Deal Me In, Week 49 ~ “A Winning Combination”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“A Winning Combination” by Brendan DuBois

Card picked: Four of Diamonds
From: Murder on the Ropes, ed. Otto Penzler

Thoughts: Jerry Hughes is a life-style writer for the Sentinal. He covers arts festivals, volunteer events, and down-on-their-luck artists. In the opinion of his editor, “losers.” Jerry’s next assignment is to cover a local boxer, a young man with a rough background, on the eve of his first big bout, a fight that he’s probably going to lose.

Jerry isn’t happy about having to do the story, and Sonny, the boxer, isn’t thrilled by the reporter who obviously looks down on the sport. That changes when Jerry is attacked by a group of thugs on his way back uptown from the gym. Sonny recuses him and reluctantly agrees to tell Jerry his story.

The newspaper story ends up being good, maybe the best that Jerry has ever written, highlighting Sonny’s determination despite being the extreme underdog. Unfortunately, since the mugging Jerry feels an incredible amount of anxiety and hasn’t been able to enjoy his success. He’s shocked when he finds out that Sonny won his bout, easily. Sonny swears the fight wasn’t fixed, but Jerry thinks differently…

I really liked about 80% of this story. I liked the setup and the characters. This anthology has been light on stories with a protagonist on the outside of boxing. Unfortunately, the twist seemed really abrupt and jarring.

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Deal Me In, Week 45 ~ “The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers” by Aimee Bender

Card picked: Eight of Spades

From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, ed. by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: An unnamed detective is called to the site of a double murder. The husband has been stabbed and the wife has been poisoned; their bodies found curled together like a yin and yang symbol. As the detective talks to family, friends, and the couple’s own private chef, curious facts are revealed. He always liked pepper and she always liked salt. They were, therefore, the perfect couple. Unfortunately, things change. He developed a sensitivity to spicy food and could no longer stand pepper. Hypertension caught up with her, disallowing salt from her diet. Could such a couple stand to have their identities stripped and, maybe worse, swapped? Or did their chef, tired of cooking such unbalanced foods, poison the wife and frame the husband?

This is a very low-key tale for a story with two dead bodies on the floor. In a sort of noir move, the detective really gets no lines. He’s mostly an observer, though a weirdly obsessed one. He goes as far as staying over night in the couple’s ranch-style house in order to better contemplate their salt and pepper shaker collection. In the end, he’s left wondering how he and his own girlfriend would fare if so individually changed. It’s a question many long-time couples deal with.

Is This Your Card?

Appropriately,  today’s magical bonus is from a duo:

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “The Fix”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Fix” by Thomas H. Cook

Card picked: Five of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes, ed. Otto Penzler

Thoughts: When journalist Jack Burke spots Vinnie Teague on a crosstown bus, he decides to find out what happened when the “Shameful Shamrock” Teague took his career-ending dive.

Nearing the end of this anthology, I find that there hasn’t been a wide array of crimes associated with boxing in these stories. The whys and hows of taking a dive have been pretty prominent. This story is one of the shortest in the anthology and it contains one of the best characters. Vinnie Teague isn’t what he seems and neither was his poorly wrought boxing performance. Usually, a dive is meant to look like, well, not a dive. Teague went down after being grazed by washed-up Douggie Burns in a fight that should have been an easy KO. For Burke, it is one of the most perplexing things he’s ever seen in sports.

About the Author: I wasn’t familiar with Thomas H. Cook. It has also become obvious from this anthology how few thrillers I’ve read. If the writing prowess shown in this short story is any indication of his novel writing abilities, I just might become a fan of Thomas H. Cook.

Deal Me In, Week 34 ~ “Flash”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Flash” by Loren D. Estleman

Card picked: Six of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes, edited by Otto Penzler

Thoughts: While I know that everything here is supposed to be done for my enjoyment and I do love reading, blogging sometimes feels like obligation. I was inordinately happy when I drew this week’s story and discovered that this short story was indeed short. I’m now doubly happy because it was *good* too.

Midge is former boxer, now working as a bodyguard for a…well, we’re never told that his employer is a mobster, but he does have the ignoble nickname of Jake the Junkman. Midge’s boxing career ended when he *didn’t* take a dive in a twelve-round match. He’d been offered the money, but his opponent was actually too good. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it looked to the boxing commission. Midge found himself with debts, scars, hearing loss, and one good suit, an electric blue number, when Jake Wassermann hired him. Now, a few months into his employment and already in debt again, one of Wassermann colleagues buys Midge’s debt. All he wants from Midge is a favor.

