Sunday, December 28, 2008

RUMINATING IN MY PANTS #4: The Nerd Goes All Dave Barry On Your Asses

Since all kinds of good shit comes out at Christmas, I've been Johnny-Theater-Go even more than usual as of late (I usually go to the movies once a week at minimum). I just had a bad theater experience yesterday at a matinee of Doubt so this little story here amused me probably more than it should have.

If you're the type that says "fuck links," I'll describe the story in brief. A dude shot another dude in Philly for talking during Benjamin Button. SHOT HIM RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOVIE! Now, don't worry, my sensitive readers: the talker lived.

The real question is: Did he learn his lesson?

Now the irony is obviously that, by shooting the talker, the serious movie-goer caused an arguably greater disruption to the other patrons than the original movie talker. But still, every theater should put this story up in the lobby on a large poster. This would not be a threat that, you know, talk in the movie and your ass will be shot. No, it would be more of a word of warning that shit can go down when you gab through the fucking film.

Now, my old man has a theory about silencing talkers and it is based on this little anecdote from years ago:

We were going to a movie and a couple near us was talking during the opening credits, hell not even, it was like the fucking studio logo had just gone up on the screen and this couple was talking. Not that big of an offense, right? Not yet, anyhow.

Well, this old dude sitting in front of them fucking STOOD UP and turned around and said, "NOW. YOU TWO AREN'T GOING TO TALK THROUGH THE WHOLE DAMN MOVIE, ARE YOU?!" in this loud fucking voice, so everyone could hear.

Well, that did it. I didn't hear a peep out of anyone for the whole movie.

So basically Pops' theory is this: Establish before the movie begins that you are indeed the craziest motherfucker in the whole fucking theater and then, you know, nobody will test you.

That obviously requires that you have no self-awareness whatsoever but, really, what are the odds that somebody in the room knows you? Pretty slim, unless it's the only movie theater in town, I suppose.

But as someone who has politely "shushed" people before, I can tell you that that doesn't cut it. The offender just thinks you're a bitch, someone who should mind their own damn business. And you could go get the theater manager and they will usually gladly usher that talking motherfucker out of the theater, but then you're going to miss some of the movie and disrupt everyone's experience even more with the (admittedly satisfying) scene. So basically we need an army of citizen crazies out there to keep the peace and quiet in our nation's theaters.

Step up, imaginary public. Step the fuck up and dare your fellow patrons to breathe one fucking word during Bedtime Stories (okay, so if you go to a kid's movie you have to expect that little kids are going to chat through the movie, but still, I wish I could have seen Bolt in peace. That was a good movie.).

It should be said that by-and-large I am a devoted matinee man, so the audiences I get are generally pretty good - fellow devoted nerds and serious movie-goers like myself. But another thing you have to expect during matinees is the goddamn elderly.

I don't know how so many of the self-proclaimed "greatest generation" have managed to skate through life with shitty manners, but Jesus Christ. I've learned to avoid sitting near any couple or group over sixty-five, but you know, their hearing is often poor and therefore their talking is especially fucking loud. And it's always roughly the same phrases I hear every incident:

"What's going on? What did that mean? Who's he?"

I honestly feel that theaters should hand out a pamphlet to every customer with their ticket stub that explains the following rules of all movies:

"If you are at any point confused about the plot, take notice that if you have been even marginally attentive during the film, you are indeed not missing anything. Chances are that everyone in the theater is just as confused as you are. But do not fret because we have a secret for you, retarded theater-goer, and it is this: the twist will be explained to you within the next few minutes. This is how all movies work. Most people figure this out after the first few hundred movies they view, but you are apparently not very up-on-the-quick-take."

Just a simple little pamphlet would do, with large lettering for the poor of sight. I guarantee it would cut down on talking levels by forty-eight percent within the first month alone.

But to get back to The Travis Bickle of Theater-Goers: Learn from his mistakes. His heart was in the right place (and his head was in fucking Crazy-Town, U.S.A.) but his execution (poor word choice) was off:

Despite what badasses in the movies say ("Don't pull that thing out unless you intend to use it."), sometimes all you need to do is show them the gun. Just be sure to do it before the movie starts.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Craig McDonald's Toros & Torsos

About a year ago, it seemed anybody with even the slightest interest in crime fiction was talking my ear off about Head Games, the debut novel from Craig McDonald. When it finally reached the top of my TBR pile, I quickly realized why. Head Games was fast, funny, original, violent, well-researched, and a fucking hoot to boot.

A few months back marked the arrival of McDonald's Toros & Torsos, the prequel to Head Games, and I barely heard shit about it. The fuck is up with that, reading public? How'd you drop the fucking ball so quickly, how fickle can you faceless masses be? Because, no goddamn joke, T&T is even better than Head Games, a feat that I didn't think possible until, you know, I read it.

So if you're not familiar with Head Games you have to do two things for me:

1) Pull your head out of your ass.

2) Read the shit out of that motherfucker toot-fucking-sweet.

We last saw Hector Lassiter, the crime novelist protagonist of Head Games, shooting the minions of Prescott Bush to keep Pancho Villa's head out of the hands of a bunch of Yale alumnis. In Toros & Torsos Hector is a much younger man of thirty-five, hanging out in Key West with Hemmingway, sipping Mojitos and seducing women. This simple life of writing, drinking and fucking is rocked by the arrival of the stunning Rachel Harper, a huge fucking hurricane, and a bunch of butchered bodies that resemble certain works of surrealist art....

From there story spans over a quarter of a decade and along the way we meet tons of famous figures - the names of which I will not reveal because, well, it's a major part of the fun of the book. I will say that we do get to hang with Orson Welles once more, only younger, thinner, and apparently involved in one of the most famous murders of all time (it's a fucking brilliant plot twist).

T&T definitely does the alternative history thing a la James Ellroy, same as Head Games, and the book is just as much fun as it predecessor, but in different ways. Head Games was sort of like if McCarthy's No Country For Old Men had a sense of humor and a bunch of fun noir pop culture mixed into the plot. Toros & Torsos takes its time compared to Head Games, but it is a better novel for it. Also, there is not nearly as many bloody action sequences either. And it's more of a mystery/serial killer thing than a crime novel.

Yeah, I know. You're wondering, "Well, Nerd, if it's a mystery, a (sigh) serial killer thing, not as violent, and has a more deliberate plot, just why the fuck are you telling me that this a better novel than Head Games?" Fair question, imaginary, highly-incisive reader.

Fair question indeed, old friend.

The answer is actually a disgusting cliche that the Nerd fucking hates more than Dane Cook:

"Toros & Torsos is a novel one savors."

I fucking know, right? That word "savor" just makes you want to stab someone (well, I admittedly have a problem with nearly every word that is involved with food, but that might just be me). Anyhow, it's true. This book was just like getting a chance to spend time with a bunch of awesome historical characters from the literary, art and (especially exciting for The Nerd) cinematic worlds of the past.

McDonald has clearly researched a shit ton and it pays off - there is never a moment where you say "Hem wouldn't say that" or "Orson wouldn't do a thing like that." Though they may not have actually done and said the things they do and say in Toros & Torsos (at least let's hope not, anyway), you don't ever doubt that they could have.

But not only is there an all-out fucking buffet of cool characters for any geek to shit their pants over, but there's this fucking genius mystery plot holding it all together, this just brilliant, un-forced way to allow the reader the opportunity to be in all these awesome places in these amazing times with these iconic characters - it's a pretty fucking astounding feat, really.

And it's not like we're not in Forrest Gump-land either where we just drift along until someone else cool runs into Gump. No, there's this fucking tightly constructed, bloody thriller plot holding it all together. And then the horrible, shocking, satisfying, disgusting choices that Lassiter eventually has to make at the end? It's just so quietly brilliant, so fucking subtly bold an ending. But it's all just the fucking icing, man.

