Sunday, September 30, 2007

Win Reasonable Doubts by Gianrico Carofiglio

Okay people, I have now received three, count em, three copies of Reasonable Doubts by Gianrico Carofiglio. This book, put out by Bitter Lemon Press, is a legal thriller, and the author is a former organized crime prosecutor in Italy.
Since I only need one copy, I'm passing the other two copies to you. If you want to win one, just shoot me an email with contest in the subject line. Include your name and address. It's the same old story: I'll number the emails in the order they're received and then use a random number generator to pick the winners. The deadline is Sunday, Oct. 6.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Review of Slide

Slide (Hard Case Crime, 2007) is slick. With the follow up to last year’s Bust, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr have raised the bar. Bust, which introduced spineless businessman Max Fisher and his shallow squeeze Angela Petrarkos, was a black comedy of errors; noir with a grin. The sequel is comic, but it’s not just slapstick. It’s satire.

The latest installment in the planned trilogy follows Max, who is busy reinventing himself after losing everything, and Angela, who is busy in Ireland, trying to find a man to take care of her. Max reinvents himself as a drug dealer, and Angela, as is her custom, takes up with Slide, an aspiring serial killer, who’s having some trouble with the kidnapping business because he lacks the self-control necessary to not kill the victim before he gets paid. The novel is written in a breezy, casual tone, and there are plenty of laughs. After Slide and Angela hook up, he concocts a half-assed plan to kidnap…wait for it…Keith Richards. He doesn’t get Keith, but he does get someone else most readers will recognize. Another familar figure has a run in with Slide later in the book, and anyone who doesn’t laugh at these scenes probably has a sense of humor that runs to knock-knock jokes. Still, amusing as it is, the Slide and Angela storyline is not as compelling as Max’s story. He steals the show.

begins with Max Fisher at rock bottom. He wakes up after a world class drunk in a hotel in Alabama, with no money and no idea how he got there. This does not discourage Max, a self made man, who used to have it all. In no time, he has struck up relationship with Kyle, the dull witted desk clerk with a crack habit. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Max sees an opportunity, and he goes from penniless drunk to high living crack dealer in no time flat. Max Fisher is no more self aware than a cockroach, and, like a roach, he refuses to die. A legend in his own mind, Max, who starts calling himself “The M.A.X.”, is certain he is a celebrity. Fueled by coke, he daydreams about writing a column for The Wall Street Journal and having his own HBO series. His occasional glimmers of insight into the true nature of his situation are brief, and they always fade just as quickly as they arrive. Nothing can shake his relentless, delusional optimism. Max Fisher is an ugly American. He is a testament to economic opportunity and a cautionary tale at the same time. In that respect, he’s exactly like Donald Trump.

The authors’ aim, however, is not to make a point. They are out to have fun. Max was not created to make the reader contemplate the evils of capitalism or the insidious distortion of values that celebrity culture produces. Bruen and Starr set out to see how far they could push a stereotype. Max’s story not only satirizes American culture, it also satirizes noir. In noir, a character is usually undone by his desire. He wants money. He wants the woman. He wants peace of mind. When a noir character goes after those things, breaking society’s rules in the process, he is destroyed. In that sense, noir is a very conservative genre. The protagonist must suffer for his misdeeds. Not so with Max. He is greedy, gluttonous, slothful, lustful, prideful, wrathful and envious, and he still he slides by. People die because of his actions and he feels nothing. His existence a testament to the absurdity of the idea of justice.

When Max is hustled into a cop car, headed for a jail cell, he contemplates giving the cops a lock of his hair to sell on Ebay. Prison’s going to be great for his career, he thinks. He’s driven away with a grin on his face. He’s grinning at you, dear reader, because the joke is on you, and it’s pretty fucking funny.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

Saddlebums Interviews James Reasoner

Over at Saddlebums, a Western genre blog, there's a new interview with the one and only James Reasoner. Among the interesting things you will learn: He never did get paid for the first publication of Texas Wind, and (this is the exciting part) he's plotting another Texas set crime novel "along the lines of Dust Devils," which is surely a reason to celebrate.
(Thanks to (Gonzalo Baeza)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Review of Texas Wind

Texas Wind (Point Blank, 2004) by James Reasoner is a book that enjoyed cult status over the years and, in light of the author’s recent reemergence on the crime fiction scene with Dust Devils, it bears a second look.

