CLARK HOWARD “Blues in the Kabul Night.” Novelette. First published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine September/October 2007. Not known to have been reprinted or collected anywhere.

   Over the course of his writing career, Clark Howard may have written over 200 short stories, not all of them criminous in nature, plus a couple dozen crime novels and collections. This does not include an unspecified number of works of true crime the editor of EQMM mentions in her introduction to this tale.

   Howard hardly ever used a character more than once, and “Blues in the Kabul Night” is no exception. When mercenary for hire Morgan Tenny smuggles himself into war-ravaged Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, it is for a specific reason. His twin brother is in a high security prison there and scheduled for execution soon, unless Morgan can do something about it.

   Which he thinks he can. Not only does he have a plan, but he also has a local contact. And even more, he has a million dollars in cash to help pave the way. Complicating matters, though, since of course plans like this never run smoothly, is a news reporter, a local Afghani girl who has ambitions of her own: to be the next Christiane Amanpour, and when she gets wind of Morgan’s plans, she doesn’t let go.

   Not only does Clark Howard notch up the suspense extremely well — this is essentially a heist novel in miniature — but the sights of sounds (and smells) of Kabul today (or to be precise, twelve years ago, but have things changed all that much?) are vividly brought to life. A polished gem of a story, and very very well done.