Monday, June 30, 2008

Who is this guy Piccirilli?

Tom Piccirilli recently showed up on my radar. I was killing time (it was giving me dirty looks so I fucked time up) at Barnes & Noble in the mystery section when Ken Bruen's name popped out at me while I was in the P's. It turned out that Bruen did an intro to Piccirlli's THE FEVER KILL. In said intro I found out that Piccirilli is an extremely prolific writer of horror and western novels who has recently forayed into noir. Cool.

Problem was, The Fever Kill was untested, 184 pages and $16.95 in paperback. That is too much of a gamble for me, thanks. Call me cheap but...yeah I'm cheap. Fuck you. I did however manage to find another new Piccirilli in mass market paperback form over in the Fiction/Literature section called The Cold Spot for the winning price of $6.99 that had even more praises covering it by authors I love (Bruen, Starr, Gischler, Swierczynski).

The Cold Spot started out really solid. A crew is playing cards after a successful heist when one of the members, an old hard-ass named Jonah, whips out a gun and plugs some dude in the temple. Jonah's grandson Chase didn't know about the hit and is both pissed and afraid, so much so that he ditches the crew and takes up with a string (a mercenary form or a crew). From here the book sucks for about a hundred pages as Chase builds a life with the sheriff's daughter and they do cute shit together and blah, blah, blah until she's murdered and Chase must take revenge with the help of his estranged crazy grandfather.

Now, we need that build up of the relationship of Chase and his wife. It has to be there and it probably has to be as long as it is. But if I hadn't had the ringing endorsements of authors I love I would have tossed this book aside around the time Chase wrassles with his lady love's cantankerous hick father to prove he'll do right by her. But I'm glad I stuck it out.

Piccirilli has created his own cool little world of crime that I'd like to hang around in a lot more. His scams and heists are fascinating and fresh with little details that make them pop. His action scenes hit hard and deep to make you sick and his characters are crazy enough and tough enough for any true noir fan. AND it looks like we have a sequel on the way. Count me in. I'll buy it for sure.

Maybe Piccirilli will even have a trilogy rocking for us and that first boring part will have provided enough exposition for us to chug through two more books of awesome shit similar to THE COLD SPOT's second half. Either way, I have 6.99 and tax with your name on it, THE COLDEST MILE.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coen Brothers BURN AFTER READING Poster on-line!

This poster kicks some major ass. Reminds me of the poster for Vertigo.

I wish more studios would take risks with their marketing like this. The last time I can recall such an awesome poster was when the Grindhouse movies came out. Before that it was probably Out of Sight's groovy little gem. Now if only there was a DVD of that motherfucker with the poster on the packaging...

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Jack Taylor is still taking all the punishment Ken Bruen can think up in his dirty little mind in Cross, the sixth novel in the Jack Taylor P.I. series. At the end of the previous novel Priest I recall thinking to myself that at this point it would actually be more shocking if something really blissfully wonderful happened to Taylor instead of something soul-crushing. That may happen in a later book but certainly not in Cross.

A boy has been crucified in Galway and lesbian policewoman Ridge asks Taylor for a hand with the investigation. Taylor certainly has time for it, seeing how he's given up the drink and does nothing with his days but feel the agony of guilt over the shooting of his surrogate son, an incident that he was responsible for. But this being a Bruen novel, the investigation takes a backseat to the way life seems to fuck you every chance it gets.

Bruen is a genuine original in the copycat world of noir. He seamlessly infuses post-modern self-consciousness with the beloved cliches of the hardboiled detective to create something all his own. The prose is tight, the atmosphere blacker than black, the story is organic but filled with violence, and above all: the books are darkly hilarious. Jack Taylor, along with being one of the most depressive characters of all time, also has a rapid-fire wit on par with Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie. Even though this series is all about guilt and the loss of innocence, you can't help but be entertained by Jack's sense of humor. Jack's willingness to take his coal-black brand of justice all the way doesn't hurt either.

