Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Hairy Canopy: Thomas Wickersham on Hop Alley and Scott Phillips

My first exposure to Scott Phillips was an unwitting one. I took my high school girlfriend to see the movie adaptation of Phillips’s novel The Ice Harvest. It has been fifteen years since that night, but I still remember the delight I felt in that theater as each gleefully amoral twist of strip club sleaze unfolded, all while I was working up the nerve to hold my girlfriend’s hand.

When I was asked a month ago to write something about Scott Phillips’s 2014 novel Hop Alley, high school kids could still go to the movies. Now the world feels scarier. My current girlfriend and I only leave our apartments to shop for groceries and see each other. We can’t go out to restaurants or the movies. But we read to each other: The Decameron, Irish Ghost Stories, The Wind in the Willows, Krazy Kat comic strips, and Hop Alley.

Like all of Scott Phillips’s books, Hop Alley is odd. Nominally a Western, it tells the story of Bill Ogden, a fellow of great education and lesser morals who operates a photography studio in 1870s Denver, Colorado. Hop Alley is not a sequel, nor a prequel, but a segment of Bill Ogden’s life, bookended on either side by Cottonwood, the novel in which Phillips introduced the character 10 years prior. There is plenty of action to be found in Hop Alley including fornication, multiple homicides, a riot, and a jailbreak. But none of these attractions are why one should read the book.

Scott Phillips’s books shouldn’t be read for their plots, but for the sensibilities of their author. Phillips makes misery feel jaunty. He makes corruption seem benign. His protagonists do dreadful deeds yet somehow never cross the line into cartoon villainy. His books are exceptionally readable, yet difficult to classify They are books that are as reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio as they are of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. Scott Phillips is a masterful perversion of Americana.

I told my girlfriend that the dirty parts of Hop Alley were particularly raunchy. I failed to find them on my initial scan, so I started reading the book to her from the beginning. She was enraptured by the storytelling long before I had the chance to scandalize her with the post-coital passage I was searching for,

…rolling slightly toward me to afford a better view of her lovely sex, its labia dark and glistening, a microscopically thin strand of semen suspended delicately across the hair canopy just above it.

This morning my girlfriend was half-asleep as I started reading to her from The Wind in the Willows. There is a description of a river, the river, with its “silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir” that makes joining Rat and Mole on their picnic sound like paradise. When I finished the passage she turned to me and said, “Until you said ‘Mole’ I thought you were reading from Hop Alley.”

I want Scott Phillips to keep writing his wonderfully odd books. I want to read those books sitting by that river whose beauty makes Mole cry “Oh my!” I want my girlfriend to keep rolling slightly toward me in the mornings. I want to be able to take her to the movies again.

Scott Phillips' latest novel That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now from Soho Books. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble

Thomas Wickersham is the manager of The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstore in the world, located in New York City. He can be found on Twitter at @TomWickersham.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Socializing Distantly

Hey you. Yeah, you. I'm so glad you're alive and doing well enough to come to this blog. Really, I mean it. You are here and that's great. I hope you have plenty of ammo to get through this lil' global pandemic Me, I've been preparing for this moment my whole life. I've stockpiled books and I've got DVDs for when the internet fucking dies, but obviously we're not quite there which means we've probably still got some streaming video options and, friend, please allow me to help out if I can.

One of the distinct advantages of streaming movies vs. the golden age of video stores is rabbit-hole viewing. I've been of a unique personal fortitude and position in life to afford exploring streaming rabbit holes for a while and they can be awesome.

What I mean by rabbit hole streaming is finding a particular director, actor or writer to explore and hopping from one film to the next with the freedom to bail and start exploring another as soon as you want to. Obsessives like me usually follow the hole to its deepest depths, but you are not bound by this obsessive compulsion, you are here to benefit from my experience.

Watching the works of a single talent back-to-back-to-back-to-back can really begin to bring their talents, obsessions or quirks into focus and you might find an appreciation for things you didn't particularly love when it was just a single movie amongst the selections at the multiplex last year.

