Monday, October 23, 2017

The Grapes of Meth

Watched Jeremy Rush's Wheelman and dug it. No, it's not an adaptation of Duane Swierczynski's novel of the same name and I'm happy to report it's neither a knock off of The Driver, Drive or Baby Driver. It's stylish without existing in the hyperstylized worlds of those flicks. It features lots of driving action, but never gets too fancy. It also manages to get every penny of its budget on screen by shooting almost entirely inside the car, providing an ever-changing neon backdrop whilst saving a buck or three. Think of it as a grittier, more violent one-crazy-night version of Steven Knight's Locke.

Frank Grillo holds the center of the frame as the wheelman easily while matching a solid supporting cast including Garret Dillahunt, Shea Whigam and Slaine. And that's good news for fans of N@B star Frank Bill, 'cause Grillo's also front and center as Chainsaw Angus in the Tim Sutton directed adaptation of Donnybrook which starts filming this very morning.

Which makes this a banner month for Bill as his new novel and follow-up to Donnybrook, The Savage, is going to be published in a matter of weeks.

You know who else has a brand new book out? Rusty Barnes, that's who. Not only has Shotgun Honey reprinted Ridgerunner, they've announced another 'killer from the hills' novel, Knuckledragger will be released next week and that makes me happy.

Here's a piece I wrote at another site years ago on the occasion of the release of short story collections by the two of them - Frank's Crimes in Southern Indiana and Rusty's Mostly Redneck.

(note: hyperlinks appearing in the original piece are no longer there - sorry if that makes for a choppy read)

Did you see this article at Salon.Com heralding the work of authors like Bonnie Jo Campbell, Donald Ray Pollock, Philipp Meyer and Shann Ray as latter-day Steinbecks? The thrust of the piece suggested that in these difficult times people are turning to writing that comes from the guts of the national economic melee and chronicles the lives of people whose daily lives bear the brunt of the civic consequences incurred by decisions they were hardly a factor in.

The article also included one Frank Bill whose debut collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, just hit bookstore shelves this week, (and broke more than a few, I’d venture). Whew! These are some hardboiled hardscrabble crime tales. Truth be told, I'm not sure the people in these stories know there's a recession on. Bill’s characters don’t live on the edge of society, they’ve long since fallen off, and meeting them on their own turf is a harrowing experience  (the manufacture and cultivation of controlled substances, gunrunning and prostitution are the family businesses - just imagine being downsized from that).

His prose is a stripped-down muscle car without a muffler, tender as a brick and soothing as a gasoline popsicle, arriving at a tone you might call old-testament-pulp, while the stories themselves bite and kick and howl, and are run through with notions of the bonds of blood and kin that threaten as much as they ever may comfort. Themes of survival, revenge, family and good business practice are explored in these short, punchy, straight to the point with no beating around any scrub brush bursts of narrative. Bill cut his teeth on crime publications like Plots With Guns, Thuglit and Beat to a Pulp, that prize brevity and brutality above grammatical propriety and metaphorical feinting, but he's quickly been sniffed out by the capital 'L' literary world and with good reason. Read in succession, this collection transcends the harsh environment of guns and drugs and nastiness to a place where, (to quote the Salon.Com piece quoting Bonnie Jo Campbell paraphrasing William Faulkner) "the only writing that matters is about the human heart in conflict with itself. 'And there's plenty of that around here.'"

To sum up - grotesque, infectious and a quick fix for a flat-lined pulse, read it if you wish Hank Williams III would record a soundtrack to Knockemstiff, or Chuck Palahniuk would collaborate with William Gay more often.

Want more? Check out Rusty Barnes' brand new Mostly Redneck which may read like an exercise in understatement next to the Technicolor blood-splash of Bill, but you’ll be sore in the morning after these stories – dangerous, tragic, funny and creepy in combinations you haven’t tried before.

More still? You haven’t got long to wait for Daniel Woodrell’s The Outlaw Album and I dare say you haven’t read anything like Scott Wolven’s Controlled Burn before. Or go back to Chris Offutt’s Kentucky Straight Bonnie Jo Campbell's American Salvage or Pinckney Benedict’s Town Smokes. Those cats were hard before times were.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Things That Are Good Lately

The Bad Batch on Netflix - Director Ana Lily Amirpour's debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was a fever dream feature length music video without a song (a genre I can certainly love - Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising or Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man qualify) - so I was interested in her next project, but still unprepared for how hard I'd fall for her post-apocalyptic cannibalism revenge western. Like its predecessor The Bad Batch is pure style, but it's also got unexpected moments of emotional resonance. Suki Waterhouse is an outland wanderer falling victim to, coming to the aid of or exploring the kingdoms erected by Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jayda Fink. Along the way our road warrior encounters more human detritus including Jim Carrey giving his best performance in many years. It's ugly, gorgeous, vulnerable, trippy and not a little badass.

Blade Runner 2049 in theaters - Frankly, so far surpassing the hopes I'd allowed myself to nurture for this 35 years later sequel to a classic and formative favorite. It's sensually breathtaking, satisfactorily thought provoking and most importantly an engaging narrative with a no-ambiguity replicant protagonist. Yeah, I've read your misogyny and white privilege think-pieces about this one and you have not dented or even scratched the wax job on my love for it.

Choke On Your Lies in print - After being available as an eBook only (I've got mine), crime fiction's curmudgeonly teddy bear Anthony Neil Smith's homage to Nero Wolf is finally in print thanks to Down & Out Books!

The Dog on Hulu - Pervert, activist, serial-husband, bank robber John Wojtowicz was immortalized in Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, but he's got at least as much on screen charisma as Al Pacino playing a more sympathetic version of himself. This documentary lets the man tell his own story that includes plenty of material on both ends of his disastrous attempt to raise money for his wife's sex change.

