The cold blue cover of the January/February 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine made me shiver. That was before I started reading the stories. Once again, AHMM is packed with good fiction. I have enjoyed every story I read so far, but I just have time to mention a few I found particularly entertaining.
This issue opens with Sinners at Eight, by Michael Nethercott. Nellie is a shy, prudish young woman who is thrust into a social gathering at her mildly wild Aunt Bebe's insistence. She is scandalized that alcohol is served, despite being in the midst of the Prohibition. When a young man fills her full of gossip, Nellie nearly has a meltdown. No one at the party is as they seem, according to Sherman.
"Best to assume there's something damagingly wrong with any and all of our party-mates."
Among them are a reputed kleptomaniac, a lecherous old man, and a woman who believes her dead children are still alive. Worst of all, Sherman claims a serial killer could lurk among them. This is an unreliable narrator tale, as we observe the party through Nellie's naive eyes. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, despite Nellie's misdirection, author Nethercott springs more than one surprise.
John M. Floyd's characters Jenny Parker and Sheriff Raymond Douglas return in Scavenger Hunt. Their relationship serves as a fun subplot to a double-puzzle mystery. How did a local scoundrel cheat Barb Sandifer, a lady who admits she likes to drink and gamble a bit more than she should, out of two grand? And did Minnie Simpson really suffer a tragic accident when she tumbled down the steps to her studio, or was she murdered, as her husband claims?
In between these two mysteries, Sheriff Douglas tells Jenny about a case involving a clever solution. Add in the question of whether Jenny will agree to go out with Raymond on a date, and you have four story lines. There's a lot packed into this story, and it all works.
I found Louisa and the Lighthouse, by Marianne Wilski Strong, interesting because typically when there are multiple people with a motivation to murder, the victim is a loathsome type who deserves his or her fate. In this case, Lilia seems like a pleasant woman. Amanda becomes involved when she finds Lilia's favorite necklace near the lighthouse. She solves the mystery with the help of her love of Louisa May Alcott's short stories.
Robert Lopresti departed from the Shank's character I am familiar with in his series of short stories published in AHMM. Train Tracks is an historical short story based on the Orphan Trains that operated in the mid-eighteen hundreds, when orphaned children were packed onto trains and shipped to the Midwest. You can read more about this on the Trace Evidence blog.
The story Train Tracks follows two brothers who are reunited after being separated as children on an Orphan Train. They plan to avenge their younger brother. I thought I was close to figuring out the story as it neared the end, but a couple surprises made this a very enjoyable tale.
As I've noted on previous blog posts, I am cutting back my short story reviews to every other week, unless time permits. Happy reading!
I'm a person who gets up when the sun rises. When it sets, no matter what time it is, my brain and body tell me it's time to crawl into my cave and hibernate.
An author posted on Facebook recently that he was feeling a little panicked that his next novel idea wasn't coming. The season might have a lot to do with his feeling of being stalled.
Like the creek I walk by on my lunchtime constitutionals, this is a time of year for nature, as well as human endeavors, to feel blocked. Frozen. Eventually, the heat will return, and creativity as well as water will begin to flow again.
In the meantime, writers and other artists who are feeling locked up might consider working on more structural projects. Revise that manuscript. Submit that short story. Don't stop working. Just work on something requiring less inspiration. Lay down some groundwork that will pay off later, when you're in a fully creative zone again.
Three Corpse Meal: A New Year’s Eve Mystery Short Story
By Margaret S. Hamilton
When she was a child, three men conspired to steal Christina’s inheritance and separate her from her grandmother. Lizzie is concerned her friend Christina has taken revenge when she learns the three didn’t survive a New Year’s Eve dinner party. This is an entertaining puzzle mystery you can read for free on the Kings River Life electronic magazine here.
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