So yeah. Toros & Torsos is ridiculously awesome and I have my fingers and fucking toes crossed that McDonald will do at least one more Lassiter book because I'm not done hanging out in his beautiful, dark, violent world.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ken Bruen's ONCE WERE COPS (The Nerd Rage Edition)

I've posted many a rave review about Ken Bruen on the site and I'm sure some of my devoted readers (there has to be a couple of you out there) were wondering just when the Nerd would get off his ass and review Once Were Cops, the latest book sure to win "the Ryan Adams of the crime fiction world" yet even more fans. Well, I'll tell you what was up with the delay, dear readers, I'll tell you toot-fucking-sweet:

I waited for it to arrive at my local library.

Now you're saying to yourself: Nerd, what the fuck? Why don't you support Bruen monetarily? You dig his books and want him to keep on trucking so why don't you cough up the fucking bucks already?

Well, my answer is this: Have you looked at the hardcover of Once Were Cops? It is the biggest waste of trees I have ever seen - and I was a creative writing major (I may have just lost some peer editors with that one...)! His epigrams that appear before every new chapter apparently have to appear on the right-hand page and same goes for the beginning of the fresh chapter. Therefore, if a chapter ends on page forty-one you have a blank forty-two, an epigram on forty-three, another blank forty-four, then finally the new chapter on forty-five. That is three wasted pages, seeing how the epigram could just have gone on the new chapter page! What the fuck!?

And then there's the actual layout of pages themselves. There is a space between every paragraph - and loyal readers know that Bruen RARELY does paragraphs anymore so in other words there's a space between every fucking sentence! American readers have become used to this from St. Martin's hardcovers of his Taylor novels, but never to this ridiculous extreme. It has gone too far, I say! Too bloody fucking farrrr!!!

Okay, I have collected myself. Deep breath.

Let me offer an alternative, good people at St. Martin's: Why not do mass market (the horror!) versions with tricked out covers and designs for Bruen's books for awhile. I mean, the dude seems to shit awesome novels and now has a pretty sizeable base of readers - so why not? If you use some creative juice, it could be a whole new thing in publishing.

And I'm not saying you should totally rip off Hard Case either.

Nobody does mass markets that look sharp and wrap around the spine the way they do with hardcovers and trade paperbacks anymore - so start the trend. Enough with this 22.95-for-a-"three-hundred"-page-book-when-we-all-fucking-know-it's-more-like-a-one-fifty-page-novella-at-best bullshit. The economy's a little tight, and therefore the book budget is tight too. Keep this up and we're gonna look elsewhere.

And don't give me the "quality over quantity" bullshit. It doesn't float here. I have to pay the same price for a Carol Higgins Clark for dear old gram as I do for a Ken Bruen therefore there is no fucking quality over quantity argument. It's about the product, the weight, the dimensions, the materials, the shipping, etc. Don't fuck with me, youse.


On to the actual review! Waddaya say?

Once Were Cops is some solid shit, a nice break from the steadily increasing bleakness of the Taylor novels and the steadily increasing ridiculousness of the Brant novels. We follow young Shea as he makes his way from being Galway Guard (after a brief chat with Jack Taylor, establishing that the novels are in the same world, for those who don't remember) to the NYPD thanks to some dirt he has on a corrupt Galwegian politician. There he is partnered up with Kebar, a dirty Polack cop with one of them attitude problems.

Turns out both these fellas have some nasty secrets.

Shea's is that he is a serial killer whose MO is strangling pretty women with swan-like necks with green rosary beads. Kebar's is that he has a beautiful sister with a swan-like neck and a mind like a five-year-0ld living in a fancy nursing home, an expense that Kebar pays for with his mob money. Wouldn't you know it? These two secrets collide!

It's sick, dark stuff that reads hyper-fast and, thanks to Bruen's knack with rules-be-damned-post-modern-surprises, is...surprising. It will no doubt win him some new fans and please old ones, but it isn't the opus I've been reading about as I waited for the library to buy the damned book already. No, that title still belongs to American Skin, the greatest use of Bruen's gifts thus far.

However, it should be said that there were a few quibbles I had with some of Bruen's "Americanese," some dialogue in particular that didn't ring true (a certain character saying "tarnation" made me wince), and the timeline gets murky in the middle of the novel (Shea's romance with Nora progresses really quickly and how long is Kebar off on a bender?)...

But that said, this is probably the most satisfying of his novels since American Skin so yeah, it's pretty solid stuff, almost worth the trees needlessly wasted in its printing (wow, that reads harsh if you just skipped to the bottom for a recap).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Catching Up #17: QUEENPIN by Megan Abbott

The crazy thing about Megan Abbott's Edgar Award-winning Queenpin is that it reads like it could have actually been written fifty years ago. Take out a couple F-words and this baby could have been written back in the good old days of crime pulp, no sweat. But the crazier thing is this: Despite its prose style and lack of swears (I'm five years old), it doesn't feel neutered or cozy in the least. In fact, this book hits hard and it hits low and it hits fucking often. It's a doozy-and-a-fucking-half.

The plot is simple in the way the best noirs always are (as in it isn't really simple at all, but it seems simple enough initially). We follow a young woman as she is taken under the wing of a legendary (and legendarily violent) moll named Gloria Denton. She used to hang with Luciano and the rest back in the early Vegas days, has a big-time rep.

Anyhow, Denton takes this young woman - our unnamed narrator - in and shows her the ropes of collections and numbers running, shows her how to be tough and professional in a man's world. She gets her some nice clothes and sweet digs and turns her into a younger, prettier version of herself. Thing is, our young heroine can't keep her legs closed, despite her mentor's persistent warnings. So when she falls for a low-life gambler named Vic who's in deep to a local boss, she decides to do the unthinkable - cross the volatile Gloria to save her boyfriend's ass.

Abbott is obviously a student of old pulp and classic film noir as Queenpin is drenched in hipster lingo from a by-gone era and brimming with the sass of every great femme fatale ever projected on a silver screen (see, I can write the purple shit when I have to). But as with the best in the noir tradition, her stylistic choices only serve to enhance the storytelling, not bog down the pace. This mother is as tight and sleek as a Boetticher western (the fuck did that reference come from?).

Queenpin is unlike anything I've read in quite sometime. It is simultaneously an exciting original in the genre and a reverential homage (GENRE and HOMAGE in the same sentence? Double your French douche-ery!). It is both a restrained exercise and completely unbridled darkness. Why Abbott wasn't interviewed by Terry Gross or Michael Silverblatt or some other yuppie culture icon after this book came out is beyond me. This is the cross-over book of the decade - something for both the NPR set and the hard-core-lone-gunmen-noir-crazies of the world.

In other words, you should read the shit out of it, dear reader. Read the shit out of it but good.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Vicki Hendricks, where have you been all my life? I just finished Ms. Hendricks' debut from the mid-nineties Miami Purity and sweet Jesus was it up my alley. I plowed through this fucker in toot-sweet and wanted more when it ended.

Hendricks doesn't hold back on anything - sex (especially sex), violence, creepy/disturbing/disgusting stuff - she takes it all the way, pushes the reader's tolerance past the normal limit until you're just shaking your head at the depravity of it all. In other words, I dug it something fierce.

We follow Sherri, a bartender/stripper in her mid-thirties looking for a change in sunny Miami. She's spent her life thus far working sleazy jobs and fucking sleazy men and thinks she has found salvation when she comes across a Help Wanted sign at the Miami Purity laundry - a Help Wanted sign and handsome manager with a gigantic cock named Payne Mahoney.

