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Criminalities: Three Short Crime Stories and an Essay

CRIMINALITIES

Three Short Crime Stories and an Essay

 

by Barry Ergang

 

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2016 Barry Ergang

 

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CREDITS

 

“Jewel of Denial” in Mysterical-E, June 2005 issue; “Vigilante” in Mysterical-E, Summer 2006 issue; “Brianna’s Way” in Flash Bang Mysteries, Fall 2015, Issue 1;

“Impossible Pleasures” originally appeared in Mysterical-E in 2004 and was later revised and expanded for publication in King’s River Life Magazine’s May 4, 2013 issue. The revised, expanded version is included herein.

 

JEWEL OF DENIAL

 

The vision of Ramona Braithwaite in ecstasy over her accommodations at the Forest Grove Inn warmed the profit-minded hearts of Lainie Truscott and her husband Frank, owners of the bed-and-breakfast. The wealthy, widowed Mrs. Braithwaite in a state of distress induced a polar opposite effect. On that Tuesday morning after the Memorial Day holiday, an icy climate settled over the Inn when Mrs. Braithwaite reported her diamond-and-ruby bracelet missing. She made the mistake—in the owners’ view, at any rate—of mentioning the fact to the other guests, all of whom immediately took stock of their own valuables. Several found cash and jewelry missing. Unavoidably, the local police were summoned.

They collected information from the victims, then examined the Inn minutely, finding nothing to suggest the identity of the burglar, or obvious signs—apart from absent jewelry and cash—of invasion. Consensus had it the thief had come in the night.

That afternoon, after the police assured the guests of a thorough investigation and departed, an irate Lainie drove the sixteen miles to her mother’s house. Two days earlier her mother had telephoned: “Your sister drove up from New York today. She’ll be here all week, so make time to visit.”

When Lainie reached the house, she saw Selena’s car parked at the curb, her mother’s nowhere in evidence. She located the correct key on her key-ring, unlocked the door, and went inside.

A quick prowl of the first floor told her it was deserted; she made her way upstairs to the bedroom that had been Selena’s since childhood. She stood tight-lipped in the doorway for a moment, taking in the furnishings that had not altered since their schooldays. Her younger sister lay placidly in her bed, her breathing a faint whisper as she slept, tousled dark hair obscuring one eye.

Lainie plowed forward across the carpet and, employing a bedside manner a medical school would discountenance, roughly shook Selena’s shoulder. “Wake up!”

Selena Selkirk stirred, turned on her side, and continued to sleep.

“Wake up, you—” Lainie bit off the epithet. She yanked the pillow from underneath Selena’s head and struck her sheet-covered rump with it.

Selena gasped, rolled onto her back, then lurched into a sitting position, hands outstretched defensively. When she saw Lainie she said, “Oh, hi,” yawned, and rubbed sleep from her eyes with her fingertips.

“It’s after two,” Lainie snarled. “Are we worn out after our late-night pilferage?”

“Well, I can’t speak for you, but yeah, I am.”

Lainie fought down a sororicidal impulse. “What the hell were you thinking, hitting my place of business?”

“That a girl’s gotta pay the rent?” Selena asked airily.

“It’s time for a girl to grow up and find steady employment. I pulled jobs as a means to an end. I saved the money from the stuff we fenced to put toward buying the b-and-b. Frank and I have built it into a good business. It’s called clean living. You ought to try it sometime. Or does the concept strain your imagination?”

Her hands tented prayer-like beneath her chin, Selena smiled. “Thank you, Sister Virtuous. I’ll hurry to the convent as soon as I’ve had some coffee.”

Smacking her, much as Lainie wanted to, would prove feckless. Selena’s favorite method of fighting back was needling her antagonist to the point of utter frustration.

“Where’s the stuff?”

“How’re you planning to return it without looking suspicious yourself?”

Lainie waved a hand impatiently. “I don’t know. I’ll say I found it in the woods, the burglar must‘ve dropped the bag.”

