Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Four Off-the-Wall Crime Stories

Sometimes what I like is a crime story that's a bit ridiculous. Like these four. I enjoy the dry humor, irony, and sarcasm, and the little darkly funny twists.

Title: The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Where I Read It: Lord Peter: The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories

"I've got the great big top Moriarty of the whole bunch quietly asphyxiating at home."
Peter Wimsey is a duke's son and amateur sleuth. He wears a monocle and is given to prattle (or "talk piffle"). It's to his advantage that he looks foolish, because people often underestimate his sharp mind. But in this story, he leaves behind his monocle and stays mostly silent. It's the only way to bring down a powerful secret society of criminals, in a high-stakes game of undercover operations, psychological tricks, secret loyalties, and complicated safes. The suspense is strong here. Also, the title is not at all unusual in a short story collection that includes "The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach." (I liked this story better than the stomach one.)

Title: Murder on Orchard Road
Author: Nury Vittachi
Where I Read It: Singapore Noir

Feng shui master C.F. Wong has spent his career restoring the favorable energy in homes after a murder has been committed in them. (Is "restoring favorable energy" an accurate way of putting it? I don't know anything about feng shui other than reading sometimes about how people try to position things in their rooms - and the story doesn't really go into it much either.)

Recently, Wong's attempts to find more lucrative gigs has landed him work ensuring the success of a major car race. With his use of feng shui practices, the race will ideally be entertaining and please all the wealthy sponsors. But the day of the race, Wong comes up against various problems, including a Buddhist abbot who doesn't know when to keep quiet and a colleague's son who gets accused of murder. The story is humorous, with Wong so clearly fed up with so many people's BS but needing to make a living and keep everyone's feathers unruffled. It's also interesting to read a story set in Singapore. (Orchard Road is a major commercial street, full of shopping plazas and also well-known for huge displays of Christmas lights.)

Title: The Scorched Face
Author: Dashiell Hammett
Where I Read It: Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories

The main reason to read this story is to come across descriptions like these: "His eyes were glass agonies." It's old-school American crime fiction, with a gritty detective and a mix of suspense, absurdity, and wickedness. Hammett's detective at one point observes, "The crazier the people you were sleuthing act, as a rule, the nearer you are to an ending of your troubles." There's a dark web of crimes here involving death, blackmail, and a house that hides depraved deeds.

Title: Who Said I Was Dead?
Author: Norbert Davis
Where I Read It: Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories

Dodd, a bail bondsman, sort of gets roped into paying for the funeral of a criminal. Only, the criminal might have faked his death. And now someone's trying to kill Dodd, but who? This is a fun, fast-paced, sharply written story with a protagonist who tries to coolly figure things out as his life becomes chaotic.