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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Mystery/Crime Short Story Collection TBR List

In my last post I mentioned some of my favorite recent short story collections.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, if I really think about it), I also happen to have a TBR pile that is even longer than that list.  Some of the books that I am eagerly looking forward to include:

On top of that I have a bunch of back issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine to go through.  The March issue, which I am still working my way through, starts off with terrific stories from Joyce Carol Oates and Doug Allyn.  Where am I going to find the time for all these?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Must Read Monday: Favorite Mystery/Crime Short Story Collections

One of the great things about e-books is the way they have made short fiction much more easily and inexpensively available.  In particular, there has been a boon over the past year or two in hardboiled short story collections, but there have been some excellent classic/cozy ones as well.  I have previously mentioned some of the best titles in my blog posts on favorite freebie finds and 99 cent bargains, including Nigel Bird's "Dirty Old Town", Edward Grainger/David Cranmer's pair of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles short story collections, and Loren Estelman's "Amos Walker: the Complete Short Story Collection".  Among my other favorites are:

Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, a lean, mean collection of 13 noir short stories edited by David Cranmer and Scott D.Parker. While all are quite dark, the collection varies in tone and voice. There isn't a dud in the bunch. My particular favorites were Thomas Pluck's succinct and distinct little revenge tale "Black-Eyed Susan" and Patricia Abbott's "Ric With No K", a story told in the voice of a 15 year old girl that invites comparison to daughter Megan's masterful novel "The End of Everything".

Keith Rawson's The Chaos We Know, a (yes) raw collection of slices of life on the edge.  I especially enjoyed "The Anniversary Weekend", which had me laughing (inappropriately, some might say) before an ending that was a punch to the gut.

Chris Holm's 8 Pounds: 8 Tales of Crime, Horror, and Suspense is an eclectic collection book-ended by a pair of wonderful stories about the long reach of the past, "Seven Days of Rain" and "The World Behind".

Dave Zeltserman's Julius Katz Mysteries collects a pair of award winning stories that originally appeared in EQMM. These are clever modern updates of the Nero Wolfe tradition. While the mysteries are excellent traditional mysteries, it is the "relationship" between Katz and his AI assistant Archie that is the star of the show. Once you read these 2 stories you will want to get the full length Julius Katz and Archie.

Lyvia J. Washburn's Hallam Collection includes 4 strong historical mysteries following the exploits of former cowboy turned early Hollywood stuntman/PI Lucas Hallam.  Of particular note is the change of pace "Hollywood Flesh", in which Lucas deals with zombies.

Patti Abbott's "Monkey Justice" is a masterful set of 23 dark psychological/crime tales.  It is hard to choose a favorite from this eclectic bunch of stories , but if a gun were put to my head I would go with "Catnap", told from the point of view of a baby snatcher.

Off the Record is a literacy charity anthology of 38 stories based on classic song titles edited by Luca Veste and including many of the best US and UK hard boiled short story writers.  As with any collection with this large there are going to be some duds, but there aren't many of them, and at 99 cents for 38 stories it is a great buy.  (Full disclosure:  when I bought this collection I sent in my receipt to enter a contest and won second prize)

The "Top Suspense" group of authors, including such luminaries as Lee Goldberg, Dave Zeltserman, Ed Gorman, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Bill Crider, Joel Goldman etc. has two topnotch collections:  Top Suspense: Favorite Kills and Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories.

Lawrence Block's The Night and the Music compiles all of his Matt Scudder short fiction.  All the stories are good, but a few stand out. In "A Moment of Wrong Thinking", which gives a glimpse into the heart of Scudder's old partner Mahaffey, the story is left unresolved but is all the better for it. "Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen" is a short vignette that has Mick musing on the final scene of the Sopranos (and I probably like it because Mick's interpretation matches my own -- Tony dies). Finally, there is the sad but sweet "One Last Night at Grogans" which puts a nice bow on the series as a whole.

N.C. Hyzy's Mystery Short Stories Volume 1 includes a pair of deftly plotted but not quite cozy stories from the alter ego of Julie Hyzy, author of the White House Chef cozy mystery series.  "Panic", in which a mother and daughter become the targets of a serial killer, is every bit as good as the Derringer award winning mob tale "Strictly Business".

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as I have a bunch of short story collections in my TBR pile to look forward to!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Christmas Came Early!

Prologue Books Brings Classic Pulp Fiction to the E-book Market

The recent announcement of the new line of classic pulp mystery/crime titles available as e-books from Prologue Books has me as giddy with excitement as I was as a 9 year old kid on Christmas morning looking at the 20 Hot Wheel shaped packages under the tree.  There are so many out of print books from the classic era of pulp that are not easily available, and Prologue has stepped in to start filling in the gaps.  Up to now I had to hope that either Hard Case Crime would pick up a title or that Stark House Press would publish one of their lovely double or triple volumes of a favorite author.  Other than that, the only options were finding a decent copy of a book on the secondary market, or to got really lucky at a library book sale (and what a thrill when that happens!).

