Saturday, December 11, 2021

Seasons' Readings


Scott D. Parker

I love Christmas anthologies. I have my small collection. They run the gamut from SF (Christmas Stars) to classic (Dickens Christmas tales; Christmas Classics) to mystery (Crime for Christmas) to scary (Christmas Ghosts; can't find a link; it's the Hartwell/Cramer one) and Sherlock Holmes (Holmes for the Holidays). I've even got my comics covered with A DC Universe Christmas and Lee Bermejo's Batman: Noel

This year, I've added some cozy Christmas tales like Louise R. Innes Death at Holly Lodge, Holiday Murder by Leslie Meier, and another helping of the Andy Carpenter series by David Rosenfelt.

But when it comes to a book you can read for year, I think there is a top dog: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Released in 2013, this 650-page book has something for everybody.

Agatha Christie opens and closes the book, and in between these bookends, all your favorites are here: Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Ellery Queen, Donald Westlake, Isaac Asimov, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, and more.

The stories are broken out by themes such as A Modern Little Christmas, A Puzzling Little Christmas, A Pulpy Little Christmas, and A Traditional Little Christmas. If the stories don't get you, the wonderful cover painting, evoking something from the golden age, certainly will.

A collection this large cannot possibly be finished in one season. I don’t even try. Instead, I dip in for the last eight years, reading a tale here and there. 

I always enjoy making new discoveries, even if the discovery is something older.

Have y’all read through this book? If so, what are your favorite stories?

And what are some of y'all's favorite Christmas stories?

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Now I Have A Staple Gun. Ho, ho, ho.

 By Jay Stringer. 

This was originally published on this here site OVER A DECADE AGO OMG when we ran a Christmas Noir season over the holidays. 



Santa Claus was a mean old bastard.

      That’s one of the first things I ever learned.

      It didn’t matter what I asked for, I’d get whatever Santa could pick up from the all night garage on his way home from the pub.

      My fourth Christmas I asked for Castle Grayskull. I got a mars bar. King Size. The next year I asked for Optimus Prime but I got a road atlas. Seven years old, I asked for the Michael Jackson album,  but I was the only kid who had a staple gun sitting under the tree on Christmas morning.

      It wasn’t even wrapped.

      My favorite was when I was thirteen. That year I’d asked for a Sega. I got a three packs of condoms and a little note instructing me on how to use them. Three packs. He had faith in me. 

      Fifteen and sixteen he got me good presents; Liquor. First cheap bourbon and then single malt. That final year we spent Christmas day drinking our way through the presents and talking. We started to understand each other a little more, somewhere between the final drop of amber and the start of the Doctor Who Christmas Special.

      Maybe it would have been different if my mum hadn’t walked out. Mrs Sanderson across the way once told me that Dad fell apart after that. If you go for that kind of excuse.

      Seventeen was the year.

      I’d been home from work a few hours when dad got back. One look at his face as he walked in the door told me he’d forgotten it was Christmas eve. He was empty handed. He mumbled something about being right back and headed out into the cold.

      I set out two empty glasses and waited for him to come back.

      And waited.


      4 AM two police officers knocked the door. A tired looking man in his forties and a very serious looking woman about ten years younger. She flashed her ID but said her name was Laura, and when she used her first name I already knew what they were going to say.

      Hit and run. He’d been on his way back from the garage on foot, holding two bottles of whiskey and a plastic robot. Laura said he wouldn’t have seen the car, it came up behind and the driver didn’t have his lights on. My dad was flipped over, landed on his back but somehow had kept the bottles from smashing. He crawled to the side of the road, to a payphone, and struggled to his feet to reach the receiver.

      Laura didn't come out and say it, but it sounded like it was the exertion that finally finished him off. His broken body couldn’t cope with the movement.

      A passerby found him a short while later, already dead.

      The driver had turned himself in an hour later. He said he'd been drinking and fled the scene, but couldn’t face his family when he got home. It was an open and shut case.

      The male cop handed me a bottle of whiskey, the glass was all scratched and the label was wet. He said it wasn’t really evidence and nobody would mind if I found a use for it.

      One other thing, Laura said, she passed ,e a piece of paper with a phone number written on it. My dad had managed to dial it before he died. Before she got someone running the number on the system, did I know who it was? 

      I said I had no idea and she took the paper back, but I’d had enough time to memorize it. I’m good with numbers.

      The two cops said they’d be back later with photographs for the formal ID. I sat and drank to my old man for a couple of hours. After I’d worked up enough Dutch courage I dialed the number. A woman answered on the other end, and I caught my breath.

      I said, Mum?

      She hung up.

      Santa Claus was a mean old bastard, but he was the only dad I ever had.

Got books?


