ON ENDINGS

SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN

Recently I was asked to serve on a short-story panel at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Toronto (October 12-15) that will attempt to provide advice to new writers on various aspects of craft. The panel’s moderator, frequent EQMM and AHMM contributor James Lincoln Warren, asked each panelist to provide a list of topics for discussion. That got me thinking about endings.

This type of panel is untried ground for me. I am not a teacher of creative writing, nor have I ever so much as attended a class or workshop on creative writing. Anything I know about the short story comes from reading, and from working one-on-one with authors for more than a quarter century. When it comes to reading, however, I have an abundance of experience. EQMM receives about 2,000 submissions per year, and I have always at least check-read every one of them. That’s about 52,000…

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The Road to Paradise: A New Twist on Family Values

the road to paradise

 

 

The Road to Paradise by Max Allan Collins (Brash Books, November 2017) is the second sequel to The Road to Perdition, which was an award-winning graphic novel and a superb motion picture starring Tom Hanks. Collins is an MWA Grand Master and a multiple Shamus-award winning author.

When I began reading The Road to Paradise, I only knew that the author had co-authored mysteries with Mickey Spillane and had written the Dick Tracy daily and Sunday comics for the Chicago Tribune. I also knew he had written the Ms. Tree comic books and was a fellow member of MWA Midwest. I hadn’t yet read The Road to Perdition nor seen the film.

I lived I Oak Park, Illinois, in the mid-1970s when a mob hit man murdered crime-boss Sam Giancana in his Fillmore Street home, less than six blocks from me, so I was instantly intrigued by this novel’s opening scene where the Outfit similarly slays Mad Sam DeStefano. Not only did I regularly hang out at the Big Top restaurant in Berwyn (at the corner where the cities of Cicero, Chicago, Oak Park, and Berwyn intersect) with lots of people associated with Mad Sam, but I also met two of Momo Giancana’s three daughters when I managed O’Hare convention hotels. Unfortunately, Collins momentarily lost me when we left that familiar road to focus on Michael Satariano, formerly Michael O‘Sullivan, at the Cal-Neva in Tahoe. If I had read the previous Road books (both Perdition and Purgatory) before reading The Road to Paradise, I wouldn’t have confused Connor Looney with Mooney Giancana. Nevertheless, Collins kept me reading until I could piece together who was who and who did what to whom and where and when and why.

The Looneys were Irish bootleggers in Moline in the 1920s. Michael O’Sullivan, Sr., Michael Satariano’s father, went to work for them as their “Angel of Death” enforcer after serving during WWI. He considered himself still a soldier. Soldiers killed enemies. It was easy for him to emerge from one war to fight in another.

When Connor Looney murdered his wife and youngest son, Michael Senior declared war on the Looneys and the Chicago mob. He took his surviving boy along to drive the getaway car while he robbed banks and sought revenge for the death of his wife and his other son.

After Michael Senior’s death in Perdition, Kansas, Michael is adopted by the Satarianos. He grows up in DeKalb, Illinois, and falls in love with Patsy Ann O’Hara. He enlists in the Army and is a sniper on Bataan when war is declared, He’s already a trained killer, and he kills more than fifty enemy Japs. He becomes the first medal of honor recipient of the second world war when he loses an eye saving the lives of his captain and General Wainwright. He’s sent home to make speeches and act like a hero during War Bond tours.

If you want the whole story, read The Road to Perdition and The Road to Purgatory before you read The Road to Paradise. I bought all three books but read them in reverse order, beginning with Paradise. They do work as stand-alones, if you pay attention to the back-fill and can keep it straight. I love all three novels so much I’m now attempting to get my hands on everything Max Allan Collins has written.

It’s easy for me to identify with Michael because I once lived in Chicago and Oak Park and Berwyn and Cicero. I received my masters in educational psychology from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, and still live nearby. I was a hotel and resort manager in Chicago and Atlanta and Florida during the seventies, and I personally encountered some of the real-life mob figures featured in these novels.

