NEEDLE (#2). The first two stories I was assigned to read for this issue pretty much left my jaw on the floor: Ray Banks' The Great Pretender, and Sarah Weinman's Mirror Image. Ray has received deserved acclaim for his novels featuring Scottish PI, Cal Innes, while Sarah is, well, yeah, she's that Sarah Weinman: LA Times book critic whose word carries major weight. As does, I assure you, her fiction.
The Great Pretender takes the Kris Kristofferson lyric, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," a step beyond: When you've nothing left to lose, well, brother, that's when you're in danger of losing it, period. And Mirror Image spins a web of morbid self-fascination that left this reader feeling claustrophobic in her own skin.
These two stories alone would make NEEDLE #2 well worth the price of admission, but it's a fact that the other ten stories will leave you sitting in your easy chair with your hair looking like it was styled using a can of cheap hairspray and a 90-mile-an-hour wind. Stephen Blackmoore (who, I'm happy to say, becomes a part of the NEEDLE editing family beginning with the next issue) spins a murder mystery with a journalist and brother/cop trying to find a drive-by shooter, in For the Children; while The Waiting, by Allan Leverone (whose first novel will be published by Medallion Press in February), features a gang of thieves whose group dynamics leave them more involved in cross and double-cross than in the heist.
In John Stickney's Spending Light, you can spend the day with an aging Northern Ohio mobster who is just as concerned about his Viagra intake as he is about the daily take from his numbers racket. But one of those two things is more deadly than the other. Julie Summerell unveils her first crime fiction story, Under the Rug, wherein someone is going to have to explain the dead guy in the apartment -- and that child molestation yarn probably isn't going to hold up.
David Cranmer's stories always provide their own reason for being, and The Sins of Maynard Shipley is no exception. After all, Maynard is providing a public service, isn't he, getting rid of all those old folks who are such a burden to their families and to the state?
Mike Sheeter's name was new to me, but after reading Going Downrange, I'll make a point of seeking out more of his work. This story clues the reader in to just how binding are the ties of military comradeship. Semper fi, indeed.
Nigel Bird's original voice is heard in three incarnations in Beat on the Brat, the winner of this year's Watery Grave Invitational. (And if you haven't been keeping up with Nigel's 'Dancing with Myself' series of interviews on his blog, you've been missing out on the fun.) And Chris F. Holm delivers The Hitter, a novella about an unusual hit man whose unrequited love is also an unconditional love. If you're not familiar with Chris's work, let me clue you in: his credentials include a Derringer nom, a Spinetingler win, and stories published in both Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I want this guy for a mentor.
And then there's Tip the Barkeep (Nolan "think fast" Knight) and Cold, Hard, Love! (Frank "just-got-a-book-deal" Bill) to round out the issue. I look at the quality of this anthology as a whole and of the individual stories, and my feeling is one of profound regret that NEEDLE does not (cannot, by MWA rules) carry MWA eligibility at this time.
NEEDLE #2 (and #1 also) is available in print format only at lulu.com.