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.
Defendantsby John Ellsworth (Subjudica House, 2014) is the first book
in his Thaddeus Murfee legal thriller series, although a prequel released in
2018 makes it the second in the chronology of series events. Less than two
years of legal practice in the small town of Orbit, somewhere in southern
Illinois, has left Thaddeus ill-prepared to take on a defense for murder, but
his client, poor but honest waitress Ermeline Ransom insists he’s the only
lawyer she trusts.
Ermeline unfortunately got between the local public
works contractor and the Chicago mob to whom the contractor had discontinued
kickbacks. When a visit from a mob enforcer did not shake the overdue payments
loose, the enforcer attacked Ermeline and set the stage for the contractor to
be accused of the crime. After the Orbit Attorney General declined to prosecute
for lack of evidence, Ermeline then retained Thaddeus to pursue civil damages.
This was not what the mob had in mind; they did
not want any competition for the money they believed the contractor owed them.
They decided to squash these upstarts from nowhere once and for all by killing
the contractor and slickly framing Ermeline. The local police had no choice but
to arrest her on the face of the evidence but Thaddeus knows she didn’t do it.
How he outsmarts the cutthroat prosecuting attorney from Chicago while
collecting the proof and testimony needed to bring the crime home to its
perpetrators make a lively absorbing read.
The author says these books, about a dozen in
the series, are based on his early days as a practicing lawyer, and I believe
him. Thaddeus makes some rookie mistakes that his more experienced friends and
paralegal manage to undo. He makes up in zeal what he lacks in experience,
though. The residents of Orbit come together around Ermeline and her son to
protect them as much as they can, showing some of the best reasons to live in a
small town. Readers of legal thrillers will especially like this book.
For the full
list of reading suggestions today, make sure you head over to Patti’s blog.
MISCHIEF IN MAGGODY
(1988) by Joan Hess
Reviewed by Barry
The second novel in Joan
Hess’s comical mystery series, Mischief
in Maggody is primarily but not exclusively concerned with the
disappearance and eventual murder of Robin Buchanon, one of many of the Buchanon
clan inhabitants of Maggody, Arkansas, population 755: “There are hundreds of
them sprinkled across Stump County, worse than hogweed. Incest and inbreeding
are their favorite hobbies…They aren’t strong on intelligence; the most they can
aspire to is animal cunning. An anthropologist from Farber College once tried
to sort out the genealogy, although nobody ever figured out why anybody’d want
to do that. Rumor has it she tried to kill herself at the county line, and
ranted in the ambulance about third cousins twice removed and fathers who were
also uncles and half-brothers. Her family hushed it up with some story about a
diesel truck, but everybody in Maggody knew better.”
Ariel “Arly” Hanks, who was raised here but
eventually married, moved to Manhattan, ultimately divorced, and moved back to
Maggody where she has become Chief of Police, has quite a number of problems to
contend with, not the least of which in her current case, is the well-being of loose-morals
moonshiner Robin Buchanon’s five children, one of whom is an infant.
Arly and/or the reader will
also encounter—via first- and third-person viewpoints—in no particular order—Madame
Celeste, a psychic who may or may not be phony; Celeste’s brother, obliging
Mason Dickerson; Brother Verber, preacher at the Voice of the Almighty Lord
Assembly Hall; school counselor David Allen Wainwright; Arly’s mother Ruby Bee
and Ruby’s friend Estelle Oppers; the
consummately inept Kevin Buchanon and his lady love, Dahlia O’Neill; student Carol
Alice Plummer and her “best friend in the whole world,” Heather Riley; and the
new hippie owners of the Emporium: Nate, Rainbow, Zachery and Poppy, the latter
being very pregnant. Extremely
memorable is Maggody’s mayoral wife and devout Christian known throughout as “Mrs.
Jim Bob,” and occasionally as Mizzoner,her husband Mayor Jim Bob being off in a
conference in Hot Springs.
A modern take on the
screwball comedy mystery that Craig Rice might have loved—albeit with some
implied sexuality and blatant raw street
language—the novel is one I can recommend to non-squeamish readers of
As regular readers of this blog know, some of
Derringer-winner Barry Ergang’s work is available at Amazon and Smashwords. His free e-book Criminalities includes the essay “Impossible Pleasures,” about
impossible crime fiction.
The final count is in at the Critters Poll and this blog finished in second place in the Review Site category. The poll this year contained several mega sites and Kevin's Corner in a far smaller field of review sites than in years past. While we do not review what the first place finisher does--paranormal books and other paranormal content-- this blog is the clear number one favorite for mysteries, crime fiction, and such.
The poll results also marks the same second place finish as last year. Considering what has gone on this past year and the struggle it has been for me to keep this blog going, finishing second, even in a far smaller field, still feels like a major accomplishment. I could not have kept the blog going without the help of many other people who provided not only content, but support on days that were often very dark.
On behalf of regular contributors Barry Ergang, Aubrey Nye Hamilton, Kaye George, Earl Staggs, and numerous guests in the past year, as well as yours truly, we thank you for your support.
Finding a new mystery or thriller that I like is a
great way to start the new year. How have I not heard of these books before? The
Girl at the Deep End of the Lake by Sam Lee Jackson (Piping Rock Publications, 2016) is an exciting start in a series
featuring Jackson and Blackhawk, two former covert operations agents
who moved to unsuspecting Phoenix, Arizona. Jackson sustained permanent
injuries in his last fire fight and is now living quietly on a boat, occupying
his time with fishing, swimming, and reading. He’s awakened one night by a
couple of thugs who are dumping a plastic-wrapped girl in his lake. Jackson has
a wide streak of the rescuer in his psyche, and he immediately dives in and
drags her out with the help of another lake-side resident.
The girl tells Jackson a story full of holes but
sufficient for him to understand she’s associated with one of the local gangs and
that she is in danger, even if she doesn’t realize how much. When she
disappears the next day, Jackson goes looking for her and the story takes off.
Fast-moving and full of fresh, interesting
characters, not the least of which is Jackson himself. (Although, really, the
author couldn’t think of a different name?) He has re-invented himself, it’s
clear, as one of the law enforcement officials he encounters points out that
there is no paperwork or history on him preceding the purchase of his
houseboat. He’s quixotic and not particularly observant of laws if they are
inconvenient. His problem-solving approach combines the loyalty and
ruthlessness of Joe Pike with the wit and affability of Spenser. Also presented
for our consideration are a Catholic priest who runs an underfunded women’s
shelter in the worst part of the city, a South American consul searching for
his granddaughter, a singer in a local night club who wants to fix Jackson up
with her best friend, and gangbangers aplenty. There are enough bar-room brawls
and shootouts to satisfy the bloodlust of any reader, as well as the obligatory
I enjoyed this book so much I am afraid to pick up
the next in the series for fear it won’t be as good as this one. Highly
·Paperback: 332 pages
·Publisher: Piping Rock
Publications (August 5, 2016)
Thank you for your prayers, thoughts, and support for the past six years plus as Sandi did everything she could to be here with all of us. She is now free and not hurting anymore. I am still trying to pay off her past treatments at Medical City Dallas Hospital as well as at Texas Oncology. While the hospital can't handle direct donations, if you can help and would prefer to donate directly, please contact Debra, the financial counselor at TEXAS ONCOLOGY in SUITE 220 of Building D at Medical City Dallas Hospital in Dallas, Texas. We thank you for your prayers, thoughts, and support for the past six years plus as Sandi did everything she could to be here with all of us.