Payne seems innocent and sweet and totally fuckable, but is lorded over by the owner of Miami Purity Brenda Mahoney, his mother. Sherri becomes obsessed with Payne, envisioning him as the opposite of everything she's ever been apart of - good Catholic, a mama's boy, beautiful, tidy, etc. Now if only his drunken bitch mom weren't around...

The story basically plays like The Postman Always Rings Twice only with the roles reversed and the narrator is a white trash. And it's packed with graphic sex. And graphic violence. And is totally disgusting. For those out there not familiar with James M. Cain, think of Miami Purity as a blue collar Jason Starr novel. For those of you not familiar with Jason Starr, how the hell did you end up on this site?

So yeah, sort of a short one this time out but I honestly don't have anything more to say about the boy, primarily because I'll run the risk of ruining some nasty surprises. The Nerd of Noir just doesn't want to be that guy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ruminating In My Pants #3: The Crime-Centered Art-House-Thriller/Crime-Centered-Literary-Thriller

When perusing the newspaper for movie listings (oh print, you silly antiquated thing, you) for movie times, rare is the instance when you find a noir/crime film to attend. Hell, for that matter you barely even find action movies or straight-up thrillers (and aside from last year's Fracture you almost never see a courtroom thriller anymore - remember when those were HUGE, kids?). But there is one thing you almost always find - and they are usually pretty fucking awesome - and that is what I call the Crime-Centered-Art-House-Thriller or CCAHT.

These are much like the Crime-Centered-Literary-Thrillers you find in the New York Times Book Review every week, only in movie form (wow, that is some redudant shit right there. I apparently think that you, dear reader, are an idiot). Patron authors of these are such critical darlings as Russell Banks, Pete Dexter, Richard Price, James Carlos Blake, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy,and now noir fan fave Dennis Lehane has recently joined the ranks.

These authors write dark, masculine, violent stories that would make any crime fan get a boner, but they manage not to be lumped in with the critically poo-poo-ed "genre writers" simply because they often center their stories around historical events. Basically, you take a crime novel and sprinkle a J. Edgar Hoover here, a dash of Jesse James there, package it in a classy cover and voila! you have a crime novel fit for yuppie consumption.

I'm a big fan of that stuff too and when I'm not reading stuff for the blog, I've generally got my acne-scarred nose in one of their many books because non-fiction frightens me unless it is about filmmaking (Ebert's new book on Scorsese is awesome, but could use some stills or production photos at the very least, by the way.). But the film equivalent of this literature phenomenon works a bit differently, it seems.

Films that I would qualify as part of the CCAHT genre from recent years would be ones such as Shotgun Stories, No Country For Old Men, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The King, Zodiac, In Bruges, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, In The Bedroom, Snow Angels, Transsiberian, and Eastern Promises.

Most of these films feature big stars and have heavy talent behind the camera, and a large number of them are also adapted from CCLTs as well, but they often find themselves strictly screened at your local Landmark Theatre (and unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you're SO-fucking-L until it's available on Netflix). CCAHTs also pop up frequently at the Academy Awards and on the major critics' top ten lists, much like the CCLTs often garner similar awards and critical notices in the book world.

Unlike the CCLTs, CCAHTs don't have to always be historical to be considered part of the pack. Mainly, they have to not just be violent, but explore the nature of violence and blah-blah-bullshit-blah. This is where I roll my eyes until the retinas detach. With both CCLTs and CCAHTs there seems to be this idea that they have higher-minded goals than crime/noir fiction. While this is sometimes true, it is more often not the case.

Can you honestly claim that a Pelecanos novel explores violence any less probingly than The Darling by Russell Banks? Or that Before The Devil Knows You're Dead has more grandeur and tragedy than the goings-on of The Grifters? The answer is no, in case you're wondering.

You can even do the flipside with this argument too. Is the violence any less exciting and lurid in Dexter's Train than it is in Swierczynski's Severance Package? Is No Country For Old Men not as visceral and gory as the Coens's earlier effort, Blood Simple? For answer, see above paragraph.

We do need labels to some extent because, well, shit needs to be marketed. That is obviously what labels and genres and markets and demographics all come down to: reaching the appropriate audience. But I don't see the point of giving these labels and genres "worth," making one or the other greater than/less than. After all, as far as movies go, unless you see the movies mentioned above which are packaged ever so high-mindedly, you're not really catching any decent crime shit at all. Those are practically all there is for crime nerds anymore!

But for books, I'd lat least ike to see more endcaps at Barnes & Noble where some of the CCLT writers are lumped in with folks like Pelecanos, Guthrie, Bruen, and Huston. Somebody's gotta bridge the gap, and since publisher's aren't about to do it, it's apparently up to booksellers and library employees. Well, those folks and certain brilliant bloggers with too much time on their hands.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ruminating In My Pants #2: The Teen/Tween Reader

With the enormous success of the lameness that is Twilight comes much master-debating by bloggers across the nerd fiefdom that is the inter-web. Harry Potter and Twilight have managed to capture the imaginations of many a budding reader, and no matter what my objections to either series, you have to say that this is a good thing. The shit of it is, though, that the success of said crapsterpieces hasn't inspired said budding readers to venture out much beyond those two authors.

Now I might not be the best person to solve this issue but that doesn't mean I ain't got no opinion (The Nerd always has an opinion, and it is always the right one). When I was a boy, I wasn't much for young adult fiction. I figured that if I was going to invest my time in a three hundred page book, it may as well have been written by someone who wasn't pandering to my age group with childish morals and unadventurous storytelling. So instead of reading Johnny Tremaine and the R.L. Stine canon, I read Stephen King and Lawrence Block. They were easy to read and their profanity, sex and violence was just what I needed to feel slightly edgy, slightly badass in my fiction choices.

Now, I know what you're saying, dear reader. Your monocle has shattered and you are raising your index finger in admonishment, declaring, "My dear Nerd, what of the morals of the young children? Will not their young minds be thoroughly warped?" To this I say only this: Yes. Of course they will be. And that is a good thing.

Do you fucking know what Twilight is? It is about abstinence vampires. It is a primer for girls to eventually read romance novels. Twilight is fucking sexless romance and testicle-less vampires. If there is a greater literary crime I have yet to hear of it.

If it takes some titillation to get kids to read so fucking be it. Do you want them not to pick up a novel until the next Da Vinci Code comes around? No, no you do fucking not. I would rather they read about blood and guts than they read some toothless bullshit and figure that's what all reading is like so why should they bother reading at all?

When you're a kid you want a little bit of danger, you want to push the limits a bit. What better arena than books? It's good for you, it's cheap entertainment, and the initial love of some good old fashioned trash might later lead them to be more adventurous and then finally tackle the hoidy-toidy canonical works.

If I were a middle school English teacher and wanted to get a twelve year old boy excited (if the sentence ended right here I'd be a bit of a paedo) to read I would toss him a copy of The Road. It is short, it is violent, it's an adventure, and it's a minor challenge. I really think that it should be the new middle school book instead of Lord of the Flies, though that one is still extremely solid.

Now, I cannot write off all teen fiction (though I'd like to). I remember feeling that sense of danger, that sense of getting away with something from the author Christopher Pike when I was a kid. A few of his books were pretty much straight-up noirs that felt exciting and edgy, like glorious dark pulpy trash. Gimme a Kiss, Die Softly, The Wicked Heart - that shit was a rush when I was a kid.

Let young readers feel like they are getting away with something. Remember how everybody knew what page Anne Frank talked about "touching bosoms" in her diary? Or how shocked you were to find a discussion of "beating off" in The Chocolate War? It's that sense of "adultness" that I think inspires certain kinds of readers. You'll always have your boys who like sci-fi/fantasy shit and you'll always have lame-shit series that girls will eat up like fucking candy, but for everyone else you need to foster that sense of danger, that sense that you have to read under the covers with your flashlight so your parents won't catch you reading such filth. That stuff warps minds. It develops nerds. It sprouts lifelong readers.

