring both thoughtless bias that doesn’t require any facts as well as loyalty and relationships.  We never find out who exactly shot the convenience store clerk, but we don’t need to.

Bismarck Rules – 3 stars.  Hooker with history of being abused by her father decides to kill pedophile client but somebody beats her to it.

Ed Luby’s Key Club – 3 stars  When the bad guys run the town, you’d better run!  Claire and Harvey are trying to celebrate their wedding anniversary when they’re framed for murder.  Only the new doctor in town can save them.

Custom Sets – 4 stars.  Russian victim of child pornography kills her victimizing brother and father and escapes to US after sending one last set of pictures to her regulars.  She tips off the authorities and watches as they all get arrested and convicted.

The Shipbreaker – 4.5 stars.  After a lifetime of saving for a better life, hope is snatched away when the man he has paid in order to become his apprentice dies in a freak accident.  Or was it?  Justice is done but the protagonist does not triumph.

Blood and Dirt – 5 stars.   Extremely well-written and mesmerizing family mayhem on the fringes.

An Early Christmas – 5 stars.  The perfect police procedural.  Great characters, red herrings ( or are they? ), a heart-tugging motive and more.

Charlie and the Pirates – 5 stars.  Skimmer on the lam is found.  Short and extra twisty!

The Emerald Coast – 5 stars.  A redneck felon trying to go straight and his buddy come up against a serial killer in mid-assault. Mayhem ensues and then the redneck goes back to his new life.

Maynard – 3 stars.  Short but tense character study of an abused woman moving on.

Dredge – 4 stars.  Sad story of a broken, damaged man.  He’s not guilty of murder – he just took the drowned girl’s body home and kept it – but it’s going to end badly.

A Jury of His Peers – 2.5 stars.  Historical mystery set in 1842, a lawyer returns from being held hostage by the Mexican Army to find that his law practice and his wife have both been taken over by another man.  The man disappears, his horse returns to town with blood on the saddle, and the lawyer is accused of murder.  With no law in town, he is tried by a jury of his peers – other lawyers.

Designer Justice – 3 stars.  Bad guy robs rich couple, kills wife, but is found not guilty due to testimony of expert witness, only to find that another kind of justice – a much stricter version of solitary confinement for life – is coming his way thanks to the vengeful husband.

The Cross-Eyed Bear – 3 stars.  Pedophile priest gets his comeuppance.  Notable for successfully getting the reader to see the priest-boy relationship through the priest’s eyes.

The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness – 4 stars.  By long distance and through a story related by his friend Watson, Sherlock Holmes unravels the “Gaslighting” of retired Colonel Warburton by his niece and nephew, angling for the family fortune.

The First Rule Is – 4 stars.  “Miracle” Miles had a great pro basketball career, but he’s no dumb jock.  He’s not just tough, he’s smart.  He’s one step ahead of the grudge-carrying homeboy from his past and the slick deal-maker who think he can con him in business.

Killing Time –  5 stars.  Hit man Fallon fails an assignment.  Tracked by the company, he assumes the identity of the middle school teacher he killed while making his getaway.  He bonds with the kids, sort of, and saves them all when the bad guys make an assault on the school.  Great characterization and plot.

Animal Rescue – 5 stars.  Is Nadia in on the con, when the tough guy steals Bob’s puppy and wants $10,000 in ransom?  Bob pays up.  Then the tough guy wants more, preening about his tough guy past.  Bob seems mild mannered, but there’s only so much a guy can take.

Published! Almost.

I got some great news today – Sniplits has accepted two of my short stories for publication and will be sending a contract for the audio rights!

I could not be more thrilled.  Getting short stories published is tough, there are so few outlets and the submissions are so time-consuming.  So to be accepted by Sniplits is huge.  I’m already a fan.  The stories are great, many authors are familiar names, and the narrators are excellent.  Plus, this year Sniplits was named one of 12 approved periodical and online pubishers by the Mystery Writers of America, which means that I will move into their “active member” category. I am seriously pumped.

I’m excited about the stories that were accepted, too.  One (Dumpsville) is a chapter from my first, as yet unpublished novel.  It’s a modern story of star-crossed lovers that end up together, but not without a lot of complications.  It’s a fun read and would make a great movie.  The other (Do the Right Thing) is one story in a series about a female Chicago cop. These stories tend to be procedurals but have a dark, funny edge, and this one features Det. Kathy Martinez’ after-hours efforts to keep a mother and daughter safe.

I have no idea how long it will take before my stories are recorded and up on the Sniplits site.  I do have the opportunity to listen to the various narrators and suggest who I would like to have read each one, and that’s just amazing.

Gee, I hope I can get to sleep tonight.

An abundance of audio with Selected Shorts podcast

I am woefully behind!  I have ten not-yet-listened-to podcasts of one hour each, short stories read by professional actors, live on stage at Symphony Space in New York City.  Broadcast by Public Radio International, I’m not sure if they’re even available on the regular radio here in Chicago, because it doesn’t matter – the podcast is radio on demand.   (I subscribe through iTunes, but there are a number of outlets.)

I really must get to them soon.  Sherman Alexie has a short story read by David Strathairn.  Larry Keith reads a Dave Barry story.  James Naughton reads a vintage crime story, first published in 1935!  A regular on the Daily Show reads a story by Bram Stoker, paired with Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, read by Fionnula Flannigan.  Each podcast features from two to four tales, depending upon length.

Especially exciting for me is a new opportunity, Selected Shorts-wise.  My son and I will be vacationing in New York soon, and we have tickets to see Selected Shorts live!  It’s a big thrill.  The evening features “an eclectic mix of stories that found their inspiration in music.”  Here’s the line-up for the evening:

Laurie Anderson performs Hannah Tintis (author of The Good Thief and editor of One Story Magazine) “Milestones” inspired by Miles Davis’ classic piece of the same name.  Brandon Lewis (trumpet), David Frazier (drums) and Michael Forzano (bass) will perform a selection from  “Milestones.”

Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific) and two-time Tony winner James Naughton sing and read a story by E.L. Doctorow about the inspiration of the song “Stardust.”

Kelli O’Hara also performs Carson McCullers‘ “Wunderkind,” drawn from the author’s own failed teenage career as a concert pianist; her reading will be preceded by a performance of Beethoven’s Opus 26 by pianist Derin Oge.

This mix of music and literature should be especially apropos as my son is a vocal performance major!  Should be fun.