Monday, February 24, 2014

Small Press Update

Here's what you get when you combine the necessity of self-promotion with self-consciousness... over at the Crimespree blog, I'm offering five suggestions of better uses of your time than reading Peckerwood. And, they're sincere. However - damn, I really appreciate everybody who's taking a chance on buying my books. And extra ice cream for everybody who's leaving reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or on blogs... You guys are important to the little fella, and I appreciate it. So... thanks to Blu Gilliand who said nice shit over at The October Country (there should be more blogs named after Ray Bradbury lines), David James Keaton who said kind stuffs over at authorsinterviews, as well as Gary whose terrific, concise review of Fierce Bitches is reprinted in its entirety for you here:

A short violent awesome story.

Thanks, man. 

Everybody saw the news about Red Hammond the mask behind which some mysterious figure had published the incendiary XXX Shamus? Well, if you hadn't, Anthony Neil Smith, one of my favorite contemporary writers, just publicly fessed up to being the pervert behind the pen name, and if that doesn't send you scrambling to read the book, then you haven't been paying enough attention.

Neil's book - call it porn, call it sleaze, call it brilliant genre deconstruction - is only one of the reasons I'm excited to be working with Broken River Books. Exciting stuff they're publishing, and even if one or two or many more of their titles are not what you're looking for in a crime novel, you can bet that all of their titles represent bold steps out from the comfort zone of genre tropes and by-rote pulps to offer you an eyeball jolt you're going to have a harder time finding elsewhere.

S'more small press titles on my radar...

Bad Habits by Keith Gilman from Down & Out Books - D&O are publishing folks like Bob Truluck, Gary Phillips and Robert J. Randisi as well as Crimespree Magazine (digital edition) so of course I'm interested, plus Gilman's Father's Day made some noise when it landed.

Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand from Equus Press - This one landed on my doorstep with a description that piqued my interest promising a 'pyschological noir-scape of Kafkaville' and a chance to get out of my western hemisphere mindset to a shadowy, dream of Prague - I can dig it.

Federales by Christopher Irvin from One Eye Press - Like me some south of the border crime, like me some novellas too. Really happy to see more bite-sized print options available. First word on this one is pretty strong too.

Grind Joint by Dana King from Stark House Press - Mostly committed to reprinting classic crime pulps that will retroactively curl your toes (dude - I really particularly dug the 3 Steps to Hell Arnold Hano omnibus) they made the step into original print runs with Charlie Stella's Johnny Porno and followed up with Stella's Rough Riders. So, take that as a their bar for original content and count me the fuck on board for this one.

Remo Went Rogue by Mike McCrary from Gutter Books - Big bowl of sloppy affection for all things Out of the Gutter for me. Their book line Gutter Books has zigged zagged and covered all kinds of interesting territory in classic reprints and hardboiled originals.

Silent City by Alex Segura from Codorus Press - First of a trio(?) of Pete Fernandez Miami-set mysteries from one of the guys behind Archie Meets KISS? Um, duh.

Stay God, Sweet Angel by Nik Korpon from Perfect Edge Books - A remix of sorts of Stay God with another story/novella attached. Perfect Edge deals in names like Caleb J. Ross and Andrez Bergen too. Definitely worth checking out.

That Escalated Quickly by Ryan Sayles from Zelmer Pulp - Not usually one for flash fiction, but when the perp is a cop with a perverse sense of humor and plenty of life experience from which to draw his cast of freaks and their exploits, I'm in. Zelmer is also bringing out the Trouble in the Heartland - Bruce Springsteen inspired - antho with contributors like Dennis Lehane, Todd Robinson, Jordan Harper, Les Edgerton, Chris F. Holm, Chuck Wendig and more... Goin places.