It worked for The Nerd of Noir.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Catching Up #15: RILKE ON BLACK by KEN BRUEN

My pimping of Serpent's Tail books continues with Rilke on Black, Ken Bruen's debut novel. Before I get into it, dig that awesomely homoerotic cover. I wish the copy I'd picked up had that cover so that people would think I was reading some sort of strange gay erotica (clearly of the rape fantasy kind). I mean, I'd already been harassed by people in coffee shops thinking I was a homophobe for reading a book called Fags and Lager so why not even everything out by looking like I was totally gay? Serpent's Tail certainly goes out of its way to make things socially awkward for the self-conscious American male reader, you've got to give them that.

The story of a kidnapping gone awry (is there any other kind of kidnapping?), Rilke on Black is classic Bruen. It is obsessed with high and low pop culture, filled with sharp dialogue, spare in its prose and dark, dark, dark. But there are some things that definitely set it apart from what was to come later.

What fascinated me the most was how Bruen's use of pop culture quotes - lines from poems, songs, novels and films - actually had a reason for being in the book for once. I mean, I'm not against Captain Epigram's insistence on half of his short-ass books being quotes from other works, but I always just thought that he was doing early period Pelecanos on crack or some sort of hyper-Tarantino impression (check out what I like!) in his writing. In Rilke on Black Bruen's references actually mean something.

It's a bit of a revelation, honestly.

In my view, Bruen's debut is, like all British novels, about class, specifically through taste. It's the ultimate hipster crime novel in a way (as if any of his others aren't). You have the three kidnappers who all represent different kinds of culture. Our hero, Nick the bouncer, is trying to make himself seem somewhat posh by reading tome after tome of low-brow bullshit via a little thing called Reader's Digest (you've seen it at your grandma's and yes, you have read the Humor in Uniform joke section at least once, admit it). Then you have Dex, the psychopathic hard man, who is like the ultimate hipster with his vast knowledge of movies and TV shows and other middle class staples (he's your Rob Gordon, if you will).

Then there is Lisa, the femme fatale who likes to quote poetry and other hoidy-toidy stuff, your genuine posh item - though she is later revealed as a total phony, only classing it up to show off to her object of desire/kidnappee Ronald Baldwin. Ronald is the real deal in posh, he may be black and an apparent hard man of sorts, he can quote all the classics and annoy the shit out of you like the best of those professors you wanted to stab with you no. 2 in English 101.

So in other words, Bruen tosses off quotes and references galore per the norm, but all the while I felt like they weren't just Bruen doing an unsubtle Oprah's Favorite Things list in the story. It felt like he was actually trying to say something with his pop culture madness, bring up a point about class and, ultimately, about the crime novel itself. This book feels like Bruen's thesis about the neverending pulp vs. literature argument, the ultimate point being there sure as shit is room enough for both.

Okay, so The Nerd got off on a bit of a tangent and got all literary on you (I'll speak in the third person if I want to, fuck you) but this book is pretty great. Hell, it might actually be the funniest of Bruen's novels which is saying something, considering how hilarious the Brant novels. Also, Brant shows up in the book as a detective, but I get the feeling that it isn't BRANT himself. If it is supposed to be, he certainly doesn't really fit with the official series stuff. If anything, it proves that . . . Bruen enjoys the name Brant, I guess.

Also, the language isn't quite as pared down as it eventually becomes in his later books. It's still fucking lean, but Elmore Leonard lean, not James Ellroy lean.

So, conclusion time:

Read this book. It is good. I went on a tangent about high brow shit above because I like to show off my learned-ness. The end.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


So I just blasted my way through David Peace's second offering in the Yorkshire Quartet, Nineteen Seventy Seven, and it has flooded my brain with some interesting questions about what makes a noir successful.

If you've been following this blog like an obsessive nerd (somebody out there is, I hope), then you have probably noticed that my personal favorite crime novels are ones that are both ambitious within the parameters of the genre while also meeting the essential requirements of hardcore violence, sex, suspense, and the like. This novel certainly is of that sort. It transcends (hateful choice of words, I know) its genre with its stylish prose and attention to historical detail, its sheer poetic-ness (how delightfully unpoetically put, Nerd), while giving you badass main characters, lots of shocking violence (REALLY SHOCKING) and even more shocking sex (most of which is of the rape-y variety).

But how far is too far when it comes to such ambitions? What is the point at which there is too much of the literary ambition and not enough of the satisfying pulp? This book, I think, takes the "high art" elements just a bit too far.

(Another example where this happened for me was with Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty. He's got a great story and a great setting in there but he over-writes and over-writes until I had to start skimming. So much description and he had such an obvious love of his own clever voice that I could barely take it. If I were the editor I would have cut about a third of that shit out. Yes, I realize this is an unpopular opinion.)

The story follows two bad dudes looking for the Yorkshire Ripper, a killer (possibly killers) chopping up whores in disgusting ways. Jack Whitehead is a reporter for the Yorkshire Post who is mourning the mysterious death of his last girlfriend and generally coasting through his job drinking and fucking whores until the Ripper story brings him somewhat out of his funk. Bob Fraser is a detective with a wife and kid who is invested in the Ripper case for the safety of his mistress, a sexy prostitute that he cannot get enough of. Both these men doggedly follow the case, and uncover all sorts of corruption in the process.

Now Nineteen Seventy Seven is sure as hell entertaining and a quick enough read, but it left me feeling rather angry. Yeah, the story arc of the two main characters is brought to a pretty satisfying conclusion, but (MAJOR SPOILERS!!!): the Yorkshire Ripper is not identified in the end.

Naturally, this book is part of a series and the next two books will hopefully bring the story to some sort of conclusion, but I was really not prepared for absolutely no major break in the case to happen. I thought there would at least be SOMETHING conclusive to tide me over until the next book but nope. Not in the cards. What if I had read this when it first came out? I would be fucking pissed. I also wasn't prepared for this because the first book, Nineteen Seventy Four, actually had a conclusion to the mystery at the center of the story. I guess that's what I thought all the books would be about, a different serial killing in each book involving some of the same characters and possibly all connecting up in some way in the end. I was wrong.

I mean, if I had just read the back of Nineteen Eighty I would have known that the Yorkshire Ripper case was not closed at the end of Nineteen Seventy Seven but I refused to do that because, you know, who likes spoilers?

So I really think that Peace sort of crossed the line in a rather daring way but I just found it sort of maddening. It was a bold fuck you to the reader, something I often enjoy, but not here. That said, I still enjoyed the rest of the book and found it entertaining and am dying to know who the Ripper is. But I'm still kind of angry, sort of miffed.

I think I might take a break from the Quartet, come back to it after reading something else so that I can be more excited than slightly pissed. It was a really good book and had some truly great moments (the masturbating interrogation made me want pour bleach on myself in the shower), but it clearly left a bad taste in my mouth because of the lack of answers. Even those of us who are up for a challenge in their pulp fiction want a somewhat of a bone thrown their way now and then, especially with the ending.


(The RUMINATING IN MY PANTS series isn't really a review feature so much as it is just me rambling about shit. But hell, you'll figure that out toot-fucking-sweet 'cause you're so damned smart.)

John Dahl is still doing good work. He's directing episodes for major television shows like Battlestar Galactica, True Blood, Californication, and Dexter. Last year's You Kill Me was a thoroughly enjoyable rom-com/mob thriller with some great work by Tea Leoni and Ben Kingsley that was unjustly over-looked. And I really like his middle period work like horror thriller Joy Ride (arguably his best movie) and Rounders (it single-handedly made hold 'em cool, don't argue with me).

