Thursday, January 29, 2015

2014 in Books: The Second Half

Almost Gone - Stan Richards - Black out drunks, violence, transgressive sexual appetites, sociopaths, psychopaths, schizophrenics... New Pulp Press sure made their favorite things known with that first batch of books. Shit, Jon Bassoff is still turning out some of the best neo-mid-century-gold-medal-pysho-noirs out there, so take his word... or his branding for this one.

Awesome - Jack Pendarvis - Not a crime book. Still an awesome book. Love me some Pendarvis.

Big Ugly - Jake Hinkson - What did I just say about Jon Bassoff and New Pulp Press's favorite things? Well they introduced me to my other favorite neo-mid-century-gold-medal-psycho-noirist Jake Hinkson with his lurid dual-first-person debut Hell On Church Street. The Big Ugly is not quite as lurid, or at least it doesn't seem quite as perverse probably because the narrator is not the psychopath this time. This time it's a the voice of a victim turned player's that we hear the story told through and though a thoroughly sordid affair, our protagonist is a legitimate heroine and a compelling voice whose further exploits we may or may not be hearing again. Love the alt-Arkansas universe Hinkson is creating. Someday you'll be hearing it mentioned in scholarly texts next to Elmore Leonard's Detroit, Scott Phillips's Kansas, John Rector's Nebraska and Vicki Hendricks's Florida, and that's about as high praise as I can think of.

The Blue Room - Georges Simenon - Had no idea there was a movie - I just figured it was time I read some Simenon and this was the only non-series book they had at the library. Anybody see the movie that just came out? I want to now.

Brown Dog - Jim Harrison - Love the voice, love the low-brow, barely-criminal/lazy-opportunist aspirations of the titular character and those who populate his social sphere. Wish to hell I could write like that.

Encyclopedia of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List: Over Fifty Years of Convicts, Robbers, Terrorists & Other Rogues - Duane Swierczynski - Great snapshot portraits of the kind of thugs who've made the list since its inception and an interesting sketch of the progression of the nation's anxieties by decade.

Evil Eye - Joyce Carol Oates - Four different ways love gets fucked up. Oh wait, it says that on the book cover. Carry on.

The First One You Expect - Adam Cesare - Things go badly when artistic aspirations crossbreed with lust and commercial potential. Some funny shit happening here.

Flash Blood - Joseph Hirsch - The first Arklow book I read was Rolling Country where the detective was the lesser (though compelling) portion of a colliding dual-third-person narrative. This time out, Arklow is front and center, and in the first person. The character, like the author, seems to be more interested in nailing the craftsman-like approach to his spiritual vocation than in selling the specialness of the mystery before us. Fortunately for us, the mystery is pretty fucking mysterious and this book goes to some pretty great perversity by its conclusion.

Fourth of July Creek - Smith Henderson - This was just... swell. Great language, characters and innovative form that drives home the specialness of the novel as a medium without disappearing even for a moment up its own rectum. Heartbreak and humor on alternating pages. Quality shit.

Gravesend - William Boyle - Boyle's debut novel makes him a name to watch - serious-minded and concerned with some of the best things that make crime compelling ground for fiction: desperate characters, survivor's guilt, low-stakes transgression, betrayal, place - Boyle's got at least an eye and an ear for each not to mention heart and empathy to spare.

Incognito - Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips - You think witness protection is difficult for somebody like Henry Hill? Try being a no-shit superman forced to live like an everyman. Sometimes you gotta break some heads for the hell of it. More than just good concept, it's well explored and pulpy as hell.

King of the Perverts - Steve Lowe - A broken heart leads to all manner of gross-ass-shit in this quick and dirty tale of low morals in high stakes, low brow, best be high entertainment. Gross as it got, and as many fluids as were splashed about with abandon, a little piece of its heart was maintained. Neat trick.

The Last Projector - David James Keaton - Ack. The fuck? The nature of the novel, coupled with the previous appearance of many portions made for a particularly meta experience for me, but I suspect that folks brand new to the Keaton experience will have their own out of body/mind (perhaps more accurately - into many minds/bodies) experiences with this one. This book is a monster - dense, visionary, apocalyptic, reality-challenging and flat-out entertaining.

The Least of My Scars - Stephen Graham Jones - Fucking yikes. I think Jones has written the last relevant serial killer book of the decade. Everybody else should just give it a rest till 2020, then revisit this one and realize that they still don't have anything to add to the conversation and think about it for another ten years.