White Hot Pistol by Eric Beetner from Bookxy - Beetner writes effortless sounding hardboiled prose that gets twisted pretty damn fast. At Bookxy he joins names like Stephen Hunter, Eric Van Lustbader and Gary Phillips... and that's pretty good company, no?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Trailer Trash

Two Faces of January - d: Hossein Amini w: Hossein Amini, Patricia Highsmith

Enemy - d: Denis Villeneuve w: Javier Gullon, Jose Saramago

Locke - w/d: Steven Knight

Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014 in Flicks: January

Act of Killing - Joshua Oppenheimer - Don't do the crime if you can't do the time, eh fellas? The most disturbing (as in... disruptive to my sense of well-being... of reality... of humanity... of history) flick I've loved in a long time. In this chilling documentary, director Oppenheimer encourages the heroes of the Indonesian military coup of 1965 to re-enact their deeds (the murder of more than a million - hundreds killed by the film's central figure with his own hands - alleged communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals) on film in a variety of genres, which they are only too glad to stage and participate in. Fifty years after the events that elevated the small-time gangsters to death-squad leaders and finally celebrated cultural figures, the gang gets back together to re-live their glory days as ruthless young slaughter technicians and political MVPs, and holy shit do these guys have... vision. They go to fucking town creating these nightmare scenes that are just gutting. And fucking loopy as shit sometimes too (especially any time the fat guy is in drag). They're candid and deluded and somewhere near the end of the picture one of them has a pause where he considers his life's work from a new perspective. Best moment: the recreation of the slaughter of a village turns pretty fucking grim and things don't just stop when they camera quits rolling.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane - Jonathan Levine - Pretty straightforward slasher pic until it's not... which is at the end. As in, after you sat through the first 95% of the damn thing waiting for it to be amazing like you've been hearing it is. It's not. It's not bad, it's just not as special as you've perhaps been led to believe. It's a good-looking film, I'll give it that. Got a crisp, fresh look that's nice. But maybe I'm just cranky enough old guy that these kids and their concerns could not have produced less care from me... I don't think I was hoping anybody got out alive. Best moment: party at the pool comes to a screeching halt.

Billy Jack - Tom Loughlin - The Viet Nam war was some fucked up shit, and the shit going on back home in the late sixties and early seventies was scary too. What better time to introduce a new hero who fights for the defenseless (and often pacifist) against the tyranny of the system? I dunno, but good lord is this some dated hippy bullshit. With the recent passing of director/star Tom Loughlin I thought it was finally time to get around to watching Billy Jack. Unfortunately, I think I waited too long. There was probably a time much earlier in my life that I would have responded positively to the positivity on display here, but not any longer. No. By the time the progressive school for weirdos and the repressive, square city council have their confrontational meeting, I'm afraid I was mostly on the side of the council. Seriously, can everybody just sit down and be quiet, and get haircuts and learn some marketable job skills, please? I'd fucking appreciate it. Also, it turns out that I should have started with the original Billy Jack flick, The Born Losers, which I may give a shot - it doesn't look so flower-powery - but I'll confess my ignorance. I didn't know it existed. Best moment: good-humored city council members are game for some improv exercises. WTF kind of drugs am I on?

The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppolla - In 2008-09 a group of celebrity-obsessed teens in L.A. made a habit of breaking in to the homes of famous people just to kinda hang out, which turned to pilfering, which turned to grabbing as much as they could carry in order to support their burgeoning fashionista lifestyles. Then, y'know, they got caught and became a news sensation and made silly assholes of themselves and many adult-types in the media-circus that were their collective trials. Crimestyles of the young, over-privileged and over-indulged pictures don't come warmer-toned or better-natured, and that's not a bad thing. Usually I'm down for nasty, vacuous people getting the fluorescent lighting treatment, but damn if The Bling Ring don't treat its subjects with a degree of sweetness and generosity not strictly deserved, but oddly welcome. Not that these starfuckers get coddled exactly, but they're treated straight up. Judgement is reserved and in the vacuum of morality human moments sneak up and catch you unaware. They dissipate quickly and their number hardly equals an effervescence, but they were enough to make a difference for me. I think my favorite of these moments was watching Marc (Israel Broussard) the seemingly most guileless member of the titular group filming himself from his computer's camera as he listens to music, dances, tries on a few outfits and eats junkfood. And I enjoyed the comeuppance plenty. I enjoyed seeing it all go to shit, the way it usually does and I like. Best moment: hanging out in Paris Hilton's shrine to herself (filmed in Hilton's actual home).