So I'd recommend visiting multiple streaming platforms and entering a name you're interested in exploring and putting together a mini-film festival for yourself. Here are just a few of my favorite experiences with rabbit-hole viewing - pick and choose as you see fit. (The above graphics are some picks if you're looking for isolation-themed crime movies of the non-prison variety)

Crackle is free - ad supported
The Criterion Channel is a paid subscription\
Flix Fling is a paid subscription
Fubo TV is a paid subscription
Hoopla is free through libraries
Hulu is a paid subscription
Kanopy is free through libraries
Netflix is a paid subscription
Prime is a paid subscription
Showtime is a paid subscription
Shudder is a paid subscription
Tubi is free - ad supported
Vudu is free - ad supported

Nicolas Winding Refn: note - the Pusher movies are thematically linked and have some overlap with characters, but do not require sequential viewing and Too Old to Die Young is a TV series.

Bronson is available on Hoopla
Drive is available on Netflix
Fear X is available on Hoopla, Kanopy, Tubi, Vudu and Prime
The Neon Demon is available on Hoopla and Prime
Only God Forgives is available on Netflix
Pusher is available on Shudder
Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands is available on Hoopla and Shudder
Pusher III: I am the Angel of Death is available on Shudder
Too Old to Die Young is available on Prime

Karyn Kusama is putting together an interesting body of work with some acclaimed indie hits and some high profile flops. I think several years from now we'll look at her stuff more as the collective of singular voice than the odds and ends of a gun for hire director.

The Invitation is available on Netflix
Destroyer is on Hulu
Girlfight is available on Starz and Direct TV
Aeon Flux is available on Crackle, Hoopla and Tubi

Sam Peckinpah might be my all-time favorite director whom I'm glad I didn't ever have to live with.

Convoy is available on Tubi
The Wild Bunch is available on DirecTV
Deadly Companions is available on Prime and Tubi
The Getaway is available on Criterion
The Osterman Weekend is available on Hoopla, Tubi, Popcornflix

Kelly Reichardt is simply one of the most vital American voices in contemporary film and while many of her movies don't fit any crime mold they do amplify each other

Night Moves is available on Prime
River of Grass is available on Kanopy, Criterion, Prime
Meek's Cutoff is available on Hoopla, Kanopy, Crackle, Tubi, Vudu, Criterion, Hulu, Prime
Wendy & Lucy is available on Hoopla, Kanopy, Tubi, Criterion, Prime
Old Joy is available on Criterion

I'd highly recommend the new Netflix true crime docu-series Tiger King as well. It's mind-bogglingly entertaining with its unique blend of dipshittedness, psychopathy, con-artistry and the wacko-factor is off the charts. The seven episodes go by quickly though and if you're looking for more true crime docs and docu-series I'd recommend these recent offerings with a focus on outrageous characters, bizarre situations and odd-fraud.

Tiger King is available on Netflix
Tickled is available on Hoopla and Hulu
Author: The JT Leroy Story is available on Prime
The Source Family is available on Hoopla, Kanopy, Tubi, Vudu and Prime
Team Foxcatcher is available on Netflix
The Dog is available on Hoopla, Vudu and Prime
Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee is available on Netflix and Showtime
The Legend of Cocaine Island is available on Netflix
Wild, Wild Country is available on Netflix
Fyre is available on Netflix
The Imposter is available on Prime
American Animals is available on HBOgo
Evil Genius is available on Netflix
Exit Through the Gift Shop is available on Tubi
The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is available on Hoopla and Kanopy
Crazy Love is available on Hoopla and Tubi
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is available on Starz and DirecTV

Some more recommended recent true crime docs and docuseries (less potentially whimsical)

The Act of Killing is available on Hoopla and Prime
Tower is available on Kanopy
White Boy is available on Hoopla, Kanopy and Starz
Don't F**k With Cats is available on Netflix
Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 is available on Netflix
Ruby Ridge is available on Netflix
Oklahoma City is available on Kanopy and Netflix
Lot Lizard is available on Prime
Making a Murderer is available on Netflix
Cartel Land is available on Kanopy, Hulu and Prime
Danny Greene: Rise and Fall of the Irishman is available on Tubi and Prime
Let the Fire Burn is available on Kanopy
Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers is available on Hoopla and Kanopy
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is available on Hoopla, HBOgo, DirecTV and Prime

Blake Howard, the Australian film critic behind One Heat Minute productions and Graffiti With Punctuation has got a brand new globabl pandemic themed podcast called ConTENgen where he chats with some of his favorite movie folks about how they're coping in these strange times. Each episode is exactly 10 minutes long. He keeps inviting me back to these projects and I keep accepting the call. Here's a link to my episode that dropped this week.

