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2016 Story 30

Today's story can be found in a number of places, but most notably (at least until Midnight today Pacific time), for free on Amazon as a stand-alone ebook self-published by author Lawrence Block.


30. DEATH OF THE MALLORY QUEEN by Lawrence Block.  This story is officially the fifth Chip Harrison adventure, following four novels (two coming-of-age, two mysteries) and followed by one other Christmas story. You do not need to have read any of the other Harrison stories to enjoy this one; it's a stand-alone that tells you everything you need to know about Chip Harrison and his employer Leo Haig. At at about 20 pages, it's a fast read as well. The set-up is that mystery magazine publisher Mavis Mallory visits Haig at his west side townhouse and hires him to solve her upcoming murder, a murder she's convinced will happen because of the sheer number of her peers/competitors whom she's pissed off since taking over her father's publishing out. As with so many classic detective stories of this time, the story is half set-up and half revelation of the killer. Haig assembles all of the suspects, along with two cops, in his home office and reveals what the reader can only guess at.

What I love about this story is the obvious fun Block is having with the tropes of the genre. Leo models himself on Nero Wolfe (hoping in fact to some day meeet the great man), with Chip his erstwhile Archie (doing the out-of-house legwork Leo won't do). Mallory is a redheaded femme fatale who might have stolen Chip's heart if not for her death. The list of suspects includes jilted lovers, business rivals, and disgruntled employees all with good reason to want to kill the victim. The murder happens in a very public but conveniently dark place. The truth of what happened is revealed in High Dramatic Fashion. Block doesn't veer from the formula used by Stout, Christie, Queen and a large number of television detective shows, and that's okay because he makes the formula a part of the story that even the characters are aware of.

He also tweaks the noses of the mystery publishing industry, with subtle (and not-so-subtle) shout-outs to mystery bookstores, mystery magazines, book critics, cozy mystery authors and hard-boiled mystery authors. Even the victim's nickname, "the Mallory Queen," is a nod to an icon of the industry.

Definitely worth picking up, especially if you can do it today (January 30, 2016) for free.

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