“A hootie owl scared the nasty mans, he dropped the bag and ran away.” Selena rolled her eyes. “Brainy Lainie. How about, ‘The Seven Dwarfs found it on their way to the mine’?”

“It’s my problem, not yours. Where is it?”

“Where do you think?”

Lainie sighed and went to the closet. Sweeping aside the hangered clothes Selena had brought with her from the city, she located the panel, nearly invisible unless you knew where to look. She knew; there was an identical one in the closet in her old room. She slid the panel aside, reached into the niche it concealed and, ignoring a rubber-banded stack of cash, withdrew bracelets—including Ramona Braithwaite’s—necklaces, rings, and wristwatches. All were inset with precious stones which, an appraiser’s instinct told her, would bring substantial money from the right fence. A tic started at the corner of her left eye, and her palms tingled with the cupidity of yore.

“Nice haul,” she murmured.

“A tribute to the quality clientele you attract,” Selena said. “Tell me something. Ever get the urge to pull off another one, for old time’s sake?”

The tingling increased, and she rubbed her eye. “I’ll say it once, Selena,” ignoring the question, “and you’d better believe I mean it: if you ever pull something like this again, I’ll give your name to the police.”

“Not unless you want them to know about gracious innkeeper Mrs. Truscott’s past, you won’t.”

“You take your chances, I’ll take mine,” Lainie said grimly. “I’ll need—”

“Oh, there you are,” a voice from behind them said. Lainie whirled. Noreen Selkirk, a slim, pretty woman whose manner and gait belied her forty-some years, walked into the room and kissed her oldest daughter on the cheek. “I saw your car outside. Are you two getting all caught up?”

“Yes, Mom.”

She noticed Lainie‘s hands. “Pretty baubles, aren’t they? I just got back from the supermarket. Come downstairs and I’ll make us something to eat.”

Selena slid from under the covers and donned a robe. “Anything’s fine, as long as there’s coffee to go with it.”

“Wait a minute, Mom,” Lainie said. She lifted her jewel-laden hands. “Do you mean you knew about this?”

“Of course, dear. Now come downstairs and I’ll make lunch.”

Suddenly vertiginous with astonishment, Lainie scarcely noticed her mother’s departure from the room or her sister’s words: “Gotta go brush my teeth.”

I need a bag to put this stuff in, she thought, beset with a drowsy sluggishness which impaired lucidity and physical movement. She roused herself and sought the stairs as Selena emerged from the bathroom and followed her down. They went into the kitchen. Selena sat down and sipped coffee. Lainie clattered the jewelry onto the table.

“I’m making ham and cheese sandwiches,” Noreen said from the counter, where she spread mustard on slices of rye bread. “It’s not exactly breakfast, Selena; I’ll scramble eggs if you like.”

“Sandwiches are fine.”

“Mom,” Lainie said, “you knew about this,” indicating the trinkets on the table which coruscated varicolored fires in the sunny room.

“Pay attention, dear. I already said I did.”

“You let Selena burgle my customers—my business?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say I let her. Your sister’s grown up now, and can make her own choices.”

Her lethargy-inducing sense of irreality grew, but Lainie plodded on. “Do you understand what kind of a position you’ve put me in?”

“A advantageous one. We’re giving you a share.”

“No! I can’t be involved in this. You’ve jeopardized my business, Mom. You’re going to ruin my reputation, not to mention my marriage if Frank finds out about this. You promised you’d never let him know anything about this part of my history. We have a good marriage, and we’ve worked hard to make the inn turn a profit.”

“Whatever you want, dear. You’ve been old enough to make your own choices for a long time. Would you like American or Swiss cheese on your sandwich?”

Selena snickered through a mouthful of coffee, then launched into a fit of coughing. Noreen rushed over, lifted Selena’s arms over her head, and clapped her repeatedly on the back.

“I’m okay now, Mom.” Selena lowered her arms. “It went down the wrong pipe.”

“All right. But sip—don’t gulp.” She turned to Lainie. “Why are you standing, dear? Sit down. And tell me what kind of cheese you want.”

