Friday, December 25, 2020

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 1969

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Volume 14, number 10. Ernest M. Hutter, ed. H.S.D. Publications, Inc. October 1969.

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (October 1969) - The Alfred ...AHMM, October 1969 at Goodreads
AHMM, October 1969 at The Alfred Hitchcock wiki

Overall Rating:     7/10

With pics of interior art coming in a day or two... [EDIT: this week I hope.]

Overall, a pretty good issue, with only one story I did not like. The bulk of the stories are forgettable, yet enjoyable enough to read, and many of the selections here managed to find their way into anthologies, including a few in Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthologies. My favourite story is the character-based "The Attitude of Murder," by Nedra Tyre, who I am not familiar with. Other good ones are: "Pardon My Death Ray" by the always enjoyable Jack Ritchie, "Killer in Town" by Max Van Derveer, and "Scream All the Way" by Michael Collins.

My copy is a sad mess. Not only is it overly yellow, but the spine is broken, there is writing on the cover, and a stain on the back. Luckily I paid 0.35 when I picked it up second-hand at NDG Paperback sometime in the mid-80s, probably in a similar condition, only a little less yellow.

Jack B. Daggett's Lament by Frank Sisk     6/10
Narrator Al stops by a small town bar for a drink and something to eat. There he meets patron Jack B. Daggett, who, for the price of a few drinks, recounts his life history. A promising young chemist, he met a corrupt woman who guided him to marry a young and innocent orphaned named Christian, in order to gain access to her sizable inheritance. Of course, things became complicated when Jack fell in love with the woman.

Regular contributor Frank Sisk delivers a somewhat overlong but fairly good story. As most of his short stories, this one is character driven, featuring misconceptions and a small twist. This one tries hard to provide pathos, and with some editing could have easily been improved.

Killer in Town by Max Van Derveer     7/10
Sheriff Billy-Don Joe Glover is anticipating trouble as war hero Matthew Charles McLamp is slated to return to town. The son of the town's wealthiest citizen, years before he had killed a young girl in a traffic collision, and though rumours of his being inebriated behind the wheel pervaded the town, his wealthy father managed to help get him acquitted. Sheriff Glover is concerned that the victim's father would attempt some kind of revenge. While he was away, Matt's new bride Ertha moved into the Big House with his parents, and his dad hired a friend of theirs to chauffeur the lonely girl and keep her company as she awaits her husband's return.

A layered mystery, there is much I like about this one. Pervading the story is a strong sense of despondency, as this successful family lives isolated at home while its ostracized heir is fighting in Vietnam. The family is perpetually punished for both the accident that killed the little girl, yet more so as a result of the acquittal. Beyond the family's experience is the sheriff, offspring of the town's founding fathers, near the end of his career. He knows everyone in town, has a good sense of character, and yet, we discover, misreads each of the players in this complex drama. An AHMM story with more subtle depth than its average feature.

The Waiting Room by Charles W. Runyon     6/10
A trio of thieves and killers on the run hole up in an abandoned service station, surrounded by police. Told through the point of view of Pawley, the leader, he reflects on the current situation and how he has dragged his brother John and his lover Shirley down to this point.

A good read, though I remember liking it more when I was a kid. This was one of the stories that stood out to me from all the back issues I was reading in the 80s. From an adult perspective, it is good, and the existential elements delivered from unlikable and unsympathetic characters is interesting in of itself, yet it is surface only, with no actual depth. Though I suppose this is appropriate since there is no real depth among these characters.

"The Waiting Room" has been reprinted a number of times, including in three AH anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock's Death-Mate (NY: Dell Publishing, May 1973), Alfred Hitchcock's Tales to Make You Quake and Quiver (ed. Cathleen Jordan. N: Davis Publications, 1982), and Portraits of Murder (ed. Eleanor Sullivan. Galahad Books, 1988).

