Saturday, May 30, 2009
Ray Banks’ latest novel, Beast of Burden (Polygon, 2009) concludes the story of ex-con and sort-of private investigator Callum Innes. At the end of his last outing, No More Heroes, Innes suffered a stroke while trying to prevent a bomb from going off in the middle of a race riot.
Beast of Burden finds Innes summoned by Manchester gangster Morris Tiernan who wants him to find his missing son Mo. It doesn’t take Innes long to find Mo, but he’s not alive, so, of course, Morris wants to know what happened, as does detective Donkey Donkin, who is convinced that Innes is involved.
While Innes does return to the alternating first person point-of-view that marked Saturday’s Child, switching back and forth between Innes and Donkin, it no longer seems as gimmicky as it did when Banks’ was a writer with only one other novel under his belt. Banks’ writing continues to improve, and each of his Innes novels has been better than the last.
Burden isn’t a traditional detective novel, though. There is a long, complicated back story involving Innes, the Tiernans, and Donkin. While Banks does a good job of explaining without letting it bog down the story, this book is best approached after reading the three other books in the series, or at least Saturday’s Child, the first Innes novel, which goes a long way toward explaining the situation Innes finds himself in at the beginning of Burden. In a novel more focused on relationships than on plot readers who don’t know the lay of the land are likely to get lost.
While Beast of Burden’s main disadvantage is it’s inaccessibility to new readers, Gun (Crime Express, 2008), is quite accessible, and a good place for readers who might be looking to sample Banks’ style to start. At fifteen thousand words, Gun is somewhere in between a short story and a novella. It’s simple, polished, and elegant. A young, would-be thug is sent across town by a drug dealer to pick up a handgun. It’s an uncomplicated setup, but Banks manages to wring drama, and even a little pathos out of it.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
With the realization that the next set of Stark reprints are imminent, I figure I'd better say something about the latest batch if I'm going to say anything, and I am, so here it goes.
Earlier, I touched on what it is about Parker that makes him such an enduring character. I concluded that a large part of his appeal was due to his persistence and determination. Parker soldiers on relentlessly know matter what sort of setbacks he runs into. Now, it would be possible to base an entire series on an underworld ubermensch who is constantly overcoming working to overcome the treachery and incompetence of others, but Westlake is more skillful than that. Parker isn't a superthief. He's just a thief, and he sometimes, despite his best efforts, makes mistakes.
The Jugger, which is certaintly the strongest of the reprints yet, is the story of a mistake. When Parker receives correspondence from an acquaintence that makes him wonder if his cover is about to be blown, Parker decided to take action. When Parker arrives in town, he finds his acquaintance dead under suspicious circumstances, so he feels obligated to investigate to make sure his identity is protected. Little does he know that every action he takes is actually bringing him closer to being exposed to the authorities.
The Jugger, like The Hunter, shows Parker as a man of stone with feet of clay, and it is that added depth which, along with Westlake's remarkable prose and storytelling ability, that allow the character and the series to endure. Parker is at the mercy of a set of rules that make it impossible for him to to trust anyone, and yet he must trust them, and this tension results in much flailing about in an information vacuum where bad intentions must be assumed by everyone. In a situation like that, everyone is going to make mistakes. It's a long way from Raffles, Gentleman Thief, that's for sure.
(Image shamelessly ripped off from The Violent World of Parker).
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Messing around on Amazon today, I discovered the covers for The Seventh, The Handle and The Rare Coin Score, the next three novels to get reprinted by the U. of Chicago Press. The official publication date is August 15, but if the first two batches of reprints are any indication, they will be available a month or two early.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The wind had picked up soon as the sun rose, whipping red clay and gravel around. Most of the revelers had just passed out--leaning against storefronts, in the back of trucks, shoved twenty deep into hotel rooms, or just out in the wide open fields. They wouldn’t come to until well past noon.
The bike needed work, Steel God could tell from the engine noise wheezing weaker than a chainsaw motor, as the lone rider eased through the center of town, careful to avoid the other choppers lining the middle of Main in two columns, fifty or sixty thick. He watched, amused, as the guy in his Marlon Brando get-up pursed his lips and did a slow nod at everything around him as if it needed his approval.
He did a circle of the street before coming to a stop in front of Steel God, who was sitting on the front steps of the Virtual Dive Bar eating a breakfast burrito--chorizo, potato and egg.
The guy dismounted the obviously custom-built (Steel God thought thrown-together, but was still impressed) chopper and pulled off his riding gloves. He wore a leather cap on his head and old-fashioned riding goggles. When he turned in a circle, Steel God got a better view of the patch on his back. “The Decapitators”--a fist holding a bloody head by the hair.
The man looked down at Steel God and did that nod again. “You look like a man in charge.”