Distilled frustration ripped from her throat, an inarticulate growl. “You’re not hearing me!”

“I hear you perfectly, dear,” Noreen said calmly. “I heard that awful sound you just made.”

“Damn it, Mom—”

“Elaine Melinda Selkirk—”

“Truscott,” Lainie added in a mutter, knowing what was coming.

“—I’ll have no profanity in my house.”

Gripping the back of a chair, Lainie fleetingly pondered the odds of having a stroke at her age. “Then treat my house with the same kind of respect. Don’t score off my customers. Ramona Braithwaite’s been coming up here every year since we opened. She’s brought in all sorts of business for us: wealthy people who’d rather have a quiet getaway in the country than stay in flashy resort hotels…”

Selena jerked her eyebrows upward, indecipherably tilting her head to the side and slightly backwards. Frowning, Lainie ignored her.

“…If we treat them right, they’ll tell their friends. Treating them right doesn’t include letting my sister and mother steal their jewelry.”

“Technically,” Noreen said, her back to her daughters as she piled slices of ham onto the bread, “Selena does the stealing. I fence it.”

“Whatever, Mom. The point is, you don’t crap where you eat—”

“What did I just say about language?”

“—and you two are crapping where Frank and I eat.”

“Lainie!”

Selena’s cranial spasms continued unheeded.

“I’m not letting this slide, Mom,” Lainie continued. “Customers like Mrs. Braithwaite are hard to come by. She’s as sweet a woman as anyone I’ve ever known—”

“If you aren’t a darling!” a familiar contralto said.

Convinced by the wave of dizziness which assaulted her that apoplexy had finally set in, Lainie turned around slowly to remark, in all her silver-haired, matronly glory, the buxom Ramona Braithwaite standing at the entrance to the kitchen.

“Oh, my God!”

She glanced over her shoulder at Selena, who smiled, shrugged, and said, “I tried to tell ya.”

“There’s no need to get upset,” Mrs. Braithwaite assured her, advancing into the kitchen to pat her on the back, hug Selena and Noreen. “I hope I’m not intruding. The door was open.”

Lainie pulled out the chair and sat down, now out of necessity. “You’re part of this?” she asked Mrs. Braithwaite.

“Brainy Lainie,” Selena scoffed. “Mom called to tell you I drove up on Sunday. I hit your place Monday night. How could I know which rooms to hit with no time to scout out the place?”

“You couldn’t—” Lainie shook her head “—unless someone told you beforehand.”

“Give my sister a kewpie doll!”

“I don’t believe this. I don’t—”

“Careful, Lainie!” Noreen warned.

“—believe this,” she finished, censoring an emphatic participle. She sighed, picked up the diamond-and-ruby bracelet from the pile on the table, and held it out to Mrs. Braithwaite. “I guess you want this.”

Mrs. Braithwaite laughed. “Not at all. I never really liked rubies. I only kept it for sentimental reasons—my husband gave it to me as a memento of one of our better scores. Between what we’d earn fencing it and what I’d collect from the insurance company, I’d make out beautifully.” She laid a hand on Lainie’s shoulder. “But we’ve put you through some distress, so you’re welcome to keep it as a peace offering.”

Lainie regarded the bracelet, felt the renewed tingling in her palm, then dropped it back onto the pile. “Just what I need—to be accused of receiving stolen goods on top of harboring a thief and being an accessory after the fact of burglary.”

“It’s your decision.”

Lainie slammed her hand on the tabletop. “No! That’s the problem. None of this is my decision. You three have been using my home—which is also my business—as your bank.”

Her mother set a sandwich and a cup of coffee in front of her, whispering, “I gave you Swiss.”

“Tell me, Mrs. B”— Lainie pushed the plate away—“how’d you hook up with my mother and sister? And how many of my customers have you ripped off over the last four years?”

Ramona Braithwaite sat down and looked at Lainie through earnest blue eyes. “I’m afraid you have a horribly mistaken impression. Your mother and I go back many years. When she told me you and your husband opened a bed-and-breakfast, I decided to avail myself of the facilities—strictly as a guest, you understand. The Forest Grove Inn is charming, and I’ve recommended it to many friends and acquaintances.”

