I started Ed Lynskey's The Blue Cheer tonight, so look for a review in the near future. I have also learned that The Blue Cheer was apparently a type of LSD and a band, named after said LSD. I have no idea if that has anything to do with the book. I just thought I'd pass it on.
I've been reading short stories lately. Crime stories, to be specific. It has been a while since I've read any short stories. This is probably because I was an English major, and that entailed reading a lot of short stories. You know, "A Clean Well Lighted Place," "A Good Man is Hard to Find" "Barn Burning." I could go on. I think I burned out on that particular literary form for a long time. Over the past month, however, I've picked up several anthologies, including this one and this one from Akashic, and this one from Bleak House. They've all been worthwhile, and have turned me back on to short stories. If you haven't read "Can't Catch Me," by Thomas Morrissey in Brooklyn Noir I highly recommend it.
Florida is a strange and terrible place. It is full of lunatics, elderly people whose senility threatens what's left of American democracy, real-estate developers, foreign tourists with an affinity for bullets, Kathleen Harris and bugs the size of your head. To top it all off, George W. Bush's brother is running the show. One can't help but be amazed that the legislature hasn't voted to form its own army and invade Cuba...yet. The madness that can be found in America's only phallic state has long been fertile ground for crime novelists. Since John D. MacDonald kicked off his Travis McGee series by giving his protagonist the address Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale, Florida has been the setting for more crime novels than anyone could ever hope to read in a lifetime. There are the big names, like Leonard and Hiassen, which people think of first, but there are also good, but often overlooked authors, like Randy Wayne White, Les Standiford and Charles Willeford. Vicki Hendricks belongs to the latter category of writers, but it would be a crime to overlook her latest offering, Cruel Poetry, (Serpent's Tail: 2007) an unrepentantly dirty tale of sexual obsession. The book centers around Renata, a beautiful, amoral young woman who makes her living as a prostitute. Those drawn into her orbit include Richard, a poet and professor who finds himself hopelessly infatuated with her, and Jules, a frustrated young writer who lives next to Renata and listens to her through the walls when she entertains clients. When you throw in Fransico, Renata's boyfriend/business partner, you have the makings of a love parallelogram. Throw in some murders and you've got a real party. The book alternates between Renata, Richard and Jules' points-of-view, but the story belongs to Renata, who differs from the traditional Femme Fatale, in that she is well-intentioned. She tries to discourage Richard from throwing away his marriage, job and family for her and she is loyal to Jules as a friend. Still, she's dangerous. She prefers sex, but killing comes easily. It's all the same to her. As Hendricks puts it, " [Renata} is like a Florida panther, rare and wild, without reason or purpose of her own, supplying pure primitive beauty to the world." What works for panthers, however, doesn't work for people, no matter how well-intentioned they are. Cruel Poetry is well-written and never gets off track, which is a danger, because it seems like every other scene is a sex scene. Sex scenes are dangerous because they are often gratuitous, or, worse yet, bad. Nothing kills a story faster than an unintentionally hilarious bedroom scene. When Hendricks does use a cringe inducing phrase like, "the heaven of her ass," one must bear in mind the context. In this case, she is writing from the point of view of a middle aged man obsessed with a younger woman. It's a cringe-worthy situation, and Hendricks knows it. It is impossible to deny Hendricks' skill as a a thriller writer. She grabs the reader and doesn't let go until she had dragged him through a tangled web of lust and violence, to that most perverse of endings, a happy one, written in blood.
How in the hell did I not know this? Today, in a moment of idleness, I ran a Google search for Warren Zevon and crime fiction. I was wondering if anyone had ever compiled a list of Zevon's links to the world of crime fiction, and references to Zevon's work in novels. I didn't find a list, but I did find this January Magazine article about Kenneth Millar ( a.k.a. MacDonald) and Zevon. I had no idea they knew each other, let alone that it was Millar who convinced Zevon to go into rehab This is why I love the Internet. I didn't find a list though, so I've got to work on that. I know Carl Hiassen referenced him in Lucky You and, of course, Basket Case and that they wrote a song together on Mutineer (an underrated album, by the way). I also know Greg Rucka's Fistful of Raintakes its title from a song on this album . I'm sure, with a little research, I can find more. If anyone's knows of any other references to Zevon's work in crime novels, email me, please.
Ed Gorman has some kind words for Millipede Press' reprints of David Goodis. I've never read any Goodis. One of these days, after I get through the books I've got lying around, I'll have to check him out.
