Over the last week or so, I’ve been catching up on recent issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, taking some time to check out short stories by several friends—each of them a writer I admire tremendously. Just wanted to give a quick shout-out to those stories and to what stood out to me about each:
Harley Mazuk‘s “The Road Les Traveled” (EQMM‘s August 2013 issue) is another of the author’s Frank Swiver stories, about a PI in 1940s San Francisco. This one centers around a burlesque theater, a blacklisted screenwriter, and his wife—trouble with a capital T. While the plot is great fun, what I enjoyed most was Mazuk’s playfulness with details and language. When that troubled wife puts one some records and does a little shake and shimmy to lure Swiver into bed, he resists at first—and then comes a nice touch: “When Bessie Smith sang ‘Do Your Duty,’ I took Mrs. St. George to bed.” Later, during a fight scene, comes another like bit of language play: “He swung the other arm at me like a leg of mutton, and he caught me on the chops.” And cleverness too in the quantity and variety of alcohol that permeates the story as well—definitely put to good use!
In the latest EQMM, the September/October issue (on newsstands now), a trio of friends and fine writers have really delivered the goods:
- In Dana Cameron‘s taut, tense “Dialing In,” a government-mandated assassination attempt goes badly wrong, leaving the shooter with lots of questions and some new missions of her own to carry through.
- In David Dean‘s “In a Dark Manner,” a confession of teenage misdeeds takes some surprising turns—with just a hint of light peeking through the darkness.
- And Brendan DuBois‘ “Breaking the Box” follows the ups and downs of a high-stakes police interrogation—and then, in a bit of brilliant sleight-of-hand, takes a very unexpected turn.
These tales reveal once more why these writers have long since been considered among the genre’s finest practitioners of the short story. Plenty more I’m still looking forward to reading in that issue as well, with stories by Doug Allyn, Jon L. Breen, and Ed Gorman and Ricky Sprague, among others—and so proud to be a part of it myself.
Beyond EQMM, I’ve also been sampling a few more of Cornell Woolrich‘s tales from the new Centipede Press collection Speak to Me of Death, but I have to admit that I think I’m going to give up on pushing through the rest of the book. While stories like “From Dusk to Dawn” and “Marihuana” (the last couple I read) offer those surprise endings that seem to be the hallmark of so much of Woolrich’s work—satisfying endings, I should stress, often with a cruel twist—the prose itself strikes me as so overwritten, both stylistically and in terms of sheer quantity, that it’s often tough going. And too often the characters act less like real people than like symbols for an idea or theme or like cogs in a plot, slowly turning and turning relentlessly in the same direction because that’s what the machinery needs. Historical interest there, of course, but there are simply other, better things for me to be reading right now…. — Art Taylor