“To set them up as marks.”

“Not at all. This score was the first and, I swear, the last. I steered several guests your way who I know own some pieces of value and who, in all likelihood, would carry healthy amounts of cash. Your mother, sister, and I are a little cash-poor right now, so we decided to—shall we say?—avail ourselves of the riches at hand.”

“And you gave Selena your bracelet so you’d look like a victim, too.”

“Exactly,” Mrs. Braithwaite smiled.

“Unbelievable,” Lainie said, “just unbelievable,” this time including the participle.

“Lainie!” Noreen snapped, then said to Mrs. Braithwaite, “She was raised better than that.”

Lainie shoved back her chair and stood. “I have to get back to the Inn,” she said, still befogged. “I’ll need a bag for this,” she murmured, her eyes rooted to the sunfired pile of jewels on the table.

“Oh? Still think you can come up with an explanation about how you found it?” Selena asked.

“I… No, I guess not.” She shook her head.

“You haven’t touched your sandwich,” Noreen said.

“I’m not really hungry, Mom.”

“You didn’t want Swiss, did you? I can take it out and put in American.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“Then I’ll wrap it and you can take it with you.”

“No, it’s all right… Yeah, okay, I guess so.”

Noreen took the plate from the table. At the counter she opened a drawer and drew out a plastic sandwich bag, into which she placed the sandwich. “Are you sure you won’t stay, Lainie? We have another score to plan and you‘re welcome to join us.”

Lainie wondered if they heard the papery scrape of her left eye twitching.

 

 

 

VIGILANTE

 

Moonlight cast the shadow of a cat, toying with its prey, on the wall. Otherwise, save for the two men, the alley was empty.

Weissman had long since estimated that the skinhead was twenty-five at most. As usual, he wore military fatigues and boots. The sides of his shaven skull were tattooed with blue lightning bolts, the center of his forehead with a black swastika—flesh-deep blazons intended to proclaim his allegiances; to elicit loyalty in the like-minded, fear in everyone else.

“You’re jackin’ the wrong guy, man. I got friends’ll come down on you so hard, you’ll wish you were never born.”

“This isn’t a mugging,” Weissman said.

“Then why a gun and shovin’ me around? I don’t know you.”

“But I know who you are. I’ve kept an eye on you since I saw you with your buddies at the Aryan Pride Rally a couple weeks ago, and a few days later outside a post office where you were handing out pamphlets about the Holocaust.”

“A fabrication of the Zionist conspiracy!”

“Impressive,” Weissman said. “Mention the Holocaust and you go right into auto-response mode. Do you spend all night memorizing the slogans and lies? Those multi-syllabic words must exhaust you.”

 

“Scumbag, the Holocaust is a myth.”

“I have family members who were survivors.”

“Liars who deserve extermination.”

“Do you ever actually listen to the garbage you spew? You say Hitler wasn’t genocidal, but in the same breath you advocate extermination.”

“The Fuhrer was a lone prophet who foresaw the Zionist usurpation and tried to end it.”

Weissman chuckled. “Your brain hasn’t only been washed; it’s been pumiced. Since you love slogans, you might like mine: ‘The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.’”

He raised the weapon until it was level with the skinhead’s face.

“I’m warnin’ you, man”—his arms extended defensively—“I get hurt, my friends’ll—”

“I know: they’ll make me wish I was never born. I’ll deal with your friends one at a time. You got lucky and drew first pick.”

His swagger returned momentarily: “You don’t have the balls to shoot anyone, Jewboy.”

“I hope you appreciate irony,” Weissman said. “The gun is a Luger.”

The cat’s shadow vanished when the gun exploded. The bullet made a mess of the swastika tattoo.

 

 

BRIANNA’S WAY

 

I’ve never much cared for lawyers; I had to deal with enough of them on the Job. I only hired one once, fourteen years ago, when Brianna initiated divorce proceedings.