I think I have a problem with books. On Sunday I bought a copy of The Last Match by David Dodge. Yesterday I went to the library and checked out Monkey Man by Steve Brewer and Baltimore Noir, edited by Laura Lippman, and I got a copy of Cruel Poetryby Vicki Hendricks in the mail. Today, I wandered into a used book store and came out with The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins and The Spoilerby Domenic Stansberry. (It was only 75 cents. How could I not buy it?) Cruel Poetry is the only book I intend to review for this blog, but I just can't stop myself. Did I mention I have a bag full of Travis McGee novels I bought about a month ago that I still haven't read yet? And to top it all off, there are at least three books I should be getting review copies of in the near future.
I've been following the apparent demise of Publisher's Group West at Galleycat and other online outlets, but I haven't had much to say because I don't have much to add. It's a bad situation, and it leaves a long list of independent publishers in bad situations, including Canogate, RE/Search (which has published Charles Willeford's Wild Wives, and The High Priest of California, as well as other, strange, offerings.) and Ugly Town (Although Ugly Town hasn't published a book since Kill Whitey, in 2004, so I'm not sure if they're still around.) There was an article in the Wall Street Journal today about Perseus' offer to buy independent publishers' claims for 70 cents on the dollar. The WSJ story requires registration, so I'm not going to bother to link. The most interesting fact in it, however, comes from one Albert Greco, who is identified as a professor at the Fordham Graduate School of Business. He estimates $8.88 billion in book sales in 2005, with $5.94 billion generated by the big 12 consumer publishers. Independents accounted for the other $2.94 billion then. That's a lot of money and a lot of books. I hope this all gets worked out without too many casualties. There's an AP story about the mess here.
Over at the Crime Fiction Dossier, David Montgomery has published a list of novels he's looking forward to this year. He mentions Slideby Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. It's the sequel to Bust, which is one of Hard Case's best offerings. I wouldn't expect any less from the sequel. I'm also looking forward to Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas (Charles Ardai). It's the sequel to Little Girl Lost, which is another one of Hard Case's best. I've already mentioned Allan Guthrie's Hard Man, which I'm excited about. And, although it came out at the end of last year, I'm looking forward to Charlie Huston's new vampire/P.I. novel No Dominion. I've got to admit, when I picked up Already Dead, the first Joe Pitt novel, I thought it would be lame, but I was had read Caught Stealing, so I was willing to give it a chance. I'm glad I did. And, of course, Soul Patch, by Reed Farrel Coleman.
I took the plunge today. I signed up for Hard Case Crime's book club. I figured it's cheaper than buying them each individually, which is what I've been doing. You have to do it through the Dorchester Publishing Web site. And yes, I was aware that Hard Case was associated with Dorchester when I included them in my independent publisher links.
The simplest stories are often the best. A straightforward tale, well told, will always be superior to one that relies on linguistic flourishes or tricky plotting to try and maintain a reader's interest. Three to Kill (Serpent's Tail: 2007) by Jean-Patrick Manchette and translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith is one of those simple tales. The story of a Parisian salesman, Georges Gerfaut, who, through no fault of his own , becomes the target of two hitmen, Three to Kill is crime fiction stripped down to the bone. The only recent novel to which it can be compared is James Salls' Drive. Sallis has praised Manchette, and Drive is written with a similar economy of language. Gerfaut is a bourgeois everyman. He has a wife, two children and a job that affords his family a comfortable lifestyle. When Manchette introduces him, however, he is speeding in his car, high on booze and pills, going in circles. How did he get to this point? He stopped to help a man who has been in a car wreck, but who was in fact the victim of an attempted assassination. In doing so, he becomes the target of a team of hitmen/lovers hired by a paranoid old military policeman from the Dominican Republic. After the hitmen attempt to drown Gerfaut at the beach, where he has gone with his family on vacation, he is wrenched free from his humdrum existence. Finding himself released from the shackles of societal expectations, Gerfaut finds peace for a while in a remote village until another act of violence forces him back into the world from which he fled. Throughout most of the novella, Gerfaut is reacting, not acting. He stumbles along, making choices only when he must, and even then he drifts, landing where he may. While he does prove to be resourceful and decisive in the end, Gerfaut is a man uncomfortable with freedom, and, at the end of the book, uncomfortable with the stable existence to which he ultimately returns. Where does that leave him? Going in circles.