Apparently Amazon is no longer shipping out books for a few weeks so if you're not finding your novel needs at your local bookstores consider ordering directly from publishers. Right Now PM Press is running a special. Use the coupon code SOLIDARITY to receive 40% off your purchase. If you read this blog you know I'm a big fan of theirs and I'd highly recommend exploring their catalog. Some of my favorite PM Press titles include Pike by Benjamin Whitmer, Nearly Nowhere by Summer Brenner, Jewish Noir ed. by Kenneth Wishnia and Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail ed. Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons.

as well as the pulp fiction histories by Ian McIntyre and Andrew Nette
Girl Gangs, Biker Boys & Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture 1950-1980 and
Sticking it to The Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction 1950-1980

Anyway - I hope you're keeping it together and staying indoors. Thanks for hanging out with me.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Your Food Sucks: Kieran Shea on Scott Phillips

About an hour ago, I pre-ordered Scott Phillips' forthcoming novel That Left Turn at Albuquerque as a gift to myself. In the unwieldy realm of birthday dramas, it’s been my experience that gifts from loved ones sometimes disappoint, as in, “I made a donation in your name to the Mississippi Hookworm Museum…” or “I got you a lifetime subscription to Possum Enthusiast.

Anyway, as a crime writing aspirant I first met Scott at that bewildering, annual souse-fest that passes itself off as a conference—Bouchercon. This was in Indianapolis, and a rowdy group of agents, authors, and itchy psychopaths were on their way to knock back some schnitzel and brews at Bavarian joint called The Rathskellar. Think basement beer hall haunted by ghosts big on Heinrich Himmler, chesty dirndl couture, and dead elk heads. Scott happened to be leading the charge in a merry Pied Piper fashion, and my first impression upon meeting and talking with him was, “Goddamn, I knew this motherfucker is my kind of fly-in-the-ointment miscreant.”

Of course, I’d read Scott’s work.  Loved it, in fact. His lean prose is without lazy gristle and his attention to character detail and nuance is blindsiding. The one novel of his I try to push on people is Rut - his unnerving, dystopian black comic romp, rumored to have had the working title of Slay Misty For Me. Let me give you just one example of Scott’s blindsiding wordsmithing, the one that, without fail, kills me.

But before we get to this example, people should know that Scott lived in Paris for a while. As you might expect after living in France, he knows a thing or two about good food. At one time (a whole other life for me now) I willingly suffered under the ferocious tutelage of two French chefs and in Rut there’s a cast off reference to one of my favorite traditional French delicacies, something prepared using the a cooking method similar to confit, where food is submerged and cooked in luscious fat at a glacial rate. Scott being Scott, in the novel he added a touch of flair to the dish that hilariously echoed the starving desperation and desolation experienced by the characters. The proletarian dish is commonly known as rillettes, but with Scott’s brilliance it wasn’t made with pork or duck or even venison…it was made with meat identified under the scientific name sciuridae: squirrel rillettes. 

I’m sorry. That sealed it for me. Bloody genius.

Congratulations, Mr. Phillips.

Scott Phillips' latest novel That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now from Soho Books. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Kieran Shea is the author of Off Rock as well as the Koko Marsteller series; Koko Takes a Holiday, Koko the Mighty and Koko Uncaged. He used to have a blog and a Twitter handle and all that fun shit, but you can't find him online any longer because fuck you.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Peter Rozovsky on Scott Phillips

It may not seem kosher to cite an author's personal inscription to a fan when discussing the author's book, but here's how Scott Phillips signed my copy of his 2010 novel The Adjustment:

"To Peter `Fuck Peter Rozovsky' Rozovsky — the real father of NOIR@ the BAR
from your pal,
Scott Phillips"

The profanity is an allusion to the equally earthy thanks Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres sent my way in their first Noir at the Bar anthology, and the repetition of the names is typical Phillips: He writes things funny rather than merely writing funny things. And that's why The Adjustment, an increasingly dark tale of a Wichita man's involvement in addiction, infidelity, blackmail and killing, is laugh-out-loud funny even when the action is not particularly so:

"`Shut your noisemaker,' Red said. `You don't determine what gets discussed.' He gestured to her. `Wayne, this here's my wife, Betty.'"

