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The Finest in Crime and Suspense Short Fiction

Booked & Printed

by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo

Sleep is an act of restoration and recalibration, a necessity humans often neglect, or take for granted. But what happens when sleep becomes impossible? How do the mind and body adapt, or not? This issue, Booked and Printed examines narratives that find protagonists ill at ease, interrupted in the night, when rest refuses to return to them.

 In Victor Manibo’s debut novel, The Sleepless, Jamie Vega stays awake. It’s the year 2043, and Vega is a young journalist at a mainstream news network, C + P. He works under the auspices of an erratic, brilliant mentor, award-winning storyteller Simon Parrish. As reporters, they cover a postpandemic era, with the country facing massive corporate power moves, social unrest, environmental threats, and a recent, new group of pandemic survivors: the Sleepless. In recent years, a virus rendered an entire class of individuals unable to slumber.

A new politics has arisen around the Sleepless since then. Environmentalists decry the resources hypersomniacs take up with their multiplied waking hours. A shadowy group of extremists claim Sleepless supremacy. Companies prefer Sleepless employees who need no rest and discriminate against conventional employees who need their eight hours of shut-eye. Vega, Sleepless himself, fills his own waking hours with new hobbies—fencing, steak making, more research—until the moment he discovers Simon Parrish dead in his office, and himself as the prime suspect.

Manibo’s sure-footed speculative mystery is ambitious and engrossing, bringing readers into an unsettling but familiar future. While the narrative fills in copious backstory, bringing us up to speed to 2043, the heart of the plot is a classic procedural. Jamie Vega becomes a hounded sleuth, looking into a vast cross section of society for who might have killed Parrish, questioning himself constantly along the way. His investigation takes him to the corporate overlords of C + P, with its suspicious merger development, to the underworld of drug trafficking, where dealers have modified their own musculatures for maximum self-protection and intimidation.

Like the best of well-rounded detectives, Vega’s inner world is tormented too. He is relieved to be Sleepless so nightmares of his beloved friend Paolo can finally cease. He is by turns impulsive and distant, with a collapsing relationship and epic work mistakes. As an author, Manibo casts a particularly compassionate, observant eye on the mental illnesses that can afflict men of color in America, with touching scenes of characters trying to care for each other even while they suffer.

As Vega moves closer to the heartrending truth of his mentor’s brutal death, deeper revelations emerge about his closest friendships, his family ties, his coworkers, and what he is willing to risk for the real story. Jamie Vega increasingly distrusts his own, unpredictable, Sleepless mind, a plight that makes his investigation, and the book, a thoroughly captivating journey.

 

As an award-winning audio journalist, Connie Walker has doggedly pursued some of the most personal stories of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. None of her investigations have come so close to home as her latest podcast series, Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s. The story begins with a Facebook anecdote by Walker’s brother: their father, a police officer, pulled over a drunk driver one night, many years ago. When he reached the car window, he realized the driver was the Catholic priest who had abused him as a boy at residential school. So their father assaulted the man as long pent-up vengeance.

The story haunted Walker and activated her journalistic instincts: Could she and her fellow reporters find the name of the priest? Her father had died years before, and many of the Catholic instructors at Canada’s residential schools for Indigenous children were deceased themselves, with records still difficult to obtain. Despite the gaps and challenges, Walker embarks on another investigation, this time with her own Cree family and community.

Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s can be emotionally difficult listening, with its stark details of widespread, institutionalized abuse of Indigenous children. The criminality of countless religious teachers charged with the care of vulnerable children, and the collusion of the government in displacing and terrorizing generations, falls hard on the heart. One community leader says, in a poignant conversation, that he makes a point not to discuss his survivorship past six in the evening, when night makes the pain too great. One episode consists entirely of the voices of survivors, and the memories of the sadism that interrupted their sleep as children.

But listeners are simultaneously rewarded with Walker’s impassioned reportage, infused with deep ethics, duty, courage, and Cree cultural knowledge. While the season has too many memorable moments to recount, the final episode offers an emotional impact unparalleled in most any medium of storytelling, showing how deeply history still resides in the intimacy of home.

 

As the seasons turn, culinary cozies promise good company and fun capers. Death by Bubble Tea heralds a new series by Jennifer Chow, bringing readers to a Los Angeles night market with bookish protagonist Yale Yee, her Hong Kong influencer cousin Celine, and their boba-infused hijinks. Mia Manansala’s latest installment in her culinary food series, Blackmail and Bibingka, returns us to Lila Macapagal’s gastronomic investigations, this time at Christmas with a new business, the Brew-ha Cafe. And Mindy Quigley’s Six Feet Deep Dish find a new pizza parlor proprietor, Delilah O’Leary, navigating divorce, murder, and a handsome detective in a moneyed Wisconsin resort town popular with the mob.

Copyright © 2022 Laurel Flores Fantauzzo

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