week, Barry Ergang’s 2012 review of the short story, “Breathe No More” by John
D. MacDonald is the focus for this last Friday of January 2020. For the full list of reading suggestions check
out Todd Mason’s Sweet Freedom
"Breathe No More" by
John D. MacDonald
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
who contributed to the pulp magazines had to be, above all else, able
storytellers or they wouldn't see their efforts in print. Many of them were
what I call "grinders," folks who could mechanically crank out competent
but undistinguished stories to suit various markets in order to earn money to
live on, with no thought of artistry. But there were also some conscious
craftsmen who honed their skills in the pulp markets, writers who have since
come to be regarded as serious and enduring artists whose work constitutes
Literature with a capital L or something approaching it. Among these are
Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury and--yes!--Tennessee Williams.
D. MacDonald is another from the latter group. Although for many years his
novels were published as paperback originals by Fawcett during an era when
"serious" writers' work initially appeared in hardcover editions, MacDonald
was always well-received critically, considered one of America's finest
storytellers and a man who had important things to say and insights to share.
known as a novelist, he was no slouch in the short fiction department.
"Breathe No More," reprinted in the 1982 collection The Good Old Stuff, and originally
published under the title "Breathe No More, My Lovely" in the May
1950 issue of Detective Tales, is a
good example. Its morally ambiguous protagonist is a quirky man of wealth named
Park Falkner, who lives on a private island in Florida and who has a crew of
investigators who look into cases that interest him. Falkner invites the
principle figures in a given case, among other guests, to his island so as to
expose them and dispense his particular brand of justice. In "Breathe No
More," his plan backfires when one of the guests is murdered and another,
a woman near and dear to Falkner, is put in jeopardy.
story amply displays MacDonald's crisp, literate prose style, his sense of
place and pace, and his skill in limning characters. Beyond this I'll say no
more lest I spoil the story for readers unfamiliar with it.
works, Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang's own impossible crime
novelette, The Play of Light and Shadow, is available at Amazon and Smashwords as
is his recently released book of poetry, Farrago, and other
entertaining reads. For more on Barry’s books as well as his editing services,
check out Barry’s website.
by Harriet Steel (Stane Street Press, 2016) is the first book in the Inspector
Shanti de Silva mysteries. Six more follow the first one. Set in Ceylon, now
Sri Lanka, during the 1930s and the waning days of British Colonial rule, the
book is an examination of the cultures inhabiting the island nation that gave
the world much of its tea as well as a traditional murder mystery.
Inspector de Silva
and his English wife Jane have left the city of Colombo for the slower pace of
life in hilly Nuala, where he has taken a position with the local police force.
While Colombo is a real city of about 750,000, Nuala is a fictionalized version
of Nuwara Eliya; Nuala
is a proper English city with a lively and involved group of British
return to Nuala after testifying in a trial of gang members in another city, de
Silva is promptly confronted with the information that one of the plantation
owners has been accused of flogging one of the native workers. While most of
the plantation owners realize it is in their best interests to treat their
workers well, there still remained one or two who are troglodytes. No one wants
a native uprising but no specific labor laws exist to protect them either. A
Tamil lawyer from Colombo has been asking questions about the incident and has
been demanding action from the authorities. De Silva’s boss sees the difficulty
in balancing the need for justice and defending the English plantation owner,
no matter how difficult he is. He hands the whole thing off to the inspector
and requests a prompt resolution.
equally troublesome interviews with both the lawyer from Colombo and the
plantation owner, who refuses to allow de Silva to interview his workers, the
inspector puzzles over next steps. The sudden death of the plantation owner
changes everything. The medical examiner thinks the cause of death is a heart
attack brought on by a drinking binge but de Silva is not so sure.
stated in an interview that she especially enjoys vintage murder mysteries and
it shows. The style, the pacing, the motives for murder, the characters all fit
the time, the classic detection Golden Age. The descriptions throughout of the
flora and fauna are most appealing; like C.D. Sloan of Catherine Aird’s
Calleshire books, the inspector raises beautiful roses. Perhaps not a wildly
original plot, but fresh enough when combined with well-defined characters and
punctuated with exquisite scenery to be an agreeable read. Recommended.
