Thursday, May 19, 2016

Year in Books

Freezer Burn - Joe R. Lansdale - Confirms my long-held opinion that stand-alone Lansdale is my favorite go-for-broke mode Lansdale. Starts as a low-life comedic crime caper, turns horrific, and saves the best for last when it becomes an unlikely-moving piece of carnival noir - think Freaks, Nightmare Alley and The Postman Always Rings Twice put through a blender,  rolled in a corn tortilla and doused in something dark and sweet and spicy and of secret origin.

Jewish Noir - Kenneth Wishnia (ed.) - Sure I've got a story in this collection, but don't that keep you from reading it. Good shit in here - super happy to share space for the second time this year with Travis Richardson and Alan Orloff, plus so many personal favorites - Dave Zeltserman, Jason Starr, Summer Brenner, Gary Phillips, Eddie Muller, some guy named Moe Prager... yeah, you should definitely not rule this book out based on my presence. More thoughts on my participation in this book right here.

The New Black - Richard Thomas ed. - Really solid collection of short fiction curated by Thomas from the likes of Kyle Minor, Craig Clevenger, Brian Evenson, Roxane Gay, Nik Korpon, Benjamin Percy, Stephen Graham Jones, Richard Lange, Paul Tremblay, Craig Wallwork, Craig Davidson, Matt Bell and more. Plus it's a damned sweet physical object (as all those Dark House Press books are). I'm sure the translation loses the point, but as it represents every single French word I know - Le neo noir = le merde (the shit rather than just shit... I recommend it).

Real Cool Killers - Chester Himes - Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones are Harlem's toughest cops and they maintain their reputations by indiscriminately busting heads and shooting motherfuckers who get in their way. Wolves among wolves, they keep the peace to a quiet roar in the predominantly black neighborhoods they roam and when a street gang called The Real Cool Moslems seem to be at the eye of one too many shitstorms in a single evening nobody else has got a chance of getting everything flushed. Such a great piece of street noir - the social irony not lost on the detectives, they do their job alternately serving the underserved community they're assigned to and subjugating the masses - quoing the status for the one percenters at whose behest they serve. A cop's dilemma, I suppose. Though Ed & Jones show little by way of moral second guessing in their nature. They just play the game - making sure they get theirs in once in a while.

The Power of the Dog - Don Winslow - Multi-POV chronicle of the war on drugs and the wear on the world and the souls of all involved. The futility, the emptiness, the hypocrisy, the staggering body count, the depths of the depravity, the ruthlessness, the one of two of three places something human and noble shines through - gah this book will wreck you so good. Highest strata Winslow - if you've read his other books you still won't be prepared for the way this one lands. 

Scent of New Death - Mike Monson - Crime fiction like a good, stiff drink - bracing and straight to the point. No fat on this one, just a mean story about professional thieves fucking each other over... and fucking each other. You like Parker? Crissa Stone? The Hackman Blues - era Ken Bruen? Give this one a go. If you've got a couple hours you should be able to knock this one out in a single sitting.

Small Crimes - Dave Zeltserman - Zeltserman moves about - adept at many strains of fiction and even within my wheelhouse he writes for and from several different corners, but this... This is so up my alley, my proctologist decided to just leave it where he found it - said any attempt to remove it might prove fatal. His unofficial man-out-of-prison trilogy (which includes this one, Pariah and Killer) represent the darkest, bitterest, broodiest noir I love. This one focuses on an ex-cop/ex-con come back to the place he once lived and is reminded every minute that it's no longer the life he once had. So, so, so very good. Small-scale - meaning intimate - and without an ounce of redemption. Get on it before the movie comes out.
Soft Water - Robert Olmstead - What a wild fucking book. Olmstead writes beautifully and unlike anybody else. He's got the gravity to devastate, but a touch so light and a point of view so off-center you'd be hard pressed to nail down the overall tone of the book to something as simple as "tragic, bemused, dreadful, romantic". His work belongs in discussion with the likes of Jim Harrison, Denis Johnson, William Gay, Daniel Woodrell... Dive in anywhere you can.

Southern Bastards: Here Was a Man - Jason Aaron, Jason Latour - Big fan of Jason Aaron's other straight crime comic seires, Scalped, so I gave Southern Bastards a go, but I'm not planning on moving on to the second trade collection unless a whole lotta you guys insist I do and make outrageous promises regarding the payoff.

Tijuana Straits - Kem Nunn - Terrific, nasty and human piece of thriller literature from the borderlands. Nunn is the godfather of 'surf noir' set in SoCal, but that invariably also means, dropped-out, strung-out, philosophically crippled noir - formerly wide-eyed and currently bloodshot, gutters of paradise fare. Easy to pick out the protagonist in this book, but the real treat how fleshed out and equally compelling (equally - meaning equal - which itself is rare 'cause the colorful secondary characters often outshine the heroic cut outs at the center of these types of books) all the characters are. Gripping and laid-back, break neck and broken ankled - you know his name from the TVs (Deadwood, John From Cincinnati, Sons of Anarchy), but the books are where he shines brightest and purest.

Up in the Treehouse - Joseph Hirsch - Hirsch has lined up and knocked down an impressive string of genres in his brief, but prolific time as a novelist (horror, crime, weird mystery, weird western, weird sci-fi), and Up in the Treehouse is something new (for him) again - a straight-forward, biographical horror novel about disaffected young men whose ultimate form of self-expression is violence. Think Stephen King's Rage, but just a biiiiit more personal. Oof.

The Whites - Harry Brandt - From the alter-ego of Richard Price comes this no-getting-caught-up-in-the-social-message cop novel that is still a Richard Price joint and tho lessser, yes, has got the same things on its mind as his highest tiers of output. Still there is the dialogue, the street-level atmosphere, the human-based humor and all the tough... is it enough? Sort of. It whips by on crisp, clean prose, it tells a story with all the right plot mechanics and dramatic arcs you're looking for, but I can't help thinking it would've been more satisfying an experience without Price's name on it. It's Price-lite. Be a good gateway drug for new readers perhaps intimidated by the size and density of something like Clockers, but as filler between Price novels, it's a little slight.


James Buckley said...

Just tried The Power of the Dog. First chapter annoys me.

Art Keller (aka superman): fucking "decides" not to come top in DEA training; has to hold back in self-defense training 'cause he's so tough; graduated from school with wiz-kid grades.

I can only hope that he falls apart pretty quick. Find me a character that finds it tough getting out of bed in the morning – then make them deal with the war on drugs!

jedidiah ayres said...

Maybe SMALL CRIMES is gonna be more your speed. That guy's broken.

JJStick said...

Really dug both Power of the Dog and Small Crimes. The Richard price book was also good, the writing was better than the plot...Freezer Burn was one of my favorite Lansdale novels. Ken Nunn is surfer noir at it best. Chester Himes is still a fun read. I will have to check out the rest...