There is a lot to be excited about this year. Here's a list of titles coming out in the first half of the year, so you can plan your reading list well ahead of time. This list is not meant to be comprehensive. If you're an author, publisher, or just someone outraged that I missed a book by your favorite author, let me know. My email address can be found on the right side of the page.
Reed Farrel Coleman's new novel, Soul Patch, comes out in April. It is the sequel to the much praised The James Deans, which I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read. Coleman has a video prologue for the new book here.
A koan, in the Zen Buddhist tradition, is a question that cannot be answered rationally, and must be approached with intuition. The most famous one, at least in the English speaking world, is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" A Koan is a lot like a crime. Often, when looked at by an impartial observer, a crime, especially a violent one, will seem senseless. Crimes, however, are seldom senseless to the person who commits them. In fact, they usually make perfect sense. If a person is to understand why a crime is committed Zen like intuition is often required.A Zen monk makes this point explicitly late in Heather Dune Macadam's The Weeping Buddha(Akashic: 2002), when he says that "Murder is a Koan." The Weeping Buddha is full of both murder and koans as it follows the story of Long Island detectives Devon Halsey and Lochwood Brennan as they try to unravel the mystery of the murder of Devon's best friend and her husband, and discover how it is connected to a young man who walked out of a New Year's Eve party in Manhattan in 1984, never to bee seen again. Devon, and her best friend, Beka, were both at the party from which Todd Daniels vanished, and both of them have remained haunted by it for years. When Beka and her husband turn up dead on New Year's Eve eighteen years later, it forces Devon to confront her past and reevaluate all her relationships with the people she thought were he friends, once it becomes apparent that they are all suspects in a string of crimes stretching back almost two decades. Macadam maintains the suspense by gradually revealing the extent and complexity of the crimes in a manner that should keep the reader guessing as to exactly what has been happening until quite late in the book, and Devon and Lochwood are a couple of sympathetic protagonists who manage to be more than cardboard cop cutouts. The only weak point in this book is Macadam's penchant for similes. When Beka's body is found she is described as "an origami bird with its wings clipped," "a deer on the highway," and a "geisha doll." That's three separate images in four sentences.It's a bit overwhelming. Elsewhere the word almost creeps into her similes, like when she writes, "Autopsies were almost like the Ritual of the Sky Burial in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition." The Sky burial, according to Macadam, involves feeding a dead person's corpse to sacred vultures and then grinding up the bones. It's a good image, and the comparsion of cops standing over a cadaver and vultures is a good one. That what makes the almost maddening. It gives the impression the writer is being tentative about making the full commitment to the comparison. In the end, though, the faults of The Weeping Buddha are minor ones that do not detract from the story or obscure the points that the author makes about the mutable nature of relationships and the pitfalls we all risk falling into as we stumble toward enlightenment.
Spike Morelli wrote some books in the Fifties, including this one, which made it into my previous post. Beyond that, however, I can find nothing about him on the Internet. Does anyone out there know anything about him or his work? Does it deserve to languish in obscurity forever? A Google search for Coffin for a Cutieturned up this, which is apparently a model based on the book cover. It also turned up this, which I'm certain has no relation to the question at hand.
J. Kingston Pierce over at The Rap Sheet blog has selected this cover, this one, and this one as the ones he would most like to see as available at Hard Case Crime's Cafepress store. Unfortunately, Hard Case is only selling merchandise with its logo at the moment. If you want to get vintage pulp fiction covers on a t-shirt or coffee cup, however, you can go to this Cafepress store, where you can find all kinds of obscure covers, and some not so obscure ones. I used this as a Christmas card a couple of years ago. You have to admit, it's better than the average Christmas card.
While looking for a gift for someone, I found out Hard Case Crime has a Cafepress store, which has their logo on all kinds of stuff. Now, if only they were offering to put their covers on things. I would buy a coffee mug with this or this on it in a heartbeat.
While browsing on Amazon I discovered that Allan Guthrie has a new book coming out this year. It'll be out in June in America and April in Europe. It's called Hard Man. His last novel, Kiss Her Goodbye, was a Hard Case orignial, and the first one, Two Way Split, was published in America by Wildside Press. I picked up Two-Way Split in a library, took it home and loved it. Since he's made the jump to a major publisher with this one, I won't be reviewing it on this blog, but you can be damn sure I'm going to read it. Guthrie's Web site is here. He's also got a Hard Man blog.