But that being said, I miss the days when he was America's noir auteur.

I caught his debut, Kill Me Again (1989), on one of the Encore channels the other night and it reminded me of my youth. No, not in the sense that as a boy I was involved in faking people's deaths and owed money to the mob - that didn't come about until I had a driver's license. When I was in middle school I recall reading a Roger Ebert review of The Last Seduction (1994) and then promptly going out and renting that and the other two Dahl noirs, the aforementioned Kill Me Again and 1992's Red Rock West and having an absolute nerdgasm in my parent's basement (Don't worry, I cleaned up afterwards).

These three movies were fine modern examples of the films I pored over in elementary school when I was forced, due to my parent's strict no R-rated movies policy, to watch nothing but old movies. Back then I figured that if I couldn't watch "adult" movies of the current generation, why not catch up with all those "adult" movies in the back of the video store with no ratings on them? And no, I am not talking about "the back of the video store" as in "behind the beaded curtain back of the video store." I'm talking about the "classics" section.

It was there that I discovered that the best movies were almost always film noirs, the edgiest offerings of the post-WWII era. These movies had cool stars like Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, John Garfield, Sterling Hayden, and Richard Widmark doing badass things that you could only get away with in B-movies. They had lots of violence and their stories were complicated and surprising. But the thing that most impressed me was that they almost always felt dangerous, like anything could happen, that there would be no simple moral at the end like most of the entertainment aimed at kids my age.

Okay, so I was a fucked up nerdy little kid. Not much has changed, I guess...

But back to Dahl, when I was finally able to get my parents' congress to pass my "R-rated movies are okay" amendment, I soon figured out that the early nineties had had a mini golden age of neo-noir filmmaking, and that John Dahl was leading the pack. Kill Me Again was like an even more twisted Double Indemnity with an added bonus of a crazy villain played by a young Michael Madsen. Red Rock West played like Dahl had put about ten old B-movies in a blender and hit "puree" then took the cap off and let the mess cover the room (translation: it was awesome). And The Last Seduction was basically the end-all-be-all of femme fatale films, taking the classic icon of B-movies as far as it could possibly go and never looking back.

None of them were necessarily going to edge out any other pictures and make my "Ultimate Noir Canon" list, but they were all super-solid and I was convinced that Dahl was going to develop into one of the great genre directors, that he was going to hack at it and hack at it until he had made the greatest neo-noir ever.

Then I saw Unforgettable with Ray Liotta and I lost all hope. Jesus, what a piece of shit.

As I said up top, dude still makes some damn fine movies that are nothing to balk at. The guy has proven himself at sports movies (Rounders), horror movies (Joy Ride), war movies (The Great Raid) and rom coms (You Kill Me), all of them with elements of film noir thrown in. I just wish that he could get his hands on motherfucker of a crime film script - or hell, that he'd start writing again. After all, he wrote Kill Me Again and Red Rock West all by his lonesome in the beginning.

According to imdb, Dahl has nothing in the works at the moment. Mr. Dahl, since you no doubt check this site every morning, I implore you: make another noir, even if it's just for your lonely fan the Nerd of Noir.

I can promise you my business. Shit, I might even go twice.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


For all you paranoid noir lovers out there lemme just say this:

I, the Nerd of Noir, am not receiving any monetary or sexual favors from Serpent's Tail Independent Publishers. Not that I'm like, you know, above that sort of thing, but I swear I'm not. It is mere coinkydink that I've been reading so many of their books lately. I swear on the coke bottle lenses of my dorky glasses and my original copy of The Kill-Off. No money or bodily fluids have changed hands or orifices. Also of concern: I have not emigrated to the U.K., nor have I given up black coffee for tea.

With that out the muthafuckin waaaayyy... David Peace's Nineteen Seventy Four just kicked my ass and then spit in my bloody, gaping eyesocket. This is my first Peace book and damn, dude can write. This is the darkness, the depths, the despair, the dire, the fucking low-goddamn-down, my dear nerds. In the words of Senator Clay Davis, "Sheee-it!"

Nineteen Seventy Four is the story of our most humble narrator Edward Dunford, crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post, a right prick of a man who has just landed the front page story of a missing ten-year-old girl, a case shockingly similar to two other little girl disappearances a few years back. Oh, by the way, the year of our story is, amazingly, the year of our lord nineteen and seventy-four, imagine that. Anyway, Dunford is trying to get the scoop on the latest disappearance from the corrupt police department while keeping his hot story out of the hands of ace reporter (and world-class douchebag) Jack Fucking Whitehead. It doesn't take long before sure enough, the little girl lost cases turn out to be related and the cover-ups go all the way to the higher-ups, the big boys of power!

Now, I know what you're thinking, "Nerd, I've glanced at your stupid little site before and it seems to me that you don't much cotton to mysteries and serial killer thrillers." Well, confoundingly southern-ish imaginary reader, you're right, I'm not big on mysteries or serial killer stuff, but this is more along the lines of the great exalted James Ellroy than to local boy John Sanford. Think The Black Dahlia (not De Palma's interesting misfire, Ellroy's first masterpiece of many) instead of Silent Prey or whatever book my Minnesota bro wrote last. Yeah, there are elements that qualify it as part of that not-my-thing serial killer mystery camp, but the most obvious comparisons are to Ellroy. Shit, look at the fucking book jacket and that's the first thing that'll catch your eye, the blurbs relating Peace's Yorkshire Quartet to Ellroy's L.A. Quartet. Well, I'm with the choir on this one.

And that is some damned high praise, not praise that even an over-caffeinated fanboy like myself tosses off lightly.

Peace does some crazy shit in this book, not as crazy as Ellroy but awfully damned close. You won't have any insane shocks like your protagonist getting killed half-way through the book or whatever but his stuff is hyper-dark just the same. It's ultraviolent, oversexed, and packed with cynicism and dread. The language is punchy and staccato, but moves faster than say, The Cold Six-Thousand where though the sentences are short, you have to over-think every little word in some passages. No, with 1974 the sentences just fly by like a Charlie Huston novel.

Another similarity is that your protagonist is also a fucker and a half who is generally a dick to almost every in the book, and not in a cool tough guy way either. He treats women ridiculously poorly and when he really starts getting in over his head he makes some terrible decisions. But he isn't totally irredeemable. Awfully damned close, mind you, but not totally.

Also like an Ellroy opus, this book has one labrynthine bitch of a plot. Shit gets complicated and I'm not sure it totally works itself out in the end. You get the big picture ending for sure, but certain little events and secrets are never fully explained to my liking when the dust clears. But you don't really notice such things until the book is over and the dust has settled since you're too busy racing alongside Eddie as he runs from one horrifying revelation to the next.

I'm already started on book two in the quartet, Nineteen Seventy Seven, and good lord is it awesome as well. The craziest thing so far is this: Jack Fucking Whitehead is one of the protagonists this time out! That guy's a douche! I guess I'll have to learn to like him this time out, though. One of your enemies is the hero? Doesn't get much Ellroy-ian than that right there.

Rock on, Peace, you sick, demented man.


The second book in Charlie Williams' Royston Blake trilogy is a solid work, some would debate it's even more so than Deadfolk. Williams is even more sure in his storytelling, taking it out there even further than before. Thing is, Fags and Lager just didn't work for me the quite the way the first novel did.

We pick up with Blake a few months after the events that closed Deadfolk. Blake is in charge of Hopper's, though in reality Nathan the bar man is running the show from the shadows. Things couldn't be better in Blake's thick, delusional eyes. Well, his main squeeze Sal could stand to lose a few pounds, and yeah, maybe he's more fat than he is actually strong these days...and his clientele at Hopper's is mainly wanker kids who don't actually buy drinks, just come in stoned on something called Joey and fuck the place up - but that is neither here nor there.