In eight pages, Estleman tells a great story and let’s us get to know the big lug that is Midge. And a goodly bit of those pages is about suits: Midge’s blue “flash” versus the gray and brown tailored suits Mr. Wassermann would prefer that he’d wear. Telling details, a short story writer’s best friends.

About the Author: One of the things that I love about mixed anthologies is reading a story that I like by an author that I’m unfamiliar with and realizing that the author has a huge catalog of works, a few of which are already on my read-one-day list. Loren D. Estleman has written a few Sherlock Holmes pastiches (already on my list), several detective series, and Westerns as well (which are probably going on to my list).

Deal Me In, Week 28 ~ “The Bees”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Bees” by Dan Chaon

Card picked: Four of Clubs

From: Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: Gene has a good life. His wife, Karen, is in nursing school and his little boy Frankie is about to enter kindergarten. But Gene has a dark past too. Over a decade ago, during the worst of his alcoholism, he abandoned a girlfriend and young son, just about Frankie’s age. Now sober, he’s tried to find them to make amends, but they’ve disappeared. Or maybe become part of the nightmares that he and Frankie have been having…

There an interesting premise here and some moments of genuine creepiness, but the ending came out of nowhere for me and didn’t feel very connected to the rest of the story. After stumbling on a review of it from a subsequent publication, I find I may have missed a subtlety.

About the Author: While a notable Nebraska-born author, I have no familiarity with Dan Chaon. He seems a “literary” sort, though Wikipedia tells me that he once wrote a fan letter to Ray Bradbury which became a regular correspondence for some time.

Deal Me In, Week 21 ~ “Blood Doesn’t Come Out”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Blood Doesn’t Come Out” by Michael Crichton

Card picked: Jack of Clubs

From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: Thrilling Tales have not been so thrilling lately…

This is the semi-hard-boiled noir-ish story of Los Angeles private detective Ray Chambers. Ray isn’t having a good day. He’s screwed up his current investigation, his car payment is late, and his actress girlfriend Janis has left him. Janis’s main accusation is that Ray is stuck in the past. She can’t even move the photo of Ray’s mother on the piano without Ray getting annoyed. Thing is, Ray doesn’t even like his abusive mother. She’s been in a home for a few years, but maybe she still holds sway over Ray’s life. Ray decides to do something about that.

Ray isn’t a sympathetic character or even an interesting character. His life doesn’t seem *that* bad and he doesn’t really blame his screw-ups on his mother’s attitude toward him. As a reader, we see that she’s always been an abusive alcoholic, but we’re only given a one day look into Ray’s life (one morning, really) and the incidents feel singular. These isn’t much of a build-up to a life gone wrong.

About the Author: In light of the 1990 blockbuster novel Jurassic Park, it’s easy to forget that Michael Crichton published his first novel in 1966 (under a pseudonym). In light of this short story, I think longer works with a good dollop of science and technology probably suit him better than semi-hard-boiled noir-ish private detective character studies.

Deal Me In, Week 17 ~ “The Problem of Leon”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Problem of Leon” by John Shannon

Card picked: King of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes, edited by Otto Penzler

Thoughts:

Leon wasn’t stupid, but he was ineffably unpleasant and tiresome and permanently aggrieved…

Jack Liffey met Leon Krane when they were both in college. Jack would like to believe that there isn’t true evil in the world, that maybe with a little understanding everyone can be a better person. He tries to befriend Leon, but Leon is pretty insufferable. Leon, once a math major, goes on to be a mildly successful boxer, a real tough guy who expects the same from his children. The problem? His youngest son is missing and he wants Jack, now a PI, to help find him. Except, Leon has only become a worse person in the intervening years, attested to by his wife’s black eye. When Jack finds Leon’s youngest, how *will* he manage to reconcile the two?

“The Problem of Leon” is light on plot, but heavy with characterization. Leon is a pretty well-drawn character, even if the reader still doesn’t quite understand what makes him tick.

About the Author: John Shannon is best known for his series of novels featuring the character of Jack Liffey. This is my first brush with both the character and the author. This story provides a bit of Liffey prequel, set mostly during his college days.