Donnybrook on film - The film version of Frank Bill's debut novel is set to go before cameras in October and casting announcements including Frank Grillo, Jamie Bell, James Badge Dale and Margaret Qualley have just landed. Nothing in writer/director Tim Sutton's previous Dark Night suggests latent badassery waiting to be unleashed, but the low-key lyrical quality to its midwestern suburbia do make me eager to see his treatment of hoosier brawl.

The Hard Word blog - Scott Montgomery's long been a vital voice in the crime community. He's got a lot to say about the authors and books you're interested in, but now that he's got his own site (as opposed to the Austin bookstore Book People's blog he's contributed to for years) he can open up the conversation to westerns, film, out of print material, politics and whatever the fuck he wants. Read it. 

Mindhunter season 1 on Netflix - I tend to think of David Fincher as a craftsman more than an auteur - that is a supremely talented professional with the chops to dress and cut his pictures with crisp and arresting visuals and rhythms, but whose choice of project makes all the difference in whether or not I'll be tuning in. That said, his fascination with killers and sociopaths has made up the bulk of his best products from the high pulp of Se7en to the procedural punch miracle that is Zodiac. Serial killers are not generally something I'm interested in, but I was on board for this angle on the subject matter and holy shit, Cameron Britton's turn as Ed Kemper is Emmy-worthy.

Narcos season 3 on Netflix - As much as I dug Wagner Moura's anchoring turn as Pablo Escobar in the first couple of seasons, his exit in a hail of bullets opened up the narrative to be more than 'the Pablo show' and season 3's focus on the Cali Cartel is tight and intense. The best season yet.

The Most Wonderful Wonder season 2 on iTunes  - A podcast out of Oklahoma chronicling the back roads, badlands and bad decisions of two hundred years of Americana. The hosts, Mr. & Mrs. Hall, also make up the folk duo Welcome Little Stranger and the podcast is a folknoir investigation of all the fascinations that fuel their songs. Bite-sized historical oddities and macabre spectacles for those whose mood is brightened by the misfortune of others. Second season is just starting and it's a great time to start listening. Check em out here.

The Nightly Disease back in print - Max Booth III's latest novel only had a handful of months in print before the implosion of the publishing house. I read that shit this summer and it was terrific, so I'm happy to say it's found a new home (and great new cover) at Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. My favorite hotel novel since Jim Thompson's A Swell Looking Babe and my favorite work novel since Charles Bukowski's Post Office. If you've worked in a service industry, this book will do you good.

Red Room magazine issue 1 - The first issue of this 'magazine of extreme horror and hardcore dark crime' features fiction from David James Keaton, Meg Elison, Tim Waggoner, some dude name Jack Ketchum and more, plus an interview with Gil Valle the NYPD's "Cannibal Cop". So, there's that. From Cheryl Mullenax, Randy Chandler and the crew at Comet Press - cool.

Tickled on HBO Now - The fact that I'm talking about this documentary about a journalist trying to cover the 'sport' of competitive endurance tickling on a crime blog is probably more spoiler than I'd want to give you, but holy crap, please watch this doc without Googling anything about it. Save that shit for afterward. You'll want to. Pretty twisted and twisty story.

Top of the Lake: China Girl on Hulu - Jane Campion's Top of the Lake was first screened at festivals as a long feature film and then released as a miniseries on Sundance which accounted for some of the awkward pacing/cutting into episodes, but the second season/sequel is more tailored for episodic TV. It features everything there was to dig about the original (minus, of course, some outstanding characters who didn't survive). The relentless parade of men demonstrating horrendous sexual behavior on the show might seem cartoonish were it not merely an echo of the daily headlines from the most 'respectable' levels of society today. Yeesh. Kudos to David Dencik for bringing the creep big this time around.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Document Matters

I had the pleasure of spending a fair amount of time with ABC Publishing Group publisher Jeremy Stabile at Bouchercon in New Orleans last year and got a feel for the vision for his fledgling venture. At the time he was bringing Grant Jerkins' Abnormal Man a proper publication (after a brief stint when a self-published version was available) and preparing to turn heads.

Abnormal Man is a hell of a statement as a first book to publish. It's dark, but not fun dark. If you laugh while reading it, you're probably a bad person. I hated myself. But I laughed. It's a book that you write to push yourself. It's a book you read to punish yourself. It's a book you publish because you hate money. It's pretty amazing.

In the last year two more titles have followed that give some more dimension to the house and solidifying it as a destination for readers and writers of literary crime and transgressive fiction.

Down on the Street by Pulp Modern publisher Alec Cizak arrived in the spring - a tale of skid row living and cheap seats dying - and Through the Ant Farm by Robert Leland Taylor this summer - a pseudo-psycho prison noir.

For my money, it's about as distinctive and strong a launch as the late great New Pulp Press in 2009 and (hate to blow my own horn) Broken River Books' 2013 arrival, (btw if you dug Jackson Meeks' NPP title While the Devil Waits - I think you'd dig Through the Ant Farm).

The rise of indie presses putting out good shit is exciting, but goodness gracious, how many of these quality houses have to burn down too soon? True, it's exciting to see other houses pick up and re-release some great titles, but it'd be swell to see somebody go the distance.

Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books has made a helluva run thus far and he's one of the folks snatching up titles from the ashes of other houses - would you the hell look at those gorgeous new covers for the Jon Bassoff books? I may have to purchase them all over again, just for those excellent new edition artwork. D&O are even building independent wings on their house - ABC Publishing Group being one.

Let's hope D&O and ABC are here for the long haul and can keep the quality up. The announcement of ABC's next title - A Scholar of Pain, collected short stories by Grant Jerkins - is a damn good sign that they may.