Blake is approached by Doug the shopkeeper to rough up an outsider who is messing around with his teenage daughter. The bounty: four hundred fags and four hundred cans of lager. Sure, the beer is past sell-by and he could probably go through a carton of smokes in a week's time, but shit, Blake never claimed to be the brightest of bulbs. Well, okay, maybe he has made such a claim but whatever. He's just not that smart. His swede ain't what it should be, now ennit?

Turns out the dude he's supposed to rough up is his new boss, Nick Nopoly, who has purchased Hopper's from Nathan so that he can sell Joey to its underage patrons. So there's now a conflict of interest and then Blake kills some folks and fucks some shit up and things go this way and that and you have another fun, tough-as-nails novel like Deadfolk.

At least, that's what you'd think.

The first problem I had with this book are the little newspaper articles that precede every chapter. They're all from the local paper and they keep the reader informed of matters outside the limited knowledge of Royston Blake for the sake of storytelling. But the articles are so silly and cheeky that they just take you right out of it. With Deadfolk I was under the impression that I was in a fairly realistic world but the events were skewed because of the fact that a crazy person was telling the story. In Fags and Lager I quickly learned that everyone, even the press, is just as crazy as Royston Blake. It threw me for a loop, I tells ya.

Then there's the matter of the voice this go around: it's too funny. Now I know you're saying, 'The fuck's your deal, Nerd? Funny is good in my book.' Well, I generally agree with you, Imaginary Reader, I really do, but this time I feel like Williams takes it too far with the funny to the point that it dilutes the "noir" too much for my liking. Blake is constantly talking directly to the reader for comedic effect, telling the reader to fuck off and such and generally calling attention to the narration device itself. I'm not against post-modern tricks, no sir. I loves me some Bruen and God knows he fucks with stuff like that, especially in the Brixton precinct novels, but I really feel like the jokey-ness of the tone gets in the way of the darkness a bit too much.

But it is still a dark book, for sure. Blake does some more terrible things and the last few pages are surprisingly dire and depressing, a truly bleak ending for such a funny, satirical book. Still, though, there are a few too many cartoonish elements this go around. The whole "sweets" drug thing, a major part of the book, is a little too cute and reminded me of shitty action movies where the villains come up with their own super-lethal-addictive-green-glowing-drug ("Its streetname is BLOODBREEZE and it is a thousand times more potent than heroin!"), and certain other plot points were a little too out-sized for my tastes as well (Blake may be dumb, but no way he didn't know a certain character was in fetish gear instead of butcher gear. I mean, come on!).

But my complaints aren't meant to trash the book, merely show how miffed I was by the slightly more ridiculous elements in the book. I balls-out fucking adored Deadfolk and simply didn't LOVE the shit out of Fags and Lager. I liked it and it read fast as a motherfucker, but it just doesn't quite live up to its predecessor. I don't know if King of the Road is closer to Fags and Lager or Deadfolk, but either way I'm eager to read the shit out of it. It sure is harder to get a copy of than the other two in the U.S., though. The fuck's with that Serpent's Tail?

Thursday, November 13, 2008


What is up with these nasty fuckers from the U-fucking-K? How did the Irish, Brits and Scots manage to wrestle the hard-boiled title away from the Americans, the folks who forged the belt out of U.S.-fucking-Steel all those years ago? Ken Bruen, Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Charlie Williams - seems these dandies with funny accents are out-noir-ing us like gangbusters with each new release. If you need proof of this shameful fact, look no further than Williams' Deadfolk, the first novel in his Royston Blake trilogy.

Deadfolk is narrated by Blake himself, a doorman at Hoppers, a posh bar (for Mangel, anyway) owned by a dreaded outsider. Blake has been down since his wife was burned up in a suspicious fire, so down that folks around town suspect he's lost his bottle. Truth is, he has lost it. His new girl doesn't respect him, any punter comes through the door could give a shit he's manning it, and the Munton clan - a nasty groups of thick brothers - are giving him shit big time. When he finally is pushed too far, Blake comes out of his depressed stupor to prove everyone wrong.

Then a spot of murder happens and Blake's life really goes to pot.

The first thing that strikes you about Deadfolk is the voice, Blake's voice, that is. He speaks in the voice of small-town Britain, with "summats, bottlers, knackers, fags, mongs, scran, slash," and other such words foreign to my ignorant American ears. No worries, though, you catch on quick then it never lets up. Deadfolk reads ridiculously fast.

The other and most fascinating point that catches your eye is how absolutely thick and thuggish Blake is. I mean, he's our main character, our eyes and ears, and yet he's a nasty piece of work and actually pretty stupid most of the time. It's like if Lehane told the Kenzie/Gennaro books not through Patrick's eyes but through Bubba's. Actually, that might be a pretty good series...

But no, it is really messed up that Blake is a main character. He's sick, he's mean, he's delusional, he's a brute, etc., etc., but he's also hilarious and has a code. Okay, so he breaks his own code more often than not but still. He means well. Not all the time but...okay he's an asshole. It's quite a feat to have him at the center and do some absolutely horrible things (there's one murder by the riverside that almost lost me, a champion of evil characters everywhere), yet he's still our man. And it's not like with many Jason Starr novels where you're supposed to hate him, either. He's our hero, that Royston Blake.

But my favorite aspect of this novel is its simplicity. This is something I talked about way back when I reviewed Guthrie's Savage Night, the pleasure I get out of certain noir novels/movies where the author takes something simple and at human level and has events escalate into something much more complex and agonizing. Basically, the James M. Cain style of noir where there aren't major corruption plots to be uncovered or international spies to be exposed, just simple folk doing simple things for simple reasons...and then all the little things add up to something dizzyingly complicated.

So, my fellow Americans, read yourself some Charlie Williams and know thine enemy. We must not allow him and the rest of his monocle-wearing mates to beat us at our own game any longer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The second season of any good television drama is about opening up the world a bit, changing the rules. The Sopranos introduced new characters (Furio, Richie Aprile) and allowed the storytelling to breathe a bit, the show took its time now that the whole "mother ordering a hit on her son" storyline had been defused. Deadwood had Swearengen practically become the good guy when Tolliver and Hearst's man upped the evil quotient. The Wire gave us an entire new cast of characters when they introduced the stevedores in season two. Mad Men took The Sopranos route after the whole "will Don Draper's identity be revealed?" storyline closed in season one - took its time, paid more attention to minor characters, etc.

Brotherhood sort of follows this mold and sort of doesn't with its second season.

We start out a few months after the last episode of the first season. Michael Caffee has been demoted somewhat in Freddie Cork's crew following the brain damage he suffered from his attempted murder. His right hand man Pete has been working in a garage ever since their falling out over Pete's falling off the wagon. Michael is also shacking up with Kath pretty regular too (Lucky man. That's one thing about this show: There are certainly some attractive "real-looking" women in the cast.)

Tommy Caffee is campaigning for reelection as state rep for the seventh district - arguably the only thing keeping his marriage to Eileen together. He is civil with her ever since she told him about her cheating and drug abuse, but cold. After some prodding by the smarmy speaker of the house, Tommy takes to fucking around on Eileen out of a misplaced sense of revenge.

Declan Giggs has started drinking on the job and spending most of his nights at one of Freddie Cork's whorehouses ever since Cassie left him. However, this behavior does not get him kicked off the force but instead made part of an undercover task force. His CO figures that if he keeps fucking up, Freddie Cork or Michael Caffee will approach him about helping out on a few things. If only the CO knew how much Declan owes Cork and Caffee already...

