Crimewave 9: Transgressions

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Image“Blue Morpho” by Shelley Costa
“The Night of the Great Wind” by Mick Scully
“The Rainbow Killer” by Gary W. Shockley
“Stealing From Garbo” by Ron Savage
“Dogwood” by Susan Overcash Walker
“Last Stop on Dowling Street” by Scott William Carter
“You Will Be Wearing Green” by Daniel Bennett
“A Handful of Dust” by Ian R. Faulkner
“Thinking of Alice” by Robert Weston
“The Gold Watch” by Kevin Prufer
“Work in Progress” by Scott Nicholson
“The Frozen Lake” by John Shirley

is the thinking man’s murder mystery magazine. Unlike a lot of crime fiction, these tales aren’t formulaic, although they do share some common themes, especially serial killers. This is perfect reading on a cold, blustery day when the branches are rubbing the windows, or anytime you want something a little different.

“Blue Morpho” by Shelley Costa kicks off with the drowning of a small girl as fragile and ethereal as a butterfly. Told by a series of narrators, the story progresses in flashbacks and in the present, slowly unfolding until the truth of the matter is made evident. Each character, from the child’s mother, Mo McCallum, to neighboring cottage owner, Polly, has a distinct voice and lends to the shape of the story. It’s a melancholy tale, with a thread of callousness running throughout.

“The Night of the Great Wind” by Mick Scully kicks off with a bit of Chinese mythology then slides into two parallel stories of the Chinese mafia and a woman and her dying sister. The stories slowly twine together, revealing that sometimes fate gives you just what you deserve. While neither protagonist is particularly appealing, their stories are. The bits and pieces of Chinese philosophy that are strewn through the story also lend something special. Grab a warm blanket, a cup of tea, and settle down on the sofa with “The Night of the Great Wind.”

In “The Rainbow Killer” by Gary W. Shockley, Gloria Whiting goes to great lengths to find the Rainbow Killer. Never once does she consider the consequence of finding him, if he exists, or that there could be other dangers in the Houston slums. Gloria is an annoying character at best, completely self-absorbed and treating life like a game instead of serious business—which means author Shockley got the “serious artist” thing down cold. I was less convinced with Shakes. He goes along with Gloria’s machination rather blithely. Nevertheless, Shakes was an interesting character and “The Rainbow Killer” was an interesting story.

“Stealing From Garbo” by Ron Savage is all about Nicholas: husband, father, and gentleman thief. When his wife leaves him, he goes into overdrive. His next heist will be stealing from the enigmatic Ms. G. He befriends her doorman and starts to stalk her in preparation, but even the best laid plans can go awry. Ms. G is even more than Nicholas bargained for. “Stealing From Garbo” is well plotted and Savage has a way with characterization. I could picture Nicholas well enough in my mind to appreciate his charms and smell a whiff of the faded glory wafting off Ms. G.

“Dogwood” by Susan Overcash Walker is a nicely crafted story about a serial killer’s ghost. Sitting in a dogwood tree near the scene of his demise, the protagonist spins out the tale of his last victim, Lily Trevino, and his last day on earth. While the reader should probably be repulsed by the protagonist and his actions, his story is compelling. I was thoroughly entertained.

The thing I will remember most about the “Last Stop on Dowling Street” by Scott William Carter is the profuse use of the “n” word. In fact, it’s the only name given for one of the characters, who happens to be a grieving, black minister. While it’s obvious from the start that this was meant to imply that the other character in the story was racist, it really bothered me. The “n” word, along with the “c” word, and a few other choice bits of language, really don’t need to be used on any regular basis, as far as I’m concerned. I got so caught up on the language, it distracted from everything else in the story. That may not be the case for every reader. Carter generally does nice work; explore “Last Stop on Dowling Street” and make your own determination of merit.

“You Will Be Wearing Green” by Daniel Bennett is a strange little tale. Derek, the hapless protagonist, misses female companionship, so he takes his coworker’s advice and tries his luck online. It seems to be pretty much a bust until he meets Janice. What ensues could be considered a cautionary tale, but it seemed to be more of a muddle. The last quarter of the story didn’t make sense; maybe it was the serial-murderer psychobabble. I love a twist, but the one in “You Will Be Wearing Green” doesn’t do the rest of the story justice.

The premise behind “A Handful of Dust” by Ian R. Faulkner is seriously creepy. Protagonist Matthew Hadley is a car salesman who hand delivers the jeep customer Steven Williams has purchased. As he sits, waiting to be picked up, Steven starts to tell Matthew things that are deeply disturbing. Matthew leaves as soon as he can, but isn’t surprised several months later when his suspicions about his client are confirmed. Creepiness aside, Faulkner’s characterization and plotting are excellent, and the twist at the end lends a nice touch of the sinister.

“Thinking of Alice” by Robert Weston revolves around Peter and Steve, thieves hired to acquire a magician’s black box. If they can nab it and if the box works as planned, a big payday is ahead. The Alice in question is Pete’s fiancée, who doesn’t know what he really does for a living.  I enjoyed “Thinking of Alice,” especially the pacing. I also love a story like this one that provides a sound structure but let’s the reader fill in a lot of the missing details.

Even though a serial killer makes an appearance in “The Gold Watch” by Kevin Prufer, for once, he’s not the protagonist. That duty is shared by Lamar, a young boy who may have seen the killer and Armand, the cop assigned to the case. The main conflict is provided by a gold watch, the killer’s calling card. I loved Prufer’s tale. Even though you don’t know exactly how things end, you have and idea. The reader isn’t left completely dangling or caught up in a last minute twist. The characters are compelling and the world described is all too real. A fine read from start to finish.

In “Work in Progress” by Scott Nicholson, the protagonist is a serial killer and a visual artist. The primary conflict comes about when his muse, who no doubt drove him over the edge in the first place, walks back into his studio four years later. This story is quite dark but not very compelling. The narrator never really gets under your skin, and the former muse is pretty much the bitch you would expect her to be. The one thing that lingers in your mind is a phrase the protagonist says over and over to himself like a mantra: “Anna under the floorboards. Cynthia beneath the canvas.  Sharon in the trunk of his Toyota.” 

A cable repairman inadvertently blows the cover on a husband’s secret life in “The Frozen Lake” by John Shirley. Protagonist Judith Breedlaw leads a life of quiet desperation, maintaining her status quo for the sake of her children. Or, is it more for her own sake? Read the “Frozen Lake” and decide if you agree with Judith’s choices. Shirley has crafted a good tale about characters that are difficult to love but all too similar to people you may already know.