Written by 11:49 pm Editor's Picks

The Dead Man’s Hand

Wild Bill, when shot by Jack McCall, was sitting with black aces and eights. The dead man’s hand.

But two pair, aces high, is not that bad on the merits.

As a literary journal with a jones for crime fiction (and maybe a poker game as Elgin Tolliver mentions here River of Sticks – Vautrin), it seems right to conjure a Vautrin-esque dead man’s hand: the four issues that might comprise Wild Bill’s fateful aces and eights.

The Ace of Spades, or Vautrin – Volume 5, Issue 1, Fall 2023

Ante up now https://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9780983679974

This issue features seedy goings-on at a Spanish Colonial pile, a lawyer’s scrap with a London tabloid, an old guy who’s haunted by a ghost, and a town team baller with a Napoleon complex. These scenarios, a labor strike right out of today’s headlines, and much more in Vautrin Fall 2023.

Table of Contents

Nick Kolakowski, Back to Hell House
Jen Conley, They’re Coming for You, Baby
Saira Viola, Seven Red
Rob Smith, Our Most Sorrowful Mother of the Blessed Hardwood
Jeff Esterholm, Tollund Man
Lyz Mancini, Sugarhigh
Michael Maiello, Deb Needs Braces
Ilyn Welch, In a Snap
Michael A. Gonzales, Brazil
James D.F. Hannah, Murder Ballad

Scott Richard, The King Queen of Sixth Street

Book Review
Tim Hennessey on Lew Berney’s novel, Dark Ride

Photography by Hannah Miner

Design by Beth Golay


The Eight of Spades, or Vautrin – Volume 4, Issue 1, Summer 2022

Ante up now https://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9780983679967

In this version of the V, the burgers are good at Grandinetti’s Tavern in Newark, New Jersey, which makes it a favorite of cops and firemen, who may or may not agree on everything that’s said in the course of a lunch hour. It might also be true that some cops are better than others at taking the rough with the smooth. Or a homeless ex-fireman deals with a murder mystery, but first, he needs to protect his supply of Mad Dog 20/20. Or the husband-and-wife team who are in charge of an estate sale seem reasonably well equipped to manage any garden variety inconveniences. This is not to suggest, however, that one can predict what will happen in the realm of commerce.

Table of Contents

C. R. Resetarits, Quem Quaeritis?
Eli Cranor, Mussel
Dennis Tafoya, Last Night At Jack’s
Saira Viola, The Future’s A Fraud
Hector Acosta, El Diablero
Zach Vasquez, Panama
M. E. Proctor, Bathing Beauty
Thomas Pluck, Blue Canaries
Jacqueline Freimor, Foreword*
Michael Bracken, Sparks
Curtis Ippolito, The Estate Sale**

*Selected for Best American Mystery and Suspense 2023.
**Anthony Award Finalist

Susan Gusho, A Tale of Two Travelers
Elgin Tolliver, River of Sticks

Photography by Hannah Miner

Design by Beth Golay


The Ace of Clubs, or Vautrin – Volume 3, Issue 1, Winter 2021

Ante up now https://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9780983679950

This fattest of all Vautrins, weighing in at 224 pages, picks up with a photo journalist, struggling with a penchant for rye, on assignment in a Midwestern landscape. He’s alone with the pressure, plagued by guilt and regret. Then he begins to improvise and things shift. Or in another standout story, a gangster has different problems. It’s New Year’s Eve, but before he can chill, he needs to knock out a couple errands. His boss might start to notice, for instance, if he keeps letting guys slide on what they owe. Or in what might in some ways be the Vautrin story to end all Vautrin stories, the narrator has embarked on a quest with a mysterious companion to dig up undefined treasure. The story moves in the best tradition of noir while exploring the stuff of myth. 

Table of Contents


Blair Kroeber, Gingerbread
Saira Viola, Monkey Fizz
Alison Katon, Godspeed
Brian Silverman, Where the Happy People Go
Leslie Elman, The Troll Was An Old Man
Michael Bracken, Crush
Emilee Prado, Envy the Animals
Albert Tucher, The Zen of Mickey D’s
Scott Phillips, War Eagle
Wendy Purcell, Planting a Money Tree
Paul J. Garth, Aperture*
Rob Pierce, China, My China
James Sallis, Revenance
Divya Mehrish, Crimson
Paul Dee Fecteau, Liber ‘LXIII vel The Gematria of Lee Harvey Oswald

*Selected as a distinguished story in Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022.

Book Review
Bruce Jacobs on Tod Goldberg’s bread and butter.


The Eight of Clubs, or Vautrin – Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter 2020

For all the marbles https://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9780983679943

This issue features an early Hollywood soiree in which the traveled narrator has to bring it front-and-center that the on-site debauchery of which the attendees are so proud is nothing new in the good old U.S. of A. Or a suburban wife can’t be sure what’s afoot with her husband and some charming neighbors. Or a guy who has retreated from civilization nevertheless has to cope with a business type who gauges his next moves, at least in part, on whatever he may have heard in a recent podcast.

Table of Contents

Scott Phillips, Bill’s Party
Nikki Dolson, Neighbors*
Thomas Pluck, Good People**
Nick Kolakowski, Cleaning House
Jen Conley, The Good Witch of the North
Stanton McCaffery, The Skills You Have
Peter Blauner, The Writing Class
Jay Butkowski, Pills
Paul Dee Fecteau, Liber ‘LXIII

*Neighbors was selected for Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021.
**Good People was selected for Distinguished in Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021.

Book Review
Bruce Jacobs on the Border Noir of James Carlos Blake

Design by Beth Golay


Note: The issues described in “The Dead Man’s Hand” are on the shelf at Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, Kansas, a few blocks up the street from the Vautrin Editor-in-Chief. Therefore, just as the store’s “in-stock” status may vary day-to-day, the status is, for practical purposes, “in-stock” every day, since the editor provides copies as needed.

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