Sorry, but I horselaughed when I read that, just as I did at:

"I had made a nice illicit bundle off of Uncle Sam. In the little safe in the basement that contained among other things my discharge papers and my Purple Heart — probably the only one ever awarded for getting stabbed by a rival pimp — was a whole lot of illicit cash I'd managed to smuggle back from Europe."

Telling jokes is relatively easy, but only the best crime writers can make a reader laugh in the middle of serious action, and to do so without letting on that the narrator or the author know they are being funny. Jim Thompson did it in Pop. 1280. Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) did it whenever he had Parker say, "Shut up, Grofield." And Scott Phillips is up there with those guys.

..............................Out of the Past...........................

Phillips' novels Cottonwood and Hop Alley take farmer/salonkeeper/photographer Bill Ogden through Kansas, Nebraska, and into Denver in the 1870s, and Hop Alley's final chapter suggests that a sojourn in San Francisco is not out of the question:

"And what would you say is the worst part of [California], Mister? South or north?"

"I'll tell you, I've never encountered a worse or baser bunch than those in San Francisco. Debauchery and vice, and all in the name of mammon. It was gold that cursed that town, sir, and the more gold they brought up from the ground, the more Satan smiled."

"I nodded and thanked him ... and as I boarded the train I found the idea growing in me: William Sadlaw, Photographic Gallery, San Francisco, Cal., Sittings by Appointment Only."

That's where the great historian of California, Kevin Starr, comes in. Phillips writes fiction so rich and detailed that it could be history; Starr writes histories of California so vivid that they could be fiction, and he singles out San Francisco for its blend of frontier lawlessness and the hastily imported cosmopolitan sophistication of an Atlantic trading port. It's the perfect destination for Ogden (who here calls himself Bill Sadlaw, in an effort to escape the law's attention).

Phillips' version of the American West is richer, bawdier, and funnier than most, but there's no hint of the self-congratulatory alternative about it. Phillips simply has a breathtaking sense of the possibilities open to a young man on the run, plunked down amid wide-open spaces and credulous populations. There's even a whodunit at the heart of Hop Alley:

Ogden/Sadlaw knows the real killer of a pressman for the local newspaper (It wasn't the Chinese residents of Hop Alley, attacked by angry mobs.) He saves an innocent victim from lynching, but he moves on rather than going to the law and trying to set things right. Hop Alley is no conventional crime novel, after all, but if you're looking for a richly detailed picaresque crime Western of America, you won't go wrong with Scott Phillips.

Scott Phillips' latest novel That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now from Soho Books. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Peter Rozovsky writes about international crime fiction at Detectives Beyond Borders, and is an editor/proofreader for hire. He is patient zero of the Noir at the Bar virus. Fuck Peter Rozovsky.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

William Boyle on Rake by Scott Phillips

I met Scott Phillips at the first Noircon in Philadelphia in 2008. I’d read and seen The Ice Harvest at that point. Scott and I were on a panel together about Georges Simenon. Scott was exceedingly kind to me—I left Noircon with the rest of his books. I’ve remained a huge fan over the years, and I’m damn excited that he’s back with That Left Turn at Albuquerque.

Rake, published in 2013, is one of my favorite books of his. It’s black-hearted noir and an achievement of high comic art. In Phillips’s world, there’s a thin line between brutality and slapstick. He delivers a study in misanthropic madness, taking his cues from Charles Willeford and revealing that he too is master of examining the troubled minds of the soulless. 

Phillips has always concerned himself with the dark underside of things, a trait that drew me to his work in the first place. He’s interested in exposing characters as phonies, in uncovering what’s really going on under the surface, and Rake is no exception. Even though it’s ultimately a comic noir, it’s shot through with important commentary on celebrity and consequence. But one of Phillips’s greatest attributes is that he has no moral center; neither does he moralize. Rake is a neglected masterpiece, one of the great joys of noir fiction from this past decade, and it’s a book you should seek out immediately if you missed it.