When Hampton Conrad phoned to request a meeting with me, I could guess what he wanted to discuss, though I couldn’t imagine the particulars, and agreed to meet with him at my apartment after work one evening. He arrived on time, immaculately tailored and barbered and, once seated, said: “Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Rutledge.”

“Strictly from curiosity, counselor.”

“No games.” His tone crisp, indisputable. “I’m sure you know from news reports I’m defending Brianna Welling.”

“Yeah, she killed her second husband, Caleb Gillis.”

“Allegedly killed him.”

“So?”

“As a former homicide detective, you know how circumstances can misrepresent the appearance of a crime.”

“The key word is former, counselor. If it weren’t for Brianna, I’d still be one.”

His brow arched challengingly. “You blame your situation on her?”

“What do you know about my ‘situation’?”

“Only that since your discharge, you’ve held a number of different jobs.”

Information obtained from Brianna, I thought, who likely learned it from mutual friends. Yeah, counselor, I blame her. And they’ve been cruddy jobs with cruddier remuneration. If I hadn’t dived into a near-bottomless bottle of whiskey after she blindsided me, I wouldn’t have been in a hangover haze during a shootout with a murder suspect that left my partner permanently disabled and me permanently dismissed from the Job. I managed to avoid prosecution. I didn’t manage to obtain a private investigator’s license; the state rejected my application because of that incident.

 

Blindsiding was Brianna’s way, her M.O. She’d meet and connect passionately with someone for several years, but their romance wouldn’t last; her perfectionist streak ultimately asserted he wasn’t quite good enough, couldn’t measure up to her expectations and requirements. Without giving any signals, not trying to effect any compromises, always acting the committed lover, she’d withdraw from him emotionally over a period of months, then suddenly break the news that it was over, that she was moving on, leaving him dazed, hurt, empty. I’d had a sense of this side of her from her accounts, during our courtship, of breakups with the four boyfriends who preceded me, and I probably should have regarded it as a red flag. But I was in love and fancied myself as the exception, the one.

It didn’t work out that way. I was neither her first husband nor her last. Caleb Gillis was the coworker who’d come between us and, despite my realization that she was more to blame than he, I wanted to feed him his lungs.

“What d’you want from me, counselor?”

“We’re hoping you might be willing to provide Mrs. Welling an alibi.”

“Why? I haven’t seen her since we split and don’t want anything to do with her.”

“For the sake of justice. Testify you were with her at the time of Gillis’s death. Say you ran into her somewhere and had coffee and chatted.”

“You want me to perjure myself for her?”

“She’s willing to compensate you generously for your testimony.”

If you only knew the wonderful irony in that offer, shyster. I could use the money—as I’m sure you already know—but I’d lose the satisfaction of seeing her really pay. Because even if you get her acquitted, in the absence of a different and plausible suspect, she’ll never be free of doubt in the public’s mind. And that works for me.

“You’re saying she’s guilty?” I asked.

“I know she isn’t.”

“How?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Want me to consider the offer? Then like you said, no games.”

Conrad suddenly looked uncomfortable. “She was with me all night.”

I glanced at his wedding ring. “Your wife know?”

So Welling is the latest cuckold. What a pathetic sap you are, shyster. As for my helping Brianna, not a chance. She owes me. She and Caleb Gillis, the interloper, whom I spotted in a bar a few months back. That started an old hatred festering. I used to be a cop, remember? I know how murders are committed, how to commit them, and how to avoid the mistakes amateurs make. I know how to plant incriminating evidence.

How’d it feel when they arrested you, Brianna? When they cuffed you, took you to the station, shoved you into a cell? When they later indicted you?

Being blindsided. Ain’t it a bitch?

 

 

IMPOSSIBLE PLEASURES

 

I spend every year literarily mixed up in murder. Notice I said “literarily,” not “literally.” Of the multitude of novels and short stories I read annually, relatively few are not of the mystery/detection/suspense variety. But then my fiction diet has always contained generous helpings of crime and mystification.

