Short Story Review: “Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson

4 of 5 stars.

A beautiful background and strong hook open this sci-fi short story when a woman comfortably awakens in her bed only to see Earth looming overhead through the skydome in her bedroom compartment. Her husband, the only other resident of the lunar biodome [and of the moon, period] isn’t in the bed with her. The casual mystery of his absence turns serious when she finds him in the rainforest dome beneath the chittering bush babies. Dead. Of a stab wound.

NASA confirms that the cameras system winked out hours earlier in an apparent glitch. Suicide? Sleepwalking murder? Or something more nefarious? Gwen keeps her head long enough to reach out the her ex she wronged years earlier. He’s the detective and mystery writer. He’s the ex-fiancee she left for his roommate–her now dead husband on a satellite with a current living human population of 1.

Gwen and Jonas have 5 days to solve the mystery before less caring governmental and business forces come up to clean up and cover up the mess . . .

The tale unspools on multiple timelines after the opening. There’s the baggage-laden history of Jonas and Gwen filtering the lens of the current time murder mystery. Jonas doesn’t sit comfortable in his equal mistrust of Gwen and of government and business interests. Nor has he forgiven his ex-roommate. The pace, tone, and voice make this a winner.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.

This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.

–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides.
–Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes.
–Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder.
–Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter.
Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.

Also included are:
Bear, Elizabeth–“Cryptic Coloration”–3 stars
Bick, Ilsa J.–“The Key”–3 stars
Bowes, Richard–“Mortal Bait”–3 stars
Denton, Bradley–The Adakian Eagle–3 stars
Elrod, P. N.–“Hecate’s Golden Eye”–3 stars
Green, Simon R.–“The Nightside, Needless to Say”–3 stars
Huff, Tanya–“See Me”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Maltese Unicorn”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Impostors”–3 stars
Parks, Richard–“Fox Tails”–3 stars
Vaughn, Carrie–“Defining Shadows” [Kitty Norville]–3 stars
Cameron, Dana–“Swing Shift”–2 stars
Carl, Lillian Stewart–“The Necromancer’s Apprentice”–2 stars
Clark, Simon–“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell”–2 stars
Gustainis, Justin–“Deal Breaker”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“The Case of the Stalking Shadow”–2 stars
Meikle, William–“The Beast of Glamis”–2 stars

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “See Me” by Tanya Huff

3 of 5 stars.

This is a different sort of detective tale in that the one doing the detecting, Tony Foster, is not a detective by trade, but rather by circumstance. He is, however, a wizard. This allows him to delve more deeply into the mystery of dead elderly men without IDs being found near his work and near his home in Vancouver.

Tony works on the crew of a popular vampire/detective television show. His boyfriend, an actor, plays the detective on the show. Things get “complicated” when the hooker who’d been serving the first of the dead men takes an interest in Tony’s boyfriend. The police are too busy hunting recent missing persons to investigate old men dying of natural causes . . .

The unusual and complex relationship between Tony, Lee [the boyfriend], and Valerie [the prostitute] grows steadily throughout the story making it work.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell” by Simon Clark

2 of 5 stars.

Sherlock Holmes and his faithful counterpart in Dr. Watson come with certain expectations. Watson often tells the tale, as he does here, being the Everyman to Holmes’ mad genius. There’s also a certain expectation on the unriddling of the conundrum at the basis of every Holmes’ tale. Watson, as an educated man, will note many things that the reader may or may not recognize. And, then Holmes will sweep in to solve a case that confounds Scotland Yard and Watson . . . and the reader.

This Holmes tale misses the mark. While the relationship between the Holmes and Watson plays right, and the dialogue sounds particularly Victorian and appropriately antiquated, the “mystery” is short on clues, reasoning and resolution. That the mystery seems to imply a supernatural, ghostly answer is expected. That the answer truly is supernatural breaks the point of Sherlock Holmes making apparent that which is unapparent.

The case: A man descends into the ocean depths in a diving bell to recover treasure. The cables break dooming the diver to a watery grave. Five years later, in a recovery of the recovery equipment, ghostly sounds and voices emanate from the long submerged diving bell. A second diving bell is sent down with two on board. It returns to the surface with both occupants dead of fright . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris

5 of 5 stars.

One of the most wonderful settings for a murder mystery is the dinner party spoiled by a body. This classic setup appeared in the movies Clue and Godford Park and in countless television shows including the launch of Remington Steele and before that in scores of novels. The gathering of people, each with a potential hidden agenda, lines up the suspects before the clues have even been revealed. Distrust and tension immediately follow. And hopefully, some clever detective work.

This well paced and plotted tale ironically takes place at the vampire mansion where protocol and diplomacy ranks above blood lust. The gathering is to celebrate the ascension of a new vampire family sheriff. The dethroned former boss is still around, and the new guy hasn’t been living in the mansion with the rest. Also in attendance are a smattering of werewolves, demons and half-demons, and non-fairy fae. There’s also the dozen humans blood donors the agency sent over, one of whom fails to walk back out of the mansion again . . .

The politics between races of supernaturals is thick with tension. But it pales in comparison to the ranks and rankles of the vampires, where age and status mean everything. Aside from the new and old bosses, there the friend with benefits to the new boss, the human shepherd with a human lover on the side, and another vamp married to a werewolf. Dahlia, a petite old vampire with centuries on most everybody at the party, is called upon to determine why there’s a human sprawled in the kitchen with a missing throat.

And who called the police . . . ? . . .

This tale is highly recommended. It appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Fox Tails” by Richard Parks

3 of 5 stars.

Pre-Modern Japan anchors this tale of animal spirits, ghosts, and the rigid class structure of the nobility. A low-ranked noble is hired to find a lord’s wife and son that disappeared after it was revealed that the wife was actually a true trickster fox spirit.

The role spirits and ghosts play in the culture is made clear. As are the strict rules and dangers for interacting with said spirits and ghosts. However, not all fox spirits should be judged by their bushy tails [plural] as the 2-tailed Lady truly loved her husband, showing a loyalty not usual granted the fox spirits.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Manor of Lost Time.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Like Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry

Like Part of the FamilyLike Part of the Family by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While most detectives in such stories solve the main case at hand, not all own the case with such a deep sense of allegiance to the client. As the title implies, Sam Hunter, ex-PD and now a private dick, has a strong sense of loyalty and need to protect. Perhaps it comes with the territory–Sam’s a werewolf [No spoiler there.].

Sam’s main problem, and the reason he’s no longer on the force, is that he’ll go werewolf without regret on any molester/abuser using their power against the weak and disenfranchised. Call it evening the playing field, or better yet, reversing the tables.

The current client has put up with years of threats and abuse by the time she finds Sam. No, she didn’t report the previous black eyes and bruises. But after waking to find her ex-husband standing over her in her locked house, she’s convinced he’s out to kill her . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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