Scott's latest novel, That Left Turn at Albuquerque is out now. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)


William Boyle is the author of Gravesend, The Lonely Witness, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, and City of Margins (also released on March 3, Scott Phillips Day)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Steve Weddle on Cottonwood by Scott Phillips

A few decades back, I was in Kansas, researching the works of Luigi Pirandello and Eugène Ionesco in a cavernous bookstore I’d eventually be banned from. The bookstore, suitably dark and musty with a wonderful loft that hid cheap Penguin paperbacks, opened in 1988 just off Pittsburg’s main drag, Highway 69. My girlfriend (now wife) and I took poet Henry Taylor there when he visited the university and asked us to help his search for unusual dictionaries. At the time, my money was split among rent, books, and, for a reason that escapes me now, mail-order cigars. When the duplex I was renting got too cold one winter, the woman at the Salvation Army in town gave me busted electric blankets that no one else wanted. I nailed them up along each wall, like you would in a drafty castle that had fallen intro disrepair when your mad uncle died. The draftiest wall was floor to ceiling with books, shelved on planks and cinderblocks. Most of the books had come from the Pittsburg bookstore, Mostly Books.

The store had opened in 1988 by Roger and Jan O’Connor and, when it closed in 2009, held 50,000 used books. I spent a good deal of time in that store while I was in Kansas. So did Scott Phillips.

Ten years back, Scott and I chatted about the O’Connors and that store, as Roger O’Connor happened to have been the self-proclaimed leading expert on the Bloody Benders, the serial killers in Cottonwood, my favorite Scott Phillips book.

The novel, as realistic as any history and as absurd as any Pirandello, follows Bill Ogden from saloon to bed, from Kansas to California and back again. Ogden is a photographer and saloon-owner, a married rascal who enters into a boomtown business scheme with Marc Leval, then enters Marc’s wife, Maggie. Things don’t well, and the story moves to two decades into the future, in San Francisco, then back to Cottonwood.

And it is the historical aspect of the Benders that ground the book. The Benders were a family of four who lived and killed in rural Kansas shortly after the American Civil War. They would lure guests to their inn, seat them to dinner, then hammer-whack them in the temple, and toss them down a trap door. The beautiful brutality of the Bloody Benders here is Scott Phillips at his best.

What’s compelling about this book from the beginning is Bill Ogden’s dark, troubled, biting voice. His bed-hopping and his photography are wonderfully particular aspects used to build his character, hone his voice, and tell his story. Ogden is unforgettable. What holds the book together, though, is the historical truth underpinning the narrative, the bodies beneath the floorboard, the historical dark secret of a family inn outside a Kansas boomtown.

Scott Phillips weaves fact and fiction throughout this book, thanks in large part to his discussions with Roger O’Connor of Mostly Books. For that contribution to one of my favorite books, I forgive the O’Connors their banning me from their store.

That Left Turn at Albuquerque, the latest novel by Scott Phillips is available now. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Steve Weddle is the author of Country Hardball and the founding editor and publisher of Needle: a magazine of noir. He grew up on the border of Louisiana and Arkansas. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, and currently works for a newspaper group. He lives with his family in Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @steveweddle.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Jack Pendarvis on Scott Phillips

For a brief period, and without what anyone would describe as “qualifications,” I taught classes at a university, where, to make an unfair generalization, I discovered that undergraduates are very judgmental toward fictional characters. They really want fictional characters to behave properly. Then they opened The Adjustment by Scott Phillips, and their faces melted. Their objections were obliterated in a blinding white-hot flash of putrid stardust. Now there’s a blurb!

Maybe after a parade of narrators who ooze with squirmy postmodern rationalizations, it’s a relief to meet a cheerfully efficient monster like Wayne Ogden, the world’s only completely reliable narrator. Or maybe he’s so unreliable that he stretches around the world and kisses reliability on the mouth. It’s like what Nicolas of Cusa said about God, that he is “neither nothing nor not nothing, nor is God both nothing and not nothing.” Right? Now you can see why I don’t teach anymore.