Pardon My Death Ray by Jack Ritchie     7/10
Re-printed in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, mid-December 1991
At a university campus, a man informs two instructors that he is from another planet, and that his people inadvertently launched a death ray at Earth that will kill everyone on the planet at ten after eight that evening.

An amusing short short story that, despite its brevity, manages to toss in a couple of twists. Jack Ritchie was always among my favourite regular AHMM contributors, under this pseudonym or that of Steve O'Connell, and this silly little piece of science fiction is a treat to read. (Though I am left wondering why members from such an advanced species would still carry bits of paper in their pockets.)

The story was among nine reprinted for the magazine's thirty-fifth anniversary (along with seven originals), for mid-December 1991 issue. I don't believe it has been reprinted elsewhere.

A Little Time Off by Stephen Wasylyk     6/10
City detective Dave Malone is on a fishing vacation in the woods, and is wading with his reel when a small fishing boat explodes. He is enticed through guilt by local sheriff Tom Fulton to help investigate the incident, and they learn quickly enough that the boat's engine did not explode, but that instead the boat was blown up. It must be murder!

A decent enough story, quick and wraps up nicely, though the forced humour could have been excised, or at least trimmed.

The Secret Savant by Edward D. Hoch     6/10
Missing persons expert Trainor is hired by a state university to locate esteemed Chemistry professor Ronald Croft, who vanished seemingly without a trace. Yet Croft locates him quite quickly, and learns that the professor is away to conduct an experiment related to his research on the connection between genes, chromosomes and criminal behaviour.

Predictable, and our hero goes from confident investigator to panicky plot trope, but ends on a nice cynical take on the human condition.

Scream All the Way by Michael Collins (Dennis Lynds)     7/10
One-armed detective Dan Fortune is hired to help guard a safe containing $250,000 in cash of bonus pay for the sales staff of a major rug company. Following a burglary attempt, the insurance company demanded that the safe be guarded at all times, and Fortune, along with a partner, must spend the night at The Sussex Towers to ensure the safety of the cash. On that first night, however, there is an unusual amount of traffic on the floor, and Fortune decides to investigate.

A good story, with a surprisingly large cast for a short story, though without getting overcrowded. Dan Fortune is a recurring character, and I quite liked him, attitude and intelligence-wise. Some nice commentary on crime along the way fro our hardened investigator, and I liked the dedication to solving a crime he did not need to even acknowledge, as he would benefit either way. I would seek out more stories of this Dan Fortune.

Both "Scream All the Way" and Charles W. Runyon's "The Waiting Room" were included in Alfred Hitchcock's Tales to Make You Quake and Quiver (Anthology #11) (ed. Cathleen Jordan. NY: Davis Publications, 1982). I recall reading the anthology as a kid, thinking this was lazy editing, but in all honesty, both stories are deserving of the reprint.

Thief in the Night by Carroll Mayers     6/10
Misogynist diamond thief Harry Tyson is vacationing at a sunny resort. On the balcony late one night, he witnesses a beautiful young woman commit what appears to be a robbery next door. When questioned by resort security the next morning, if he'd seen anything, Tyson keeps quiet, and instead searches for the woman so he can blackmail her.

An average story, saved by its brevity. Fairly predictable, and we know that a misogynist such as Tyson will get his just desserts. There's also some detail about our protagonist that's only revealed at the climax, which is always ant-climactic. Nonetheless readable.

Go Ahead and Talk by Liane Keen     5/10
An American visiting London following a long absence runs into an old friend in a pub. The friend, the wealthy recently widowed Peter Carstairs, invites our unnamed narrator to his home, and opens up about the difficulties he had with his beautiful and loving--though incredibly jealous--wife.

Predictable in the worst way; simply in that there was really only one way the story could end. The long lead-up was not interesting enough either, weakened by its conclusion. There is also an uncomfortable scene of physical domestic abuse, discussed as though it were the most natural thing. I wonder if "Liane Keen" is genuinely a woman. This appears to be her only published story... but I did not search too hard.