Blood & Wine - Bob Rafelson - Jack Nicholson is Alex, a middle-aged man itching to make something more of the last half of his life. To that end, he's secured a beautiful young mistress (Jennifer Lopez) who'll run away with him, and a plan to rip off some rich fucks he does business with. On that front, he's got a proper villain (Michael Caine) whose expertise and connections he's enlisted. But, it all goes to shit for him when his wife (Judy Davis) stumbles onto the fact that he's cheating on her, a fight ensues and some hot merchandise ends up displaced. The rest of the flick concerns the various parties grasping for the goods and Alex losing, losing, losing. The long creative collaboration between writer/directer Rafelson and his star Nicholson produced some of my favorite Nicholson flicks: Five Easy Pieces, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The King of Marvin Gardens and Rafelson is clearly drawn to fare that I am too - among his non-Nicholson flicks are adaptations Dashiell Hammett (No Good Deed - with Samuel L. Jackson as The Continental Op no less) Raymond Chandler (Poodle Springs - from the posthumously published Marlowe novel finished by Robert B. Parker) and William Harrison (Mountains of the Moon from the novel Burton & Speke) - so how does this one stack up against the legacy? Eh... Really not bad, love the scale of it - just a straightforward crime story without any of the trappings. Not a lot of sex or violence or snappy dialogue. There's no big plot twists to keep you guessing and none of the characters or crimes are overly clever. Still, for the caliber of the performers and the director, it's a bit disappointing that it isn't a more memorable flick. I saw it when it came out in the late 90s, but shit if I remembered anything about it. Best moment: Nicholson and Caine fisticuffs.

Cook County - David Pomes - Bump (Anson Mount) is a small time meth cook getting by in east Texas, partying a lot, raising a young daughter in squalor and being the world's worst guardian to his only nephew. When his brother Sonny (Xander Berkeley) comes out of prison clean and determined to do right by his kid and his niece, but he's got conditions to his release that will complicate his half-assed plans. I've got a feeling about Mount, having watched him in two seasons of Hell on Wheels as well as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. He's got a highly watchable quality that's yet to be entirely realized by the material he's supporting or the film makers he's working with. Watch the first five minutes of this one as he gets super fucking high and wigs the hell out and you'll see a side of him convincingly contrary to Hell on Wheels. It's pretty great. Unfortunately it's about all he's given to do in the film and it's so (appropriately) irritating and intense I had to break the film up into several pieces to get through. Best moment: Sonny gets the kids into another home and they marvel at the oddities of an average life.

Dillinger - John Milius - I think I like the idea of John Milius more than the reality most of the time. Dude didn't know what a single or even a double was and bunting was a damned disgrace - cowardly, un-manly, cheap. He took/takes big, fearless swings for the fences each and every time out, so is it any wonder that he strikes out as often as he does? On the other hand when he connects, stand back. His is the kind of grand-scale, big-vision art that tends to be early and large influences on many people and that... that I can dig. The Dillinger story is pretty perfect fodder for Milius' themes and the juxtaposition of John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis is a canvas he was was clearly excited to make his mark upon. The result is one of his strongest pictures and at the time of its release had to have him widely considered for the mantle - heir to Sam Peckinpah. Indeed the themes, tone and the tableau right down to the casting of Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and Harry Dean Stanton lend it to comparisons to Peck. And that's mighty high praise. Best moment: John and Melvin talk on the phone.

Drug War - Johnnie To - When an industrial scale methamphetamine manufacturer and distributor is apprehended in China, he agrees to help the cops take down a cartel in order to avoid the death penalty. As he works alongside the policeman who busted him, an interesting evolution occurs in their dynamic. They go from mortal enemies to uneasy allies and by the time they've each saved the other's bacon more than once the viewer isn't sure where their loyalty lies. And that's great. The end of the film is pretty fantastic and I don't want to let on anything about it or how we get there, but it was great. Best moment: a Mission Impossible style double sting operation that requires the stone-faced cop to shift gears hard to play the role of a flamboyant and gregarious smuggler. It's a jolt.

Hatfields & McCoys - Kevin Reynolds - Confession: other than their names, I know nothing about the most famous feud in American history, so don't expect me to point out where the mini-series did well or failed to depict history accurately. That said, I didn't have any problem buying the events depicted either dramatically or realistically. Two men, friends fight together for the Confederacy in the Civil War, but leave the struggle on different terms, and the seeds of resentment take root. One family's fortune feels disproportionate to their worth and when insult and injury are added to the mix, nobody even wants to back down. The escalation is epic, the devastation is tragic and the performances are mostly good. Best moment: Kevin Costner stops to make sure Bill Paxton's sons understand why he's about to execute them.

