Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Short Story Wednesday Review: Murder, Neat: A SleuthSayers Anthology

Reviewing an anthology is not easy. One wants to mention every story and not give away any spoilers. The result is that on some stories I go into a little more detail than others. One can see that below and it does not mean anything regarding the merits of the story, my preferences, or anything else. Some were just easier to comment on than others.


Murder Neat: A SleuthSayers Anthology is a highly entertaining read from Level Short, a new imprint of Level Best Books. Edited by Michel Bracken and Barb Goffman, the read features twenty-four mystery tales by twenty-four authors that are all part of the SleuthSayers blog gamily. If you are not reading their various columns at website, you really should be as there is a lot of good stuff there.


After a short introduction by Robert Lopresti in which he explains the background of the site and how this anthology came to be, it is on to the stories. The tales involved vary in location and time period, but they all have one thing in common – bars.


The book opens with “Lyrics And Music” by Mark Thielman. Jimmy West is locked in to performing at a certain bar as he signed a contract with Mathew long ago. There is no escape for the faded star. Or, is there?


We move to a bar in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The place was an Irish Mob hangout in the day. All these years later when he comes back after getting out of prison, the place has radically changed in “The Atonement Of Michael Darcy” by David Dean. He has a lot to atone for and the score is not yet settled.


Leopard Longshanks, known as “Shanks” to most folks, was looking forward to lunch with Connor Davins in “Shank’s Sunbeam” by Robert Lopresti. The place Shanks selected is in Greenwich Village and they serve great food. The problem is Proctor Ade has spotted them and wants to join for lunch. That wasn’t the plan at all.


He can be counted on to show up at a certain tavern in “The Colonel” by Janice Law. His routine, in and outside of the place, never changes. That predictability means he has a ready made alibi for his plan.


In “Bourbon And Water” by John M. Floyd, maybe it was all a dream. At least, Sue Ellen thinks it was all a strange dream. But, was it?


Thomas Nest has his usual seat at the place in “When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bled” by Jospeh D’ Agnese. Among other things, he is a people watcher and draws people. His current subject is the theatre critic, Ponder, as he sits across the room from him. The same theatre critic person who dies at his table in Manhattan in1859.


Leon came across a river side baptism as “Bad Whiskey” by Jim Winter begins. He decided on the spur of the moment to be baptized. Did it take? Or is he what he is and he can’t be saved from her and the power of her tarot cards?


Elizabeth Zelvin takes reads to a bar in a village in the Alpes-Maritimes by way of her story, “A Friendly Glass.” The place is where Eleanor, Julie, and others hang out every night. It is also the place to keep an eye on others and gossip. It is also where a married woman has suddenly died. The situation is complicated by culture, language, and more, and Julie could find herself in serious trouble if she is not extremely careful.


The barely dressed woman claims that her name is “Crystal.” Sandy, one of two sisters that own and run the bar, is sure she is going to get far more than she is looking for thanks to the way she is dressed. Crystal claims otherwise in “When You Walk Into The Room” by Steve Liskow. It is certainly going to be a memorable evening.


Mickey is supposed to keep Gerry Tyrone safe from harm in “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” by David Edgerly. When the boss of the Irish mob on the West Side gives you a job, you do it and you do what you are told. They have a train to catch up in Hudson, just south of Albany, and Tyronne has to be put on it, alive and well.


Donnie Brewster wants to get his drunk on, but that isn’t going to happen in “Bar None” by Michael Bracken. His brother, Johnny Brewster, owns the place and sets the rules. That means Donnie is cutoff. For Tim, the guy running the place, it is going to be rough few days in more ways than one.


The place has not changed over the years. In “The Mob, The Model, And The College Reunion” by Melodie Campbell, what has changed is the brainpower of those who would rob the place and the patrons inside of it. In the old days, this would have never happened. Good thing she is there to handle business and everything else.


It is a Tuesday night in November,1999. Tim is at an old wooden table in a place that is a fixture in this part of London. He has his knife. He is ready in “Room Of Ice” by Stephen Ross.


Sandra wants more from Wylie. Possibly more than he can offer in “Two For One” by Art Taylor. Wylie is an accountant and tallies everything into credits and debits. His ledger is going negative in her mind and she wants more out of him.


He staggered into the place out of the storm. It was a rough night out there and not just because of the weather. He has been shot, Anna is alone, and things are going to get worse in “Flesh Wounds” by O’Neil De Noux.


A lot is going on in “Not Yo Mama’s IPA” by Kristin Kisska. A tale that follows Lynn, Jack, their individual plans leading up to, and including, their anniversary.


An aging rocker, Mosh, these days runs a winery in Tennessee. He has summoned his manager, Freilich, there in “Noble Rot” by Robert Mangeot. It is October, cold, and Frelich isn’t his only guest this night.


Barney is closing the place in “Razing The Bar” by Leigh Lundin. Just about everyone is gone. That is except the one customer who has a different agenda than calling it a night and going home.


The band members took a break to drink at the bar across the street. Nothing different than normal in doing that. But, it made them all suspects in ‘The Catherine wheel” by Brian Thornton. The tale also reminds readers to make sure the tattoo is correct before it is applied to your body.


Up in a certain town in South Dakota, a certain bar is known as the oldest. A recently released con just might be a problem in “Bad Influence” by Eva Fister. Josh Dahlberg is back home, hanging out at the bar, and pretty much unwanted by all.


The bar is old and not much to look at in “The Bar” by R. I. Lawton. It isn’t a safe place and it is one that even law enforcement avoids, due to the reputation of the place. It is a place where it is best to not ask the questions when things happen. Things certainly do happen in this tale.


Youngman Fennel is just trying to go the bathroom in peace as “Deep Time” by Lawrence Maddox begins. The man wearing headphones won’t let him. The guy might be crazy. He might be telling the truth. Regardless, he is blocking the exit.


He just got fired from the company he started and made successful. Mr. Dorrett plans to make one heck of an exit in “Golden Parachute” by Travis Richardson. It was one heck of an exit. The aftermath of what he did makes life difficult in the following hours for Dorrett,


In the final story, it is March 1989, and Tamara is hanging out in a bar in “Near Have I Ever” by Barb Goffman. She is drinking with friends, but can’t stop thinking about Dustin. She met him in this same bar two months ago just after the semester started. That meeting changed everything in so many ways.


Brief bios of the contributors, editors, and listings of books written and/or edited by the editors, brings this enjoyable anthology to a close.


Murder, Neat: A SleuthSayers Anthology is a highly entertaining mix of crime fiction. Some are noirish while others are a bit lighter in tone. The stories take readers to a variety of locations across many time periods. Some are revenge orientated while others are a cautionary tales of lives lived to excess.


The common denominator, beyond bar settings, is the fact that each and every short story is a solidly good read. Each one pulls you deep into an intoxicating tale. There is not a bad read in the bunch.


Murder, Neat: A SleuthSayers Anthology is strongly recommended and very well worth your time.


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My reading copy was a digital ARC by way of one of the contributors. There was no expectation of a review.


Kevin R. Tipple ©2024


Robert Lopresti said...

Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

Robert Lopresti

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Thank you for reading my review and commenting.