And, like Michael Senior, I believe in revenge, an eye for an eye. I do not believe in turning the other cheek.

Is the son of the Angel of Death a saint or a sinner? Can even a merciful God forgive him for killing so many?

I highly recommend The Road to Paradise to anyone who loves a good mystery, a great story, or who simply wants to learn more about history. It’s a wonderful tale of revenge, redemption, and family (no pun intended) values.

 

New Addition to Great S&S Series

The Brghtest Fell

 

The Fae don’t play nice. October Daye should know that by now, being half-human and half Faerie. But where her mother’s concerned, Toby can’t think logically. In The Brightest Fell (DAW, September 7, 2017), Book 11 of the October Daye series, Hugo-Award-Winning Author Seanan McGuire sends October in search of a long-lost half-sister. When mother politely asks Toby to put her PI skills to work to find August, she refuses.

Amandine, one of the Full-Blood Fae and Daoine Sidhe, isn’t used to being refused and won’t take no for an answer. To force her younger daughter to obey, she imprisons Toby’s fiance, Tybalt, plus another of Toby’s friends and takes them both hostage. Many of the characters from previous novels in this series, both friends and former enemies (including Simon Torquill from Rosemary and Rue), aid October’s quest into deep faerie to retrieve sister August.

Readers of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files will love McGuire’s Daye tales as much as, if not more than, Dresden, because Harry is currently missing, burnt out, or presumed dead while Daye becomes more and more immortal—and memorable—with every new novel.

Both urban fantasies have first-person narratives riddled with self-deprecating humor as well as suspense. Both heroes are PIs (private paranormal investigators). Harry’s entry to Faerie is Chicago; Toby’s is San Francisco. Both have half-siblings as antagonists who become occasional allies. Both frequent a restaurant where preternatural folk gather: Harry’s is a local bar; Toby’s is Borderlands Cafe and Bookstore. But the two heroes are actually as different as Knight and Daye, because Dresden’s story is told from a male viewpoint while Daye’s is decidedly feminine.

Ever since Spenser reinvented the sword and sorcery genre with the publication of the Faerie Queene in 1590, English-language writers have been embellishing on his themes and characters. Although the fairy tales most Americans are familiar with originated as Irish, Scottish, Welsh, or Germanic folk tales as retold by Victorian writers like J. M. Barrie, Spenser’s heroes are not entirely forgotten. The heroic quest of Britomart—the heroine’s journey—accompanied by her faithful squire, becomes Toby’s journey-quest on faerie’s Babylon Road (much like Dorothy and her companions following the yellow brick road into the Land of Oz to find a wizard), accompanied by Simon and Quentin.

What is it that attracts us to Faerie Tales? Is it a memory, embedded deep within human DNA, inside our very blood, of a long-ago time when magic was real and women ruled the world? Magic is a Ma word, you realize, because the first true practitioners were women. Magic flows from the Mother to her children through her blood, her breast-milk, and her songs. Men have no magic of their own except what they inherit from their mothers.

Magic lives in the blood. True magic is blood magic, and true enchantment is lyrical.

Magic is never free. There’s always a painful fee to be paid when employing magic to acquire what you desire. In fact, the Fae are sometimes called The Fee. They are sometimes also known as The Fates or as The Furies, but that’s another story.

Fae Magic always smells like it’s composed of a mixture of the alchemical essence of a living plant combined with something else, like rosemary and rue, and it also has a shape one can touch, a thread to ravel or unravel.

Toby’s unique gift, inherited from her mother, is her ability to smell or taste magic. She can differentiate odors like artists differentiate shapes and colors. She can track scents like a bloodhound or a Cu Sidhe (a Faerie dog). She can also retrieve memories from the blood of others, even the dead.