Justified Season 4 - Graham Yost - Enjoying it still, but beginning to think they'd better wrap this series up pretty quick. Season four had great turns for supporting cast like Jim Beaver, Raymond J. Barry and fuckin Patton Oswalt and the patter betwixt co-workers is pleasingly crisp, but... before the whole damn thing is on autopilot, I'd like to see shit get shaken up good and then brought to a halt. Best moment: Art eloquently delivers an expositional monologue concluding with 'Now that's some badass shit,' to which Raylan must reluctantly agree 'It's pretty badass.' And it is.

The Killing Season 3 - Veena Sud - Is there life after the Rosie Larson case? Yep. It was nice to see Linden and Holder in new circumstances and surrounded by new characters too. That said, shit did they waste the presence of Elias Koteas something awful. Best moment: Holder opens the trunk.

Mad Dog Morgan - Phillippe Mora - Biopic of the Australian bushranger Dan Morgan and like most biopics suffers from the task of covering such a long span of life (thus losing the power of small, character defining and growing, moments in favor of covering all the major action). Still, there are plenty of good to very good major bits to be covered and there is a raw and muscular quality to the film that makes up for some gaps in fluidity (and overall presentation - I'd like to see a restored version, the film stock has deteriorated). Make a hell of a double-bill with The Proposition. Best moment: the hostage sequence plays out well. The balance of menace and exhaustion, manners and real human civility is pretty sweet.

My Gun is Quick - Phil Victor, George White - Boil until hard and serve with black coffee and filterless cigarettes. Yeah, I've got a weak spot for cynical tough-guy shit, and I usually like to get absorbed into the black and whites of the mid-century for them... I dunno, my guard is down when it's from that era. So, despite my enjoying it, I've got a feeling this one wasn't all that great. As Mickey Spillane flicks go, it was no Kiss Me Deadly, but it was a damn sight better than I, the Jury. Best moment: if Mick was ace at any one thing, it was closing lines.

The Robber - Benjamin Heisenberg - Terrific crime drama based on the novel On the Run by Martin Prinz which was inspired by the exploits of Austrian desperado Johann Kastenberger who, pre-Point Break, robbed banks wearing a Ronald Reagan mask and sporting a shotgun... which is pretty badass. But there's more to it than that. The film wisely chooses not to get much into the character's past and, like him, focus on nothing but constantly moving forward. The fictionalized Johann (Andreas Lust) is in prison at the beginning of the film, about to be paroled. We watch him train obsessively in his cell and in the yard for marathon running. His parole officer asks him, what his plans are after his release and is concerned by the reply he gets - to run - noting that it's extremely difficult to make a living that way, but failing to understand that Johann will use his long-distance running as his preferred getaway mode on bank jobs. And he appears perfectly capable of making that work for him... but it's never really about the money for him and he pushes himself relentlessly toward disaster or glory. The fusion of an intelligent, crafty operator and a compulsive self-destructive personality makes for a great crime flick with solid drama and legit thrills. Best moment: two-fer chase sequence.

The Show Must Go On - Jae-rim Han - Kang In-goo is a mid-level gangster toiling under a boss he's loyal to and feuding with another lieutenant who happens to be the boss's brother. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter are slipping away from him by degrees and his efforts to hold his family and his career together begin as fertile soil for comic vignettes and become increasingly desperate, horrible and heartbreaking over the course of the movie. The unbelievably charismatic Kang-ho Song holds the center of this crime drama/family drama/comedy that goes in many directions, but works because that movie fucking star pulls everything toward himself. He's pretty amazing, kids. No, I didn't freak the fuck out over this one, like I have a lot of the Korean fare I've been checking out lately, but I did find it to be an engaging flick that kept me pretty off-balance the whole way through. I won't tell you how it ends, but it earns the reaction it gets. Best moment: I'm torn between the convenience store assassination attempt and the car chase... heh. You decide.

