left to win copies of another great bunch of food and winemysteries-"Batter Off Dead": A
Southern Cake Baker Mystery by Maymee Bell, "One Taste Too Many":
Sarah Blair Mystery by Debra H. Goldstein, "Steamed Open": A Maine
Clambake Mystery by Barbara Ross, "Wine and Punishment": A Literary
Pub Mystery by Sarah Fox, "Live and Let Pie": A Bakeshop Mystery by
Ellie Alexander aka Kate Dyer-Seeley, "Kappy King and the Pie Kaper":
An Amish Mystery by Amy Lillard
While the news had stories warning about the brutal cold far to our north, we had severe clear here and nearly 70 degrees. That meant there was only one thing to do.....READ OUTSIDE. Because Scott worked some magic on my iPad I can now finally check mail on that and then go back to the latest book.
By 4 we were driven inside as the southern end of the front had swept through and we had wind gusts into the 30s as the temps dropped. At this hour it is down to 42 here and blowing way harder than it was this afternoon. A freeze is predicted area wide tonight with a slight warming trend after tomorrow.
Road by James Anderson (Crown, 2018) is another
prose poem and unconventional crime fiction story from the author of The
Never-Open Desert Diner. It features Ben Jones, a few months after the
events of Diner. Winter started
early and a snowstorm seems to be brewing on the horizon. Ben is in a hurry to
fill his truck when he finds a large German shepherd or husky guarding a small
child in the subfreezing wind at the truck stop. The owner has conveniently
disappeared, no one else is around, and Ben can’t leave the child in the cold.
Both the dog and the toddler, who doesn’t talk, join him in the warm truck so
he can get on the road with the day’s delivery of water, propane, and other
necessities to the isolated residents of Utah’s high desert. Among them are
John, who walks the lonely state highway six months of the year carrying a huge
wooden cross, no one knows why. Occasionally Ben stops to talk to John and they
share an imaginary cigarette, as carefully rolled and lit and passed back and
forth as if it were real tobacco. Another of the damaged but harmless desert
rats is Roy, the proud creator of a solar-powered dog house made of used tires.
Others who have come to the desert to hide from the world are not as innocuous
but they all need the lifeline to the outside that Ben provides.
Searching for the child’s home is only one of
the plots in this story. John is struck by a hit-and-run driver and sustains
life-threatening injuries. There are of course no doctors practicing in that
part of the state and the nearest hospital’s sole emergency helicopter has
multiple calls for its services. Getting John to the hospital falls to Ben, as
does stopping a shooting and robbery at the local convenience store. At home,
his single-parent neighbor gives up on trying to work two jobs and go to
college while taking care of her daughter and calls her domineering mother, who
brings an aggressive boyfriend when she shows up.
Beautifully, exquisitely written, I focused on
the telling of the story with its evocative imagery rather than the story
itself for a considerable part of the tale, then began to fix on the people the
narrative brings to life. These mini-plots are vignettes wrapped into a single
book with the desert setting and the lost child as the threads that run through
it from beginning to end. For readers who appreciate good writing and
thoughtful portrayals of humanity.
Barry is back for this final Friday in January with
another FFB Review. Make sure your checkout the full list over at Patti Abbott’s blog.
SKYLAR (1995) by
Reviewed by Barry
Whitfield, now in his late teens, has spent his living and working life on his family’s
farm at Greendowns (pronounced “Grendons”) County, Tennessee. A strong and
good-looking young man who was a straight-A school student with no athletic
inclinations, he has no further academic ambitions. He’s quite content to stay
where he is, have sex with Tandy McJane, and carouse with his pal Dufus.
the novel opens, Skylar and Tandy are going at it instead of being where they
ought to be: at the party Skylar’s parents Dan and Monica have thrown for
friends and neighbors to celebrate the arrival from Boston of their nephew
Jonathan, a Harvard student who is recovering from a bout of mononucleosis.
Uncomfortable in the southern atmosphere with which he’s as unfamiliar as the
partiers would be up north, Jonathan nevertheless tries to mingle with other
guests, among them Mary Lou Simes, a popular local girl known for entering and
winning beauty contests and Skylar’s former girlfriend.