Funny guy, playing it serious. Steel God kept from laughing. “A little.”
“Hear there’s a rally going on.”
“Looks that way. You bringing in a gang?”
The guy shook his head. “I’m more of, say, an ‘independent’ contractor. In fact, they call me Indy. I pick up strays occasionally. You seen any strays?”
“Only every day. But strays can be a problem. They don’t follow the rules, they jump ship. They’ve got no loyalty.”
“Loyal to themselves,” Indy said. “That’s not so bad. And, you know, I’ve seen plenty of them who followed the rules, did what they were asked, and even brought in some money for the clan, and yet they were still cast out like yesterday’s garbage while the gang lived high on the hog.”
Steel God didn’t like how Indy was talking. Like some sort of revolutionary. But he had nerve, and Steel God admired nerve nearly as much as anything.
He said to Indy, “These Decapitators of yours, then. That’s where all the strays go?”
“No, man, see…I’m more like a gatherer of some kind. I find the lost and help shepherd them to smaller gangs. You know, the ones scattered all over, never going to take on the Angels or the Bandidos…Wait, you’re Steel God, right? You’re an Outlaw, aren’t you?”
Steel God grinned. “Not anymore. I’m one of those small ones you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, you know what I’m saying. You’ve got to do more with less. You take bigger risks, but the rewards are sweeter.”
“Amen, brother. Amen. But…” Steel God pointed a finger in Indy’s face. “You leave my people alone, or we’ll see how the shepherd likes being sheared.”
Indy laughed, put his goggles back in place. “That’s good. But you don’t have to worry. The ones who need me always end up finding me. I just wish we had more MC’s to lead them to.”
He mounted his bike, nodded at Steel God again in that way of his, then kicked off and turned to go. “Off to find strays!”
As he crawled down the street, Steel God watched him go, chuckling deep in his chest. Lafitte stepped out from the Bar and watched the bike fade away.
“Who was that?”
Steel God said, “Said his name was Indy. I’ll tell you for sure, though--that man was a true One Percenter if I ever saw one.”
So crime fiction is supposed to be this big commercial thing, right? That’s where you’re supposed to get famous and make big money, writing detective stories or suspense thrillers.
And in the literary world, there’s a ton of respect for those souls who walk the wild side, publishing on small, prestigious presses. They never have to sell huge numbers to garner legendary status.
Now what happens to those in between? Those who write, say, noir (aka “The Unsellable”), or those working on the fringes of genre? Maybe even a detective who doesn’t fit the cookie cutter image we’ve come to expect (and that definition is “slightly flawed, but it’s usually because he/she “cares” too much, or show some kid who shot them first“)? Or maybe it’s just brutally violent and full of unsympathetic characters, by which we mean “interesting”.
That’s where the independent presses are doing the work of the angels all over the world.
And Nathan Cain is there to shout from the rooftops about it.
Thanks to Cain’s Independent Crime Blog, we get a front row seat to the stuff usually relegated to the back shelves. We also get a sneak peek into his private stash of old paperbacks, which inevitably makes every crime aficionado say “Damn, why don’t they make ’em like that anymore?” and sends us off looking for all the new stuff he pimps.
Like I said, angel’s work. A heavenly look at hellish writing.
Oh yeah, this isn’t just a pastime. It’s a calling. And I’m grateful to Mr. Cain for it, as well as for the support he’s shown to both me and to my publisher, Bleak House Books.
I’ve tried to sell my work to the big dog publishers, of course. Quite a number of times. But it’s always been the indie publishers where I’ve felt most at home and free. Thanks to Pointblank Press, Two Dollar Radio, and Bleak House, I’ve been able to have a hand in steering the ship. I never had to write the dreaded “synopsis” to get “approval” before I start writing the book. I just write it, and then we try to publish it. A staunchly old-fashioned approach, right? But that’s how all my books have been written so far, and I like the way that feels (most of the time. The rest, well, it’s panic-mode and nail-biting).
See if Hogdoggin’ stands up to the best that independent presses have to offer this year. Maybe I’m biased, but I think it does. I think kicks other books in the balls. You won’t want to like it because of that, but you can’t help but be attracted to this bad boy. Admit it.
Next, critic Gordon Harries wigs out on us. All the Needle Scratch Static is driving him nuts!
Tonight on the Main Stage: Thrill Kill Kult, “Sex on Wheels”
Sunday, May 17, 2009
This Sunday Morning show segment definitely fits the definition of old news, but I'd never seen it before because I've vowed to commit suicide if I ever become the sort of person who watches network weekend morning shows.