reviews and giveaways of 2 food mysteries and a craft mystery-"A Murderous
Tangle": Seaside Knitters Society Mystery by Sally Goldenbaum,
"Cobblered to Death": Courtney Archer series by Rosemarie Ross, and
"Murder with Cherry Tarts": Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery by Karen Rose
Spider-Man Life Story by Chip Zdarsky is an else worlds tale featuring Spider-Man. The idea
here addresses what would happen if Spider-Man aged in real time starting in
1962 when he is fifteen and ends 57 years later with the last mission. Each
issue in the book covers a decade of Peter Parker’s life.
Featuring a variety of characters, it helps if you are
highly familiar with the spider-man mythos. Since the characters are depicted
the way they were in the 1960s, certain characters behave radically different
then the versions many readers are familiar with in this current climate. An example
of this is how Iron Man of today is far, far more heroic than originally
The story is really good and so is the art. However, this
story is not new reader friendly as it uses Marvel history and a ton of
characters. In so doing, it uses the classic depictions of these characters and
they are far different than what folks are used from the movies and recent
comics under a variety of authors. Spider-Man Life Story by Chip
Zdarsky is a bittersweet story that I enjoyed a lot.
We all lost a lot with the recent passing of Earl
Staggs. Fortunately, the books and the
short stories live on. It seemed appropriate to remind you again of Barry
Ergang’s 2011 review of the Short Stories of Earl Staggs. For the full
list of reading suggestions check out Todd Mason’s Sweet Freedom blog.
SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
the interests of full disclosure, let me explain at the outset that Earl Staggs
and I have been friends for a number of years, going back to when I joined the
staff of the then-named Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine as an
editorial reviewer and Earl was Managing Editor. No more than a year later,
maybe less, some changes occurred with the staff, and Earl asked if I'd like to
be one of three fiction editors. I accepted the position and, when a year or
two after that Earl stepped down as M.E. to serve as Editorial Consultant for
the renamed Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, he offered me his former
position and I accepted.
to the publication of Short Stories of Earl Staggs, I had read some of
Earl's short fiction as well as his excellent--and recommended--novel, Memory
of a Murder. I correctly assumed, therefore, that reading this collection
of fifteen stories, each of which is prefaced by an author's note about its
origins, would be a satisfying experience.
book opens with the Derringer Award-winning "All the Fine Actors," in
which a hitman assassinates a local sheriff. Both he and his employer are aware
that people too often aren't what they seem, and both know the collection
of his fee won't be an easy task.
Rainy Day Robbery" is a lighter-weight tale about the fictional Watango
County, Texas Sheriff Mollie Goodall who, while trying to track down a thief,
has to contend with a broken fingernail, every mention of which made me wince.
tough former Baltimore cop, now living and working as a bail bondsman and
sometime bounty hunter, returns to his hometown to pursue an escaped criminal
and confront some people and issues from his past in "Baltimore
concerns Detective Sam Hollis's rabid determination to nail a longtime abuser
who has finally killed his victim. Hollis has his own demons to deal with while
trying to salvage his marriage.
his sister's funeral, a visiting small-town cop arranges a meeting with her
estranged husband, a wastrel pretty boy, in "Brother-in-Law."
Ostensibly to discuss which of them as the woman's survivors gets what, the
meeting has a much darker purpose.
weakest story in the collection for me was "Caught On Christmas Eve,"
the tale of a twelve-year-old wannabe thief and the man who witnesses what he's
up to at a department store's jewelry counter. Originally written for a
Christmas anthology , it's predictable and sentimental--but redeemed by not
being too soppy.
contract killer who prides himself for being meticulous and thorough gets the
shock of his life when a woman he killed walks into the restaurant in which he
regularly dines. Before the evening is over, he's in for dyspepsia-inducing
surprises in "Dead Woman Walking."