But when it comes down to it, I can't really reccomend Cross unless you've read everything that came before it. The order of the series is as follows:

The Guards
The Killing of the Tinkers
The Magdalen Martyrs
The Dramatist

I really consider them all one work. It almost makes no sense to read them otherwise. And if you like Taylor, you should try Bruen's slightly cheekier, crazier series about Seargant Brant, a corrupt Brixton policeman with no regard for rules or social decorum. In order they are:

The White Trilogy

There is a lot to read in the Bruen oeuvre (yeah, I'm a douche) but don't be intimidated, his books are short and sweet and are easy to plow through in just a few days (hours, if you have an afternoon free). Now if only the cover prices would reflect the length...fucking trade paperbacks.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Admittedly, I was late to the party on Charlie Huston. I had heard good things, heard people mention him alonside others of the new school like Jason Starr and Ken Bruen, but had never given him a chance. His first novel Caught Stealing was given to me Christmas of '06. Since pretty much all I ever want for Christmas is books, it took me a while to get around to it. Then about a year ago I picked it up...and pretty much couldn't put it down until I was finished. I caught up with Huston real quick after that.

Caught Stealing is book one of a trilogy of novels known as the Hank Thompson Trilogy. The trilogy includes Six Bad Things, and A Dangerous Man. Basically, the books are about a hard-luck bartender and all the shit he has to go through over a few million dollars in gangster money. It starts out with some classic Hitchcock "wrong man" shennanigans and then escalates over the books to the point that he is a reluctant hitman with an addiction to painkillers and a surgically modified face.

Through all the craziness and ultra-violence (and I mean "ultra" - his graphic violence is second only to McCarthy's Blood Meridian), the beautifully terse sentences and no bullshit plotting, we have Hank Thompson, possibly the best noir hero ever written (up there with Pete Bondurant of James Ellroy's so to be completed American Underworld Trilogy).

The transformation we see Hank goes through is the key to these books. Though throughout this regular guy ends up killing an endless amount of people (in the best action scenes ever written), he still is consistently someone we root for, sympathize with. In the first book he just wants to stay alive. In the second book, he just wants to keep his parents alive. In the final installment, he is looking for some small amount of redemption, some peace.

Huston thus far has seven books widely available:

a standalone: THE SHOTGUN RULE

I will talk about about the Joe Pitt books later but those and SHOTGUN RULE are just as exciting as the Hank books. In case you hadn't inferred as much from my discussion of the extreme violence of these books, Charlie Huston is not for Murder She Wrote fans. Honestly, it doesn't get any more hard-boiled, more violent, more disturbing than Charlie Huston.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Severance Package is out!

Duane Swierczynski is a fairly new writer. He broke onto the scene a couple years ago with The Wheelman, then later popped up with The Blonde...but then we had to wait. And wait. And fucking WAIT. I had heard about Severance Package well over a year before it came out and I was pumped. But why didn't anything come out in 2007?

Being a crime fiction fan is pretty easy. You pick your favorite authors and just wait for them to throw shit at you once you've caught up. Allan Guthrie has been a steady one-book-a-year guy. So has Jason Starr and George Pelecanos...until 2007, that is. Ken Bruen seems to crap brilliant novels and the great Charlie Huston pops out two a year like the fucking champ he truly is. But Swierczy, the guy had too long a gap. Fucking St. Martin's.

But the good news is, I got to read his latest back around Christmas thanks to Richard Katz of Mystery One throwing an A.R.C. my way. It wasn't the cool one I saw on Swierczynski's site where the cover looks like a termination pink slip but it was still pretty badass. And I read that thing in a day - no shit.

I remember sitting in a restaurant with a friend that day and she had to take a call so I busted out Severance Package and she ended up making a few other calls. It's that good. Swierczynski has one of those styles that people are developing right now where it doesn't even really feel like you're reading a book but watching a kick-ass movie. And this high-concept craziness would be perfect for a midnight movie in a fucked up old theater with a big dank balcony.

The entire thing takes place one Saturday morning when a bunch of employees are called into work for a meeting. At the meeting the boss reveals that he has been given the orders from above that everyone in the small company is to be dead terminated. They can either drink the peaceful-time kool-aid or be shot. Try and get out via elevator or fire doors, you get hosed by the poisonous gas primed into the doorframes from the outside. Everyone must go, boss included, no exceptions. Doesn't get much more high-concept than that, right?

From there it is basically a bunch of hot chicks in business suits kicking the shit out of each other. Things are revealed things are withheld and everything is fucking brutal and a hell of a lot of fun. In other words, it's a movie just dying to be made.

