Time to turn a new page! If 2020 was the year we thought would never end, 2021 arrives full of promise. Perhaps during the lockdown of 2020 you caught up on reading or finally finished writing that novel. Perhaps you took up baking or knitting. Or marched for social justice or volunteered to help the suddenly unemployed. We do hope in 2021 you resolve to continue to do creative, constructive things. Those of us leading a life of crime—that is, as writers and editors of crime fiction—resolve, too, to bring you ever more wicked, stylish, baffling tales to keep you reading—and out of trouble. Here are fifteen such spellbinding stories to set the New Year off on the right note.
When a secondhand book dealer dies in the filthy kitchen at the back of his shop, the investigative team has to consider drug cooking or some sort of bacterial contamination, but the surprises keep coming in John H. Dirckx’s procedural “Backwords.” As a court officer, Foxx is familiar with the antics of attorneys, but even he is surprised to learn what a few crafty lawyers are up to in Kevin Egan’s “Hard Money.” Motives abound when a town bully is shot, but pity the poor P.I. whose worst client—her mother—happens to have a motive of her own, in “Accusing Agnes” by Marianne Wilski Strong. A 1950s New York comedian gets more than a big break on a Hollywood set in Michael Mallory’s “There’s Nothing Funny About Murder.”
It’s not overly dramatic to say that it’s a horror writer’s worst nightmare—an overeager film producer with ideas to improve the story for big screen in Tim Burke’s very funny “Mr. Jolly Gets His Jollies.” At a struggling newspaper, no good deed goes unpunished for a reporter in the dystopian future in Larry Light’s tale “Fake News.” Meanwhile, Meredith Anthony’s suspense-reading heroine finds her true self in literature in “Reader, I Killed Him.”
Across the pond, R. T. Lawton’s hungry young pickpocket during the reign of France’s Sun King outwits a couple of older thieves, with the aid of a new friend in “A Helping Hand.” A shop of useful—and magical—tools entices a disgraced soldier in “Piper at the Back Door of Dawn” by Dan Crawford. A retired zookeeper has a special way of dealing with a rotten neighbor in Stephen Ross’s “The Underneath.”
On the home front, desperate passion has limits in New Orleans-set “Ticking of the Big Clock” by O’Neil De Noux. Stagecoach Mary returns in Leslie Budewitz’s “Coming Clean” to counsel a young nun who is questioning her decision to join a convent in in Montana Territory. Doris looks down her nose at new neighbors who don’t adhere to the unwritten code of conduct in Barb Goffman’s “A Family Matter.” A midnight commotion is difficult for an excited child to interpret in Rebecca Cantrell’s story “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
And our Mystery Classic this month is a cautionary tale from Edgar Allan Poe, fit for our pandemic times.
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by O’Neil De Noux
Ester wondered, as she walked past the inn, if everyone looked at the big clock as they passed. The clock must be three feet in diameter, white hands on a crimson face. Coated with luminescent paint, the hands picked up the headlights of vehicles passing along Esplanade Avenue so anyone could tell the time—day or night. The clock hung above the inn’s front door alcove, the inn’s name standing out in large neon lights, crimson letters on the white wall above the clock:
Crimson Clock Inn
The clock’s big hand pointed to the nine, the little hand nearly to the five, 4:45 a.m. Ester had fifteen minutes to walk around the next corner to be on time for work when Mr. Angelette opened the bakery. She crossed Esplanade to the small neutral ground, stepped between two towering oaks to the other side of the avenue, and then up Royal Street. The neon sign above Angelette’s Bakery flickered on as Ester stepped to the door and Mr. Angelette opened it.
“Good morning. Good morning.” Bald, portly Mr. Angelette, in all white with a heavy white apron dotted with dough, smiled and moved aside to let Ester into the pristine bakery showroom filled with strong, wonderful aromas of freshly cooked bread and sugar.
by Tim Burke
If you were to ask why J. P. Gorguts wanted to plant a pickax in my skull, you would think I could supply an answer. I mean to say, not exactly the kind of sitch that creeps up on one out of nowhere, is it? But after three weeks, I still can’t think of an answer.
The strange thing about old J. P. and me is our relationship started off with a bang. We were two peas in a pod. Two souls who saw the universe through the same prism. Two—if you will permit me to be so bold—artists whose vision burned like a flame on one of those incense candle thingies.
I’d read his story in an anthology entitled Horror of Horrors on a Dark and Stormy Night. While most of the stories were predictable and pedestrian, his gripping tale caught my interest immediately. Who wouldn’t be enthralled by a precocious clown that delights in beheading victims with a haunted pair of nail clippers? Mr. Jolly commits bloody deed upon bloody deed with the most sinister good nature, all the while smiling and complimenting his victims. Yes! I see you too envision the story’s translation to the big screen. A cinematic masterpiece, n’est-ce pas? All it needed was the proper creative mind to tweak the details—a minor cosmetic change here, a minuscule touch-up there. READ MORE
by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo
In regarding violence and criminality, it may be difficult to discern the boundary between earnest investigation and voyeurism. It is the common human instinct to look, to satisfy our urge for the darkness on the other side of decency. But are there moments when our own appetite to view criminality risks becoming an offense in itself? When is it more decent to turn away, rather than find our entertainment in rank suffering? This month, Booked and Printed examines stories of lawless violence, and authors that challenge readers’ search for escape in criminal acts. 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.
by Lee Lofland
Nearly all airline passengers who travel with major airlines have likely found it part of their flight itinerary to stopover at their carrier’s hub airport, the center of an airline’s network of standard flight paths.
Most people are familiar with the well-known hub airports and the airlines who use them, such as American Airlines’ hub at Dallas Forth Worth, Delta’s home base at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Inter-national Airport, and Chicago-based United Airlines’ use of O’Hare as its primary hub.
There’s another airline, though, that’s not familiar to the general public, and it, too, uses a hub as its transfer point. This nondescript passenger service is unique in that its fleet of planes and jets are unmarked, and its exclusive security plan is far different than all others. It’s the Justice Prisoner & Alien Transportation System (JPATS), and its air fleet operation is located at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. JPATS also maintains a hub in Las Vegas, with over forty airlift sites across the US and its territories. READ MORE
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