Newtons and Heavy Bags" is the lightweight tale of two spinster sisters
who aren't quite what they seem.
Mollie Goodall story, "Robbery On Christmas Eve," concerns the theft
of church funds from a locked office. How the thief got in and out, as well as
who the thief is, are the puzzles Mollie must solve.
"Room Six," a small-town sheriff sets a simple trap to determine
which of three wealthy, spoiled brothers murdered a nineteen-year-old woman.
Getaway" is a brief comic tale about a professional burglar's encounter
with a most unlikely obstacle.
without moral qualms, a cop exceeds standard procedural boundaries to dispense
the justice the courts failed to in "Taking Richie Gold Down."
her daughter's wedding day, Amanda Barnes is kidnapped by a man who has held a
grudge against her for twenty years, a man who stirs up memories of her
harrowing past in the tense and exciting "That Night in Galveston."
Chopsticks Clue" resulted, as the author explains in his prefatory note, from
an editorial challenge. Homicide Lieutenant Sue Townes encounters her former
partner Millie Walker, now a meter maid, while investigating a stabbing death
at a Chinese restaurant. More interesting than the crime itself is the
animosity Sue has toward Millie because of an incident in their past.
Mollie Goodall makes another appearance in the comical "The Naked Man On
the Roof" when she has to talk the titular character down from the roof of
a deserted icehouse (the fall from which wouldn't kill him), learn why
he's despondent, and then solve a crime.
of Police Harry Winfield learns from a pair of Dallas cops, to his surprise and
disheartenment, that Pam Wilson is wanted for the murder of a prominent
attorney in "The Waitress." She swears she didn't kill him but knows
who does--but won't reveal the murderer's name lest she be forced to reveal
things about herself she can't afford to reveal. Harry must determine where the
Stories of Earl Staggs is a nicely varied collection of light
and dark, humorous and serious, soft-boiled and hardboiled crime stories. The
author writes in a smooth, accessible prose style, delineates characters
nicely, and has an excellent sense of pace. To my friend and former colleague,
the venerable Earl of Staggs, I say, "Well done, amigo. Give us
more." To you who are reading this review, I say, "If you enjoy good
short crime and mystery fiction, get yourself a copy of this collection, which
is available in electronic and paperback formats, because the Earl Staggs
byline always guarantees a pleasurable reading experience."
Among other works, Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang's own impossible crime
novelette, The Play of Light and Shadow,
is available at Amazon and Smashwords as is his recently
released book of poetry, Farrago, and other entertaining
reads. For more on Barry’s books as well as his editing services, check
out Barry’s website.
Dark Yonder: Tales and Tabs is billed as an anthology of crime
stories. It certainly is and there is not a bad tale on the book. The read is
far more than a crime anthology of often powerful short stories. It is a book
that pays homage to what is clearly a loved bar by so many of the authors involved
in the book. The bar and the setting for nearly every story, Yonder: Southern
Cocktails & Brew, is not one of those trendy hipster bars with the staff
decked out in bling and man buns on half of the males and wanna be males in the
place. Instead, Yonder: Southern Cocktails & Brew is a serious bar and one
that has a legendary history and character to it. While I have never been
there, it is clear that the place is a throwback to the past and a serious bar
with many stories to tell.
Some of those stories have made it
into this anthology edited by Liam Sweeny. Published by Joyride Press last
year, there is also nonfiction in the form of essay observations, many black
and white pictures of customers and staff, and more than a few drink recipes. In
fact, because very story is led off by a drink recipe, there are nearly two
dozen drink recipes listed in the read. Those same drink recipes contain no
amounts regarding ingredients because one is encouraged to “live a little.” That
concept of “live a little” is often what happens in these tales with some
deadly consequences as well as the resulting biohazardous material messes to
After a forward from Eryk Pruitt, he also
offers a piece on how a drink and a bar experience should be as opposed to how
things are these days in many places. That is followed by a piece by Dan Barbour
on his real life musical experience in the aforementioned drinking
establishment. Then it is on to the twenty-two stories published in the Dark
Yonder: Tales and Tabs anthology. As noted before, there is not a bad
tale in the bunch. Several can cause laugh out moments. So, grab your favorite
beverage and take a few minutes to read this review as each tale is briefly
explained. That explanation is done without the use of herbs, bitters, or spoilers.