The Attitude of Murder by Nedra Tyre     7/10
On a beautiful day, the routine walk of retired Alexander Hull is extended, taking him to an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Having lost his hearing, Hall's perception of physical attributes has become heightened, or so he believes, and looking through an upstairs window he is convinced he has witnessed a murder. He is then struck with the dilemma that many an unwitting eyewitness to a possible crime has faced: how to convince the authorities?

This story is focused not primarily on the crime, but on the character of the witness. The plot is mere trope for the development of our protagonist: a lonely widow with limited funds, who has little in life but a small apartment and a tight routine. There is natural empathy toward Mr. Hall (he even reminds me, to a certain degree, of my dad), and the reader believes what he saw while sympathizing with his meagre canned dinners and rising costs of food. There is a great tragedy here, in that Mr. Hall succumbs to being a man with no purpose to serve.

Anthologized in Alfred Hitchcock's Let it All Bleed Out (NY: Dell Publishing, 1973), which also includes another story from this issue, the lesser "The Hand."

Poof! by Syd Hoff     6/10
In the middle of the night, Charles Bergman hears a voice clearly informing him that the world will be coming to an end, and that he will be the sole remaining survivor. He immediately awakens, and kisses his wife goodbye, inadvertently waking her. We are meant to wonder whether Bargman has lost his grip on reality, or if really he is fated to become the last man on Earth. We do not wonder for long, as the story skips quickly to its conclusion.

Very short and overall forgettable, but fun enough while it lasts. Hoff was a popular cartoonist in his day, and had a handful of stories published in the pages of AHMM, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Charlie Chan Mystery Magazine, and some others. Four of his short stories have been included in AH: Presents anthologies: "A Hundred Times" in Alfred Hitchcock's Hard Day at the Scaffold (NY: Dell Publishing, 1967), "The Human Fly" in Alfred Hitchcock's Death-Mate (NY: Dell Publishing, May 1973), "The Ghost and Mr. Grebner" in Alfred Hitchcock's Behind the Death Ball (NY: Dell Publishing, November 1974), "Older than Springtime" in Alfred Hitchcock's Coffin Break (NY: Dell Publishing, May 1974), and "The Ghost and Mr. Grebner" in Alfred Hitchcock's Behind the Death Ball (NY: Dell Publishing, November 1974.

Hand by William Brittain     6/10
A major traffic jam brings cars to a standstill. Edward Julian is stuck behind a green Chevy, frustrated at the delay, when he notices the vehicle to his left, its suspicious female driver, and a sheet in the back seat which is exposed to reveal a hand with a stream of blood. As with "Attitude of Murder," how does our unwitting eyewitness convince the police that a murder was committed? Particularly when the local homicide detective is overly tired from working two straight shifts?

Predictable, and with an ending that's a bit wonky as it transforms into an unnecessary action sequence. Since it's post denouement, it's just tiring. However, the first part is well done.

Anthologized in Alfred Hitchcock's Let it All Bleed Out (NY: Dell Publishing, 1973), which also includes another story from this issue, the superior "Attitude of Murder."

Doing His Hamlet Thing by Lee Chisholm     6/10
At the Benigno police station, Lieutenant Michael O'Shea is facing his once high school English teacher. As a student, O`Shea had complained to Miss Dawson about Hamlet's methodical, inactive method, and his teacher's response was that Hamlet was taking his time, mulling things over as he tries to unravel the mysteries that abound in the plot. Now, as O'Shea interrogates Miss Dawson about the corpse of a small-time crook that was recently discovered nearby, along with some old clippings found in the dead man's wallet, O'Shea is taking his time piecing together his theory of the motives behind the man's death. He is doing his Hamlet thing.