Snowman's Land - Tomasz Thomson - The Carpathians, land of dread, home of house Dracul, children of the night and such. What better place to set an isolation horror flick, or a claustrophobia-inducing crime thriller or jeez, a black comedy against the white snow. Take a sad-sack, tired out hit man and send him there for a mysterious task, shackle him with a dangerously fuck-up prone partner(?) target(?) and tell them to stay put in this scary fucking mansion in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dark woods inhabited by unseen menace until their dread-lord appears and tells them their mission. Of course, things have plenty of time to go badly before their boss shows up, and things are bound to get exponentially worse after he arrives and ooooh shit, they do. Love love love not being able to see around corners in a film and love even more when my expectations are exceeded like they were here. Really strongly recommend this one. Buy the ticket. Take the ride. Best moment: what happens when they break out the uzis.

Wolf of Wall Street - Martin Scorsese - Is this a great movie? No. Has it got great moments? Yes, it does. Is it bloated, indulgent and overly-long? Yes. Is it hard to sit through? Not at all. Three hours fly by pretty quick when you're exploring horrendous fucking human behavior with a film maker like Scorsese. Outrageous scene follows outrageous scene until you've got a fuck-shit stack of salacious material. And honestly... what do you decide to cut out? Glad it wasn't my job. Best moment: the ludes finally kick in.

You're Next - Adam Wingard - Two slasher genre deconstruction attempts in the same post, wtf? Enjoyed this one more than Mandy Lane - funnier, livelier, didn't hate the characters, legitimately scary for a moment or two and the twists and subversions were stronger (especially the chick being pretty cool-headed and tough - without being cartoonish at all). Best moment: best blender kill since Gremlins.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

N@B - Baltimore Edition – Killer Bees, Bad Chicken, and Severed Penises: A Guest Piece by Kieran Shea

So, for those keeping score, N@B just fucking killed it last week. Three events featuring twenty-three performances (closer to thirty originally booked, but stupid, stupid snow kept several folks, including myself from making the multi-state hauls) by the best and baddest, dim and damndest spinners of tales edging toward an obsidian cast.

First new kid on the block, N@B-Oxford made an auspicious debut. Host William Boyle stoked the crowd that numbered about 150 - that's a town that takes their literature seriously, kids. Of course it didn't hurt getting coverage in places like The Memphis Flyer and The Daily Mississippian. He also wrangled the talent that included Megan Abbott, Ace Atkins, Tom Franklin, Derrick Harriell, Tyler Keith, Chris Offutt and Jack Pendarvis. Top that anybody.

N@B-LA, the second longest-running N@B event run by Stephen Blackmoore, Eric Beetner and Aldo Calcagno featured senor Beetner (he's got a new book, y'know, 'cause it's been a few weeks) Holly West, Richard Lange, Terri Nolan and Kim Cooper (who just wrote a guest piece last week for HBW, btw).

And finally, the salty folks residing near B-MO showed their color with a helluva inaugural event. I was happy to see that N@B patriarch Peter Rozovsky was in attendance at N@B in Baltimore, and he gives his own wrap-up of the evening at Detectives Beyond Borders, but my main man Kieran Shea has got the straight dope on the event for you here. Now, you may notice that he doesn't say a damned thing about his own stuff in the piece, so lemme clear that shit up first. Kieran's got a super badass hardboiled sci-fi novel called Koko Takes a Holiday set to shred your eyeballs and set your loins on fire in June. I don't know if he read from Koko at the event, but you can be damn sure whatever selection he made, it was an event highlight.

Now with a special HBW report, I give you Kieran Shea:

The Synopsis: N@B  - Baltimore Edition – Killer Bees, Bad Chicken, and Severed Penises

Sometimes, not always, but sometimes you sidestep disaster by the thinnest of margins. This past Sunday’s Noir at the Bar in Baltimore was one such instance.

When Nik Korpon, Steve Weddle and I batted about the idea of hosting a N@B because the Mid-Atlantic had yet to represent in this ongoing series, deep down we knew it would be a thankless task. But we also knew deep down if we picked the right date and the right spot folks would show and we could pull it off.