So there's some pretty good stuff going on in season two. Good mob stuff, good dirty politics stuff, good "in too deep" undercover cop stuff, good family drama stuff. Good show. But when you look at the main storylines I laid out up top, not a whole lot really changed or changes later on in season two from season one. You really might as well have called it season 1.5 or something. I mean, it's good - really good, actually - but it isn't GREAT like I thought it might be, like I thought it had the potential to be.

A perfect example is what happens to Pete McGonagle. After I watched the first episode I was like, "Where the fuck is Pete fucking McGonagle?" The guy is far and away the coolest character (the fan favorite - like Silvio Dante or Dan Dority or Omar Little or Roger Sterling) and he doesn't even show up till episode three and then only as a fucking corpse? Fuck that! But I rolled with it, thought about what that meant for Michael Caffee now that he didn't have a right hand man and confidante.

But then Colin shows up. Colin is a cousin of Michael and Tommy from Belfast who shows up and promptly proves himself violent and charming and - waddaya know - Michael Caffee's brand new right hand man. So fan favorite Pete had not so much been lost to us as he was merely recast by a dude with an Irish accent. And don't get me wrong: Colin is a cool character, a definite fan favorite kind of guy. It's just that, well, I was hoping for a new dynamic, a new direction.

Same thing with the whole part about Tommy being the cheating spouse this time out instead of Eileen. Yeah, that's different for his character and we learn some new things about him through the journey, but it kind of feels cheap in that it is just a reversal of the roles instead of a fresh direction, a new story. Now Tommy gets to be a bastard and Eileen has call to complain instead of the other way around. I mean, it's solid but it ain't blowing your fucking hair back, is it (Though, like I said earlier, there are some very pretty women in this show and adultery is another excuse to see them naked and fucking. I must be pretty spoiled to be bitching about it.)

There are still plenty of reasons to watch Brotherhood even if it is not an astounding show like those mentioned up top. My favorite episode of season one was the hyper-eventful wedding reception finale episode where tons and tons of shit goes down in the span of just a few hours. This season has not one but two similar mini-movie episodes (read: episodes you submit for Peabody Awards) just like it.

The first and better episode is the one where Michael and a demented contract killer wait for their mark to come home so they can off him while we also follow Tommy's moral dilemmas on election day. The other Peabody contender takes place on Thanksgiving where we get to see numerous characters prepare and enjoy/fuck up their family dinners while major gangster shit/undercover cop shit goes down. These episodes, despite their gimmicky-ness, stand out for me the way the "College" episode in The Sopranos does: They hold up strongly on their own, rest of the show be damned.

In the end, Brotherhood remains a hell of a good show with many of the things I liked about the first season still holding true. Thing is, it just doesn't blow your mind or become a better, different show the way many of the modern TV canon has managed to do so as of late. Basically, my complaint is that the bridge was reinforced and painted pretty instead of blown up and reconstructed.

Friday, November 7, 2008


I'll grant you that The Given Day is a different for Lehane. It is twice as long as his other books and painstakingly researched, packed with historical events and figures. But The Given Day is still a "Dennis Lehane" novel, no doubt about it. This isn't the boring historical fiction that crowds the shelves of the "Barnes & Noble Recommends" section, no sir. This is historical fiction more along the lines of James Ellroy's The Cold Six-Thousand or Elmore Leonard's The Hot Kid. Shit, there's the blurb right there:

"Dennis Lehane's The Given Day reads like a frenzied mix of James Ellroy's The Cold Six-Thousand and Elmore Leonard's The Hot Kid."

Man, I'm fucking awesome. Anyway, that is how The Given Day goes down: it has the down-and-dirty skinny on history that Ellroy relishes only it's delivered in a fluid prose sure to please any Leonard fan. Do not be put off by the length and cover of this book, it is a shit ton (that's metric, mind) of fucking fun. And on the plus side, you can fool your NPR tote-bag friends into thinking you're reading the next Memoirs of a Geisha while you're really having a pulpy good time, just with a "literary" cover.

The Given Day follows Danny Coughlin, the son of a prominent police captain, as he goes undercover to infiltrate the "Bolsheviki" unions in post-WWI Boston with the hope that his investigation will earn him a promotion to detective. Eventually, our other protagonist, Luther Laurence, crosses his path when he comes to Boston in hopes of hiding out from some vicious Tulsa gangsters he has recently run afoul of. The two become caught up in history as the turbulent times blah-blah-fucking-blah.

A summary only makes this book sound dry as fuck, something it definitely is NOT. The violence hits hard, the language is profane and funny, the characters are sharp, the pace is lightning fast, and the story is the stuff of high classic melodrama (that is a compliment, snobs). The Given Day is an epic written in blood and guts. It's like the best of American movies: lofty themes delivered via an entertaining genre story (Chinatown, Godfather, Wild Bunch).

So do not be put off by the sheer weight of the book or its pretentious cover or the historical setting. This book will kick your ass and make the pages fly just as fast as they did when you read Darkness, Take My Hand or Mystic River. Lehane may have branched out some, but he certainly did not alienate his devotees.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Psychosomatic is a nasty piece of work. It's one of those books where after you put it down, you feel both disturbed and assured by the knowledge that yes, there is someone out there who likes their escapism just as sick and wrong as you yourself do. This book is demented, gross, disturbing, and funny as all hell. In other words, it's only for members of the hardcore club. We're talking like Allan Guthrie hardcore, here, folks. Fucked up shit.

The books starts with a hot chick whose lost her arms and legs named Lydia. Her drug dealing ex-husband Ronnie has been a douche to her ever since she lost all her limbs in a car accident, going so far as to stop by her place with another woman and fuck her brains out while Lydia has to sit there helplessly and watch.

That shit will not play with Lydia.

She hires an idiot ex-prizefighter named Cap to beat the shit out of Ronnie for three grand, only to later learn that Cap is an old associate of Ronnie's. Cap tells Ronnie about his wife's scheme which gives Ronnie an idea. He gives fat loser Alan Crabtree forty bucks to film the fight, has him pose as an innocent Zapruder who just happened to have his camcorder with him at the right time. Crabtree agrees and films it, only to get footage of the idiot Cap accidentally killing Ronnie. Thinking fast, Crabtree kills Cap and makes it look like the two men did each other in. Afterwards he stops by Lydia's place to tell her what went down, only to get laid by the stumpy seductress.

Soon enough, Crabtree is Lydia's bitch, the femme fatale using her sexuality to turn Crabtree into her puppet, a puppet who will help her climb to the top of the drug trade. Throw in a pair of frat boys car-jackers turned cop-killers, a crazy goth girl in an old-fashioned nurse's uniform, a redneck X dealer, a few rapes, and a ton of murders and you have Psychosomatic, one of the craziest books I've read in a good goddamned while.

Now, as you can tell from the plot summary, this book boasts some bizarre low-lifes and a crazy plot, but what makes it really sing is its sharp prose, the hilarious dialogue, and the very original use of Gulf Coast locations. This is a world we've never seen before and Smith reveals it slyly and carefully despite the briskness of Psychosomatic's pace. Also, though the characters might sound like a bunch of wacky cartoons, somehow Smith makes them feel real, their motivations human.

I mean, hell, who wouldn't want to sleep with a hot amputee? Wait...did I just develop a new personal fetish? DAMN YOU SMITH!!!

So, if you like your fiction to completely cross the line, you can't go wrong with Psychosomatic.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I surely hope someone makes a movie out of Sakey's latest novel, Good People. It has a strong story and characters, is loaded with tension, and chugs along at an extremely brisk pace to a satisfying, action-packed conclusion. In other words, it's just like Sakey's other two novels, The Blade Itself and At The City's Edge.