I was lucky to have Margaret audit almost all my classes. She was an octogenarian and up for anything, except for The Adjustment, which she stopped me after class to tell me was “pornography without the pictures.” And this was a woman who had known nine murderers—so far!—over the course of her life. That’s an average of over one murderer per decade! She liked to tell me their horrible murder stories. One high-school chum threw his mother in a cistern. But Scott Philips is where she drew the line.

That Left Turn at Albuquerque, the latest novel by Scott Phillips is available now. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Jack Pendarvis mostly writes for animated TV shows. The Place Where Jack Pendarvis Has a "Blog" may amuse you, as might following him on Twitter @JackPendarvis.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Sean Doolittle on Rut by Scott Phillips

One of the things I love most about Scott Phillips’s books is the sense that only Scott would think of them, and only he could pull them off.

A great example for me is Rut, published in 2011 by Concord Press. I’ve thought back to this book many times since I first read it nearly a decade ago. All I specifically remembered about the story was how much I enjoyed reading it, how much I admired the craft of it, and, like all of Scott’s books I’ve read, the indelible feel of it. Warped, gritty, futuristic mountain west realism with a hint of depravity... that is a very specific vibe, man. And it felt just exactly that way when I reread it for this post, too. Even better: the characters sprang immediately back, the way memories of real people do. People you always remember, even after you’ve forgotten them.

A lot of that is purely because of the great writing. But a lot of what makes the writing so great, in my opinion, is the singular Scott Phillipsness of it all. The narrative voice is a perfectly modulated blend of bygone formality and modern vulgarity, sprinkled all over with detail that feels fresh, unexpected, yet utterly authentic. What a beguiling mix.

If you haven’t visited Gower, the busted ski town at the center of Rut’s climate-changed dystopia, I whole-heartedly encourage you to do so. Spend some time with the residents of this once-glamorous, long-blighted community, as mangled and mutated yet thriving in their way as the wildlife around the local toxic sludge pit, and see if you don’t recognize a few people you already know.

(Scott's latest novel, That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Sean Doolittle is the author of several crime and suspense novels. His books have received the Barry Award and the International Thriller Writers Award, among other honors. His latest is Kill Monster. He lives in western Iowa with his family. Keep up with Sean at his website and follow him on Twitter @seandoolittle.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Chris Offutt on Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips and I traded emails for a couple of years before meeting in person.  I was crazy about The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway, and The Adjustment—exquisitely written novels with precise language, great dialogue, and surprising events.  He cared deeply about language and story, a vanishing trait in literature. 

Scott and I finally met shortly after I moved to Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford was a midway point between his home in St. Louis and New Orleans where his daughter attended college. He drove down a few times to visit her, always stopping in Oxford overnight. As people age, it becomes harder to make new friends. This is particularly true for men, especially men who aren’t sports fans, fishermen, or work-buddies. The spontaneity of youth is subsumed by work and family life. Writers by nature are reclusive, which deepens the difficulty of befriending people. When we do venture into the world, we sometimes learn that the prolonged solitude necessary to writing has eroded our social skills.

None of this was the case with Scott. We hit if off immediately. He is funny, erudite in a number of fields, and a charismatic raconteur. He is also a good listener, fully engaged in a conversation. We’re about the same age and loved the same writers. We both were old-school enough to use 35mm cameras for our love of photography. We’d each lived Paris during as young men, and later we both toiled in the glittering cesspool of Hollywood. Over beers, we traded many stories of winters in the midwest, the reckless antics of our youth in France, and idiotic producers in L.A. And books, always books and art. Mainly we laughed.

Many artists and writers are adept in other forms, but seldom are as good at their secondary interest as their primary. Not so with Scott. He is a serious photographer whose work is stunning. Mostly documentary of midwestern cities, it can be described in similar terms to his fiction. Carefully composed. Attention to detail. Suffused in a compassionate light. His visual art and novels complement one another. If you study his website you will see the world they inhabit.

Scott’s historical novels Cottonwood and Hop Alley feature a photographer as protagonist. The books have the trademark Phillips attributes of reckless sex, funny dialogue, and unpredictable narratives. With Rake, he managed to satirize Hollywood from afar. Set in Paris, Rake follows the adventures of a mostly washed-up American TV actor finding new appreciation in France. Like all TV actors, he wants to make a movie. And like most actors, his ideas are remarkably lame—his intended movie is based on the discovery of Venus de Milo’s missing arms. The book is funny but also quite accurate in its portrayal of the narcissism rampant in Hollywood. 

