The latest offering from Hard Case Crime, Gun Work, by David J Schow, a writer probably best known for his film adaptation of Jim O'Barr's The Crow, is a brutal, carefully constructed, relentlessly grim, and very satisfying tale of revenge. It's got hard men, dangerous women, a sordid setting, luchadors, and enough gun porn to make Wayne LaPierre a happy, happy man. It's as if Schow has tapped into some dark, testosterone filled vein in the male psyche and directly translated it onto the page. Did I mention the luchadors?
Gun Work starts simply enough. Barney, a fomer soldier, current firing range employee and general badass gets a call from Carl Ledbetter, a man who saved his life in Iraq. It seems Carl's wife has been kidnapped in Mexico, and Carl needs Barney's help to get her back. Barney goes because he feels obligated and because he likes being the go-to-guy in these situations. He's a hard case who needs no one and has no real commitments. Barney waltzes into the situation with a pretty cocky attitude, and things soon take a wrong turn, and his mission goes from one of recovery to one of revenge.
Along the way Barney is exposed to both the very worst and best that the human race has to offer, and Schow's novel is, like all good works of art, more than it seems on the surface. Schow delivers the goods in terms of action, but Gun Work also asks questions about how good and evil can exist side by side, growing out of the same soil, and it makes a strong statement about the necessity of learning to accept kindness with gratitude and repay it with friendship. Of course it also points out that it also helps to be a good shot.
Schow has written several other novels that are all out of print. If they are half as entertaining as Gun Work, their unavailability is a real shame.
Makes a living helping others, but isn't really a private detective?
Travis McGee, right?
Debut author Terry Holland is obviously quite familiar with the work of John D. MacDonald. There are worse influences to have as an author. But the main weakness of his debut, An Ice Cold Paradise (Point Blank, 2008), is that he's a little too familiar with MacDonald, and he might have cribbed a little too much. Holland's hero, Terry Pines, is an ex-con, and ex Army Ranger who lives in Honolulu where he owns an apartment building which he bought with proceeds he won playing the ponies. He rents the apartments to an eclectic cast of characters and runs a sideline where he specializes in being a badass for hire.
An Ice Cold Paradise finds Pines searching for his ex-cellmate's missing son, a G.I. stationed in Hawaii. Pines takes the case from the missing man's beautiful aunt, and the two of them are soon up to their necks in murder, gambling, arms running stolen jewels and Mormon fundamentalism. It's a lot, maybe a little too much, but Holland manages to fit it all together, even if he does also borrow MacDonald's tendency to indulge in dialogue and philosophy, which slows the story down in spots. Still, it never stalls out completely, and the action picks up in the final act, when it counts the most.
Holland's debut is, for all its faults, still solid. He's got something here. The reason why MacDonald wrote so many Travis McGee novels is because they appealed to readers. Here's hoping he can bring Pines out from under the shadow of his influences and find a way to make him his own man.
No sooner does editor Bryon Quertermous publish an issue of Demolition with a story I wrote, then he announces he's pulling the plug on the whole endeavor. If you're keeping score, that's Demoliton and Hard Luck Stories that have folded this year.
Debut author Terry Holland's book An Ice Cold Paradise is out in print from Point Blank Press this month. It's also available as a free PDF on the author's Web site. It's the first of a planned series, in the Travis McGee mold, featuring veteran and ex-con Harry Pines. I'm reading it now, and a review should be forthcoming, but you can check it out for yourself. There's also an excerpt from the as-yet unpublished second novel in the series.
Every once in a while Youtube is good for something. The video above links to the first part of a long discussion between authors Joe Gores and Mark Coggins on Hammett and the Maltese Falcon. It runs through six parts, and its made me late for work, so I thought I'd share.
Max Allan Collins' work runs the gamut from unreadable through indifferent all the way to quite good. It's hard to put a finger on why exactly his work varies in quality so much, but it does, especially when he tries too hard to imitate his idol, Mickey Spillane. Collins' last Hard Case offering, Deadly Beloved, was a Spillane imitation that fell flat. His latest offering, The First Quarry, however, is a strong outing for one of Collins' best characters.
As the title implies, The First Quarry is the story of the eponymous blue collar hitman's first job. The story picks up with Quarry waiting in an empty house across the street from his first target, a philandering creative writing professor. The story goes back and forth between the past and present to explain how Quarry came to work in his chosen field. Of course, what should be a simple job turns out to be more complicated than Quarry could ever imagine. Before it's all over Quarry will have crossed paths with a private detective, two organized crime syndicates, and a scorned wife.
Collins keeps the book moving with masterful pacing, and he also keeps it short. There's not anything in the story that doesn't need to be there, and the book can be read in a couple of hours, making it a perfect way to kill an afternoon. A solid entertainment.
Welcome to the Indie Crime Blog. As the name implies, this blog is dedicated to reviews of crime fiction published by independent presses. There are many books published every year that seem to be ignored for a variety of reasons. The books sections of newspapers are getting smaller. Bookstores give more shelf space to more established authors. I could go on, but you get it.My intent is to review books both old and new in the hopes that some deserving writers and worthy publishers will gain some exposure. I can be emailed at IndieCrime-at-gmail-dot-com