When you’re not in the mood to tackle a whole novel, reading a short story or two, or twelve, can fill the bill. This collection from Murderous Ink Press titled We’ll Be Right Back—After This! is a good one to keep on hand for just those situations. The mostly U.S. tales are geographically wide-ranging and twisty. Several display a good bit of humor, a couple are on the cozy side while some aim for noir, and the range is suggested by the three selected for longer treatment below. We start our underbelly tour on the U.S. west coast.
“Blood on the Stairs” by Jim Guigli features his character, Sacramento, California’s down-at-heels private eye Bart Lasiter. A woman dies on the stairway of his office building, apparently on her way to see him. She was fatally stabbed by one of Bart’s own promotional pencils, bearing the painfully ironic slogan, “I’m ready to help.” The Chicago woman was attending an annual Crime Happens conference. You can tell Guigli has paid his dues at such events by the way he describes the posturing, self-promotion, back-biting—it’s all there. The story moves along steadily toward the deadline the Lasiter and the cops face—solving the case before the conference ends and the participants scatter across the country. Where, if the other stories in this collection are any indication, more crimes await.
“Cruel as the Grave” by Eve Fisher is a story about relationships—bad ones, of course, set in a remote area of South Dakota. The story has so many twists and turns, I didn’t see the end coming at all. Jackie is the pivot around which two other women revolve: one a lawyer, the other a hedonist. They’re uneasy with each other and for good reason. What I really liked about Fisher’s story were the unexpected motivations of the characters that made the ending so believable.
Three of the stories originated outside the United States. In “A Long Dark Road,” by Canadian author Joan Hall Hovey, an elderly widow traveling a lonely road at night meets an unexpected fate. Yorkshire author Madeleine McDonald writes about a spurned woman who frames her errant lover for her own death in “Watching Over You.”
Finally, “Memindip Solves a Problem” by Jay Andrew Connor takes place in an unnamed African country. Memindip is a ghost (?) who avenges wrongful deaths. One evening, he returns to life in a jazz nightclub where a beautiful woman sings. The lights go out. A shot. The lights come on, the singer is dead. The atmosphere of the seedy club, the heat of the crowded city, and especially the tenor of Memindip’s conversations with his taxi driver reinforce the story’s foreign locale. Memindip discovers that the singer wasn’t killed by a bullet, but a good-sized pearl. Such a riveting image! Altogether, a charming tale.