The Lonesome Go - Tim Lane - Gorgeous, haunted, noir-tinged Americana. Then there's the pictures. Damn. This is important, time-capsule-worthy work. If you're not reading Tim Lane, you're depriving yourself of good things. Quit it.

The Man With the Getaway Face - Richard Stark - Hell yes.

Matador - Ray Banks - An amnesia story with the Banks touches of grisly violence and humor born of well-observed character. The titular occupation and the character's struggle with classical form and crowd-pleasing seem a metaphor for the serious-minded and disciplined writer operating in the populist medium of crime fiction. The result is classy-ass pulp.

Mind MGMT vols. 2 - Matt Kindt - This.

Mind MGMT vo. 3 - Matt Kindt - These.

Name the World - Denis Johnson - Always dig his prose and atmosphere, but I'll be honest, this one didn't stick with me afterward.

One For My Baby - Barry Graham - Once again, Graham delivers big story with few words. I fucking love that. Armed robbery, politics and (as J. David Osborne put it - correction: Bart Lessard) emotionally resonant analingus. Grab yourself some Barry Graham and give it a go. Bold pulp.

Others of My Kind - James Sallis - A mixed bag. Man, I loved parts of this one, but felt left behind at the station on others. I love Sallis's minimalist style and his poet's instinct for the right amount of room to leave between lines, but this one didn't connect for me the way something like The Killer is Dying did.

Pilot Season - James Brubaker - Not a crime book, but damn, this collection of failed TV-pilot pitches serves as a hilarious and even moving portrait of a man losing his mind. Check it out.

The Rain King - Kevin Lynn Helmick - Big vision and big themes in not so many pages - again, conciseness of vision pays off swimmingly. Helmick's weird western is not unhinged, but rather tinged just enough with the supranatural to appeal to the poet I keep stuffed in a box under the stairs in my mind. Plus... I've got a soft spot for wry observations made by horses of a particular kind.

Reckoning - Rusty Barnes - After Barnes's story collection Mostly Redneck, I knew this guy wrote the shit I wanted to read. Somehow I still wasn't prepared for how affecting Reckoning was going to be. This one's more blue-collar than rural flavored, but his characters live in a world I know and Barnes brings that world, that in some ways is no more, to life, rather than preserved in amber or under rust, in one of my favorite reads of the year. So much heart, so much hurt. This guy. This guy.

Sex Criminals - Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky - Two of my favorite things. Can't go wrong, right? Can't believe where this premise took me and can't wait to read the rest of the series.

Street Raised - Pearce Hansen - Phew. Hardboiled with heart and no fat. I want to live in a world where Hanson will have a cult so, so fervent someday. I want to live in that world now, though. This dude is a crime writer's crime writer and you should check his shit out.

Sympathy For the Devil - Kent Anderson - War may be hell, but once through it, hell may be all your cut out for - yeah, yeah, that old chestnut, but damn, Anderson nails Viet Nam like nobody else I've ever read. The books reads like a collection of anecdotes - well-written and gut-level, alternately harrowing and hilarious - but pulls together for the most memorable climax to a war novel I've ever read. Can't wait to get on the follow-up, Night Dogs.

A Walk Among the Tombstones - Lawrence Block - The more Block I read, the more I admire the guy. You look at a body of work as large and a career as long and successful as his and think, the guy must just write a very successful formula, but you'd be wrong. The guy, bless him, has written his share of pulp, but he changes it up and brings real heart to the Scudder books as well as real darkness. It's not all AA meetings and luddite detectives, but you begin to appreciate where the imitators got their inspiration. Makes me a tad more optimistic about popular culture when I see that this guy was a success. He should be.

You Can't Win - Jack Black - I don't know how many times I'll read this book in my life, but it feels like there's still more to take from it. The language is precise and common, but delivered by a poet of the underworld, the stories are so fantastic, but grounded in reality and so much humanity - it could go on for a thousand more pages and not get old. I hope the movie is good, but even if it's not, I hope it brings more people to the wonderful source material. So rich.


Barry Graham said...

Thanks for the kind words. I must correct your attribution, though—the "emotionally resonant anilingus" comment came not from J. David Osborne, but from Bart Lessard. David did make a remark about how the book contains some erotic, angry pissing.

jedidiah ayres said...


pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved the movie THE BLUE ROOM. Saw it when in Philly for Noircon.

jedidiah ayres said...

Yeah? Cool, definitely keep my eyes peeled, thank, Patti.