Skylar gets to the party and finally meets his cousin for the first time. Their
relationship is somewhat edgy from the outset, but along with Dufus, the two ultimately
wind up at a favorite local roadhouse called the Holler. Shortly thereafter,
Mary Lou Simes comes in with three of the party-goers from Whitfield Farm.
Later on, Skylar and others observe her leave the place alone.
next day, Sheriff Culpepper (a.k.a. Pepp) is notified that disabled veteran Tommy
Barker has discovered what appear to be human remains in the woods, remains
that are later identified as Mary Lou’s. Not far from her body is a Swiss Army
knife, one identified as Skylar’s. Jailed as the prime suspect, Skylar is
subsequently broken out of his cell by friends so he can try to find out what
actually happened. When Mary Lou’s brother Jack who, with some friends, beat up
Skylar, is also found dead, Skylar’s troubles deepen.
been a very long time since I read the late author’s novels about newsman
Fletch (the character for whom he’s probably best known) and detective Flynn,
as well as a standalone called Running
Scared, and I no longer own copies of those novels to consult. But with the
possible exception of the standalone, I don’t remember any of them having
characters as colorful, well-delineated and complex as there are in Skylar, which is absolutely as much a
novel of character as it is a mystery story, and in which McDonald skillfully
modulates humor with solemnity. And in which surprises abound.
recommended to readers who don’t object to some explicit sexuality and occasional
raw street language.
GAME by Sara Paretsky, reviewed by Chris Roberts
Warshawski is run ragged when the nephew of her closest friend is linked to a
murder, and the niece of her ex-husband shows up desperate about a missing
by David Mark, reviewed by John Cleal
McAvoy follows a report that an elderly woman has not been seen for days and
finds her frozen in her bath, the start of a trail that reaches far into the
past and uncovers a series of grisly murders.
GROUND by Barbara Nadel, reviewed by Linda Wilson
Lee Arnold is still struggling to make ends meet. He’s been called in to track
down a missing fraudster and Mumtaz Hakim has gone undercover at a psychiatric
unit in an attempt to clear a former employee accused of terrorist activity.
by Dervla McTiernan, reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
Blake’s suicide rings increasingly loud alarm bells in Garda Cormac Reilly’s
ears – ones he should have listened to long ago.
by Tony Park, reviewed by John Cleal
lawyer Kerry Maxwell, in Africa to volunteer alongside vet Dr Graham Baird at a
wildlife rehabilitation centre, finds herself a captive in a bloody feud on the
frontline of the war on poaching.
Ane Riel, reviewed by Ewa Sherman
on an isolated farm with her hoarder-carpenter father Jens, bed-ridden obese
mother Maria, dead twin brother Carl and mummified baby sister. She’s happy but
a bit worried, especially when she witnesses her dad killing her granny. Life
goes on but a newcomer to the area wants to find out more about the strange
SHIFT by Robin Triggs, reviewed by Linda Wilson
head of security at a mining base in Antarctica is told there’ll be nothing for
him to do, but that prediction is soon proved wrong in spectacular fashion.
SYNDICATE by Guy Bolton, reviewed by Arnold Taylor
notorious New York mobster is murdered in Hollywood. Jonathan Craine, a retired
Los Angeles policeman, is blackmailed into taking on the task of finding his
SNAPSHOT OF MURDER by Frances Brody, reviewed by John Cleal
Shackleton organises a photographic society outing to Haworth, the heart of
Brontë country. But when the most obnoxious member of the party is murdered,
her planned break from detection comes to an abrupt end.
by Martin Holmén, reviewed by Chris Roberts
priest is killed in what is made to look like a Jewish atrocity, Harry Kvist
has his suspicions. An opportunity for payback is difficult to refuse.
BEACH by Kate Rhodes, reviewed by Linda Wilson
by Mosley and his Blackshirts is held in Leeds. There is considerable violence
throughout the march and when it is over the body of a man is discovered. He
has been strangled.