Yes, I’m an unregenerate, unapologetic fan of the mystery genre, probably since I was seven or eight, when my mother bought me the first two books in the Hardy Boys series. Several years later, I discovered Conan Doyle (I still remember being thoroughly captivated and happily chilled by Watson’s eerie description of the moors in The Hound of the Baskervilles), though I never became the rabid Sherlockian many mystery fans are. Subsequently I graduated to the puzzles woven by Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner, then to the “hardboiled poetry” of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. The latter two remain among my all-time favorites.

My father’s bedside table was always stacked with books. Through him I was introduced to some of the paperback authors who have become highly collectible today. (Paperbacks cost a quarter or thirty-five cents back then; now some of them fetch hefty prices their authors would have loved to earn royalties on.) Among them were Richard S. Prather’s hilarious Shell Scott mysteries, Stephen Marlowe’s tales about “international” private eye Chester Drum, the Matt Helm espionage novels of Donald Hamilton, and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee adventures. Because of my father’s tastes, I discovered Ian Fleming’s James Bond before President Kennedy made him a household name. Having read a lot of Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu novels, I was instantly intrigued by the title Dr. No and its back-cover blurb: “British secret agent James Bond tangles with a honey blonde and a six-foot-six madman with a mania for lust and torture.” What better way for a fourteen-year-old to start a morning? I sprawled out on my bed, started reading, and didn’t stop till I finished the book that afternoon.

My venture into the hardboiled realms ultimately steered me away from the more traditional whodunits with their English country houses à la Christie or New York mansions à la S.S. Van Dine. The “mean streets” of a Dashiell Hammett seemed more credible, and the tough detectives who traveled them a lot more realistically drawn, than the haughty, eccentric amateurs or professionals of the “traditional” school.

But occasionally I leavened my rugged diet with a traditional and thus discovered the prolific John Dickson Carr, who reawakened my pleasure in the classic fairly-clued puzzler. Although his novels were “veddy British” in setting and style, Carr was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and educated at Haverford College. Some of his earliest detective stories were published in The Haverfordian and introduced French sleuth Henri Bencolin, who later figured in four novels. Carr’s better-known detectives were the Chestertonian Dr. Gideon Fell and, appearing under the author’s Carter Dickson pseudonym, the cantankerously comical Sir Henry Merrivale.

Carr was the undisputed master of the “impossible crime” tale, my favorite type of traditional. More than any other writer in the detective field, Carr successfully wrought variations on the locked-room problem and other seemingly impossible situations with a distinctive flair for eerie atmospheres and page-turning suspense. His “best” has often been debated, but in a poll of mystery writers, editors, critics and readers conducted in the early 1980s, The Three Coffins emerged by a huge margin as the “greatest” impossible crime story of all time.

The novel poses two bafflers. The first is a murder committed in a room bolted on the inside, from which, apart from the door, there is no possible exit for the killer. The second is the murder at close range of a man in the middle of a snow-covered street with witnesses nearby. The only footprints in the surrounding snow are the victim’s. Who committed the murders—and how did he or she escape undetected? In The Man Who Could Not Shudder, a gun floats off a wall, aims and kills in the presence of witnesses. The victim in He Who Whispers is stabbed to death at a time when nobody could have gotten near him. In A Graveyard to Let, a man dives into a swimming pool—and vanishes. These are but a few of many Carr/Dickson gems.

Although many excellent impossible crime stories have been written since Poe invented the form with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the one that equals Carr at his best, in my view, is Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit. Like Carr at his most macabre and atmospheric, Talbot hints at supernatural explanations for the bizarre series of events that follow one upon another, chapter after chapter, until the reader, despite knowing their eventual elucidation will be rationally based, is almost convinced that only a supernatural agency could be responsible for them.