The various illustrative pictures in the read can’t be explained. You just have
to see them for yourself. Those pictures have their own tales to tell.
Travis Richardson gets things started
with “Them’s Fighting Words.” Grady Edwards just wanted to be left alone. Then
Eryk Pruitt and Drew showed up asking questions about the murder of Jessica
Talbert. Wesley Winston spent twenty years of his life in prison until that
damn DNA test cleared him. If that had not happened, Grady Edwards would not be
dealing with this porch problem.
He knew she wanted to be left alone
when she came into the bar by herself. He’s seen her before, usually with a
bunch of coworkers, and knows that her name is Alana. He also knows she has a
problem of some sort in “Run Its Course” by Frank Zafiro.
A late meeting at Yonder: Southern
Cocktails & Brew is planned between a reporter and the man known to all as
“Popcorn.” The legendary moonshiner might or might not show up for the meeting.
If he does and does wish to tell it, he has quite the story to tell in “Popcorn”
by Gabriel Valjan.
Will Viharo is up next with the short
story, “Living Proof (A Vic Valentine Vignette).” The private investigator in from
San Francisco is a long way from home as he walks into the North Carolina bar.
This is a case that will get stranger by the minute as Vic Valentine quickly
learns he is far from home in more than just the physical sense and is way out
of his depth.
It has been a hard two years for Jewel
since the FBI shut down the family law firm. She is skittish and she has good
reason to be so in “Off-Label” by Terri Lynn Coop. Even with Max Geno present
and her favorite adult beverage available, she knows this is not a social
Freddie the Cripple has a certain
reputation and one that he likes to exploit here and there. In “Yonder There’s aMargarita”
by Matt Phillips, he also likes a decent margarita. He likes the bar, Yonder:
Southern Cocktails & Brew, as well and really does not want to do the job
he has been hired to complete.
Gordon has been working on being a
regular at Yonder: Southern Cocktails & Brew. Part of that process is
always sitting on the same stool and therefore claiming it as his own. Tonight
is starting off wrong from the get go in “The Regular” by Eric Beetner. As
often happens in bars, making your claim for respect can result in violence.
Why the customer brought a
ventriloquist dummy into the bar no one really knows. If the guy would just
drink his drink and do it quietly, things would probably okay. But, he won’t.
Before long the dummy, Slappy Sacramento, is talking way too much in running’s
its mouth way too much in Todd Morr’s short story, “Slappy Sacramento.”
When your insides are making like
explosive lava, it is nearly impossibly hard to be a quiet criminal. “Huey and
the Burrito of Doom” by Nick Kolakowski need little explanation. The tale is
dark, twisted, messy, and more than a little funny.
She may be beautiful, but she is cold
too in “The Door in the Floor” by Allison A. Davis. She also knows exactly how
her drink should be made. She also seems to know far more than she should about
a lot of things. It is past time to get the boss, Eryk Pruitt, on scene to deal
Technology is wonderful until it
isn’t. Everything started off innocently enough in “Close Your Laptop” by Judy
Wilkinson. One little thing lead to another and now, thanks to technology, she
knows far too much.
The plan is to recue Darlene’s little
sister in “They Have Fancy Drinks Named After Famous Writers” by S. A.
Cosby. Give the pimp some money that is more than it seems. The plan is
to fool him just long enough to get him out back of Yonder: Southern Cocktails
& Brew and then give him the beat down he deserves to find sixteen year old
Editor Liam Sweeny is next with the
short story, “Legs Diamond.” Life has been hard and Rory is doing the best he
can. He’s figured out Eryk Pruitt is a good man. Finding the body proved the
Being a salesman is a tough gig in
“The Proposition” by Phillip Kimbrough. He still has one more deal to clinch
before the night is through.