Another entertaining, brief little story. Predictable, but well laid out and I do like the concept. What I like most is the idea that this teacher, doing her best to educate a disinterested student, may have planted the seed that led to her unravelling; that her guidance that influenced his bright future, uncovered her dark past. Maybe a few Shakespeare references might have made it a little more fun. Or maybe not.

Memory of a Murder by Clark Howard     5/10
Magazine writer Dan Briggs arrives in the small town of Lakeford to write about a thirty year-old murder for a series of unsolved cases. In October 1940, young Jennie Hunt was strangled in the cemetery grounds, and her boyfriend Billy Deever was believed by townsfolk to be the killer. Yet Deever disappeared that night, and has not been found in the twenty-nine years since the crime.

Predictable all around, but decent enough of a story. How he fled Lakeford was pretty cool. I didn't care how the murder was presented, particularly the forced meanness of Jessie, almost presenting Deever as the victim, when clearly it was she.

Clark Howard was a prolific mystery writer, whose work appeared in many issues of AHMM and other magazines. For a list of his numerous short story publications, you can visit the webpage dedicated to his writing at clarkhowardauthor.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Bourbon Penn 20

Bourbon Penn 20. Erik Secker, editor. March 2020.

Bourbon Penn 20 can be read (or purchased) online at Bourbon Penn
Bourbon Penn 20 on Goodreads

Overall Rating:     7/10

It's been a couple years now that I've been reading Bourbon Penn. As with most primarily online periodicals, I tend to read a story or two, and move on. Consistently impressed with the quality of the stories in BP, I've been meaning to read through an entire issue, and I managed (nearly) to pour through their latest issue, Bourbon Penn 20, in two days. (I write "nearly" since the last story followed a two-day hiatus.)

Yet read through the issue I certainly did. Half a dozen stories and none of them bad. Each with a dose of suspense injected into its own unique universe, mostly dark. Though I enjoyed each story, I do have a favourite: Mark Pantoja's "The Replacement," which struck its emotional cord at a hefty pitch.

The cover art is by John Brosio, titled "Fatigue (Version 2)." It is accompanied by a good personal essay on his experiences studying art.

Smilers by Chris Hauser     7/10
Six year-old Aiden wants to go to the pool and hit the high dive, but his big brother Zack can't tear himself away from a zombie shoot-'em-up. Meanwhile dad has been in the kitchen for several days, reading the same paper. A very good and surprisingly sad apocalyptic world, where the setting takes back seat in the mind of a six year-old in a wolf mask who wants nothing more but to spend time with his big brother.(Aidan & Zack, from A to Z... interesting.)

The nature of the apocalypse is not the point of this story, but it is nicely conveyed to the reader. This can be challenging when seeing the world through a six year-old's eyes. Good descriptions, good detail, and a good ending make for a memorable story.

Crescendo by Chelsea Hanna Cohen     7/10
Selena speaks in numbers, while Charlotte speaks in music. Quickly they fall in love, and everything runs smoothly until they meet Mark, who also speaks in numbers. Immediately, he and Selena are able to speak and understand each other at a rate Charlotte can only wish to achieve. The story presents the idea that how we get along is on par with how effectively we communicate, and then challenges that idea. Another well written story with realistic characters in real scenarios, regardless of their methods of communication. A nice example of how fantasy can convey concrete emotions.

The Replacement by Mark Pantoja     8/10
A young boy has returned home following a long illness. He remembers little of his pre-illness days, and is concerned that his mother appears not to want to have anything to do with him, despite his father's sympathetic and logical explanations.

Suspenseful, surprising and touching. I was gripped throughout and felt satisfaction at every turn in the plot.

The Kool-Aid Stoppers by Elisa Abatsis     6/10
In a society where people travel into the past to rectify human error, our narrator has travelled to 1978 Guyana to help halt Jim Jones, prior to the Jonestown Massacre. Despite the setting, the story opens with a good deal of humour. There is a major tone shift, as the narrator, like the narrative, removes the defensive humour cloak to reveal the private agonies underneath.

