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March/April 2021

This year’s March/April EQMM will help you ease from winter into spring in criminally entertaining style. Starting it off is the first appearance in EQMM of the iconic character Mike Hammer in a previously unpublished story by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (“Killer’s Alley”). Things cool down in “Cold Hard Facts” by Chad Baker, “Stone Coat” by David Dean, and “A Winter Night’s Dream” by Michael Wiley, letting you while away chilly nights with a murder mystery, a fireside tale, and a “not-so- private private eye.”

The intrigue continues: truth, justice, or the lack thereof play out in unexpected ways in “The Best Is Yet to Come” by Chris Knopf, “The Phone Message” by Robert Cummins, “Mother” by Ray Bazowski, and “Yeah, I Meant to Do That” by Mat Coward. With simple physics, things become more straightforward; see the supernatural-seeming “The Eyes of the Alcalde” by William Dylan Powell and the nostalgic “Escape Velocity” by Kevin Egan.

Fraught predicaments play out when characters are stretched thin in “The Dark Underbelly of Commerce” by Peter Turnbull, “An Eye for Detail” by Nancy Novick, and “A Bit of Bling” by Wendy Hornsby. The crises of other protagonists and even real-life people bring us around the world in “A Bucharest Arrest” by Bogdan Hrib, “The City of Light” by Josh Pachter (set during the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral), and this month’s Stranger Than Fiction entry “A Death in Provence” by Dean Jobb. Sometimes, though, the view out our own windows can present a dilemma, such as in “Black Swallowtail” by Hollis Seamon and “Pressure” by Cath Staincliffe. . . .

And finally, we arrive at the high-tension “Spring Fever” by Charlaine Harris and the holiday whodunit “Who Stole the Afikomen?”, a Passover tale by Elizabeth Zelvin. Thank you for spending the seasons with EQMM.

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Fiction

Stone Coat

by David Dean

Outside the winter wind pummeled the bark-clad dwelling, driving snow before it with low moans and piercing shrieks, the surrounding forest bending and thrashing with a great clacking of limbs. Within the wigwam’s quaking walls dangled strips of dried pumpkin, strings of corn, and twists of tobacco swaying over the heads of the people sheltering there, while spirit figures, sprung from the flickering fire, danced along its walls.

Sometimes silence would descend over the scene like a deafness, as if the raging world outside had suddenly ceased to exist. Then all within would stop their conversations and strain to hear, uneasy with the ominous hush and awaiting the return of the wind with its ravenous groanings.

“This is a good night for a story,” Wolf Paw announced, causing a murmur to go up from the worried folks gathered in his lodge. They had come to wait out the storm the long winter night had brought to the Lenapehoking, the land of the People. As an experienced sachem, Wolf Paw knew that a good tale was needed. READ MORE

 
 

Spring Fever

by Charlaine Harris

On a spring Friday afternoon, Principal Anne DeWitt should have been clearing her desk and looking forward to the weekend. Instead, she was looking at Danny Blackwell, who was slumped in a chair across from her. Danny looked like a poster for Troubled Teens: How to Handle Them.” The boy’s misery ran underneath his truculence like an Alaskan river runs under ice.

If Anne had been given to indications of how she was feeling, she would have sighed. Spring had always been her favorite time at the survival camp she’d run in her previous life. The camp had been very specialized, very secret. She’d had another name then. Spring had meant it was time to hunt: animals, and people. The camp’s November–January session had been more about surviving nature. The spring camp had been more about surviving what other people could do to you.

Anne itched under her skin with the memories.

She figured Danny Blackwell would have lasted ten minutes, tops. As they waited for his parents, Danny fidgeted. READ MORE

Passport to Crime

A Bucharest Arrest

by Bogdan Hrib

A Walk in Cuza Park

The man is strangely dressed. Dirty beige shorts with large cargo pockets bulging with an assortment of bulky items. Rumpled dark-green safari shirt with long sleeves rolled up past his elbows. A red cap with the word MALTA in big white letters across the front. Cheap beige thin-soled sneakers.

He walks clumsily, holding an expensive camera with a very long lens to his eye with his right hand and struggling with his left to steady both the camera and a long leash the same red as his cap, at the end of which a Yorkshire terrier trimmed for summer gambols energetically. From time to time, the puppy pauses to look up at its master. In those brief moments of stillness, the man focuses and shoots a quick photo.

