Saturday, December 4, 2021

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2021

Landrigan, Linda, editor, Jackie Sherbow, Managing Editor. Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  NY: Penny Publications, March/April 2021. Volume 66, Nos. 3 & 4.

AHMM website
The issue over at Goodreads

Overall rating:     7/10

This is the first of the contemporary AHMM magazines I've read since the late 1980s when, a kid, I asked my parents for a subscription for my birthday. Though most frequently my reading of AHMM consisted of back issues from the 1960s and 1970s that I'd picked up for pocket change as a pre-teen in local second-hand bookshops. Receiving this issue in my mailbox was a treat, and excitedly I began to read, wondering how different this issue would be from those I was used to reading. How much more modern and innovative, more complex and dark. Soon I realized that in many the stories are pretty much the same, though the overall quality of the writing has improved. As though we re-visit the same themes and plot outlines, only we spend more time focused on the craft. Like issues of old, this one has a mix of serious drama and humour, along with a dash of the supernatural, which I always appreciated with AHMM.

The mix here is really quite good, with a solid consistency in quality. We have reincarnation, a murderous animal, a sexual affair, the first century Europe, and a dose of humour (which then and now has always been my least favourite sub-genre).

What is most modern about the issue is its relationship with the internet. Though since receiving this issue a few months back I've received old fashioned mail-in subscription renewal offers, there are many complementing items on the AHMM website, which I quite enjoyed.

For my favourite individual stories, I'm picking two: "The Beast of Easedale Tarn," by James Tipton, the one featured on the issue's cover. I also quite enjoyed the Matthew Wilson piece, "Thank You for Your Service."

The Soul of Peg O'Dwyer by Michael Nethercott     7/10

In 1950s New York, a young woman is hypnotized and brought back to her youth, which turns out to be 1880s Ireland. It seems the girl relapses into a former life, and we quickly learn that this incarnation of herself came to a sudden demise as she was walking home. The incident is investigated by recurring character Mr. O'Nelligan, from the O'Nelligan/Plunkett series.

With good build-up and suspense, I was drawn into the story. While I did figure out the mystery, it was quite late in the story. Interestingly, there is discussion of coincidence and their improbabilities, yet the plot relies on one major coincidence in order to be pulled off. I won't give that away, since it can spoil the story.

As a supernatural story, "The Soul of Peg O'Dwyer" earns its very own page in the ISFdb.

Shank's Locked Room by Robert Lopresti     6/10

Over dinner at a mystery writers' convention, a small group discuss the curious case of a stolen hotel room key belonging to one of its members. Curious, since nothing has actually been taken from the victim's room. A quick little conversation story, light in mood and energy.

(For an amusing account by the author on naming characters please visit this article on Trace Evidence.)

The Beast of Easedale Tarn by James Tipton     8/10

Dr. Watson visits Easedale Tarn, near the village of Grasmere, to investigate a "big cat" that is terrorizing the Lake District. There he encounters a diverse cast of characters, evidence of a large feline, an actual puma, and a scandal around poet William Wordsworth.

A highly enjoyable story, with a tight combination of complex mystery, intriguing characters and unforced humour. A pleasure to read.

Friends and Neighbors by John M. Floyd     6/10

Sherriff of Pine Country, Mississippi, Raymond Douglas, visits friend, author, former lawyer and current love interest Jennifer Parker, to gloat about how he has just solved a case. Parker, however has her mind elsewhere, and the two share, each helping to solve the other's mystery.

Quick and enjoyable.

The Girl with the Gibson Girl Look by O'Neil De Noux     7/10

A married man falls for a pretty younger woman, and they begin a calculated affair. As expected, things do become complicated, so much so that a murder must be committed.

As is frequently the case in a story depicting an affair through a husband's point of view, the man is victimized via a stern, cold and unattractive wife. In addition, he is trapped in the marriage since his comfortable lifestyle is a result of his wife's fortune. In this case, the male character is redeemed as his deep devotion to his daughter is tossed, otherwise unnecessarily, into the plot. Despite this sometimes unnerving trope, I liked the depiction of the affair--it was in fact what kept me glued to the story, not caring if a murder was looming ahead. I wanted things to work out for the couple, knowing of course that they wouldn't since I'm reading this in an issue of AHMM.