We Aren't Violent People by E.C. Barrett     6/10
In a post-flood apocalyptic world, a young woman must contend with being the new leader of a small segregated community.

The narrative bounces ideas of basic survival against notions of human kindness, not unlike those presented on The Walking Dead. The title has the implication of a "but," which is appropriate for its main theme.

Emptying the Bunkhouse by Vincent H. O'Neill     7/10
In a corporate-run future, seemingly governed by robots, convicts are offered freedom if they take part in the collection of all-important spheres in a complex series of caverns. The catch is that the environment is inhabited by hostile creatures that like to snack on humans. The "Bunkhouse" is their boat that drops them off each day to collect their quota of spheres, whereas the "emptying" can refer to a couple of things I won't give away.

Launching off from a premise borrowed from Stephen King's 1985 novella "The Mist," to the extent that the environment is early on referred to as "the mist," the story soon veers away from King to become something very much its own. A more complex plot than I was expecting, I enjoyed the story quite a bit, as it kept surprising me with its plot shifts. Primarily a futuristic science fiction adventure piece, with elements of monster horror and a dash of social and technological criticism, it all meshes together nicely.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 1969

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (March 1969) - The Alfred ...Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Volume 14, number 3. HSD Publications, Inc. March 1969.

AHMM, March 1969 at Goodreads
AHMM, March 1969 at The Alfred Hitchcock wiki

Overall Rating:     6/10

Overall, a very middle ground issue with no exceptional stories, though nothing truly atrocious either. Three stories featuring some kind of kidnapping, two others with hostages, and two stories featuring gambling. Then we have one bank robbery, one serial killer and a snake. Not to mention some surprisingly strong violence. My favourite story is Michael Zuroy's "The Experts," followed by the Robert Colby novelette, "Dead Stop on the Road South," and Malcolm Thompson's "One for the Money," along with perhaps the opening tale, Max Van Derveer's "The Gambler." A couple of forgettable tales which, at the risk of bringing undeserved attention to them, I will not mention up here.

An ugly orange cover which features an interesting detail. Hitch's left shoulder is coloured in a little. Initially, I thought my copy had been felted by a previous owner, but noting the same detail on cover images available online, this effect was the original intention. Or an error in the original print.

My favourite section is this friendly notice to help support local magazine sellers.

Three of the stories in this issue were reprinted in AHP anthologies. The Robert Colby novelette "Dead Stop on the Road South" was included in both the standalone Alfred Hitchcok's Rolling Gravestones (1971), and a decade later in Tales to Make Your Teeth Chatter (1980), which is probably where I first read it as a kid, though I had no recollection of the story. Michael Brett's "Images" was included, also in 1971, in I Am Curious (Bloody), while Frank Sisk's "The Return of Crazy Bill" found its way into Alfred Hitchcock's Grave Suspicions (1984).

And onto the stories...

The Gambler by Max Van Derveer (pp. 2-20)     6/10
To clear a large gambling debt, talent agent Mina Tilton is forced to allow her hottest young star, Academy Award nominated Sydney South, to be kidnapped for ransom. A fairly tense and fast-paced story, and though we know Tilton will get her deserved dues, there is a nice surprise waiting at the finish line.

The story presents us with an interesting moral conundrum. Protagonist Tilton is presented as selfish and compulsive, both as a gambler and once wife throwing herself at other men. Yet she is a victim here, and the real criminals do not get their own dues. Granted since the story is focused on Tilton, and the emphasis is on her own a-moral behaviour, this falls nicely within the story's scope. It's when we think beyond scope that we realize no real justice is done. Even the intelligent detective is duped.

A note on the interior illustration. This drawing captures a moment in the opening scene quite nicely. Only Chip, the man behind the caper, is dressed in a dark suit with a burgundy tie. The illustrator, normally accurate with story details, decided instead to go for a comfier look.

