A collection of stories set in Chicago. Many stories center on ‘blues’ in the musical sense. In some cases, ‘blues’ means the police, for better or for worse. Very few of these stories involve PIs or police solving crimes. I haven’t read many crime short stories, beyond the Matt Scudder collection and Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, but this wasn’t what I was expecting. Less straightforward crime, many of these stories aim for for a horror feel, focusing on the emotional trauma over logistical crime-solving details.
Blue Note by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Card talent and son of a talented blues singer with a problem gets forced into a high-stakes card game. Great atmosphere surrounding the clubs and the game, believable set-up, solid emotional tone. One of my favorites.
O Death Where Is Thy Sting? by Kevin Guilfoile. A teacher has with a passion for collecting records is on the lookout for a pre-war, American blues record sees the Holy Grail in an elderly lady’s collection. The only problem is that others are after it as well. Fabulous atmosphere, but really feels more like the tone is about the emotional horror. Great line: “See twenty years ago almost every house had dozens and sometimes hundreds of obsolete vinyl records stacked up in basement rec rooms like fossils in layers of shale.”
Your Sweet Man Calvin is bringing his dad to his home, after he’s granted a medical release from his prison sentence–he’s dying of cancer. Calvin’s got a lot of family baggage stemming from when his mama the blues singer ran off with a tw0-bit promoter. Nice emotional development.
Good Evenin’, Blues by Jack Fredrickson. Jim’s been cut loose from his job at the screw factory and goes into business with his brother-in-law running a bar called The Crossroads. Trouble is, its a small space right under the El with no regular business. A guy name Pearly comes in offering to start an open-mike night for the blues, for a small cut. There’s something about some of those performers… It’s a good story, but really, I feel like the guys from Supernatural should be stopping by.
Publicity Stunts by Sara Paretsky. An anti-feminist author is seeking to hire V.I. Warshawski for protection while she’s in town promoting her latest book. V.I. isn’t interested: “And now someone’s threatening your life?” I tried to sound more interested than hopeful.” It goes sour when she targets V.I. as part of a publicity campaign. Most traditional of the stories, the ending was completely predictable.
Guarding Lacey by Kris Nelscott. This was one of my favorites. A kid is navigating the challenges of school with his ‘cousins,’ including Lacey, who just hit junior high and is ready to go big. He decides to shadow Lacey and her new guy and his cousin Keith wants to help. Also one of my favorite stories–interestingly told, intriguing story. I’m going to try more from Nelscott, who has a series centered around the child’s adopted father, Smokey.
Overproof by JA Konrath. Lt. Jack Daniels, Homicide, is on the way home from shopping for a present for the boyfriend when he runs into a man sitting in the middle of traffic on Michigan Avenue. The situation quickly escalates, evolving into the traditional exchange of confessions. Not a particularly interesting story, I spent most of my time trying to figure out the gender identity of the narrator who appears to be female with a male name.
The Non Compos Mentis Blues by Sean Chercover. It begins with a surveillance report and then goes on to the confrontation between PI and the rich woman seeking extra services. When the FBI gets involved, the PI finds himself in hot water. He seemed tense and it was the kind of tension that can be contagious.” Solid noir feel. A little humor from the detective yanking the FBI chain.
Scrap by Max Allan Collins. 1930s period piece about a complicated situation with a childhood friend who is now heavily involved in the unions. “I went into one of the rackets myself, after all–known in Chicago as the police department–and I figured Jake wouldn’t hold that against me, either.” Confusing, emotionally distant piece, heavily reliant on historical knowledge.
Chasing the Blues by Michael A. Black. A rookie on the Chicago Police force vice squad gets a historical lesson from his preceptor. Solid feel. Gender dynamic and prostitution angle.
Blind Man Blues by Steve Mandel. Billy Call is still hung up on the death of an old friend and trying to gather evidence against her husband. His partner Abby thinks he’s making a mistake and that nothing about his ‘friend’ was good for him. The writing is clunky and the crime fairly obvious. Still, basically satisfying.
A Weekend in the Country by David J. Walker. A Chicago cop is developing a ‘catering’ business on the side that involves a house on a deserted piece of land in Wisconsin. When something goes wrong, it takes some effort to clean it up. Unfortunately, I.A. isn’t long in arriving. Twist ending. Emotionally dark with a lead worth hating.
A Shade of Blue by Michael Allen Dynmoch. A man who tied one on last night want to report the murder of a blues singer to the police. When the cop investigates, it turns out it is a Cold Case with a lot of twists. bare walls and windows with shades at half mast, unmatched furniture, wastebasket overflowing with evidence that McDonald’s and Taco Bell catered most of his meals.” More ghost/gotcha story.
The Test by Sam Reaves. Gino and Terry are made men in Casalegno’s crew, but now his second is approaching them for support for a change of leadership. Gino and Terry have been friends forever. It gets complicated when Gino tries to give Terry information on the down-low. Vivid, complicated, a little hair-raising.
My Heroes Have Always Been Shortstops D.C. Brod. Abby, Cubs fan extraordinaire, works for a sports agent and finds she has to reconsiders shortstops when she meets Keith. Soon after he is signed to the Cubs, they start a relationship and things get complicated. I’d just brought Ernie back from the cat painter, and I was beginning to think that I’d gone too far this time. The cat had not asked to be a Cubs fan. Still, I sensed that he was.
Code Blue by Mary V. Welk. Two paramedics bring a man to the E.R. with chest pain. Turns out he’s the brother of a Congressman and the perpetrator of a heinous crime. An ER nurse has her own idea of justice.
The Sin Eater by Sam Hill. Horror feel. Confusing and not particularly memorial. Not sure why it’s included, except it is a multi-generational history.
No One by Marcus Sakey. A man remembers his relationship with Sara, a woman he met at DePaul University. When Sara starts spending time with classmate Mark, his jealousy grows. Again, horror-crime angle.
The Blue Line Ronald Levitsky. A man is offered a job by a famous Mexican artist. There’s been death threats against his wife. The artist wants him to protect her at a dinner they are attending, but the P.I. has his suspicions. A solid story with a nice twist.
Lower Wacker Blues by Brian Pinkerton. Two childhood friends, stuck in the grown-up grind of 9 to 5, recreate their childhood game of ‘Escape’ in the abandoned urban landscape of Lower Wacker. Decent writing, unsurprising ending.
The Lower Wacker Hilton Four cops about to go on duty are standing around telling stories. Sent out to make a dent in shoplifting, they discover a dead transient in the Lower Wacker tunnels. Awkwardly written, ‘surprise’ ending with no actual clues.