But then again, his other two books were the same way and we have yet to see anything become of it yet. The Blonde was about a guy injected with nanomachines that will make him spontaneously combust if he is not within ten feet of another human being at all times. The Wheelman was abou a mute getaway driver trying to make it out of Philadelphia alive following the aftermath of a botched bank robbery. Swierczy is all about ridiculous and crazy and Severance Package might be his most entertaining yet. It is violent, funny, cinematic and, in its own warped way, very smart. And - one of my favorite things mentioned earlier - it takes place in his own universe (or Swierczyverse) that has been established over the course of the previous two books. You don't have to be familiar with the two preceding it, but if you are there are little connections and surprises ahead of you.

So the summer of noir has begun! All the way into September we'll be getting new books from Allan Guthrie, Victor Gischler, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Charlie Huston and the latest from the brilliant duo: Ken Bruen and Jason Starr!

Saturday, June 7, 2008


You know you have a problem when the delayed release of a comic book totally fucks your shit up. I recently had such an experience when there was no new issue of Criminal in May. It's sad but every Wednesday in May I would come home empty-handed after a trip to The Source (corner of Snelling and Larpenteur in St. Paul), the only exception being when the new Scalped came out. I went in today, a Saturday, expecting disappointment and coming out with a smile on my face and a comic in my sweaty hands.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are two talented sons of bitches after my own dark, nerdy heart. They know noir inside and out and it shows on the page. Brubaker's plotting is not about the flash and cartoonish violence of Frank Miller's Sin City books, but realistic characters caught up in intense, believable and bloody situations. The drawings bring to mind classic movie posters and pulp paperback covers while also managing to be grittier, retain a certain authenticity and edge. A five issue arc (two of which are available now in trade paperback: Coward and Lawless makes a dork like myself imagine that there could be a whole series of movies made with this material, that all one would have to do is just film the comic word for word, page for page and voila you have a 105 minute movie. They say it isn't that simple, but I refuse to believe it. Just imagine:

directed by John Huston

Okay, so maybe zombie John Huston directing is a bit of a stretch but it would still be cool to see movies made out of these books. Brubaker and Phillips do what cool writers like Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, Quentin Tarantino, and Frank Miller have been doing for years: They work within their own world. There is something extremely exciting to me about an author's own universe, the idea that everything they do is connected in some way. A lot of authors beat their characters into the ground by having them going through the same shit book after book (look at Moseley, Connelly, Cornwell, MacDonald, Block, Patterson - pretty much any successful mystery writer) but when you have your own UNIVERSE it doesn't seem to get old. When a character from Pelecanos's Shoe Dog shows up nearly a decade later in his Hell to Pay it makes you smile, you say to yourself, "So Shoe Dog was not really a stand-alone, it was all part of a greater work. Hell, EVERYTHING is all one story, it's like some TV show where every book is simply a different season."

That is how Criminal works. Yeah, I'd be happy with Lawless having his own entire series because he's such a badass, but having him occasionally show up in other things is much more effective, makes you intrigued by him all the more. Like Omar Little from The Wire: Yeah, Omar having his own show would have been fucking cool, but by just having him pop up here and there, he was that much more special, tha much more exciting to see. It wasn't like you turned on the TV and said, "What's Omar up to this week." Instead you'd be watching and suddenly it was like, "Oh shit! It's Omar! Fucking Awesome!"
Now we're all over the place so let me get focused again...what were we talking about? Criminal and how cool a comic it is. That's right. So the other thing to bear in mind about this series is that the issues MATTER. Yeah, like most comics you could be a douche and just wait for the trades to come out so you can get them at Barnes & Noble and not wade through chubby ginger kids at the comic store, but then you're missing out on the articles! Every issue Brubaker talks about some cool new DVD or book or whatever the fuck at the end of the issue (this week he discussed having a talk with the immortal JASON STARR!!!) along with a contributing writer of undoubted awesomeness (Patton Oswalt did one a couple issues ago) throwing up an essay, usually on a favorite movie. This month, either coincidentally or on purpose, the article was about the late, great Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza. Funny thing is, I was thinking about writing a post about this film myself, seeing how it is the director's most hard-boiled effort, but decided against it after reading the article seeing how he lays it all out there for you. I couldn't have said it better myself.

So in conclusion, if you claim to like noir and have not picked up an issue of Criminal yet, you are a poseur. Next month starts a new five issue cycle and I urge you, thirty-eight pointed behind your right ear urge, to grab a copy. First week of the month every month (except for May, the fucking assholes).