One for the Money by Malcolm Thompson (pp. 21-29)     6/10
Another story about gambling, and in one we actually witness some bona fide gambling. Former boxer and convicted conman "Pug" works at a casino, cleaning toilets and ashtrays. Wanting to escape his dead-end life, he forcefully borrows two thousand dollars from a small-time money lender, leaving him tied to his chair with a promise of repayment, and hits the craps tables.

A good story, and though the ending might be predictable, it does not diminish the tragedy. A short piece, everything is intended for effect, and Thompson does well in providing exactly what is needed for a story.

Snake in the Tower by George C. Chesbro (pp. 30-38)     6/10
Elevator worker Burt Abele is unhappy with the up-and-down monotony of his life. Furthermore, as we he wallows in self-pity at a local diner, he is keenly aware of the unhappiness of everyone around him. As a challenge to the static nature of modern existence, there enters a man with a basket containing a deathly poisonous king cobra. Of course the reptile is freed, and eyes potential victims.

What works in this story is not the minimal plot, but the narrator's outlook on the world around him. People cannot change, he thinks, and later becomes aware of how different people are in the face of death.

Author Chesbro is, of course, the author of the Mongo the Magnificent series. The first novel, Shadow of a Broken Man, was published in 1977. This novel originated from the novella "Strange Prey," first published in the August 1970 issue of AHMM.

One Way by John Lutz (pp. 39-43)     6/10
A police officer patrols a low income area, in search of one Tony Randello. Well written and interesting until it becomes obvious. That last section with an expository explanation is a little lazy, but decent enough.

The Nose Blows by Rose Million Healey (pp. 44-57)     5/10
Miss Ade of the Ade Agency, along with partner Ted Tierney, investigate the disappearance of a missing, well-to-do girl shortly before her wedding. Her parents are certain she was kidnapped, but appearances suggest she has run off on her own.

Amusing enough, with tidbits of wittiness scattered throughout, the humour both self-deprecating and aged. I was interested to a point along the search, but the denouement was less uninteresting than the investigation. The story proves itself to be more of a comedy than a mystery, and since the humour is slight, as a story it falls flat.

Bon Voyage by Jaime Sandaval (pp. 58-63)     5/10
Lane Johnson meets a beautiful Linda Wilson at the San Francisco airport, and with half an hour to kill before their flight, they sit in the bar for a drink. There, however, they are accosted by a drunken man they have difficulty getting rid of, and agree to play a small wager in order that he leave.

It is difficult to get more average than this. Not a bad story by any means, but predictable from the get-go, so the reading slogs along until we reach an obvious finish, which is unfortunately over-explained.

The Typewriter Shop by Earle Lord (pp. 64-77)     5/10
In search of a specif, older model typewriter, Rudolph Valentino Cirino visits the Typewriter Shop, oddly situated between a meat-packing plant and a record-pressing warehouse outside Los Angeles. He receives some rough treatment from three large thug employees, and is soon embroiled in some illegal goings-on. He and a beautiful passerby are immediately arrested, and some generic plotting ensues.

Another very average story, I had difficulties with this one. First of all, why would a successful crime syndicate send thugs to attack a potential customer in what is clearly a front. Just send someone to help keep up the facade. Is making such idiotic decisions what makes a person a crime lord, only to get taken down by a physical education instructor?

The Strangler by James E. Thomas (pp. 78-85)     6/10
Over the past three months, a serial killer known as "The Strangler" has been claiming two victims a month, one during each of the first week of the month, and another during the last. It's 1:30 in the morning, the last night of the month, and so far no victim has yet been claimed. In a bar near the train station, on a rainy night, a small group of people gather: the bartender, a regular female customer, a stranger waiting for his train to depart, and the police investigating the case of the strangler.

While the premise and the set up are quite good, the identity of the strangler is evident early on. Despite the obvious manipulations contrived by the author, the reader`s assumption will not be diverted. Too bad, since it could have been a better story.