The October Daye novels may seem confusing unless you understand the familial connections of characters. McGuire includes a helpful prologue in this novel to help you understand. Faerie is not unlike medieval Europe where all the royals are related by blood and bastards of kings and queens abound. Bloodlines become important for more reasons than one. There are Firstbloods and Purebloods and mixed bloods (part fae and part human) known as Changelings. October is a Changeling (daughter of Amandine and a human), while August is a Pureblood (daughter of Amandine and Simon Torquill). Descendancy shouldn’t matter in modern-day America, but it sure did in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland during the late Elizabethan period (and in George R.R. Martin’s Westeros of Game of Thrones fame). McGuire boldly explores the meaning of family—blood families, marital families and extended families of choice—in her Daye  novels.

The Brightest Fell is very highly recommended, as is the entire October Daye series.

 

Blessed Mayhem by Sue Coletta is filled with suspense

blessed mahem

Blessed Mayhem by Sue Coletta (Crossroad Press, August 9, 2017) is the second book in this author’s Mayhem series, featuring cat-burglar/computer hacker Shawnee Daniels.

I’ve been watching Coletta develop her unique style of storytelling and complicated characters during the past several years, and I’ve become a devoted fan of her fiction. Like any experienced crime writer she begins with a murder. Then she places her protagonist in jeopardy and heaps on the complications. Shawnee is caught, again and again, between a rock and a hard place. Although she’s incredibly resourceful, you just know one of these days she’ll get into trouble she can’t talk or fight her way out of.

Or the people closest to her will be killed, and it will be her fault for placing them in jeopardy.

Nadine, Shawnee’s BFF and roommate, tries to be helpful but usually manages to make things worse. I’ve never known a real librarian to be so clueless. She’s like a cross between Lou Costello and Stan Laurel. If Coletta wants to highlight the differences between the two friends, she’s certainly succeeded. Shawnee has a wisecracking mouth on her that won’t quit. She swears like a sailor and kicks ass. Nadine, on the other hand, won’t even say “shit.” She’ll say “ship” instead. They’re as different as night and day.

Coletta also gives Shawnee Daniels a unique first-person voice while using third-person POV to define Levaughn and Mr. Mayhem. Nadine is such a nay-sayer, she doesn’t deserve a voice.

As in her previous novels, Coletta obviously does lots of research and passes along what she’s learned. Blessed Mayhem includes factual information about crows, crime scene procedures, and the meaning of BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion), plus a few choice tidbits about computer hacking.

And kudos to Coletta for heightening the suspense. Just when Shawnee is hip-deep in alligators, she tosses a poison snake—maybe not literally, but close enough for government work—into the pond.

I look forward to the next book in the Mayhem series.

 

Great Mystery, Superb Suspense

The Other Girl

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler (St. Martin’s Press, August 22, 2017) is a great mystery story, expertly crafted.

Miranda “Randi” Rader and Jake Billings, police detectives in rural Louisiana, investigate the murder and mutilation of a college professor. Before Miranda became a cop, she’d been a victim herself of kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. Evidence found at the murder scene leads her to believe the professor, who is also the college president’s son, was the man who abducted her and another girl fourteen years ago.

Spindler builds suspense by piling up more and more evidence that points fingers at the wrong people, including Randi. Is someone trying to frame her for murder? Who? Why?

No one seems to believe Randi (Miranda), except her partner Jake and her best-friend Summer. She’s removed from the case and suspended from the department. She has to hire an attorney because she’s about to be arrested for murder.

Things go from bad to worse. Miranda learns Summer has an inoperable brain tumor and is going to die. Randi’s brother informs her their estranged mother is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack.

And when she and Jake fall in love, it only complicates things even more.

There’s an old saying among suspense writers that when your protagonist is hip-deep in alligators, you should throw a back-biting poisonous snake into the mix to add excitement. Spindler does that in The Other Girl, only she throws in more than one. Miranda doesn’t know (nor does the reader) she’s about to be bit in the butt until the snake strikes.

Great mystery, superb suspense. The Other Girl is a page-turner you won’t be able to put down until the very end.

