Gotham Teacher Gregory Fallis has recently released the mystery book Dog On Fire. It’s a series of eight linked short stories set in New England and featuring the same two investigators—Kevin Sweeney, a former police detective, and Joop Wheeler, a Southerner transplanted to the Massachusetts seacoast. They can’t afford to be choosy about their clients, so they end up with odd cases such as man worried his daughter is worshipping a pagan idol and a family puzzled by the human skull they find in an old trunk.
Here’s a snippet from the title story, “Dog on Fire,” in which the owners of an art gallery are desperate to find a troubled painter:
We were meeting new clients—Marissa Moffet and Kari Voicek—in a small, determinedly hip coffee bar in Boston called Donny Can Dance. They owned the Morgen Tot Gallery, which was just around the corner.
“Let me make sure I understand this correctly,” Sweeney said. “Every month or so for the last couple of years Dora Peabody has brought a painting to your gallery. She told you the paintings were done by her sister, Costanza.”
“Correct,” Marissa said. She was the manager of the gallery, dressed in a stern but trendy summer suit that looked like it had been constructed to microscopically exact tolerances by Finnish engineers.
“But you’ve never actually met Costanza?” I said.
Marissa shook her head. “Only Dora.”
“And now two months have gone by and Dora Peabody hasn't shown up with a new painting. And you’d like us to try to find her. Is that correct?”
“Ve are vorryink,” Kari Voicik said. She had a throaty Eastern European accent. There was something round and liquid in the way she spoke, like she had a soft-boiled quail’s egg in her mouth. Kari was the buyer for Morgen Tot, and looked like an artist. She wore a baggy blue-black tee shirt and a pair of cotton military surplus pants that had probably come from some defunct unit of the Serbian Army.
“Ve are thinking somethink may happened.”
“Something may have happened,” Marissa said.
Kari shrugged. “May have happened. Some very bad think, to her, to Dora. Or to maybe Costanza.”
“Why do you think that?” Sweeney asked.
“You have to understand the nature of Costanza's art,” Marissa said. “Her work is...well, it’s disturbing.”
“Show them,” Kari said. “The photographs, show them.”
Marissa opened an 11 by 14 inch portfolio case. Inside were twenty 8x10 photographs of Costanza’s paintings. I looked closely at each photo, passing them to Sweeney as I finished. The paintings depicted interior home scenes. There were people in each of the paintings—not clearly defined people; just glimpses of them. A menacing shape barely visible in a darkened doorway at the end of a hallway. The trailing of a leg as somebody passed through an open door. Part of a face, distorted in the reflection of a window pane. An open refrigerator door concealing a person bent over and peering inside, the pale refrigerator light illuminating what looked like a woman’s legs and butt.
There was an anxious, ominous quality to the paintings. They gave the impression that something ugly was just about to happen. The tension increased in each successive painting. The last few suggested some sort of ongoing torment. A hand closing what appeared to be a bedroom door had a smear of blood across the knuckles. A black-handled paring knife looking terribly out of place on the white porcelain of a bathroom sink. In the background of the painting of the person peering into the refrigerator was a red-stained towel or dishrag wadded up on the kitchen counter beside a roll of duct tape.
“So,” Kari said, looking at me over her sharp, Slavic cheekbones. “You are seeink. Now you know vhy we are vorryink.”
Copyright © 2011 by Gregory Fallis. Order Dog On Fire from Amazon.