The Killing Of Emma Gross by Damien Seaman. Blasted Heath are simply one of the best publishers around. And this is one of the best books that they’ve put out. Maybe the best.
In Germany, before the war, a serial killer is on the loose – nicknamed The Ripper or The Vampire Of Düsseldorf. Detective Thomas Klein manages to get the main suspect-Peter Kurten- to give himself up in a Catholic church. But Klein himself is arrested when his rival, Inspector Ritter, turns up with a squad of armed cops.
The Killing Of Emma Gross is Seaman‘s brilliantly twisty debut novel. A gripping, powerful story that is full of clammy atmosphere and uses the historical setting to tell an involving tale of dark, complicated people doing very dark things. The cast of quirky characters, especially Klein are wonderfully drawn and , definitely deserve a second outing. Highly recommended.
Ask the Dice by Ed Lynskey. Tommy Zane is a poetry writing, jazz loving hit man who is starting to feel as if he’s had enough of the killing game. He is even becoming allergic to his gun.However, when he’s framed for the murder of his gangster employer’s niece, his main aim is to survive.
Ask The Dice is smashing, smoothly written slice of hard-boiled. The fast-moving story is interspersed with Zane’s beat poetry and ruminations, so that it works well as a character study as well as a gritty crime story.
Monkey Justice by Patti Abbott. The e-book explosion has seen a deluge of short story and flash fiction collections, some decidedly better than others. But Patti Abbott’s Monkey Justice stands head and shoulders above almost all short story collections out there, e-book or not. This is a mature and assured collection of brilliant stories that show us a great deal about the lives of the wide range of characters. Personal favourites include ‘The Instrument Of Her Desire’, ‘Georgie’ and ‘The Squatter’ but there really isn’t a duff story in this fantastic, brilliantly written collection which spans noir, crime, slice-of-life, gothic and just- ace – writing.
Monkey Justice is published by the splendid Snubnose Press, as is Les Edgerton’s Gumbo Ya Ya. Les Edgerton is one of my favourite writers – his novel The Bitch is a masterclass in character driven fiction, let alone crime fiction – so it’s no surprise that Gumbo Ya Ya is a knockout. The stories in the collection have a very autobiographical, authentic feel and focus on the harsh sides of life : broken relationships, the death of a loved one, life in prison. The standout story is the lyrical and moving ‘The Death Of Tarpons’ but ‘Pit Stop’ and ‘The World’s Fair’ are also faves. Gumbo Ya Ya also includes a couple of essays, including a cracking one about the dangers of censorship which was written more than ten years ago but is very pertinent today.
So, there you are. Every one a gem! Get stuck in there!
(pic by Walter Conley)
‘What a great idea! Create a particular character—Roman Dalton, ex-cop, current P.I., current werewolf… and let him go on the mean streets. Invite some of the best noir writers on the planet to ride this horse… Paul D. Brazill is the guy who’s doing more than almost anyone in energizing the noir genre and this is an innovative and important step in what looks to be a massive B12 shot.
The first story, Paul D. Brazill’s title story of this amazing collection, “Drunk on the Moon” is a veritable feast of language flavours, just as you always expect and always get from the Godfather of Noir. Brazill puts the story of ex-cop-cum-detective-cum-werewolf Roman Dalton into motion in a battle with other werewolves, zombies and human criminals.
Allan Leverone then takes comes through brilliantly, taking the ball quarterback Brazill hands off to him and running with it like a star fullback. Enter a mysterious federal agent—Agent Darke (aptly named) and the complications begin to cram through the doorway as nonstop action and mayhem erupt in a clash of werewolves and criminals.
Next B R Stateham delivers the philosophical side of Dalton—he’s his own “Death Squad” in ridding the world of those who don’t contribute to the common good by his choice of victims when in his werewolf state, and Stateham also creates the element of sex, always a good thing in a story. Stateham delivers one image I wasn’t expecting of Dalton—he’s a quiche eater… I’m still trying to reconcile that with his werewolf/tough cop persona…
The next story up, “It’s a Curse” by K. A. Laity is a writer’s delight. Like Brazill, Laity knocks your socks off with the language and also with the dialog. She also delivers a sex scene that leaves the reader alternately grimacing in pain and fantasizing about rough sex. Really rough sex… It’s the dialog that grabs you more than anything. Brilliant.
John Donald Carlucci enters next with his take on Dalton in a tale titled “Silver Tears.” Carlucci gets my nod for the best opening sentence of any of the stories, beginning with: “Jesus, I think I stepped on an ear,” I said after nearly slipping and falling as I entered the taped-off crime scene. It instantly transported me into the story and I wasn’t disappointed. You won’t be either. Not to give away the story, but it involves a pervert that wants Dalton to bite him so he can become a vampire, and Dalton accommodates him… but with a twist. You don’t want to miss the twist!