 

A Perfect Obsession by Heather Graham

a perfect obsession graham

A Perfect Obsession by Heather Graham (Mira, April 2017) is full of surprises. The first surprise is discovery of supermodel Jeanette Gilbert’s body in a crypt below an old church. The second surprise is Kieran Finnegan’s twin brother Kevin is the “Mystery Man” Jeanette’s been secretly dating. The third is FBI special agent, and Kieran’s boyfriend, Craig Frasier being assigned to the case.

And the surprises just keep on coming as one beautiful corpse after another gets unearthed, proving a serial killer is loose beneath the crowded streets of New York City.

Graham loves to include history and geography lessons in each of her novels, blending fact with fiction whenever she can. But this is first and foremost a murder mystery Kieran and Craig must solve before Kieran becomes a victim herself.

It’s no surprise that A Perfect Obsession is part of a series. Graham has fully developed the Finnegan family, the bar they own, and the regulars who frequent Finnegan’s Irish Pub into something special. Kieran’s day job as a forensic psychologist and her night job as a bar maid, Craig’s job as an FBI agent, Kevin’s roles on Broadway and film, and Danny’s tour guide business are icings on the cake (or, in this case, suds on the Guinness). The pub and the city of New York overshadow everything that happens.

An exciting and fun read by a mistress of suspense.

 

Zippered Flesh 3

Zippered Flesh 3: Yet More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, edited by Weldon Burge (Smart Rhino Publications, October, 2017), contains nineteen stories, more than half of which are new. Reprints are by Billie Sue Mosiman, William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton, Sandra R. Campbell, and James Dorr.

The book leads with Mosiman’s “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs”, a viciously twisted tale with a shocking ending. Billie Sue is a wonderful writer, and this story showcases her skills. It’ll make you think twice about who your real friends are.

“Upgraded” by Shaun Meeks is about teenaged angst over acquiring the latest and greatest electronic gadget. “Going Green” by Christine Morgan has a similar theme, but it’s as different as night from day, the language rich and verdant, the futuristic gizmos even farther outside the box. “Worm” by Jeff Menapace leaves one feeling hungry. “Reduced to Tears” by Adrian Ludens turns body mutilation into a religious observance, proving less is more. “A New Man” by William F. Nolan tells what bad things might happen if there’s a high-tech software glitch. “Transposition” by Jason V. Brock tells of a face-transplant gone terribly wrong. “The Rose” by Jack Ketchum is about a rose tattoo come to life. “Consume” by Daniel I. Russell is another “less is more” story with scary religious overtones of a supernatural nature.

“All Will Turn to Gray” by Jezzy Wolfe is a remarkable story, textured in rich hues and overtones unlike anything you’ve seen before. “Invisible” by E. A. Black is a meaty tale of repressed anger. “And the Sky was Full of Angels” by L. L. Soares is about coming home from war a changed man. “Shopping Spree” by Meghan Arcuri imagines Photoshopping people. “Closer” by Charles Colyott is a wonderfully poignant and romantic story you really should read. It’s the perfect emotional segue to “Dog Days” by Graham Masterton, another real tear-jerker.

“Switch” by Jasper Bark is extreme horror, very graphic, that may offend some readers. But Krasinski is a real asshole in more ways than one, and he deserves whatever bad juju or bad dodo comes his way. “Hypochondria” by Michael Zeigler tenderly tells of the dangers of medical misdiagnosis and afflictions of the heart. “Gehenna Division, Case #609” by Sandra R. Campbell furnishes a guided tour though Hell. And “Golden Age” by James Dorr celebrates the pioneering tradition that connects past generations with future generations.

My three favorite stories are: “All Will Turn to Gray” by Wolfe, “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs” by Mosiman, and “Shopping Spree” by Arcuri. “Dog Days” by Masterton is also exceptional, and one of the most satisfying stories I’ve read this year. “Going Green” by Morgan is so original, timely, and well-written it deserves special mention (and maybe a Stoker). Kudos to Burge for putting together another fine anthology of cutting-edge fiction.

Since I read an uncorrected ARC of Zippered Flesh 3, I don’t have a  picture of the cover to show you. But the first two covers give you a good idea of what the third will look like.