As of now there are well over 100 titles available and the initial roster of authors includes Peter Rabe, Richard Deming, Wade Miller/Whit Masterson, Fletcher Flora, Frank Kane, Henry Kane, Orrie Hitt, Ed Lacy, Vin Packer/Marijane Meaker, Robert Colby, William Campbell Gault, M.E. Kerr, Kin Platt, Talmage Powell, and Charles Runyon.  Reports are that Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, Dan Marlowe and others are still to come (dare I hope for some Day Keene also?), as well as westerns and science fiction.  They are priced to sell too, with a list price of $3.99 and a current sale price of $3.19.


My initial urge is to buy everything, even the titles I have already read.  After all, I still had fun with those Hot Wheels that I already knew about before Christmas morning (from sneaking up in the attic and snooping with my brother...sorry, mom!).  But with my digital TBR pile already at well over 100 books, I am going to start with the Wade Miller and Whit Masterson titles.  Both are written by the terrific writing team of Bob Wade and Bill Miller (later Masterson titles are Wade alone, but the initial 7 published by Prologue are combined efforts), whose collaborations I have always found to be deftly plotted, tautly written, populated with complex characters, compulsively readable, and devoid of the bloat that afflicts so many novels today.  After that I will work my way through the rest of them, though it will be far more pleasure than "work".


There are still a bunch of out of print mystery titles that I would love to see in e-book format.  Primary among these for me are John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books and the books Erle Stanley Gardner wrote as A.A. Fair.  I would also love to see Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe titles at a reasonable price.  These new releases from Prologue give me hope for what the future might hold.

What out of print books and authors do you hope get published in e-book form?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Death and Comedy By Esri Allbritten

Author Esri Allbritten is treating us to a guest post today, sharing her thoughts on striking the delicate balance between humor and the grim reality of murder in mystery writing...

If you ask mystery readers why they read crime fiction, one answer you won’t get is that they love murder – because that would be creepy. No, mystery readers like the exploration of personality, getting to know recurring characters, a good puzzle, and the drama of people dealing with extreme circumstances. Some of us want all of those things, and we also want to laugh.  

Treating death with humor without being tasteless can be a fine line to walk, but there are some proven methods.  One of the most rewarding ways to take the sting out of death is to make the victim so unlikeable that you’re positively gleeful when he croaks. As much fun as that is for the reader, it’s even more fun for the author. Nasty characters are a blast to write, and can also be a great opportunity to fictionally punish annoying people from your past.  Some of my favorite authors who make death funny are Laura Levine, Joan Hess, and Carl Hiaasen. Laura Levine murdered the eponymous victim of Killing Bridezilla by having her fall off a sabotaged balcony and onto the raised arrow of a Cupid sculpture.

Readers can also smirk at a victim who brings it on himself. M.C Beaton, author of the Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin series, is brilliant at the he-had-it-coming death. But the one I remember best is from one of her drolly ridiculous regency romances (Susie, written as Jennie Tremaine). Right at the beginning, a lecherous older man forces the dewy heroine (all of 17 years old) into marriage. He buys a new bed in anticipation of ravishing her. The bed turns out to be so well-sprung that when he jumps on to give it a test bounce, he rebounds out the open window and falls to his death. I remember gasping at the unexpected hilarity of it. The heroine inherits everything and spends the rest of the book trying to convince the love interest that she’s not a murderess.

Of course, the actual death doesn’t have to be funny for the book to deliver laughs. Janet Evanovich is perhaps the most famous comedic mystery author writing today, and while there is often humor in the death (or the handling of the corpse), it’s her stable of regular characters – gun-toting granny, ex-hooker, and horny, hamster-owning bounty hunter – that provide the laughs. 

The biggest challenge with comedic mysteries is finding an author who shares your taste. Drama is dramatic to everyone, but what’s funny to one reader will make another grind his teeth. Because humor is so subjective, there’s a famous quote among actors and stand-up comedians: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

I’m going to leave you with a joke Tina Fey uses as an example of really “dark” humor. It also shows how laughter can be wrung from the grimmest scenario. 

A young man and his new wife are on their honeymoon when they have a car wreck. They’re taken to the hospital, where the man’s injuries are declared minor. But his wife’s are not, and she is in surgery for hours and hours. Finally the surgeon comes out, looking solemn. “We were able to save your wife’s life, but she had extensive head injuries. Your marriage is going to be very different than you envisioned. You’ll have to help her get out of bed and dress in the morning, feed her, take her to the bathroom, clean her up afterwards – basically take care of her every need.”

At the sight of the man’s stricken expression, the doctor suddenly grins and claps him on the shoulder. “I’m just kidding. She’s dead.”

Esri Allbritten is the author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles (available in hardback and ebook, paperback available June 23), and The Portrait of Doreene Gray, available in hardback and ebook as of July 3. You can read the first few chapters of both these book on her website, EsriAllbritten.com.

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