Robert Randisi's story "A Matter of Ethics" has a pretty great setup. Private eye Nick Delvecchio is summoned to a house in Brooklyn by a wife who wants him to follow her husband to see if he is cheating...on his diet. Delvecchio, quite rightly, thinks this is an odd request, but he takes the assignment. The husband is scrupulous about his dietary habits, as it turns out, but not quite as scrupulous about his marital vows. Delvecchio is left wondering whether to tell the wife about her husband's girlfriend. He decides to follow the husband one more day, only to see him fleeing the woman's house a few minutes after arriving. This situation, of course, leaves Delvecchio with another ethical dilemma. This one, of course, is a little more serious, and it leaves Delvecchio scrambling to stay ahead of the police. Unfortuately, the resolution is not as good as the setup, but I'm not sure how it could be.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
"Take Care of Yourself" by William Campbell Gault is the first story in the Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction to feature a series character. Gault's PI Joe Puma has been hired to find the wayward daughter of a rich southern California businessman. Puma does that quickly enough, but he inadvertently introduces the daughter to a con man. The wayward daughter, of course, takes up with the con man, and the father hires Joe again to keep an eye on her. Joe follows the daughter to the con man's place. There are screams, and Puma breaks in and (surprise, surprise) gets hit on the head and knocked out. When he comes to, the daughter is gone, and the con man insists nothing is wrong. Something is, of course, wrong, and Puma has to find out what it is. \
Gault's story is, for all it's boilerplate PI tropes, pretty subtle. In fact, I didn't realize the full implications of the final line of the story until the morning after I read it. I was in the middle of my workout, and I suddenly stopped cold, and slapped myself in the forehead for not seeing it sooner.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Switchblade, an imprint of PM Press. They're first two titles are a reprint of Gary Phillips' The Jook, and what looks to be a cheery little novel about white slavery called I-5 by Summer Brenner.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
An excerpt from the latest Hard Case Crime newsletter:
After that two-book month (December), we'll be taking a break for a few months to give me a chance to catch up on other work (in particular, the first six books of our new "Gabriel Hunt" adventure series: www.HuntForAdventure.com) and to give some companies who owe us money (you know who you are!) a chance to pay off all their accumulated, overdue bills. But once that's behind us, new Hard Case Crime titles will start coming again -- in fact, we're in the process of buying #64 now, and Greg Manchess is already hard at work on the cover.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Keith Rawson, "In The Shower, Thinking"
Eric Beenter, "Past Due"
Andy Henion, "Henson Comes Home"
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Seth Harwood's Jack Wakes Up, is out today from Three Rivers Press. You've probably already checked it out since it's been available as a free audio book for a while, and has already had one press run. In case you missed it, however, there is a three chapter preview available here. Or you could always just order it from the bookseller of your choice.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Question: Who do you have to kill to get a book deal?
Answer: A ten-year-old hemophiliac.
At least according to Dave Zeltserman. His latest novel, Pariah (Serpent's Tail, 2009), tells the story of Kyle Nevin, gangster from Southie, who gets released from prison after an eight-year stretch for bank robbery and decides to go after "Red" Mahoney, his former employer and the one who set him up to take a fall. Mahoney has disappeared, however, and Nevin needs money to look for him, so he plans a kidnapping. The kidnapping goes wrong, Nevin is caught, and, due to some prosecutorial shenanigans, gets off scott-free. Nevin's new notoriety leads to a two-book deal with a major publishing house.
Zeltserman's last novel, Small Crimes, featured disgraced cop Joe Denton, who was one of the most loathsome characters to ever crawl out of someoneone's imagination. Nevin is even worse than Denton. Every time you think that he has surely reached bottom and can't possibly behave in a more repugnant fashion, Zeltserman has his anti-hero find a new low. Nevin is genuinely frightening because his actions are entirely rational, and his crimes are plausible. Forget cartoon psychos who skin young women to make designer handbags, Zeltserman has succeeded in bringing a blithely psychopatic character to the page who will chill the blood.
Despite the utter moral bankruptcy of the main character, Pariah is gripping as opposed to repugnant. Zeltserman's writing and plotting are sharp and the plot is immaculately crafted. The only other author writing about such venal characters with such an incisive eye is Jason Starr, and some of Starr's characters are downright cuddly when compared to Zeltserman's. Pariah is a scathing rebuke of society's obsession with fame, and mythologizing of gangsters and the repugnant moral calculus that allows them to victimize innocent people with impunity. Zeltserman points out that we can embrace a monster, but not a dishonest monster. He's the guy who tells a newly engaged woman that her shiny, new diamond ring likely helped finance a pointless, bloody civil war in Africa, and besides, it's just another goddamn rock. It's an ugly thing to say, but it's entirely true, so what're you gonna do?
As it happens, I have a spare copy of Pariah, which is not getting an American release until October, so send an email to IndieCrime-at-gmail dot com, with "Contest" in the subject line and your name and mailing address in the body. I will pick a winner next Sunday. (Winners are picked using a random number generator).