Julia Madeleine with her offering, “Fear the Night,” gets Dalton out of England and over to Quebec,Canada where he has a go with zombie strippers. If anyone doubts the veracity of zombie strippers, don’t. I’ve been to Quebec and it’s true.
Jason Michel weighs in with “Back to Nature” where Dalton takes a vacation in the woods with his friend Duffy the bartender. This was a delightful experience and the best way I can describe it is it’s a stream-of-conscious cinematic experience that reads like poetry.
And then… Richard Godwin with his version of Roman Dalton the werewolf he’s titled, “Getting High on Daisy..” All I can say about this one is this. WOW. This one was my favourite. Just brilliant writing. Every writer in this collection is the very best of writers working today. But, Godwin went somewhere else with this one. A place very few of us are ever privileged to reach. This one was Jungian in the best sense as in the night dream level of story-telling. This one by itself is worth the price of the entire collection.
And, just when I thought nothing could match Godwin’s story, I ran smack into Katherine Tomlinson’s “A Fire in the Blood.” Here’s what I have to say about her tale. Read it. I wasn’t familiar with her work before, but this story convinced me to run out and buy every word of hers that’s for sale. It’s that frickin’ good! Good writing should provide surprises and believe me—this one did! On every page. Before I read “A Fire in the Blood” I’d conferred the title of “best story in the collection” to Godwin. This one doesn’t supplant his, but it’s the co-winner, imo.
And then we come to the finale, Brazill’s “Before the Moon Falls” his prequel to the collection. Brilliant. Just like the collection itself. I cannot remember a more consistently great collection of stories like this. “Drunk on the Moon” is going to end up on a lot of “Best of” lists at the end of the year. An awful lot of those lists… It’s already on mine.
Once you read it, I wager it’ll be on yours.’
LE: It’s not a pejorative term towards women nor a term denoting a cute little fluffy girl dog. It derives from the U.S. federal statute, the so-called “three-strikes-and-you’re-out, ha-bitch-ual criminal law, referred to by us outlaw types simply as “The Bitch.” And, it is. It means that once a criminal has been convicted of two felonies, his third will land him significant time—up to life—in prison. And, that’s exactly what the novel is about—a guy (Jake Bishop) who’s done two bits and has straightened his life out when out of the blue an ex-cellmate, Walker “Spitball” Joy, appears, demanding a favor from him—to committ a burglary, which was Jake’s specialty when he was in the life. He can’t refuse as Spitball saved his hide back in the joint. Each step he makes to prove his loyalty and repay his debt sends him spiraling further and further into the abyss as he hurtles toward… The Bitch.
PDB: You’re following up The Bitch with The Rapist. Are you giving your publishers a hard time with these titles?
LE: Nah. They love the titles! It’s my wife who’s now sleeping upstairs in our bed in the room we refer to as “The Scene of the Crime” while I languish downstairs on the couch… She’s a hairdresser and keeps complaining, “I’m supposed to tell my clients to buy my husband’s books—THE BITCH and THE RAPIST? I’m going to end up sitting around a lot…”
PDB: You published a great short story collection, Monday’s Meal and are soon to be publishing another collection. Can you say something about the similarities and differences between the two collections?
LE: The structure for one. Collections are usually built around a central theme and neither of these are. There is a wide range in the subject matter and treatment. To allow for this, I titled the first one MONDAY’S MEAL and the one coming out from Snubnose Press, GUMBO YA-YA. Why? Well, they both denote the diffuse nature of the stories—I grew up in the South and Monday was traditionally washday. A day when the harried mother had to take care of her ten kids, do the week’s wash, and cook a meal for her husband and the kids. So, whenever she had a spare minute, she’d run in and throw something in the pot. Usually a lot of ingredients that when considered, didn’t seem to have much of a gastronomic relationship, but, when added together, created a great flavor. Same with gumbo—“real” gumbo isn’t really like what some restaurants provide—when I was a kid, my grandmother would keep a huge pot simmering on a wood stove and when she had a minute, she’d run in and throw in another ingredient. A typical Monday meal… In fact, my favorite ingredient, in season, is crab eggs or roe.
Both collections are about folks from the underside of life. I never write about life insurance salesmen or folks who treasure taking care of their yards…
Those are the similarities. The difference is, the stories in the first collection were a product of my youth (one of the stories was written when I was 12 and another when I was 15), and the stories in GUMBO reflect my more mature (some say “doddering”) age. Also, I’ve included an essay on Charles Bukowski and censorship and that evil thing called “political correctness” that I’m very proud of in this one.
