by Robert C. Hahn
It’s doubtful that Thomas Harris had any idea what Silence of the Lambs would precipitate in the way of knock-off titles. Gayle Leeson’s second Down South Cafe Mystery is titled Silence of the Jams (Berkley, $7.99) and Laura Bradford’s second Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery is titled The Silence of the Flans (Berkley, $7.99). Last year Karen Rose Smith offered Silence of the Lamps (Kensington, $7.99). There may be many more lurking out there just waiting for an opportunity to dig in.
James Bond, like many fictional characters, has outlived his creator, Ian Fleming (d. 1964), by many decades already. Bond has been kept
alive by a slew of notable crime fiction authors including John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Kingsley Amis (as Robert Markham), Jeffery Deaver, and William Boyd.
The late Donald E. Westlake was once hired to write the story for another Bond film, but due to political circumstances, the story Westlake conceived was never filmed. Instead he turned it into a stand-alone novel, but it was never published. Now Hard Case Crime has remedied that by publishing Forever and a Death ($22.95).
Westlake created Richard Curtis, a man as rich as Goldfinger and as ruthless as Ernst Stavro Blofield. Curtis, with the help of a very skilled engineer, has managed to harness the soliton (incredibly powerful wave motions) and plans to destroy Hong Kong—virtually make it disappear—as a punishment to the Chinese for kicking him out of there.
Joyce Carol Oates is a master of the short story form with at least twenty volumes of collected stories. Her latest, Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense (Mysterious Press, $25), weaves a chilling chorus from the voices embodied in the seven stories of the collection.
There’s Jill, 11, who tells the story of her seduction by wastrel Rowan Billiet and of Billiet’s eventual fate in the title story. Another young girl, Steff, narrates “Heartbreak,” but the addition of an older sibling totally changes the dynamic of this story.
A college student narrates the macabre “The Drowned Girl” about a coed who drowns and decomposes in a rooftop water tank, emerging (sort of) in the tenants’ water faucets.
“The Situations” is very short and very powerful, as “daddy” teaches his three kids a lesson about never giving up hope.
In these seven stories, Oates exemplifies the various moods, voices, and techniques that can be used effectively to carry a story.
Loren D. Estleman is best known to crime fiction fans for his long-running, award-winning P.I. series featuring Amos Walker and the city of Detroit. Motor City Blue in 1980 was the first of twenty-seven Walker novels. Estleman has also written many westerns, a series of seven Detroit novels starting with Whiskey River in 1990, and novels about Los Angeles film detective Valentino.
His versatility even extends to his new collection of short stories, Nearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe (Tyrus Books, $24.99), in which he pays homage to Rex Stout and his most famous creation Nero Wolfe.
Estleman provides an introduction explaining his admiration for Stout and his approach to creating his version of the cast that replicates, sort of, the main recurring characters in Stout’s books.
Claudius Lyon is Wolfe or at least Wolfe’s contemporary. To avoid running afoul of the master, Lyon does not charge any fee for his services. He has a purple thumb, so where Wolfe cultivates orchids, Lyon sticks to tomato plants. Where Wolfe has Archie Goodwin for both legwork, muscle work, and as a foil for his wit, Lyon hires Arnie Woodbine to fill a similar role. Where Wolfe enjoys the culinary genius of Fritz, Lyon relies on the kosher experience of Gus. And where Wolfe’s nemesis is the NYPD’s Inspector Cramer, Lyon has to deal with Captain Stoddard, who is determined to reveal him as a fraud.
Estleman penned ten of these delightful stories. Nine of them were published between 2008 and 2016 in various venues, including EQMM, Mysterious Press, and Crippen & Landru; one is published here for the first time.
Estleman’s clever additions and subtractions add up to certain enjoyment for fans of the original. Where Wolfe dismisses things with a simple “pfui,” Lyon can only manage “phooey.” While Wolfe occupies impressive digs in New York, Lyon’s Brooklyn abode is way less grand. Wolfe coaxes miracles out of his plants, while Lyon can talk of crossing a plum (tomato) with a beefsteak but has no idea how to actually do it.
Lyon is almost as insufferable as Wolfe, though, and while Arnie is no Archie, his observations about his boss, Captain Stoddard, and the various guests or suspects that Lyon plays host to are just as sharp. Every case Lyon solves is a blow to Stoddard and a challenge to the unseen detective that lives in a brownstone on West Thirty-Fifth Street.
Vicky Delany has tackled a number of mystery series from historicals set in the Yukon in the 1890s to a pair of police procedurals in modern British Columbia to an Outer Banks series written as Eva Gates. But her newest venture is set in West London, Massachusetts and features Gemma Doyle, proprietor of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop.
Body on Baker Street (Crooked Lane, $26.99) is her second Doyle mystery, following Elementary, She Read. Doyle and her bookshop are the hosts for an unexpected, last-minute visit by author Renalta Van Markoff. Renalta’s personal assistant Linda Marke, calls Gemma and tells her that the author will be in the area in two days and wants to sign her latest book Hudson House at the store.
The flamboyant author is both popular and controversial. In her series she portrays Sherlock as having an affair with a married Mrs. Hudson, Desdemona, who is not only attractive but is also Holmes’s “smarter partner.”
The author arrives with her entourage of Marke, publicist Kevin Reynolds, and publisher Robert McNamara, and is quickly followed by her admirers and by her vociferous detractors, such as Donald Morris, a prominent local Sherlockian, book collector Grant Thompson, and Paige Bookman, who claims Renalta stole her idea for the Holmes books.
Needless to say, Renalta drops dead during the book signing. When Gemma rushes to her side, she catches the scent of bitter almonds from the water bottle Renalta had been drinking from.
The list of suspects who had access to the water bottle is relatively small. Gemma is intent on protecting Donald Morris, who quickly becomes the prime suspect, and must probe and question and sleuth to find the real killer.
Gemma discovers a great deal about Renalta, her assistant, her publicist, and her publisher, as well as Paige and the characters at the signing. In fact, she finds enough to warrant the killer’s making an attack on her.
Delany offers recognition to some of the authors who have continued to mine Holmes’s story—Laurie R. King, Carole Nelson Douglas, and others who have used Victorian themes in their novels—while playing with Sherlockian connections in her setting: The town is West London, the store’s address is 222 Baker Street, and her unpredictable bookstore cat is named Moriarty. In all, a cozy and entertaining mystery.