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Short Stories 365/175 | N.S. Beranek

“Murder on the Midway” by Jeffrey Ricker from Men of the Mean Streets (Bold Strokes Books, 2011). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

This story has all the elements you would expect when picking up this volume: a hard-boiled private eye (named Sam, no less), a dead body, and a sardonic voice. Even better it has elements you wouldn’t necessarily expect, such as the fact that the victim and the suspects aren’t the only gay characters. So is the victim’s across-the-way neighbor, Rick, who wants to help Sam solve the mystery. And Sam himself is gay.

The victim, Jacob, was a rent boy who fancied himself a modern day Robin Hood, He blackmailed his wealthy closeted clientele into giving large donations to charities benefitting gay youth, which, of course, creates an instant suspect list. The story takes the requisite twists and turns as the motivations of the players turn out to be not as they originally appeared, and they take actions they think are clever but which, ultimately, don’t fool Sam.

Sam solves the mystery and collects his paycheck, but I was left with a lot of questions. Why did the neighbor, Rick, initially choose to facilitate Sam’s investigation rather than the one conducted by the police? Was the culprit trying to hide his own earlier actions or just trying to protect someone else’s? I couldn’t tell. And what was it that drove the victim to earn a living the way he did and then make such a risky move to support a noble cause? Those are the mysteries I wanted solved, rather than strictly whodunit.