The setup is simple. Cody, a private detective, is hired by the stepmother of a missing college student to find her. It seems like an open and shut case of elopement, until the girl’s finger shows up, along with a demand for ransom. Has she really been kidnapped? Are she and her boyfriend trying to get some money from her family? Or, is she dead? Finding the answer will bring Cody face to face with the mob, and the consequences of young love gone wrong.

Texas Wind is not as polished and perfect as Dust Devils, but that is understandable, considering Reasoner had 27 years between books to hone his skills. Still, Wind is well crafted, and there is no waste. In fact, the book is so economical that a subplot involving Cody and his admirer Janice seems squeezed in. The couple goes from first date to professions of love in no time flat. It’s a minor complaint. A fast moving, focused story is better than a bloated, turgid one any day. In writing, knowing what to leave out is just as important as knowing what to leave, and Reasoner knows.

Texas Wind is not as engaging as Dust Devils, but that does not really matter, since very few hardboiled crime tales can rise to the level of Reasoner's most recent effort. Texas Wind is still well worth reading.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hard Case Crime Partners with Barnes & Noble for Discussion Group

The latest Hard Case Crime newsletter is chock full of news. The biggest item being their new online crime book club in partnership with Barnes and Noble. It goes public Oct. 1, and Jason Starr, Ken Bruen, Allan Guthrie, Duane Swierczynski, Charlie Huston, and Megan Abbott are going to be participating. When it goes live it will be, so set a bookmark if you're so inclined.

Also, HCC has announced two new titles. The first, by Max Allan Collins, is called The First Quarry, and will presumably be about the first adventure of the titular hitman. The second is The Max, the final installment in the Starr/Bruen collaboration that includes Bust and Slide. The Max will take the characters from the first two novels and drop them in prison, which is where they belong really.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Let's Have A War

Out of the Gutter has a television ad. Soundtrack by Fear.

Hat tip to Victor Gischler

Bonus Video
Fear's infamous Saturday Night Live performance of New York's All Right...If You Like Saxophones

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beyond The Groovy Age of Horror

A big hat tip J. Kingston Pierce over at The Rap Sheet for bringing Beyond the Groovy Age of Horror to my attention. While there's horror stuff there, if that's your thing, but there's plenty of crime fiction covers and capsule reviews you can kill time reading. One of the posters also has a sideline in posting scans from Fumetti (graphic novels), that are disturbing on many levels. They're Western Civilization's answer to tentacle porn. (And, yes, those last four links may be NSFW, and your sanity. You've been warned.)

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Best title ever.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Story So Far...

I recap The Story So Far, for the latest episode of Seth Harwood's podcast Jack Palms II: This is Life. You can read my interview with Seth, whose first novel is coming out in March, here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No Country for Young Men?