This week, Beau has some suggestions for you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

I Like to Write in America

Richie Narvaez guest blogs here today, talking about how a story he wrote for the recently published anthology Midnight Hour was inspired by West Side Story.  Which is all good timing of course, since the new film adaptation of the musical has just come out.

Here's Richie:

I Like to Write in America

by Richie Narvaez

West Side Story takes place in an area of Manhattan that used to be called “San Juan Hill,” and that was heavily populated by African Americans and Latinos from the 1920s to the 1950s. The tension between those populations and the lower class Italian, Irish, and Polish population they lived alongside was the context of the play and the movie. Only a few years after the story was set, the whole area was seized via eminent domain (Robert Moses strikes again), and thousands were evicted. The tenements were razed in order to make way for Lincoln Center. (Remember that the next time you’re taking in Shostakovich at Alice Tully Hall.)

If you know me, you know I can’t resist a good gentrification story.

When members of the Crime Writers of Color announced a call for stories for an anthology, I raised my hand high, “Oooh! Oooh!” The anthology would be themed around midnight, and deep in my brain was the memory of a line from West Side Story: “Doc’s at midnight.” Which was where and when the gangs would meet for a war council.

I have always been interested in surveying how Puerto Ricans are and have been portrayed in popular culture. Which is easy because there’s not much there. There’s Popi (Oy!) and The Believers (Double oy!), some JLo movies. But what looms above them all is West Side Story.

There are many issues with the movie. Very few of the cast were Puerto Rican or even Latino/a/x/e at all, and many of the actors were bronzed to fit preconceptions. Oh, and all of the men were gangmembers. Nice. But when I first saw the film as a child, none of that mattered. Natalie Wood was from Caguas as far as I was concerned—it was just nice to see Puerto Ricans on TV!

But as a writer today, I see those flaws, and I see that appropriation of my culture, and I feel as a Puerto Rican I am allowed to appropriate it back. (This will be my defense should Steven Spielberg, director of a remake coming out soon, and his lawyers send me a letter.)

I have often wondered what happened to Chino after the credits rolled. He’s given so little to do (much less than his counterpart, Paris, in Romeo and Juliet), he just seems like a patsy. He gets arrested for Tony’s murder and perp-walked away. But what’s the deal with his fiancée Maria not digging him? What was going on there, with her, with him, under the surface? There’s no room to tell that story, what with all the Jets’ cavorting in song.

So I let my imagination dance on the rooftops. I did my own episode of What If...? What if Chino meets Maria again years later, after he’s out of the pokey, and she’s been married for years to a rich man who doesn’t always keep her company. They’re from different worlds now—how do I crash them together? And where—well, where better than Lincoln Center? Who is/was Chino really? I was inspired quite a bit by Jose De Vega, the Filipino-Colombian actor who began his career playing Chino on Broadway and in the movie.

You can review the results (on page 65!) in Midnight Hour: A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction (Crooked Lane Books), edited by Abby L. Vandiver and published by Crooked Lane Press. Other authors in the anthology include such stalwarts as Tracy Clark, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Abby L. Vandiver, Callie Browning, Frankie Y. Bailey, E. A. Aymar, Valerie Burns, Delia Pitts, Faye Snowden, Jennifer Chow, H-C Chan, Gigi Pandian, Tina Kashian, Elizabeth Wilkerson, Stella Oni, Marla Bradeen, Christopher Chambers, Rhonda Crowder, and Raquel V. Reyes. Get it now! Go, man, go! (And thank you, Sondheim.

You can buy Midnight Hour right here.

Richie Narvaez writes frequently about Latinidad, Puerto Rico, urban culture, and social issues. His first novel, the gentrification thriller Hipster Death Rattle, was voted the premiere North Brooklyn Reads book selection by Brooklyn Public Library patrons. His most recent novel is the historical YA mystery Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco, which won an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award and which Spielberg should immediately option. His latest work is the collection Noiryorican, which was nominated for an Anthony Award. He knows a boat you can get on.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

What's Your Marathon?

By Claire Booth

The California International Marathon is this morning. It winds through eastern Sacramento County and ends near the state Capitol.

26.2 miles.** Depending on what point you’re at during that distance, it’s either endless, invigorating, excruciating, exhilarating, a very bad idea, or a very good one.

Maybe all of those things at once.

My version of a marathon.
It's not unlike writing a novel—a long, involved process that’s sometimes a slog and sometimes a blissful communion with something deep inside yourself. The trick is to make yourself work through the former and enjoy the hell out of the latter. 

What do you do in your life that takes that intense amount of work, focus and commitment?

**Just to be clear, I’ve never run a marathon. There’s no way I ever will. I’m in awe of people who even attempt it, let alone finish one.