Sunday evening a week after the Super Bowl? Slow night, so that’s cool. Slainte Pub in the historic Fells Point section of “Charm City” – right across the street from the building that served as the precinct house in 1990s Homicide: Life on the Street? What could be better, right? I mean, the place was seconds from I-95 North and South and the room and bar staff (thanks for everything, Neckbone...) were great.

But the weather…the goddamn motherfucking weather. Yeah, we lost a few writers/readers because of the shaky wet-snow threat that turned out to be weak, but that didn’t stop the well-salted road warriors. Clocking in at two and half hours of mayhem and giveaways...a great time was had by all.

Beyond the guests...Nik, Steve, and I want to thank those who made the event a success. Thanks to Gothamists, Rob Hart and Todd Robinson, for making the hike from NYC and boiling the words hard; to Merry Jones, your creepy fortune-teller story and voices were a shiver-inducing, guilty pleasure to hear; to Jon McGoran, thanks for scaring us with killer bees and fumbled Glocks--you have now upped the ante in the thriller game; to Art Taylor, your surgical precision in storytelling has ruined the consumption of coq au vin for all of us forever; to Dennis Tafoya, thanks again for making the rest of us look like four-flushing hacks; to Jeff Alphin…Jesus, man...that severed penis story, holy fucking crap; and to our own Jersey girl, Jen Conley, thanks for reminding us why we all should keep our cars in good working order.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Upon My Soul: A Guest Post by Robert J. Randisi

What the hell else is left to say about Robert J. Randisi? Dude's got about 600 books off his fingertips - which means he's gone through more keyboards than I have socks in my adult life (they're more like thongs for your feet by the time I'm through with them - seriously, I've got a problem. Help. Still - that's a way higher than average keyboard count.) He's the dope. Last of the Pulp Writers. Demi-Deus or Machina. He's done it all except... Hit men. 

Well shit-howdy son, now he's done that too. His latest novel is the first in a trilogy from Down & Out Books, and I'm pleased to say he's written a little piece to introduce it. (Check out this interview I did with him for Ransom Notes a couple years ago for more). Please welcome Robert J. Randisi to HBW...

Upon my Soul: by Robert J. Randisi

Probably the two best hit man series running at the moment are Lawrence Block’s “Keller” and Max Allan Collins’ “Quarry” series.   I have no desire to compete with either of them. In fact, I couldn’t. They’ve been doing this for a loooooong time.  I’m just doing what I can do.

The idea for my hit man without a soul came to me a few years back, when I was putting together an anthology of hit man stories called Greatest Hits. It was then I came up with the short story Upon My Soul, which introduced my hit man., Sangster (named for author and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster).  

The anthology was well received, and several reviews made mention of my story as one if the best.  It was a little different from things I had done in my past, possibly even more “soulful,” if you will allow me the pun, then other stories I’ve done.

Following that, though, I was busy writing westerns for several publishers, and mysteries for several others. I introduced my Rat Pack series, which has taken a lot of my concentration. Over the past 8 years.  However, also during those 8 years the publishing landscape has changed drastically. E-publishing and self-publishing have flourished, for good or bad (and I have my own opinions about that, which are no secret).

One of the publishers who has risen during this time was Down & Out Books, a great name for a publisher who specializes in hardboiled, tough, kick-ass fiction that may or may not be called Noir (a word that has been grossly misused over the past 10 years or so) . When I discovered Down & Out I was impressed by their website, by their roster of authors, and by their product. And I was looking for a small, independent house to work with. But what to do? That’s when I thought: Sangster.  Turning Upon My Soul into not only a novel, but a trilogy, would be my first foray into writing crime novels from the anti-hero’s point of view, something I have long admired about Collins, Block and, of course,  Donald Westlake as “Richard Stark.”  (Sangster actually used “Richard Stark” as an alias in the book). 

The story came together and stretched out well to novel length. Sangster is a hit man who wakes up one morning suddenly aware that he has a soul. He regrets all the killing he has done, and goes into hibernation in Algiers, Louisiana.  When he is discovered by his former handler, he is forced to test his resolve about never killing again. 

