The confidence game, the double cross, the friend’s betrayal, the stranger’s help—crime and mystery stories regularly turn on fraught and fundamental questions of trust. Whether earned, honored, misplaced, or withheld, trust is the currency of social exchange, a driver of characters’ interactions, and, as many of the stories in this issue demonstrate, a key ingredient for brewing narrative suspense and satisfaction.
Our cover story, “Miss Starr’s Good-bye” by Leslie Budewitz, features the return of Stagecoach Mary, who finds that she has won the trust of a woman accused of murder. A psychology professor is entrusted with babysitting an unstable actress as a movie wraps up production in James L. Ross’s “Last Night in Malibu.” In Janice Law’s “The Stop-In Motel,” an undocumented worker puts himself at risk to aid a stranger who has no one else to trust. And airborne half-siblings are notably lacking in trust as they squabble over the family beer-brewing business in Deborah Lacy’s locked-room tale, “The Sky’s the Limit.”
An urchin living on the streets of pre-Revolution Paris must take care who he trusts in R. T. Lawton’s “A Loaf of Bread.” Serving in a Boer War field hospital, Dr. John Watson finds his trust in human nature shaken in James Tipton’s “The Candy Box.” A transgendered woman in Chicago is the reluctant trustee of distressing information in S. L. Franklin’s “The Seal of the Confessional.” And a social worker in western Massachusetts trusts her instincts in Susan Oleksiw’s wrenching “Just Another Runaway.”
Meanwhile, a karate master setting up shop in a new town encounters conflict with neighborhood teens in Melissa Yi’s “Dueling Dojos.” An unemployed Vietnam vet and his girlfriend find themselves in the wrong bank at the wrong time in Peter Colt’s “The Hippie.” A “friendly” poker game in an RV camp precedes a suspicious drowning in John H. Dirckx’s procedural, “Tragedy at Daybreak.” One man’s obsessions are matched when he finds, at last, his “soul mate,” in Dave Zeltserman’s wry “Terrible Thoughts.” Two runaway teens fall afoul of fate in New Orleans in O’Neil De Noux’s “A Meanness in Me.” And on the lighter side, a holiday culinary mix-up could have serious consequences for a young probationer in Mark Thielman’s “Thanksgiving Eve.”
Our Case File column features Gary Phillips talking about his career in graphic literature and analyzing some mid-century African American comic strips that combined laughs and social commentary. And the issue as usual is rounded out with puzzles, book reviews, and a new Mysterious Photo contest.
In an untrustworthy world, readers can always count on AHMM to deliver a satisfying selection of engrossing tales.
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by James L. Ross
Lights came up, and the screenwriter Mark Elliot Tedescu rose as applause rattled through the private theater. “The movie hasn’t been scored yet,” he said.
“It doesn’t need music,” said his agent, who stood beside him. “Mark, it’s the best thing you’ve written.” For a moment he seemed to want to say more, but his eyes misted.
Tedescu smiled. “Thank you, Jeremy.”
A handful of seats away, a young woman whispered to an older man beside her, whose name was Hugh Brewster, “Enjoy the movie?”
Hugh kept his eyes on the people surrounding Mark Tedescu. He said, “I stayed awake.”
The young woman remained slumped in her leather chair. She said, “All that’s missing, besides music and popcorn, is a fresh idea.”
Her name was Jennifer Stiles. Her role in the film they had watched had ended forty minutes in, when her character either was murdered or committed suicide. She had yawned watching the bathtub scene, with its drip-drip-drip homage to Hitchcock.
by Deborah Lacy
The private airplane lurched. Joan dropped the novel she was reading and grabbed both sides of her seat. God, she hated flying.
The small plane made each bump worse. It felt like her body was riding a roller-coaster, and her stomach was one car behind.
“Aloha!” a man’s voice said over the speaker system. “This is Keoni, your captain. We’ve hit a little turbulence. Relax and keep your seat belts fastened for a few more minutes until we can get to smoother air.”
The plane lurched again. She hoped she wouldn’t be sick. Her recently discovered German half brother, Johan, chuckled at her from across the aisle. The two sets of seats faced each other on the small aircraft.
“Tell me you’re not afraid of flying, little girl,” Johan said with a faint German accent and his superior attitude. His English was perfect, idiomatic phrases and all, but that didn’t make him any less annoying. READ MORE
by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo
December is a month both celebratory and difficult, ushering in the joy of holidays alongside their stress, bitter cold, warm gatherings, and the rituals of religious devotion. This month, AHMM examines a dire December centuries ago. We also look at the perils of cultic religiosity during our century and the mystery of a lavish party from children’s points of view. READ MORE
We give a prize of $25 to the person who invents the best mystery story (in 250 words or less, and be sure to include a crime) based on the photograph provided in each issue. The story will be printed in a future issue. READ THE MOST RECENT WINNING STORY.
Acrostic puzzle by Arlene Fisher
Solve the clues to reveal an interesting observation about an author and their work! Shh! The solution to the puzzle will appear in the next issue. CURRENT ISSUE'S PUZZLE
by Mark Lagasse
Unscramble the letters of each numbered entry to spell the name of a famous sleuth. MOST RECENT PUZZLE