Called to Crime
One of the great divides in mystery fiction is that between the professional investigator and the amateur sleuth. But in fact, the interplay between vocation and avocation can unfold in any number of interesting ways, as the stories in this issue demonstrate. Whether it’s the duly anointed law enforcement officers whose personal passions inform their work, or the accidental sleuth whose professional expertise sheds light on a knotty problem, or crimes that themselves arise from personal and professional passions, this month’s stories reveal the complex feedback between the things people do for pay and for love.
An NYPD data analyst’s obsession with trivia contests proves anything but trivial in Joseph S. Walker’s “Bonus Round.” Marquis, Iowa Sheriff “Huck Finn” (a.k.a. Humfredo Mullendorfor), obsessed with the tales of Mark Twain, returns in Joe Helgerson’s latest humorous historical, “The Case of the Thirteenth Beard.” WWI soldiers shipping off to war are in no mood for a practical joker, but Father Kiernan offers some insight and understanding in Chris Muessig’s “Finite Jest.” And a patrolman who prides himself on his knowledge of his neighborhood bumps up against the limits of that knowledge in Mark Thielman’s “Blind Spot.”
A veterinarian visiting her mother at a Florida retirement village brings some professional expertise to the aid of the authorities in Terrie Farley Moran’s “Flamingo Bingo.” And an unemployed columnist gets caught up in the investigation of the murder of a conceptual artist in Melissa Fall’s “Photo Finished.” Colorado Rancher Katie discovers that someone has been trespassing on her land to plant marijuana, and worse, has booby-trapped the illegal crop in a way that threatens her animals in Catherine Dilts’s story “Real Cowgirls Don’t Cry.”
A cowboy with a penchant for cards and his trusted, sure-footed horse witness a bank robbery in Parker Littlewood’s “Buck and Wiley Make Their Own Luck.” Gigi Vernon’s “Thick as Thieves” takes the reader to eighteenth-century London as a pair of pickpockets befriend a young widow and introduce her to their craft. Elizabeth Zelvin’s mystery-writing heroine hones her craft at a Florida writers’ retreat, despite the unwanted intrusion of her ex-husband and his young bride, in “A Work in Progress.”
When an academic is murdered Steven Gore’s procedural, “Private Justice,” a detective confronts the consequences of overstepping boundaries. And in our Mystery Classic this issue, the accumulation of small, telling details make up conflicting narratives in Anna Katharine Green’s story “The Thief.”
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by Chris Muessig
Jake was dreaming about his father when something bit him hard. For an instant, the pain and the dream were one. Then he was awake and out of his seat, stomping at the agony inside his right boot.
Guffaws. “Took you long enough to feel that, Miller!”
The train jounced. He backpedaled off-balance, but his hobnails found no purchase, and so he fell on his ass to add to the general merriment.
“What’s happened?” said Boswell. Jake’s seatmate leaned owl-eyed into the aisle.
“Some damned fool just ruined my boot shine,” said Jake, pretending not to be enraged. He remained on his butt and inspected the scorched cowhide, not looking up at the faces of the complicit bastards surrounding him. A matchbook smoldered nearby on the floor, having separated from the gum wad stuck to his trench boot. It would take careful scraping and considerable polishing to get it back into shape for inspection. READ MORE
by Gigi Vernon
Drenching rain meant the Quality were well wrapped in cloaks, and Betty had no chance to get at the valuables in their pockets. The only thing she had to show for a day tramping the cold wet streets was a single silver button that turned out to be pewter. Ned would be displeased with her, and worse, she had nothing to add to her own savings to get free of him.
She turned a corner and came upon a glut of carriages from which gentlemen and ladies descended to enter a town house lit up for a ball. Twigging the place might appease Ned. She was dressed in her most respectable toggery, so bold as you please she swept up the front steps. The footmen on duty allowed her to pass.
Inside, yards of black silk draped a drafty parlor. A funeral, it was, the mourners aglitter with pearls and gold. READ MORE
by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo
There are many countries within a country. West Virginia—with its pain of poverty, its mountainous beauty, and the harshness of its gendered social structures—is one particular kind of country within the United States. Imprisonment is another country all its own: America has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world—twenty-two percent of the world’s entire prisoner population. In Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run (Algonquin Books), one young woman prisoner stumbles out of a Georgia prison in 2007, released early after eighteen years of time for manslaughter. Jodi, now in her mid thirties, stumbles back toward the remnants of the life she upended at age seventeen—back toward West Virginia. Along the way, she wades through her own tender memories of a lost love, struggles toward a kind of penance, and tries to build a new sense of family. Hers is a troubled homecoming, a late coming-of-age through a brutal American landscape. 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