The title—from a Townes Van Zandt song—will lead into two more themed titles in a trilogy. The three books will be Upon My Soul, Souls of the Dead (a quote from the Kolodon song Souls of the Dead), and Envy the Dead (a play on a Mark Twain quote).  Throughout these three books Sangster will be trying to come to terms with having a soul, and what that means.  Is it even a religious thing, or something else entirely?
Upon My Soul is now available from Down & Out Books"Leave it to master-storyteller Robert Randisi to come up with a soulful new spin on the hitman genre.  Sangster is a unique addition to the ranks of killers for hire." - Max Allan Collins, creator of QUARRY

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2013 in Books: The Second Half

The Baddest Ass - Anthony Neil Smith - What's not to admire about the Billy Lafitte series? I know a lot of series authors make promises, but kids, I guarantee that Smith is never going to give you the same book twice. Each installment in this saga has a completely different setting (world, really) and a new rung on the ladder to hell for Lafitte to slip from. Also, each has a brannew fresh perspective and tone. Smith's hand does not shake and his eyes do not blink. There are no blowing curtains for the camera to pan to in one of his novels. He dreams up a nightmare, drops you inside and faces the worst of it for the duration. Love the structure too.

The Carrion Birds (also known as Dead if I Don't in UK and I really love that cover so I'm posting it instead) - Urban Waite - A town without pity, a killer at the end of his career, a ruthless cartel and a stolen shipment of drugs are going to make for a helluva shootout in the no-longer-okay corral. I dig Waite's fiction milieu and I enjoy his themes and language too. Half pulp novel, half grand-themed tragedy, Waite makes it go down easy.
Corrosion - Jon Bassoff - Psycho noir with some bad religion in the mix. It begins standing on familiar ground with sturdy legs, but throws some really nice structural curveballs the reader's way that elevate it beyond its pulp-fiction heritage. Don't let me give you the impression that Bassoff ain't digging pulps though. He gets that tone and that subterranean drive just right, but he's gonna add dimension to his story that you're just not going to find in throwaway horror/noirs. Some definite authorial signatures emerge when you compare Corrosion to The Disassembled Man (published under the pseudonym Nate Flexer) that only make me more interested in his next book more.

Country Hardball - Steve Weddle - Remarkable how much the mindset of reading a novel (as opposed to linked-short stories) enhanced the experience of this book for me. I'd read some of the chapters before, but encountering them as pieces of a greater whole was a revelation. Form and format and the flying fucks not given for your best-seller/thriller/mass-market formula elevate the chapters and their brevity and snapshot quality enhance the existential anxiety behind them. I dig this book big time.

Criminal: The Dead & the Dying - Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips - Love this series. Especially loved this volume. The graphic novels stand alone just fine, but the over-arching story, the big picture, the inter-connectedness of the Criminal universe tease through here and I'm only now picking up on it. Silly boy. This is top-grade shit.

Galveston - Nic Pizzolatto - Hardboiled poetry and melancholy meditations in a James Sallis-like vein. I dig it. Can't wait to check out True Detective on HBO (or on DVD actually - don't tell me what happens!)
Ghosting - Kirby Gann - Great use of language, sense of place (Kentucky wilds) and creation of characters that you believe in, feel for and are horrified by. Not at all structured like a thriller, but could be mistaken for one, having many of the same ingredients - stolen drugs, missing persons, complex and violent histories, blood-loyalties and blood-debts. Count me in for more Gann in the future.

A Good Day to Die - Jim Harrison - You know how it goes, you get a little lit at a party, talk some shit, make some new friends, feel your convictions deeply, your passions run wild and you see crystal clarity where obstructions once stood in your reasoning and by the end of the evening you and your new best friend have decided to blow up a dam out west. So, you know how it goes, the next morning, your hangovers aren't quite enough to cool either of your passions and so you pack your car in Florida and select a tape to drive across the country with. And the next day, you've picked up a girl for the trip and nobody's yet backed down. And eventually you're trying to purchase dynamite and nobody's friendly anymore and... you know how it goes.

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon - Matt Fraction, David Aja, Alan Davis - My first ever super-hero comic. I'd totally go for more like this, and that's probably because it's not much of a super-hero comic. Or rather it plays on the notion of super heroes in a fun, snappy meta-textual way that's really the appeal here. It's light and playful and it's supposed to be light and playful. Considering the sophistication in the writing and art that even a novice like me could appreciate, I'm sure there are many more layers that completely escaped notice.