Other vintage titles worth exploring include Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room; Clayton Rawson’s Death From a Top Hat, The Headless Lady, The Footprints on the Ceiling, and No Coffin for the Corpse; Jonathan Latimer’s Headed for a Hearse, The Dead Don’t Care, and The Search for My Great Uncle’s Head; Edmund Crispin’s The Case of the Gilded Fly, Swan Song, and The Moving Toyshop; Anthony Boucher’s Nine Times Nine and Rocket to the Morgue; Herbert Brean’s Wilders Walk Away, The Traces of Brillhart, and Hardly a Man is Now Alive; and Ellery Queen’s The Door Between and The King is Dead.

Thanks to specialty publishers like The Mysterious Press, The Langtail Press, Ramble House, Crippen and Landru, and Felony & Mayhem, some of the previously noted titles and authors that were out of print for a time are available again. Others can be unearthed in local libraries, used-book shops, or in online sites including abebooks.com, eBay, and Half.com.

Happily, impossible crime stories are not exclusively the provinces of bygone authors. Many modern mystery writers have ventured into this realm. To name but a few: Peter Lovesey in Bloodhounds and Barbara D’Amato in Hard Tack present their sleuths and the reader with “locked-boat” puzzles. In The Dime Museum Murders, The Floating Lady Murder, and The Houdini Specter by Daniel Stashower, star-yet-to-be Harry Houdini tackles bizarre crimes. Ben Elton deftly skewers so-called “reality TV” in Dead Famous when a murder is committed on a “Big Brother”-like program by person or persons unseen and unheard despite cameras and microphones covering every inch of the housemates’ confined space. Bill Pronzini’s “Nameless” detective has encountered his share of seemingly impossible situations in novels like Hoodwink and several short stories.

Speaking of short stories, editor Mike Ashley anthologized some superb ones in The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes and The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries. In The Mysteries of Reverend Dean, Hal White introduced a likeable clergyman with a knack for encountering and unraveling impossibilities just as the late, great Edward D. Hoch did in his stories about Dr. Sam Hawthorne (among other series characters)—see Diagnosis: Impossible and More Things Impossible.

A list of authors, older and contemporary, who have written impossible crime stories is not feasible due to space constraints—even if I knew who all of them were and had read them all. I do not and have not. But among those writing today, award-winning French author Paul Halter is an absolute must-read for fans of this kind of mystery. His work first appeared in English translations in 2006 with the short story collection The Night of the Wolf. Five novels have been translated since: The Fourth Door, The Lord of Misrule, The Seven Wonders of Crime, The Demon of Dartmoor, and The Seventh Hypothesis. I wrote earlier that John Dickson Carr devised more impossible situations than any of his peers. That was true in his day, but with the advent of Paul Halter—who cites Carr as his inspiration—he has quite possibly been surpassed. Although characterization is his weakness, and he’s not quite as adept as Carr at evoking portentous atmospheres, Halter’s ability to invent fairly-clued plots full of fantastic events is nothing short of brilliant. None of the aforementioned novels contains only a single “miracle” crime, and one contains seven of them.

Carr called the detective story “the grandest game in the world.” Read some of those I’ve mentioned and you’ll understand why.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Winner of the Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society for the best flash fiction story of 2006, Barry Ergang was the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. His novelette “The Play of Light and Shadow” is a locked-room mystery.

 

 

OTHER Shakespir EDITIONS BY BARRY ERGANG

 

The Boy Who Ate Rainbows

 

A Flash of Fear: Six Very Short Stories (free!)

 

Funeral for a Flightless Phoenix

 

No Candles for Antiochus

 

The Play of Light and Shadow

 

PUN-ishing Tales: The Stuff That Groans Are Made On

 

Slow and Quiet, Drift Away (free!)

 

Stuffed Shirt

 

The Vole Eater


Criminalities: Three Short Crime Stories and an Essay

Three short crime stories, among them the Derringer Award-winning flash fiction tale "Vigilante," plus an essay about locked-room and other "impossible crime" fictions.

  • ISBN: 9781311229854
  • Author: Barry Ergang
  • Published: 2016-06-14 00:05:07
  • Words: 5079
Criminalities: Three Short Crime Stories and an Essay Criminalities: Three Short Crime Stories and an Essay