Scott’s daughter transferred to another school and I don’t see him as often. He is more prone to leaving the house than I am so I’m hoping he turns up in Oxford on book tour. I am eagerly waiting to read That Left Turn at Albuqeruque, a novel that takes its title from Bugs Bunny, my all-time favorite cartoon character. Scott Phillips is one of my very few favorite living Americna writers. When his new book comes out I will drop everything and read it. Then read it again. I’ve done that with all his books. 

(Scott's latest novel, That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Chris Offutt grew up in Haldeman, Kentucky, population 200, a former mining town in the Appalachian hills. He attended elementary school, high school, and college within ten miles of his home. He has a BA in Theatre from Morehead State University and an MFA in Fiction from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His publications include Country Dark, Kentucky Straight, Out of the Woods, The Good Brother, The Same River Twice, No Heroes, and My Father the Pornographer. His short stories and essays have appeared in periodicals, such as The New York Times, Harpers, Esquire, GQ, Playboy, Tin House, and The Oxford American. His work is in many anthologies, including The Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Memoirs, Best of the Decade: New Stories of the South, and The Vintage Book of American Short Stories. His work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, a fellowship from the Lannan Foundation, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.  He received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for “prose that takes risks.” The international magazine Granta included him in its list of the “Top 20 Young American Writers. He wrote and produced scripts for True Blood, Weeds, and Treme. His television work was nominated for an Emmy. He currently lives in rural Lafayette County near Oxford, Mississippi. Keep up with him at his website.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Pete Dragovich on The Adjustment by Scott Phillips

Wayne Ogden was an army supply sarge over in Europe during WWII, a gig that allowed him to pimp whores and peddle porn and deal all manner of black market shit during his tour. Recently back stateside Ogden is now a PR man for Collins Aircraft, a job that lets him kick the shit out of private dicks trying get dirt on the company’s founder, blackmail those on the board that want the old man out and to drink and whore with the boss damn near nightly. Nobody expects him to show up at the office and, yeah, his beautiful pregnant wife may not like the hours but hopefully the new house and furniture set will keep her off his nuts awhile longer. As The Adjustment goes along and Wayne fixes more company and personal problems using far less heart than the squares around him are accustomed to, he feels the pull of the Quartermaster Corps out in occupied Japan.

It is a bleak story, a character study of a bent man unable or unwilling to change, a guy who can’t make the necessary, you know, adjustment to civilian life. But since this is a Scott Phillips novel, goddamn if watching that bastard Wayne work his dark magic isn’t a fucking gas. For such a short book the man packs in a lot of period color, character and incident without it ever feeling like he’s wasting your time. Wayne is constantly chatting up B-girls at whatever blind pig they’re tipping them back at (Wichita being a dry county at the time), and when he stops in for eggs at a diner he reads the paper and makes a note of if whatever tragedy has hit the news was caused by a vet or not (popular culture may have shown us otherwise, but PTSD wasn’t invented by the Vietnam War). And if you like to think of grandpa and grandma only ever furtively missionarying your dad and three aunts into the world, Wayne picked up a taste for cornholing while across the pond (this being a Scott Phillips book means buttfucking was bound to come up at some point).

But as much as I love Phillips’ ease in evoking another era, how he always seems to drop the perfect reference or phrase that unlocks a time and place in your imagination, his ability to make his books consistently and *actually* funny while not making me think of them as comic crime novels is damn near a miracle. The Adjustment has tons of hilarious dialogue and nervy oddballs but there’s no mistaking it for a Kinky Friedman novel- this shit is undeniably noir. And like any self-respecting basement noir junkie, I am anticipating the living shit out of Scott Phillips’ latest bit of the hilarious-yet-dark-as-fuck stuff: That Left Turn at Albuquerque. And as a devoted fan, I will not be fazed in the fucking slightest if that title actually refers to anal sex.

Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Pete Dragovich lives in Minneapolis and has written for such publications as Spinetingler Magazine, Hardboiled Wonderland and Crime Factory Magazine. Follow him on Twitter
@nerdofnoir and you can link to his dusty-ass blog there