Bob Dinkerman got himself murdered
behind the bar known as Yonder: Southern Cocktails & Brew. According to the
officer testifying in court in “Llama Juice” by Stacie Leininger he had it
coming. For good reason as is made clear.
Not all battles are fought overseas.
Some are fought here at home every single day as one does what one has to do to
survive while desperately trying to forget the past. That works until the past
is again right in front of you in “Moist Money” by Greg Herren.
Unlike that Gordon dude mentioned
earlier, Belle is a regular and very much welcomed. She always sits at her
place at one end of the bar in Yonder: Southern Cocktails & Brew. A
classy lady, she likes her drinks in a certain way in “Old Fashioned” by Bruce
Robert Coffin. She, like the place itself, is a throwback to the past and
It is hard to breathe when somebody
holds you under whether it is water or whiskey. He really should not have
caused Fat Phil an issue. He did. Now he is in a really bad spot as “The Big
Splash” by Renato Bratkovicͮ begins.
When you get a bunch of crime writers
to read at the bar things can escalate. A fight could break out. More than just
about anyone else, crime writers know to and will use any weapon necessary.
“Noir at the Bar Fight” by Dana King is a tale that will not be explained
further other to say it is funny as all get out.
The suited men were clearly out of
place when they walked into Yonder: Southern Cocktails & Brew. Frank Smith
and Eryk Pruitt know that there is going to be a problem in “Two Clowns Walk into
a Bar” by Jim Shaffer. The suits work for a certain loan shark and he wants his
money now one way or another.
David Nemeth’s short story, “Retribution”
comes next. An early close should have meant a peaceful evening. It didn’t. Now
Heppy has arrived and he is most definitely a problem.
The regulars call her “Hazel” and for
good reason In “Not Enough to Drink” by Rob Pierce. Hawthorne is not a regular
so he does not know anything when he sees her in the bar. He also has been
without sleep for over 36 hours. He has a plan and intends to get what he wants
from her the easy way or the hard way. She just wants to drink in peace in this
final story of the read.
Edited by Liam Sweeny, Dark
Yonder: Tales and Tabs is a solidly good crime fiction anthology.
Violence and mayhem make a frequent appearance in these tales where everything
may not be as it seems at first glance. There are secrets at work and the
bartender many know just a few of them.
I’m pretty sure this is one of those
reads where a lot of insider style jokes went right by me because I am not a
part of the right crowd. I have never been to the bar in question and have only
been to two “Noir at the Bar” style events. Many of the authors in the book I
have never met. A few of them I did very ͮͮͮbriefly meet at the
recent Bouchercon in Dallas. I am also sure there are some insider stories
behind the many black and white pictures from inside the bar that show various
folks involved in the book. I am also sure that I picked up the main stuff that
Yonder: Tales and Tabs a mighty good read.
My reading copy came because Johnny
Wesner put in a word and my address with Eryk Pruitt who I had met briefly at
his “Noir at the Bar” event at Bouchercon 2019. Because of the efforts of the man
who markets himself as “Sweet Johnny,” Eryk then sent me a signed paperback
copy with no expectation of a review.
FIRE by Michael Connelly, reviewed by Linda Wilson
cold case lands in Harry Bosch’s lap, he needs the help of night shift
detective Renée Ballard again as the two look into an unsolved murder from 20
by William Shaw, reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
Alexandra Cupidi is about to learn that the Kentish Fens offer more than quiet
and seclusion after the tumultuous Met. They are the almost perfect hiding
place for bodies.
BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT by Susan Hill, reviewed by Viv Beeby
police are just about coping with a series of ruthless and meticulously planned
robberies. But a possible error of judgement puts Chief Superintendent Simon
Serrailller's reputation on the line.
ON THE LENS by Sam Hurcom, reviewed by John Cleal
photographer and investigator Thomas Bexley probes the horrifying murder of a
teenage girl in an isolated South Wales village and plunges into a world of
claustrophobic suspicion, mass murder and the supernatural.