He’s a pro, uses the viewfinder, never a glance at the LCD screen on the back of the camera. He’s out with his dog, strolling through the park with no scientific or economic purpose in mind, hoping just for the fun of it to take pictures of seagulls swooping over the lake.

 READ MORE

Black Mask

Killer's Alley

by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

COAUTHOR’S NOTE:

In 1953, Mickey Spillane wrote and directed a short film starring his friend Jack Stang as a screen test of sorts. Mickey wanted to demonstrate to film producer Victor Saville that ex-Marine/current cop Stang would make an effective Mike Hammer in the upcoming film, I, the Jury (not Kiss Me Deadly, as has been previously reported). Saville did not agree, casting Biff Elliot instead.

The test film—which also featured legendary comedian Jonathan Winters and future Ben Casey TV star Betty Ackerman—is lost to time; but Spillane’s friend Stang did go on to appear as a Hammer-like character in Ring of Fear (1954), in which Mickey played himself for producer John Wayne. Mickey came across more like Hammer than his friend, however, which led eventually to Spillane playing the iconic private eye in The Girl Hunters (1963) and spoofing his mystery-writer persona in the long-running Miller Lite commercials.

This short story derives from Mickey’s script for that missing film. It takes place early in Hammer’s career and reflects Spillane fitting as much about his unique private-eye character and his noir world into one small package as possible. READ MORE

Department of First Stories

The Phone Message

by Robert Cummins

Carole

Monday evening

Carole stops the car and checks to see that Cathy is still sound asleep in the backseat. Her phone tells her it’s 9:50 p.m. She needs to wait another three or four minutes. She doesn’t want to leave Cathy any longer than necessary, and she doesn’t need to be inside the house until 9:55. The whole thing should take only five or six minutes. Maybe less. She uses the mirror on the sun visor to check the dark curly wig covering her auburn hair and pushes up the dark-framed glasses on her nose. She snaps the visor up, then takes blue latex gloves from the seat beside her and puts them on. The phone says 9:53. She waits.

At 9:54, she checks Cathy again, then gets out of the car, closing the door silently by holding up the handle and pressing it closed with her hip, then gently releasing the handle. She takes the five steps to the side door, uses her key to let herself in, and calls out, “Evan, I’m home.”

She hears him call back, “I’m in the study.” READ MORE

Reviews

The Jury Box 

by Steve Steinbock

You’ve likely heard of writer’s block and may even have experienced it yourself. Reader’s block is a similar malady that occurs when you try to read a book or article but are unable to progress. You’re stuck on the same paragraph, the words jumble together, nothing makes sense, you can’t remember what you’ve read so far and you begin not to care. In preparing this installment of The Jury Box, I suffered a case of reader’s block. I could blame the weather, the pandemic, or lack of sleep. It may have been that they weren’t my particular type of books at that particular time. Perhaps they were simply not very good books. I began and eventually gave up on several books I wanted to review. I got to the end of one book, but when I began writing a review of it, I couldn’t find anything positive to say and decided I’d rather write nothing at all than to write an entirely negative review. Fortunately, I rediscovered my love of reading with the following lineup of titles. Each of them grabbed me and held my attention until the final page. Each of the books also weaves together the past and the present in a unique way. READ MORE

 
 

Blog Bytes

by Kristopher Zgorski

Let’s face it, as writers and readers, we love language. Our stock-in-trade is discovering new ways to communicate ideas, feelings, and actions. So what better way to celebrate that than by visiting the Merriam-Webster website every morning to learn a new word of the day. Increase your vocabulary with a carefully curated daily word selection. Since it is a digital component of the print dictionary, the website (of course) provides the pronunciation and various definitions of the word, but that is not all. There is also a knowledge section that reveals some unique facts about the word via its etymology, a few examples of the word’s use in everyday publications, and a link to the Word of the Day podcast, for those who prefer to learn by listening. The website archives each day’s word, so for those with the ambition it is possible to explore words that might have been missed on earlier calendar dates. READ MORE

 
 

Stranger Than Fiction: Preview

by Dean Jobb

The realms of crime fiction and true crime have many intersections. Fiction writers often draw on real investigative techniques, police procedures, and even notorious crime cases in fashioning their stories, and, conversely, fictional sleuths and their methods have occasionally influenced the practices of actual police forces.  READ MORE

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