Carver is a partner in a two-man private investigation firm. He is alone in the office when a new client walks in the door. She wants Carver to find her husband, a man who is missing, sort of. A fact the woman is hesitant to reveal and it takes some patient and fancy interrogation work for Carver to get at exactly what she wants.
"Hardboiled" is a play on the hardboiled detective story. The opening paragraph creates the scene perfectly:
"Some women just looked like trouble. This one didn't, which should have been the first clue."
Mr Maleeny takes the built-in expectations of the genre and cleverly, as hinted at in the opening paragraph, twists a story that surprises and satisfies the reader simply because it builds and breaks the stereo-types. He takes the expected and turns it against the reader.
"Hardboiled" is short--three digest-sized pages--and very fun. I didn't guess the climax until the author wanted me to and when it ended I had a smile on my face. This is my first exposure to Tim Maleeny's work, but it won't be the last. He is the author of three novels: Stealing the Dragon, Beating the Babushka, and the forthcoming Greasing the Pinata.
"Hardboiled" is in the most recent issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine; January 2009. EQMM is the premier magazine of short mystery fiction and this issue is a good example of why. It contains stories that run the gamut between classical whodunit-style mystery to hardboiled American. It contains original stories by Andrew Klavan, Simon Brett, Doug Allyn, Robert Barnard, Gary Cahill among others, and a reprint by Edward D. Hoch.
If you haven't read EQMM you should, and this issue would be a great place to start. It doesn't hurt that the cover art is wonderful.