AND THE KILLER by Georges Simenon, reviewed by Chris Roberts
man with a particular interest in recording the voices of strangers is stabbed
and killed in the street during an early spring downpour. The hobby initially
proves to be a distraction for Maigret.
SQUARE by Gareth Rubin, reviewed by Arnold Taylor
that D-Day had gone the other way, with the Germans victorious, instead of the
Allies. In the highly charged political climate that follows, a woman sets out
to clear the name of her husband, who’s been arrested on a murder charge.
OF THE DEAD by MRC Kasasian, reviewed by John Cleal
Betty Church finds wartime life in her sleepy hometown of Sackwater hard to
bear until a bombing raid and the discovery of a body on the beach put her on
the trail of a killer.
LILJA SIGURÐARDÓTTIR, reviewed by Ewa Sherman
Iceland Agla’s prison sentence for financial crimes is coming to an end while
her former nemesis Maria gets drawn into helping her to pull another international
WHEN THE DEAD COME CALLING by Helen
Sedgwick, reviewed by Linda Wilson
The murder of a psychotherapist sends a
northern village into shock and piles the pressure on resident DI Georgie
GUILTY NOT GUILTY by Felix Francis,
reviewed by Chris Roberts
Bill Russell is devastated when told
that his wife has been murdered, and things get worse when the police make him
their main suspect. Bill is sure his brother-in-law is the culprit, but is
there enough evidence to get a conviction in court?
KILLING WITH CONFETTI by Peter Lovesey,
reviewed by John Cleal
When the son of the county’s Deputy
Chief Constable marries the daughter of a gang boss, Superintendent Peter
Diamond, head of Bath CID, is assigned to make sure no criminal rivals can
threaten the life of the bride’s father.
DEADLY DANCE by Hilary Bonner, reviewed
by Linda Wilson
A killer has preyed on a 14-year-old
girl in Bristol. At first it seems an easy case for DI David Vogel and his
team, but then doubts creep in.
PRESERVATION by Jock Serong, reviewed
by Chris Roberts
When in 1797 a vessel is shipwrecked on
an island in what became known as Bass Strait, a small group make their way to
Sydney, but the few who arrive have different tales about the journey.
IN HER EYES by Sarah Alderson, reviewed
by Kati Barr-Taylor
It isn’t the first time June’s life has
hung in the balance. But this time it’s not cancer killing her. It’s a bullet.
MURDER IN THE MILL-RACE by ECR Lorac,
reviewed by John Cleal
When the warden of a children’s home is
killed, local police can make no headway in an isolated and self-contained
village. Scotland Yard is called in and Chief Inspector Macdonald sent to take
over the case.
ONCE A LIAR by AF Brady, reviewed by
New York lawyer Peter Caine has built a
successful career defending some very nasty people but finds himself as a suspect
when his ex-mistress is murdered.
THE HOLIDAY by TM Logan, reviewed by
The villa in the south of France is
idyllic, but the messages that Kate finds on her husband’s phone portend a
MORE RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Nick
Rennison, reviewed by John Cleal
Fifteen of the rivals of the great
Sherlock Holmes – police officers, PIs and eccentric criminologists – who all
had their day in the sun in the popular magazines.
THE PROMISE by Teresa Driscoll,
reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
The Promise is one that they have kept
for more than 30 years, but Beth and her friends know it is about to be
unburied. And they all have too much to lose.
MY SECRET LIES WITH YOU by Faye Bird,
reviewed by Linda Wilson
Cait is determined not to enjoy the
holiday her mother has arranged. But a meeting with boy-next-door Marko changes
things, and Cait starts to think North Wales might not be quite as dull as she
expected. There’s also the mysterious disappearance of a local girl to add
spice to the holiday.
Big time thanks to the voters as well all the folks here like my son, Scott, Aubrey, Barry, and the many guests and other folks who have k...
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 medical supplies for me. Some of it goes to the purchase of various short story anthologies and collections which eventually are read and reviewed here.