A week ago Bryon Quertermous asked a question on his blog about why the crime fiction story market seems lackluster compared to other genres, specifically, sci-fi, fantasy and horror. The ensuing discussion on his blog didn't really answer the question, but it did raise another one, which I was already pondering: Is crime fiction an old people's game?
What we generally think of as crime fiction started in the first half of the 20th Century. You can trace the genre back to Poe, sure, but most people would classify Poe as a horror writer. Even "Murders in the Rue Morgue" could be called a horror story. Sure, it featured a detective trying to solve a crime, but the killer was an orangutan with a straight razor. An orangutan with a razor is scary, but he's not exactly Professor Moriarty is he? In the 20's and 30's you had locked room mysteries and Agatha Christie, who topped Poe for half-assed endings and implausible scenarios with Murder on the Orient Express, where everyone on the train was guilty. It makes a homicidal orangutan seem plausible.
At roughly the same time as Agatha Christie and her contemporaries were writing about well heeled detectives and murderers Dashiell Hammett was, as Raymond Chandler put it, [giving] murder back to the alley, and the kind of people who do it for a reason." One only needs to read Red Harvest to know that Hammett's early efforts were not necessarily any more believable than Christie. Unlike Christie, however, Hammett's work changed over time, and he eventually wrote some believable stories.
And there you have it. The two schools of crime fiction: Cozies and Hard boiled. Not much has changed in crime fiction since the 1930s. As such, it's not hard to see why crime fiction fans may tend to skew old. My recent experiences tend to bear this out. Over Labor Day I went to the Decatur Book Festival where I attended a panel with three mystery writers. I'm 30, and I was, by far, the youngest person in the room. The next day I stopped by Dragon Con, a huge science fiction and fantasy convention, where I attended a panel on podcasting. The room was packed with young people, and Scott Sigler, an author/podcaster, was greeted like a rock star. So was the founder of, who wasn't even on the panel. He was just in the audience, but when someone pointed him out, the crowd burst into applause.
Why the young, enthusiastic crowd at the panel composed mostly of science fiction podcasters and the sedate, older crowd at the crime fiction panel? The answer, I think, is that science fiction has to reinvent itself every few years. The genre is based largely on technological developments, and, must stay fresh. Now that we've sent probes to Mars, little green men aren't really plausible anymore. Hell, with the advent of human/animal embryos, The Island of Dr. Moreau no longer seems all that far fetched. My point is that young people can see their world reflected in science fiction. With crime fiction, authors are still working largely off templates drawn up before the Second World War. The genre deals with actions and motives that are as old as Cain and Abel. Not a lot has changed since then. One thing that Seth Harwood said when I interviewed him him really stuck with me: "When kids stop reading Harry Potter they have to read something else. Hopefully we can get them to read crime fiction." To me, that seems like an optimistic statement. I'm not sure crime fiction is in a position to do that at the moment. Sure, it appealed to me when I was in high school, but I'm fully prepared to admit that my tastes aren't exactly mainstream. If I really like something that's a good indication it will never sell ten million copies. So, how do you make crime fiction appeal to younger readers? The answer is simple: Make it reflect the world around them. How, exactly do you do that without resorting to gimmicks or obscuring the essential truths crime fiction touches on? I wish I knew.

Wednesday Paperback Cover

As opposed to doing it for money

Monday, September 10, 2007

Somebody Owes Me Money

I always have fun checking out Hard Case Crime's Web site every month to see what their latest title is. Their June 2008 offering will be a reprint of Donald Westlake's Somebody Owes Me Money. The Hard Case cover, I think, represents a great improvement over the original, which is very 1969.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Interview with Seth Harwood

Podcaster and novelist Seth Harwood was in town last week, and he took the time to sit down and talk a little about his work. Seth is currently in the middle of podcasting his second novel, This is Life, featuring washed up actor Jack Palms. He has podcasted Jacks first adventure, Jack Wakes Up, which will see print in March from Breakneck Books. He's also podcasted a collection of non-crime short stories called A Long Way from Disney.

What made you decide to go the podcast route, as opposed to what David Wellington did with putting his horror novels up on the ‘net?

I got really interested in the net about a year and a half ago. So first it was all about short stories for me. I published like a dozen short stories in small literary journals. They’re not crime, and it’s like I get my two copies and tell my friends about it and they say great, but no one can ever read it because no one can find it. There’s no distribution with them. Then I got a story accepted by this online place and all of a sudden everyone was reading it, and I could tell my friends go to this site and read it and I was getting a lot of feedback from that, so I got the idea to start my Web site and put my stuff there, and I wanted to put Jack Wakes Up there. When I started thinking about that I was in Boston, where I’m from originally, and one guy said I should do a podcast, and he connected me with Scott Sigler, who is huge in podcasting, and Scott basically walked me through how to get it started. I don’t know how Wellington did it, but it seemed to me like it was easier to get people to listen to a podcast right of the bat, than to read my stuff online.

What made you want to move into genre fiction, as opposed to staying with the short fiction?

I was working on writing a novel, and I was doing my best to read literary novels, and I started trying to write a literary novel and I didn’t know what to write it about. I got to a point where I was like, let me write a novel I’m going to have fun with. It’s going to have action. It’s not going to be 100 percent character driven. It’s going to have plot points. Things are going to happen. People are going to have guns. This is the type of stuff that excites me, so I said, ‘let me do something and have fun with it.’

Jack Wakes Up is getting published. How did that work? Did the publisher come to you? Were you shopping it around while you were podcasting? How did that come about?