Hungry Fucking Animals - Jeremy Robert Johnson - JRJ's is a name that's been impossible to avoid in the last couple of years, so when his short-story samplers hit Kindle for 99cents and sported such fantastic titles, how could I not try? My favorite of the titles was How to Fuck Up Everything and Die Alone, but it was for 'the JRJ drug sampler,' and seeing as how there was a 'JRJ crime sampler,' I think my choice was clear.

The Hunter - Richard Stark, Darwyn Cooke - Cool.

The Little Boy Inside and Other Stories - Glenn Gray - You know I love Gray's stuff. In fact, I just had to write this one it's own piece (read it right here). Really hope somebody publishes his crime novel about body-builders, black market drugs and the Russian mob in New York soon.

The Maid's Version - Daniel Woodrell - A multi-generational saga that feels expansive and fully-fleshed in under two hundred pages... That, friends, takes practice. Few better arguments for economy and refinement of craft than reading this one.

Mind MGMT Vol. 1 - Matt Kindt - Just how big a slut is my mind? Not so slutty that it felt for an instant that it'd been here or done that yet (not even once) while reading the first collected volume of this monthly global conspiracy/secret war/psychic-espionage epic. Nobody packs as many layers of meaning into images and words and ends up with such a easily pleasing piece of pop-culture like Kindt. Can't wait to see where this series ends up.

Motel Life - Willie Vlauten - When Frank's brother Jerry shows up in the middle of the night distraught over having killed a young man in a car accident (from which he has fled), the two hit the road before the cops can catch up. What follows is a back-road highway odyssey of low-living and heartbreak. Somewhere early in his life Frank decided (unconsciously) that he was a loser and took on the role with a conviction that it was worth doing it right.
Night of the Furies - J.M. Taylor - Hardboiled crime novel in the Greek tragedy vein, Taylor writes like he knows both inside and out. It's fast, bloody and dirty business.
Of Tales and Enigmas - Minsoo Kang - Stories about... stories and storytelling, myth and its purpose. Ghosts, gods and good grammar. Classical in style and philosophical in content, it's not my typical read, but it was a good palate cleanser and thought-provoker. Working up the guts to tackle Kang's Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination. That one sounds heady and dense.

Penance - Dan O'Shea - Somewhere between James Ellroy's histories and Stephen Hunter's modern bullet fests lies O'Shea's sweet spot. Drawing on the embarrassingly rich and sordid undgerground/scandal-sheet lore of his home town (Chicago) he spins a narrative that works out on a couple of different timelines with enough curveballs to keep thriller readers off-balance and sated simultaneously.

Poor Boy's Game - Dennis Tafoya - Patrick Mullen the union enforcer has escaped from prison and his former associates and enemies are catching a bad case of death, meanwhile his two now adult, but forever fucked-up little girls are in danger from somebody who is probably a still-living former associate of their estranged  father. The more stable of the now-adult girls is Frannie whose career with the US Marshals just ended with a spectacularly bad day where her mistake got a partner shot. She'd like to be left alone to self-destruct quietly, but her sister desperately needs taking care of and there's the small matter of some asshole trying to kill her. The appeal of Tafoya is two-fold for me: he writes broken people and gunfights so damn well. Both on display here. No brainer. (Look for The Poor Boy's Game this summer)

Saint Homicide - Jake Hinkson - Dude... Dude. This guy writes books so specifically for me I feel like a petty despot demanding personalized novels along with designer clothes, cars and whatever the hell else the absurdly powerful get used to. The latest noirvella from Crime Factory's Single Shot line is the jailhouse confession/testimony of a Travis Bickle-ish religious nut whose story is twisted and whose voice is frightening. More please.

The Score - Richard Stark, Darwyn Cooke - Cool.

Sin-Crazed Psycho Killer! Dive, Dive, Dive! - Anthony Neil Smith - This is insane. And fucking hilarious. And insane. Only available as a Kindle original, but it's cheap and fast and fun and... insane.

Zulu - Caryl Ferey - Brutality and bleakness and corruption and copness and history and blistering and blacks and whites and coloreds and machetes and drugs and sex and barbeque. Check, check, check ad infinitum. Wonder how the movie version'll stack up.