PDB: You’ve said that your novel Just Like That is a semi autobiographical. How much did you have to leave out?
LE: Everything in it where the statute of limitations hasn’t yet run out, is fiction. The rest is fairly spot on. At the advice of counsel, that’s all I’m going to say on that subject.
PDB:In your book Hooked, you write about grabbing the reader from page one. Why is that so important?
LE: For two reasons. Two kinds of readers. One—and first and foremost from a practical point-of-view—agents and editors. The gatekeepers in publishing are all overworked and daily face daunting stacks of manuscripts to consider. They all have a built-in list of red flags that, as soon as they encounter one, they’re able to put that mss down, insert a rejection slip, and go on to the next. The single biggest red flag is encountering an opening that doesn’t compel them to read on. They know if they’re not compelled, neither will the readers who plunk out their hardearned money for it.
The second reader is that group I just mentioned. Paying readers. I’ve owned two bookstores and have watched thousands of customers as they make their choices. They read a few paragraphs on the first page. If it doesn’t grab their attention, they’re most likely to put it down and glom onto another one to consider.
And, think about it. If a writer can’t write something interesting and compelling on the first page, why is there any reason to assume it gets better? The answer is, it probably doesn’t.
Also, the message I tried to convey in HOOKED was that it isn’t just the beginning that’s important—it’s important to use the elements in a great beginning all the way through.
LE: As my hip son Mike describes me to his mates, his dad is so “five minutes” ago in my knowledge of pop culture, so I have to admit I don’t know who Donattella Versace is. Don’t have clue one! Is that bad? I really don’t—don’t know as I’ve ever heard the name. It’s like that person named Britney Spears—I am aware she exists and appears on TV for some reason—singing? acting? having sex with donkeys?–but if she walked in the room right now, I wouldn’t know who she was. I do know who Trump is (that’s sad, isn’t it!), and as a hair designer myself of almost 40 years, I don’t know as I’ve ever heard anyone claim to be his stylist. I’m led to assume that he visits military bases and gets his haircuts from military barbers who are used to the egos of colonels and generals and are used to delivering those swoop-arounds. I don’t think it matters much to him—he’s kind of like Charlie Sheen—practices a kind of checkbook attractiveness to the opposite sex.
JUST LIKE THAT by Les Edgerton has everything a crime fiction fan could want. Great dialogue, whipcrack scenes and meaty characters haul you along on a harboiled crime road-trip worthy of the Elmore Leonard and Joe R Lansdale. A shot to the heart as well as the head, JUST LIKE THAT is highly recommended.
The BLURB:’ Les Edgerton’s buddy novel, JUST LIKE THAT, is based on an actual trip he took with an ex-prison cellmate under similar circumstances as protagonist Jake Mayes does in this narrative. The scenes in Pendleton are also based on true experiences he had while incarcerated. Approximately 85% of the novel is taken from real life.
Jake and his pal Bud’s journey begins six months after he is released on parole and is occasioned when his girlfriend Donna dumps him and aborts their child. After an aborted suicide attempt where the Norelco shaver cord he used to hang himself broke, on an impulse—the source of the title; everything in Jake’s life happens “just like that”—he calls up Bud, who lives by the same credo, and the two take off with no particular destination in mind. They’re just going “south”–somewhere where it’s warm. An hour before they leave, Jake on another impulse, holds up a convenience store to get some traveling money.
Ultimately, they end up in New Orleans and then Lake Charles, Louisiana and from there, back to Indiana.
Along the way are many “watercooler” moments, such as when an inmate sinks a meat cleaver into another inmate’s blue-clad stomach, a physical encounter with two rednecks in Kentucky where Bud shoots one of the men, the bullet bouncing harmlessly off the man’s thick skull, Jake’s ongoing romance with Donna, the funeral of Jake’s father which he attends with a whore, multiple burglaries, armed robberies, a brief affair with a black woman, and an adventure with a drunk Santa Claus. Near the end Jake takes another fall when he is caught burglarizing a bar back in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and gets shot in the leg and is returned to Pendleton where he kills the inmate he’d had a nasty encounter during his first stay in prison. In the process, Jake’s philosophy of life undergoes a sea change and he comes up with this:
Portions of JUST LIKE THAT have previously appeared as short stories in the literary magazines High Plains Literary Review, Murdaland, and Flatmancrooked. The story that appeared in High Plains was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was selected for inclusion in Houghton-Mifflin’s “Best American Mystery Stories, 2001.”
As a note of possible interest, Cathy Johns, the P.R. Director and Assistant Warden of The Farm (the infamous Louisiana state prison at Angola) read this novel and told Edgerton that he’d captured the true spirit of the criminal mind better than anything she’d ever read.’