I've been shopping this book around before, during and after I podcast it. My initial idea was that someone (an agent or an editor) would appreciate this initiative and my audience when I told them about it in a cover letter. That never happened. Bascially, I've come to see that they want something they can trust--an Amazon sales rank is what they feel they can trust. As a result of this, having the book published and selling it becomes a necessary part of marketing it. Seems odd, but what you're really marketing is yourself as a writer and a "brand." So be it. With that in mind, I started contacting smaller publishers, knowing that my own marketing through the podcast would be what sold the book anyway.

Luckily, Jeremy Robinson of Breakneck Books, a guru and a veteran of online independent publishing, realized that the audience I've created can translate immediately to selling books. Now we're working together: he's doing all the book-side stuff that I don't know about and I'm rolling out the podcast audience promotion. The listeners have already named the plan: it's called "Shake 'Em Down on!" after Jack Palms' fictitious big action movie, Shake 'Em Down. And with Jack Palms being the protagonist, there's no better day for the book to come out than Palm(s) Sunday!

How involved are fans of your podcast?

All my artwork is from my fans. Most of my cool marketing ideas come from my fans. Some of the fans are doing voices on the podcast. That’s another cool thing about podcasting. There’s so much back and forth with them (fans). The relationship with the fans is one of the best things about it (podcasting).

Do you write from an outline?

No. I’m a big believer in a lot of your best writing and material development coming from your subconscious. Whatever you know in your conscious mind there’s other stuff that’s back there and you just have to write it. You have to be writing to access that stuff. If you’re writing you can pull it out of there and it becomes the story. To me it seems like writing is an exploration, and often for me the most exciting stuff that happens are the things I don’t predict. The most exciting days are the days where I sit down and something completely blows me away and surprises me, and I have to stop writng and be like, ‘can this really happen? Am I okay with this? Can I deal with working this in?’ And those things often end up being some of the best stuff.

Talk about Jack a little bit. Where did he come from?

Have you ever seen The Transporter? It's a bad movie right? But here was this guy (Jason Statham) who I had only seen in this serious movie (Guy Ritchie's Snatch) where he was a funny character gets into this movie and kicks the shit out of hundreds and hundreds of guys. To me that seemed utterly ridiculous, and I was like ‘What would happen if a guy who was just a normal actor was in this movie and did huge amounts of ass kicking. What would happen to his life is he was suddenly perceived as this big ass kicker, and he wasn’t doing acting anymore and he had to deal with people on the street.

Who are your influences?

People like Elmore Leonard and Robert Parker. A lot of my early crime influences are people I would listen to. I’ve never read an Elmore Leonard book, but I would listen to them on tape in the car. A lot of my early influences came about from listening to them in the car, and now I’m doing podcasts. It’s sort of come full circle. When I was growing up I read a lot of Michael Connelly. I read a lot of comic books. Stephen King. Now, I’m into Chandler and Lawrence Block.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Noir Cat...


Yeah, LOLcats have been around for a while, but someone finally made a cat macro that's relevant to my interests.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Wednesday Paperback Cover

I acquired this book at the Decatur Book Festival this past weekend

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Cornucopia of Cover Art

It's been a while since I posted an honest to goodness book porn link, apart from my Wednesday Paperbacks. Well, that changes now. Hope you've got some time on your hands. (via.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Long Weekend

As I predicted, it was a busy weekend. I went to the Decatur Book Festival on Saturday, where I bought a copy of Wall Street Noir, from Akashic's booth and picked up some vintage paperbacks. I left my credit card at home, fortunately, otherwise I would have likely ended up with first editions of Miami Blues and Night of the Jabberwock. While I would love to have them, they would have set me back a total of $450. Someday.
I also attended a panel with James O. Born, Con Lehane, and a woman whose name I can't remember. It was getting late in the day by that point, and my blood sugar dropped suddenly and I had to get out of there and get some food, so I didn't stick around to make small talk or get a book signed.

On Sunday I went downtown to DragonCon and met Seth Harwood. We had a long, wide ranging conversation about all things crime fiction and podcasting, including Seth's podcast novels, one of which is being published in March. At Seth's invitation I attended a panel he was on about podcasting fiction. It was an eye opening experience. The room was packed. DragonCon is huge, and people have no shortage of choices when it comes to attending panels. A lot of them chose to come to this one, and they were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about podcast fiction, most of which is science fiction and fantasy. Seth is, as far as I know, the only crime fiction writer making a go of podcasting.

Be sure to stay tuned. My interview with Seth will be up soon.