A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-
FUTURES MYSTERIOUS ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE #30
Edited by Babs Lakey
It looks decidedly pulpish, with poor quality paper, every inch of which is crowded with prose, poetry, cartoons, contests and illustrations, everything but the kitchen sink in fact, while the cover is a migraine inducing red background with a nifty little macabre drawing of cutlery and bones in the foreground. According to the cover the issue contains ’50 spine tingling short tales!’ but diligent examination of the Table of Contents revealed only 38. There are however 12 poems and 12 articles, so perhaps one of these makes up the shortfall. Whatever, to complain of lack of content would be churlish. Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Literary Mainstream are all within the magazine’s remit, but mostly what we get is Crime Fiction, with an emphasis on brevity and the problem solving aspects of the genre. Think Marple rather than Marlowe.
Okay, 38 stories. Let’s see if I can rise to the challenge of saying something interesting about every single one of them without repeating myself (doubtful). Leading off, ‘The Telltale Spot’ by Sharon Short, which climbs on the bandwagon whereby crimes are solved by everyone except the police, and helping the Sheriff out this time around is the local laundress who finds incriminating evidence on the villain’s smalls. It’s totally unconvincing and hinges on the investigating authorities being blind to what’s right in front of their eyes. Who, however, can resist a heroine called Josie Toadfern? Equally incredible, but somewhat more amusing, is ‘The Hellers’ by J. R. Chabot, in which a married couple at odds try to hire a hit man and get something far worse, a lawyer. Mary J. Davidson’s ‘Dangerous Reunion’ gives us four Miss Marples for the price of one, with a gaggle of little old ladies outwitting the bad guys, and the feel good factor where grey power is concerned almost makes me prepared to overlook the fact that something like this would only happen in fiction.
‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ by Jeff Fielder is one of the more innovative offerings, with a disastrous case of mistaken identity unfolding through a series of messages left on a telephone answering machine, a clever story and one where only the reader has all the pieces. In contrast ‘The Black Cat’ by Tim Wohlforth is a wholly ridiculous piece where the bad guy leaves the stolen merchandise inside a cat, for no better reason than that the writer would have to come up with a real story otherwise. Luann Larsen’s ‘Anybody’s Fool’ has the nosy neighbour who saves the day, her suspicions about the guy next door leading our heroine into danger, and once again it seems to owe a tad too much to convenience. In ‘What Goes Around’ by Mark Murphy a DA’s guilty secret is cunningly propelled out into the open, a plot driven story that is pleasing for the way in which it’s all worked out rather than any originality of design. Ultra-short ‘The Blue Bottle’ by Margaret Searles is for the crossword aficionado, with all the clues as to who kills the Sultan hidden in the body of the text and the answer revealed on the following page. More puzzle piece than story.
FMAM contains rather a lot of flash fiction, and the quality is variable. Guy Belleranti’s ‘Motive for Murder’ is one of the better examples, a slice of black comedy that has a psychiatrist uncovering a wife’s reason for killing her husband, one with which all readers will surely feel a twinge of empathy. ‘My Rule’ by Jennifer Gatewood is one of the more grittier stories, with a burglar who doesn’t believe in leaving witnesses behind getting his comeuppance after some very grisly goings on. It rang true, something I wouldn’t say about a lot of FMAM‘s contents, and the lack of cosiness was a definite point in its favour. ‘Easy Choices’ by Kathleen J. Stowe has nothing much going for it, a woman finding the entirely banal reason a neighbour’s wife committed suicide, but it’s difficult to see why we should care. ‘Pardoe’s Wife’ by Karen S. Cook starts fairly ordinarily, with a man put out by seeing his friend fall prey to a gold digger, but then develops into something more interesting, culminating in a neat and macabre twist that shows us who the victim really is. ‘Waiter, There’s a Clue in My Soup’ by Camille LaGuire is as silly as it sounds, with the killer given away by his choice in cuisine. Still, to be fair, I don’t think we’re meant to take this as anything more than a light-hearted diversion. Some diversions however are more rewarding than others.
‘Champagne For One’ by Carol Kilgore has a red herring or two, as a police detective investigates the murder of an old friend, and the best that can be said about it is that it fills the space. Flash fiction ‘Recipe for Murder’ by Nick Andreychuk is an amusing and macabre little ditty with a wicked last line pun. Also more than a tad on the macabre side is ‘Tough Guy’ by Stephen Rogers, in which a child kidnapper’s bluff is called, not something I would recommend, but there is a certain grim satisfaction in seeing a scumbag get his head handed to him on a plate, literally. Pamela White’s ‘The Diet Defense’ is one of the sillier pieces, as a murderess gets off on the grounds that hubbie didn’t respect her diet. What is it with these people? Haven’t they heard of divorce? ‘Baby’s Breath’ by Sarah Elleni Glenn is another piece devoid of much rhyme or reason, as poor Simon dies as a result of his culinary ignorance, and perhaps the real crime is to publish pointless stuff like this. ‘Second Helping’ by Stephen Rogers has a clever thief putting one over on a smug, self-satisfied detective, as gratifying as it is morally null.