& SUGAR by Laura Shepherd-Robinson, reviewed by John Cleal
hanging on a hook at Deptford Dock, horribly tortured and branded with a
slaver’s mark, propels American war hero Captain Harry Corsham into a dark
secret at the very core of British society.
by Leo Hunt, reviewed by Linda Wilson
hacker Nova is given the task of infiltrating one of the most powerful
corporations on the planet.
by GD Abson, reviewed by Chris Roberts
Natalya Ivanova of the St Petersburg police makes preliminary enquiries when a
Swedish girl goes missing, but the case has many complications.
THE KILL by Ed James, reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
murder of a student at the University of Southwark may prove too close to home
for DI Simon Fenchurch.
by William McIntyre, reviewed by Chris Roberts
Robbie Munro is asked by an old flame to investigate a death, while doing his best
to protect his ex-copper father who’s accused of stitching up a child-killer.
CHANGELING MURDERS by CS Quinn, reviewed by John Cleal
rebuilds after the Great Fire, thief-taker Charlie Tuesday’s former flame is
kidnapped on the way to her own wedding and an actress, wearing her clothes, is
found hanging from theatre scenery.
BURNING HILL by AD Flint, reviewed by Chris Roberts
encounter between a young British soldier and a couple of street kids on Brazil’s
Copacabana beach has fateful consequences.
ON LEAVE by Chris Nickson, reviewed by Arnold Taylor
by Mosley and his Blackshirts is held in Leeds. There is considerable violence
throughout the march and when it is over the body of a man is discovered. He
has been strangled.
ORDER by Stephen Leather, reviewed by Linda Wilson
‘Spider’ Shepherd puts his extraordinary memory to the test when he’s tasked
with the search for the terrorists behind a suicide bombing at a football
If you have not read the short
fiction of CS DeWildt, you may be unaware that the short fiction tends to
darkness and noir themes. Unlike his
Dick, that had dark moments, but was also filled with flashes of
humor, Mr. DeWildt’s short fiction tends to be humor free. While A
Not Good Teacher has a couple of moments of humor, The
Louisville Problem had very little and the deeply disturbing Corbin’s
Dreams Take Flight had none. Such is also the case with the short
story, Panties: A Short Story.
The boss of the work crew started
things off on the wrong foot early one morning by calling him “panties.” Maybe
Earl was just generally joking. Or maybe he actually knew something. Maybe all
these years later Paul Garth, a kid the narrator went to school with all those
years ago, said something. If he talked to anyone, there would be no coming
back from that taint. His life would be over. Everything….his wife, Stacy…the
kids…everything would be wiped out. Once you got labeled as something, your
life is over. Secrets have to stay secret.
A lot is going on in this complicated
and solidly good short story by C. S. DeWildt. What is happening and why are
just two of the many issues the protagonist is dealing with in Panties:
A Short Story. A noir story so one knows it will not end in happiness.
Billed as The Women of Noir Special Issue, and
edited by Lisa Douglas who also contributed a poem,Switchblade: Stiletto Heeled
is packed with stories of no nonsense women doing what they need to do to
survive. Often, survival involves lethality and doing very bad things unto
others before bad things are done to them.
The short fiction begins with “Dishes,
Dishes, Dishes”by Cindy Rosmus. The last thing she ever wanted to do was wash
dishes. The dishwasher in the place is, of course, broken so her first night on
the job starts off bad and then gets way worse.
“Ring. Buzz.” by Ann Aptaker
follows with a grocery delivery that changed everything. That delivery and
the arrival of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
Kelsey isn’t about to easily give
up the password in “Concrete Blond” by Susan Kuchinskas. Tommy is what he is so
she knows he is doing all this because of her baby sister, Lisa. Game on as he
can be played.
While the three preceding stories were
in the “Quick & Dirty Flash” section, the next story is all by itself in
the ‘Micro Flash” section. “A Shot at Being Ordinary” by Susan Cornford. A tale
of less than fifty words, it defied being described. To do so, in any way,
would ruin a power tale.
The works of nine authors make up
the following “Sharp & Deadly Fiction” section that opens with a tale by
Tawny Pike. Her story, “Death Dance in Jacksonino County” features a couple of sleaze
ball cops of the lowest order, drugs, and a mom who is doing her best to keep
her and her kids surviving. Good thing she always has her knife on the leather thong
around her neck. Just part of her plan.