Plot builds up nicely, but unfortunately the ending drops in a bit out of nowhere, and is not too satisfactory. I shouldn't be surprised, since there are some other unrelated red herrings in the story, insignificant remarks or moments that are weighted, only to remain insignificant. Despite this, the story is good on its own merits, so that a clever ending is not what I am looking for.

A Night of Lies, Thieves, and Thunder, Long Ago by William Burton McCormick     6/10

It is the year A.D. 28, and in the midst of a raging storm, a retired thief finds that a younger version of himself has found his way inside his home, a fugitive of the law. Here are two thieves and somewhere nearby is some valuable treasure, so tension abounds, heightened by the storm and the soldiers that are searching for the younger man.

The ending should be obvious since it's clearly pointed out in the plot, and might be obvious for a more practiced mystery reader, but I didn't even come close to figuring it out. It works, and has an element of absurdity that I always appreciate.

Thank You For Your Service by Matthew Wilson     8/10

A veteran of two rounds of duty in Iraq, Kyle decides to make YouTube videos of stolen valor: of citizens pretending to be veterans in order to take advantage of veteran benefits.

My favourite story of the issue. It is well constructed and maintains both depth and a good plot. The story focuses primarily on Kyle's struggles, while detailing the story's crime: stolen valor. I learned a lot about the topic and have since viewed some videos on YouTube. The story gives insight on post-war veteran experiences, on the injustices and shocking extent of stolen valor. Beyond this, the story also touches on the desperation of citizens to exploit veteran benefits, and even the desperate attempts of veterans who try to take advantage of the fakers by making a proper livelihood. The situation is presented full circle.

Dead Man’s Hand by Melissa Yi     6/10

As a result of winning a poker tournament, garbage collector Ritchie is invited by the local judge to play a hand of poker at his home. Because we are in the pages of a genre magazine, Ritchie and the group of high society characters are not playing for money, but rather for something more precious.

Overall I enjoyed the story, but felt there were some ambiguities needing clarity, such as why the judge and his friends wanted to play for these specific stakes (the single word tossed out by Ritchie is not enough to convince me). I'm leaving this vague since it is a spoiler.

Saint Paddy’s Day by R. T. Lawton     5/10

Two men are hired to retrieve the corpse of their friend Padraich, which has been stolen the night before the funeral by some old drinking buddies who wanted to take him on one final night of bar hopping. Comedic mysteries are not my thing, and this one falls a little flat for me. My least favourite story of the issue.

Business as Usual by Wayne J. Gardiner     6/10

On her return to New York, a "specialist" is nearly assassinated at LaGuardia Airport. She recently finished a job for a prominent Chicago businessman, but the job, a killing, had some "collateral damage," and her employer likes his jobs taken care of exactly as planned. He is so exacting in his work, that despite the mutual attraction between them, it is likely he wants her dead as a result of the less than perfect hit.

The Thrifty Way by Brendan Dubois     7/10

Former social work student and current thrifty shop employee Maggie is at work when a strikingly good looking stranger comes by looking for a series of books on the history of the US navy in World War II. The shop has four books from the series, but he would very much like to have the set of fifteen. Maggie is both suspicious and intrigued, and finagles an expensive dinner from the nameless stranger in exchange for the identify of the person who dropped off those books.

The plot and resolution are fairly standard, but the story is well constructed, suspenseful with a likeable protagonist and excellent use of backdrop, focusing on thrift, poverty and the contrasting ways in which to make a life. Maggie is essentially a failure at helping others, her degree useless and her work unsatisfying, and despite a deceivingly optimistic outlook, she is borderline depressed. The story's title serves up a nice bit of irony.

There is a minor error in the text. When our stranger first steps up to the counter of the thrift shop, he places one of the books on the counter, mentioning that the shop has four. He then goes back "to get the others," and on his return Maggie states he comes "back with the other four." He should really be coming back with the other three. (p. 159)

What the Doctor Ordered by John H. Dirckx     6/10

Following a board meeting, its senior members stay back to talk about the good old days. A couple of lawyers describe unbearable clients that got off the hook, and then a doctor confesses to murdering some patients.

An entertaining story that ends on a half-decent joke, but a riveting telling and an interesting mystery merge for a good read.

The Dueña by Tom Larsen     6/10

Captain Ernesto Guillén, the once mighty inspector now reduced to working in the tiny Ecuadorian coastal town of Olón, is called to investigate a burglary, and takes a young sergeant with him to the scene of the crime. A fairly standard story, where the captain shows off not only his investigative skills, but also a soft side.

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