The Experts by Michael Zuroy (pp. 86-95)     7/10
New York City bus driver Radford Mulligan is content and overly protective of his suburban home, resentful of anything, or anyone, that disturbs his quiet existence. A serial thief known as "The Creeper" has been silently robbing homes in the neighbourhood, and yet the thief does not worry Mulligan, though he scares his devoted wife Libby. Instead of worrying about this successful thief, Mulligan develops an unusual obsession: to kill the neighbourhood plumber. R. Kropowicz, the only available plumber this side of Queen's, is reputed for his shoddy and overpriced work, and as a result brings chaos to Mulligan's otherwise quiet and comfortable existence. Wife Libby, however, able to read his mind, advertises his intentions to the neighbourhood police, who warn him to leave such things to the experts.

A surprisingly enjoyable story with a nifty ending. The tone is light but not comical, and Mulligan's musings of how he would murder the plumber is entertaining. This story works on pretty much all required levels.

A Gun for a Kingdom by Anthony Marsh (pp.  96-108)     4/10
On the run from the local sheriff, a small-time crook holds up a cabbie and his niece at their cabin. As they wait for the law to show up, he confides to the cabbie the events that led him to his current situation. Small crime to religion and quickly over to desperate, violent crime.

Not a very good story. Surprisingly violent and with a point that is more than a little fuzzy. The criminal, regardless of his experience and victimization by society and the local church, does not carry much sympathy, and the cabbie, less a character than a device, is just as bland. Even that little crying niece does not serve her purpose. I didn't care how the hostage situation would end, only that it would end quickly.

Images by Michael Brett (pp. 109-115)     6/10
Two weeks after the disappearance of Oscar Middleton, a man in serious debt to a group of loan sharks, Mr. Orange receives a visit from a pair of police detectives. He was the last person who appears to have seen Middleton, having dined with him at a restaurant the night he seems to have disappeared. Furthermore, the police bring up additional cold cases where Mr. Orange happened to be the last person to have been seen the disappeared party. Cool and co-operative, Mr. Orange claims he is no murderer, and the police, despite the logic of their investigation, have no proof.

A passable story, and like many in this issue of AHMM, fairly predictable. I do like the name Mr. Orange.

A Hearing Aid for Carmody by Stephen Wasylyk (pp. 116-128)     6/10
As part of their standard M.O., a pair of serial bank robbers take a civilian hostage from the bank to ensure a safe getaway. Shortly after having driven off, however, they notice there is no pursuing police, and in addition, that their hostage has a bit of a deathwish. A decent story despite the weaker, sentimental wrap-up. The crooks are a little inconsistent: early on portrayed as strictly professional bank robbers, then transforming into potential cold-blooded murderers.

Wasylyk (1922-1996) is among the most consistent contributors to AHMM, publishing several stories over a span of thirty years (1969-1998). He has also published frequently in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. His name is among the most familiar from the AHMM issues I used to devour as a kid, but his stories were never among my favourite.

The Return of Crazy Bill by Frank Sisk (pp. 129-137)     6/10
Reading through the paper one morning, our narrator recalls childhood days and the likes of the neighbourhood oddball known as Crazy Bill. The story follows the innocent summer game of a group of boys convincing each other that the grizzled man lives in a cave and abducts children. A good little story with a quick and neat little finish, which brings clarity to the story's title.

Like Wasylyk, Frank Sisk (1915-1985) was also a frequent contributor to AHMM. He too contributed regularly to EQMM, along with Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine and The American Mercury. His short story "The Flat Male" (which appeared in two AHP anthologies: Down by the Old Bloodstream (1971) and A Hearse of a Different Color (1972)), was adapted for a 1972 episode of Night Gallery. Its reprint in the second anthology one year later is likely to have been inspired by the adaptation.