She should have been left alone at
her elderly age. Left to live in pace as she was not real threat to anyone. If
somebody was going to mess with her, that person should have picked a better
tool. In “Strong- armed and Dangerous” by Charlotte Platt, somebody sent
the wrong guy to kill Ida Brown. She knew how to handle the young punk because
she had a lifetime of experience. Now somebody in charge has become a problem
and it is time to track the problem back to where it started.
Not everything the woman wears to
entertain the kids is fake. In “Priscilla, the Amazing Dancing Pig” by Sarah
Jilek, the paying gig was supposed to be the typical kids birthday party. Then the
father of the birthday girl took things way too far as the man wanted a
souvenir. Now she wants one, maybe more, as well.
Mom is not going to make the same
mistakes with her youngest daughter. In “Influencers” by Sarah M. Chen, Mom
is still mourning the loss of Lil Bei-Bei who was gunned down at the
Hollywood Palladium on Sunset. The hip hop game is a tough one, but Mom is working
on getting her seven year old daughter, Bhad Mei, ready now. She is going to be
an even bigger, brighter star than her deceased older sister.
Paige Kaneko knows exactly what her
brother is and has frequently saved him from a crisis. In “Mayhem & Mahalo”
by Bethany Maines he needs her help again. And this time it is bad enough she
is going to have to put on a bra. She does not like doing that one damn bit.
Blood, dead guys, and a living guy tied up in a bathtub is just some of what is
going on thanks to Benjiro latest crisis.
She isn’t going to make it through
the night if she can’t outwit the loan shark, Slater. She would not be
playing cards for her life in the old hotel casino in Vegas if the other card
game a few days earlier had gone right for her and her boyfriend, Carl. It
didn’t and now she has a bad hand in more ways than one in “Crazy Eights” by
“A Sinner in the Hands of an Angry
God” by Carmen Jaramillo follows with a tale where the past has come back to haunt
her via a blackmail/extortion attempt. The woman a few folks knew as ‘Freya” isn’t
the same person she was twenty-five years ago. Because of the man who goes by
the name “Gespenst” and her own personal pain, she did things back then that
must never see the light of day. Her new life would be destroyed and a lawyer
sending a cease and desist letter is not going to solve her problem.
Ashton Talley is working hard,
sexually speaking, and getting nowhere in "Mouthbreather” by E. F. Sweetman. He
isn’t any better as a businessman or a boss and Kristi knows it. She just had
no idea how little he thought of her until she stayed late one night and he and
his buddies came back after a night of heavy drinking. She knows the insurance
business and the company will go under if she does not take charge and fix the
She goes by various names and she
knows she should have gotten rid of the phone after the last job. She only kept
it because Fred Mikes said he might have another job for her. Instead of
working for him again, he went and told Cynthia Samson about her. Samson is
willing to pay very well in order to have something of hers taken back from her
soon to be ex-husband. A dangerous man that she is in hiding from and wants her
help in “Hardball” by Lissa Marie Redmond. This story also brings the fiction
to a close.
Published last November, the thirteen
tales included in Switchblade: Stiletto Heeled are occasionally graphic in terms
of dialogue and scene descriptions as one would expect from a crime
fiction noir read. In every case women are doing what they need to do to
survive in either a world they created or one that was thrust upon them. Consequences of failure are often lethal as are the consequences of freedom.
Switchblade: Stiletto Heeled is certainly not for everyone. If you prefer your violence off
page, prefer women to drink tea and solve murders while possibly knitting or
running small bookshops, this is not the read for you. If you like violence and
alcohol and getting even, regardless of your gender, this is the read for you.
Just remember that plans, no matter how good they are, often don’t work out. Or
maybe they do as none of us really have any control over anything.
Hardcover Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (HarperCollins, 1992) is the first in the police procedural mystery series with Guido Brun...
Supporting The Blog
In my wife's memory and honoring a promise I made to Sandi, the blog continues...at least for now. If you would like to make a donation of support, you can do so at the links below. Most of the donated funds go to the purchase of various short story anthologies and collections which eventually are read and reviewed here.