The Rabbit Factory (MacAdam Cage: 2006) by Marshall Karp, is a mystery that starts out with a bang, but ends up being dragged down by its own weight. The 600-plus page novel introduces LAPD homicide cops Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs. Lomax, the narrator, is grieving over is dead wife and trying to move on with his life, while Biggs, who wants to be a stand-up comic, serves to lighten the mood. They're both likable, but not too original characters, who go on a roller coaster ride after a man in a rabbit costume gets garroted at Familyland, a gigantic amusement park where people from all over the world come to be surrounded by the cartoon creations of Dean Lamaar. Karp does an admirable job with the main plot, which has Lomax and Biggs trying to find out who wants to destroy the Lamaar Corporation. Bodies pile up, corporate types try to protect the company while making life difficult for Lomax and Biggs, and the duo stumbles down plenty of blind alleys in their search for the villain. The two subplots are a different story. The first, which is romantic, has Lomax reading letters his dead wife wrote to him before she died, while dealing with his feelings for another woman. The second one involves Lomax's brother Frankie, who has a gambling problem. The romantic interludes help round out Lomax, and prevent the character from becoming a caricature, but they tend to be too long., especially the three full letters from Lomax's dead wife that made it into the final draft. The Frankie subplot is uneventful. No doubt Karp introduced Frankie because he will be a recurring character in other Lomax and Biggs novels, but the plot complications he caused in this book get solved with minimal fuss and minimal suspense. The book would have moved along faster without it, and there is no hard and fast rule that the first novel in a series has to introduce every character. In the end, it is Karp's light prose and dark sense of humor that make the overall experience worthwhile. As previously mentioned, the book opens with a man in a large rabbit costume getting garroted. It's a funny image, if you like that sort of humor, and while the book is long, the prose isn't turgid. It isn't Les Miserables. Now there was a detective story that really needed an editor.
Serpent's Tail publishing has announced it has merged with Profile Books. The money quote from Serpent's Tail's Pete Aytron: " The concentration in the retail sector is making survival of small publishers more and more precarious. The acquisition of Serpent's Tail by Profile, a publishing house known for its idiosyncratic brilliance and consistent profitability, guarantees that Serpent's Tail remains within the independent sector."
Since I had been thinking about Charles Willeford earlier in the day, I looked him up on Wikipedia tonight, and it turns out today would have been his 88th birthday. The Wikipedia article is here. There are also some excerpts from his work here. An exceprt from the previously mentioned Black Mass of Brother Springer is here. For further reading on Willeford, check out the No Exit Press website for an essay on Black Mass and other works, by William Robert Bittner. Bittner sees Black Mass, as a comedy, which is a fair interpretation, but he also calls it Willeford's "gentlest of novels," which I do not think it is. On the contrary, it is one of his most cynical, which is saying something. There is comedy, but it is pitch black and ugly, nothing gentle about it.
Barry Hannah has an article in the latest issue of the Oxford American about crime noir. He tips the hat to Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford, but the essay never really goes anywhere. It starts off with Hannah complaining about real estate development in Oxford, Mississippi, and then goes on to Faulkner, Celine, Bukowski and Camus. (Not in that order.) I wish he had had some kind of thesis, or expanded on some of the comments he made, particularly about Willeford, whose novels, "carry authentic wit down to psychological strangeness such as [Hannah has] never quite read, even in Kafka." There's a lot to be said about Willeford, who wrote some damn strange novels, including The Shark Infested Custard,CockfighterandThe Black Mass of Brother Springer. Black Mass, in particular, must be read to be believed. I think it's Willeford's great philosphical novel. It may be the single most cynical book I've ever read. The protagonist, a failed novelist, leaves his wife in Ohio, gets ordained into a dying church by an unbelieving priest, takes over a black chuch in Jacksonville, Florida, organizes and leads a successful bus boycott, stands up to the Klan, beds a parishoners wife, steals all the money sent in to support the boycott, and runs off with the aformentioned wife to New York, where he abandons her. He learns nothing. It makes not crying at your mother's funeral and shooting an Arab on the beach seem completely reasonable.
Well, this sucks. Mystery Ink, a cool little bookstore in New York, has closed its doors. I shopped there a couple of times when I was in the city a few year ago. I have one of their shirts. If I'd known they were going to close I'd have bought more of them.
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