‘Eddie’s Motel’ by John M. Floyd is cute crime in a series with the general heading ‘Law and Daughter’, as the sheriff is helped to solve cases by her interfering mother and anyone who can take it seriously has my respect, or something like that. Another series, ‘Wife and Death’ by Michael Mallory, has poor old Dr Watson playing patsy to his wife Amelia instead of second fiddle to the great detective. It’s yet another Holmes variation and we’ve perhaps seen enough of those, but latest instalment ‘The Adventure of Beggar’s Head’ is entertaining enough, with an intriguing story, a killer with a novel MO and nicely drawn period atmosphere. I liked it very much, but this could just be a situational thing. ‘Jesse James’ Radio Caper’ by Rick Magers is another piece of plotting silliness, and here played out at too great a length to be anything more than mildly irritating. More satisfying is ‘Notions of the Real World’ by Dorothy Rellas, about a young girl whose ideas are shaped by listening to detective shows on the radio, which proves invaluable to her when a real crime intrudes into her life. The plot is slightly stretched but Rellas compensates with some convincing characterisation and a showdown filled with tense expectancy. Billed as Science Fiction, ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ by Robert N. Stephenson starts with a familiar premise, the computer game that is actually reality, and goes off at a tangent to produce something that, to this reader anyway, simply didn’t add up or engage the attention.
‘Wish Fulfilment’ by Shirley Richardson has Mengele given first hand experience of the Nazi desiderata and finding it not at all to his taste, picking up on something that’s often occurred to me, that all those top Nazis (short, fat, balding guys with glasses) are hardly an advert for Aryan supremacy, but sadly the story owes more than a tad to wish fulfilment itself. Megan Crewe’s ‘The Light’ ODs on pretentiousness, as the story unfolds of a brilliant intellectual condemned to prison for hoodwinking people into believing that aliens shaped human history, the narrative building and building but ultimately left with nowhere to go. In contrast we have the beautifully understated ‘Broken Glass’ by Karen S. Cook which describes a normal, everyday situation as a man mulls over this strange dream that he had and then delivers one of those last lines that puts a different interpretation on everything, pulling the reader up hard. ‘Silky’s Getaway’ by Earl Staggs is another story in which the villain is foiled by an elderly person (grey power is definitely in here), an unconvincing and transparent tale twister. Rick Magers is back with ‘Deadly Dozing’, the by the numbers story of a man prone to slipping into deep sleep and afraid of being mistaken for dead, and so you can probably guess what happens.
‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’ by Todd Allen has a conman being conned in a story that wears its heart on its sleeve rather too obviously. ‘Murder on the Cutting Room Floor’ by Stephen D. Rogers has a film director killed and plenty of suspects, all of it wrapped up in four columns, just the bare bones of a story rather than the real thing. Debra Purdy Kong’s ‘Justice Calling’ is another piece of flash fiction, only here that’s spelled trash. A teacher’s mobile phone is stolen by one of the children in her class, and I wonder who can guess how she nabs the culprit. Charles Benoit’s ‘The Hit’ seems to be running along familiar tracks, with a hit man hired as part of what appears to be an insurance scam, but then we get a twist at the end that elevates the story to an entirely different level, one about the perils of love and loss. ‘Time to Kill’ by Allen McGill is about the worst thing in the whole magazine, a truly dreadful piece of nonsense that reduces the whole of film noir to a single column, along the way throwing overboard things such as pacing, characterisation and credibility. Dross that actually makes the Grisham book of the same name seem appealing, and that’s one of my all time unfavourite books.
‘That Hour’ by Tina Tocco is the literary offering, meaning it abjures stuff like story in favour of presenting a pretty little world picture of an idyllic moment. The quality of the writing can’t be faulted; it is far more evocative than much here. I just don’t see the point of it though. ‘Last Ride Home’ by Jake Steele has a long lost prodigal husband returning home only to find that he is the slaughtered oxen, another story that doesn’t have a lot going for it other than the reader’s natural desire to see ugly customers get what’s coming to them. ‘Nothing but the Best’ by Linda DiMaria has another murderer of the elderly hoist by her own petard, which proves every bit as painful as it sounds, but plotwise leaves a lot to be desired, such as credibility. ‘For the Love of Creative Matter’ by Nancy Kay Peterson is a deal with the devil story, done with enough novelty to be fun and with a nice sting in the tail, one that proves sometimes you can have it all, albeit at somebody else’s expense.
The poetry is rather neat, amusing and at times quite emotive if hardly on a par with Philip Larkin, and the articles, covering a variety of legalistic and writerly subjects, are all interesting enough. There’s good artwork, a quiz and competitions and yes, there probably is a kitchen sink, but I haven’t found it yet. Must be off somewhere with the missing twelve stories.
Okay, fictionwise there is nothing here that’s going to change your life. What we get is one or two clunkers and a few more pieces that show a little ambition, but mostly what’s on offer is the written equivalent of fast food, to be consumed quickly and forgotten soon after. There’s little that’s truly gritty and there’s a little bit too much love of seeing bad guys get what they deserve, even if the the writer has to tweak the rules of verisimilitude somewhat to get there. FMAM reminds me of nothing so much as one of those bumper fiction issues put out in the summer by magazines like Take A Break or Women’s Realm, and on that basis it provides harmless fun for the few hours reading that it takes. Reviewing it however, is another matter. That I wouldn’t wish on anyone.