Dead Stop on the Road South by Robert Colby (pp. 138-162)     6/10
Successful real estate investor Stanley Sherwood and his wife, Barbara, are driving from New York to Florida. They are pulled over one evening for speeding, by a small county police deputy and escorted to the sheriff. At the station they are promptly arrested for driving a stolen car and placed in a jail cell. A scam, certainly, and as Stan sits alone in his cell, other victims are being brought in.

A pretty good story, this one. The victims are not very sympathetic characters, and it is a good touch that there is no clear heroic figure, nothing like the forced hero in "The Typewriter Store." We do sympathize with them, however. They are somewhat-but-not-quite-average people, yet the bad guys are pretty despicable, so we cannot root for them. Might have been interesting to read a version with less vile crooks.

The deep purple detail here is good, down to the burn on Sherwood's cheek, and placing the doors and shotgun where they ought to be.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Peter Straub, Ghost Story (1979)

Straub, Peter. Ghost Story. NY: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1979.

Ghost Story at Goodreads

Rating:     8/10

Ghost Story by Peter Straub.jpg

There is a pattern to a Peter Straub novel. Consequentially, there is a pattern by which I read Peter Straub.

The first three quarters is taut prose, excellent character-building alongside a suspenseful plot: a mystery with some element of the supernatural. The next portion elevates the supernatural, as our characters choose to battle against evil forces. The final portion is exaggerated, a great climactic explosion while, for the most part, the characters have stopped evolving and, as they go all out against evil forces, threaten to become sentimental.

My reading pattern sees me glued to that first portion, interested still during the second, and unfortunately (but not always), disappointed by the finale. This was the case with Floating Dragon, which was proving to be my favourite Straub until that finish, and Shadowland which I read too long ago to truly reflect on. An exception is Mr. X, which despite some exaggerated fantastical elements, held me throughout, particularly as a result of its complexity.

While Ghost Story does follow this pattern, neither the fantasy nor the end are too outlandish, and the novel holds up well from start to finish.

Though a celebrated genre writer, Straub is foremost a stylist. His writing is patient and conscious of language. Atop this, his delineation of character is excellent, and makes the horror elements of his work truly threatening, in that we are interested in the people caught up in the tensions of his universe. Had the townsfolk of Milburn been generic slasher victims, we just wouldn't care much about them, and rather than sympathize with their situation, we may even root for evil. In addition to strong characters, and unifying those characters, is the character of the fictional town of Milburn, New York. The geography is among the best captured in a novel, elevating the basic function of setting.

Five elderly men of Milburn make up the Chowder Society, gathering regularly to share ghost stories. A year ago one of the men died, and now a second has also fallen victim to unusual circumstances. These men are strongly linked to one another, to their town, past, and through the malevolence of the woman hunting them down. Linked also to the folk tales that come full circle with their storytelling, and the title is only a representation of something greater, so that an arguably more appropriate title would be Creepy Folk Tales. The idea is that the evils our minds have conjured up in our folk years, in the form of ghosts and werewolves and vampires and changelings and the rest, are the result of a single malevolence that appears sporadically through time to wreak havoc in any given part of the world. In this novel that malevolence is seeking vengeance.

A truly fascinating concept. Interestingly, my attention was absorbed by the character relationships and the town, more even than by the evil spirit. It is as though the novel is primarily centred on these relationships, and the malevolence is introduced as an obstacle to test the relationships, like a death or a divorce or a car accident. Will these good folks pull through and overcome this situation? In all honesty, I would be intrigued by a Straub novel focusing on relationships with no element whatsoever of the supernatural. But he appears to have retired from writing.

On a side note, my copy contains one unusual printing error. Several pages repeat themselves: when you come across page 314, you can turn to page 283, and make your way back up the repeated thirty pages. I have the first edition but not sure which printing, and I wonder how much those thirty pages multiplied by the number of copies printed, cost the publisher (or printer). (Or forest.)

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As of 24 December 2015