Except here Sakey really fucking brings it.

Good People begins with a quartet of professional thieves ripping off a movie star who is making a drug deal in a flashy downtown Chicago nightclub. Naturally, the heist goes bad and one thief ends up dead and another takes off with the whole score to himself.

Flash to a few weeks later to Tom and Anna Reed, a yuppie Chicago couple who are trying their damnedest to have a baby, and while the work certainly shows on their bank account, it isn't registering on their home pregnancy tests. The debt from the fertilization treatments is tearing apart their marriage until they find their tenant, a grumpy asshole with no family or friends, dead in his bed from a heart condition. What's more, they also find his stash of four-hundred grand...

After convincing themselves that taking the money won't hurt anybody, Tom and Anna soon find themselves hunted by the two thieves the dead man betrayed. And the drug dealer the four thieves ripped off originally. And the cops.

In other words, our J. Crew-wearing heroes are in way over their square little heads.

It's a great story that I read in no time (same as the other two Sakey novels) but this time I think he really has a handle on things. The bad guys are oh-so-fucking-bad, the good guys really get the screws put to them, and the balance between the Reeds' yuppie normalcy and the criminal underworld of the thieves is struck perfectly.

But I should say, that as with the last two Sakey novels, I still don't feel the true on-the-ledge danger, the sense that anything can happen. I never get the impression that either Tom or Anna will die or get mangled or have some other tragedy befall them (as could very well happen in a Jason Starr yuppie noir, something I kept thinking about throughout the novel). Sakey has established himself as a rock-solid crime writer, but certainly not one of the modern bad boys that have popped up in the last few years. No, he's more in line with someone like Michael Koryta, an author who no doubt brings some dark goods, but who you can also reccomend to your mom.

But then again, that's more a matter of personal taste than an actual complaint about the book. This is Marcus Sakey's story, after all. Can't blame him for not being Jason Starr (though the last half of Starr's The Follower felt pretty safe to me, making me mildly nervous about his next solo effort...). That being said, Good People proves that Sakey keeps growing with each book, and - from the rate he's been pumping these fuckers out - it probably won't be long before he tops himself yet again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


With the election just days away, now is the perfect time to pick up Jess Walter's Citizen Vince, a crime novel about the importance of the right to vote. I know what you're thinking my friends (election humor), "A crime novel about hopeful shit like voting? The fuck?" Well my friends (I'll stop now), if you skip this one you'll be missing out on some of the best dialogue not penned by Elmore Leonard or Charlie Huston, and a plot that unravels with the organic ease of a Pelecanos novel.

We meet donut baker Vince Camden a week before the 1980 election in Spokane, Washington as he bakes donuts, deals pot, makes fake IDs and runs a credit card scam. He's also juggling two women, a neurotic prostitute and a book smart donut shop customer that he pines for. It's a quiet life but Vince makes it work.

But then Ray Sticks had to arrive in town and fuck it all up.

You see, Vince Camden's name is in witness protection after some bad debts left him in deep with the New York mob, forcing him to cut a deal with the FBI. Well, it seems the FBI didn't do a good enough job because if Ray Sticks after you, that means the mob is sending out their very best to do you in. After he narrowly escapes from Sticks, Vince catches a plane to New York in an effort to figure out who sent Sticks after him.

It's a good old-fashioned crime story, a lot like something Leonard might write, but what really makes Citizen Vince hum is it's sense of place and connection to the presidential election. Some surprising historical characters pop up in this book (I won't spoil it) and it's not just a stunt - no, it actually makes perfect sense that they would be involved in this story at this time in our history. And then there's the on-going election campaigns that keep getting mention in this novel. Again, this is not just a device, "the vote" is essentially what Citizen Vince is all about.

You see, before he went in the program, Vince was a felon and therefore not allowed to vote. Now, despite all the crazy violent shit going on around him, the need to vote, to be normal, to count, is the most important thing on his agenda. How Walter pulls these scenes off without making you gag from sentimentality, how he makes you feel a glimmer of hope for the process - it's just something to fucking awe.

Boils down to this, my friends (sorry, I can't get over how lame that is): Read Citizen Vince and you might just believe in what you write on the ballot this November.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera have just put out the third trade of Scalped. their kick-ass series about a shady-as-shit Indian Reservation. I cannot stress this enough, folks: If you like noir, you should be reading Scalped. That's all I should have to say. Hands down, the comic you should be reading.

But, I'll continue because I've got nothing better to do.

This series is what I always dreamt of when I first discovered comics, an event that wasn't that long ago (I know: for a nerd I am late to the party). Scalped is a large cast crime story with a fresh environment where there are no good guys and bad guys. The violence hits hard and the dialogue is foul and funny. Basically, it is The Sopranos on a Rez. In fact, if David Chase ever adapted the series for HBO, I would give up beer.

Well, for at least a week.

So I implore you, dear nerd, to pick up the first three trades (Indian Country, Casino Boogie and Dead Mothers) then quickly get caught up on the issues. That should tide you over until the lazy bastards who put out Criminal finally pick up their current run. I swear, what is the fucking hold up over at ICON? Criminal is on possibly the most staggered and fucked up schedule of all time.

But I digress: Scalped fever. Catch it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


If you haven't been reading the Joe Pitt vampyre novels, then don't read beyond this paragraph. Instead you should go get Already Dead and prepare to burn through the rest of the Joe Pitt books (No Dominion, Half the Blood of Brooklyn, Every Last Drop) toot-fucking-sweet. And don't be fooled into thinking Charlie Huston's vampyre (sorry, it's how it's spelled in the book, probably the ONLY thing lame about the whole series) universe is similar to the other shit floating around in the toilet bowl that is current vampire media (looking at you True Blood and Twilight). Huston's books are hard-fucking-boiled noir before they are anything else, and with the latest - the penultimate in the series - Huston out does himself in the depravity department. This is rough stuff delivered smoothly via his stream-lined no-bullshit prose style.

Okay, so for those of you left, let me give you a quick rundown of where Pitt's at since we last left him in Half the Blood of Brooklyn. In the year since the previous novel, Pitt's been laying low in the wasteland that is the Bronx, a burrough where there is damn near no organization whatsoever to be had. In other words, Pitt's had to resort to more desperate ways to acquire blood. But not that desperate. He's still looking out for psychos to kill, crazed vampyres who risk exposing them all with their reckless bloody feedings. In fact, chasing just such a gang of vampyres is what brings him in contact with Lament, a sadistic child-abusing vampyre who gives his charges ridiculously sad monikers like "Low" and "Pathetic." Lament is apparently in the employ of Dexter Predo of Manhattan's Coalition and Predo makes a trip across town upon Pitt's capture. He's got a proposition for our hero.

Remember pretty little rich girl Amanda Horde and her pre-op tranny vampyre girlfriend Sela? Well, Amanda has started up her own clan called Cure and she's taking in any and all vampyres. Predo wants Pitt to be his mole within Cure and give him a heads up on how close Horde is to discovering a cure for the Vyrus, if she's going public anytime soon - stuff like that. In exchange for his service he gets his hall pass back for Manhattan. Thus Joe Pitt comes back to "civilization."

From there Pitt gets in way over his head and plays all sides against each other and generally fucks up everybody's shit. He also takes a horrifying trip up to Queens to visit the wild Mungiki gang (for those keeping score at home, Staten Island is the only borough Pitt has yet to cross into by my count).

Basically, Huston is setting everything up for the out-and-out war that we'll no doubt encounter in the final novel. There is a lot of expositional dialogue in this entry but it is generally okay because nobody does dialogue better than Huston (bold, I know, but true). There is plenty of violence and gore in Every Last Drop (an obscene amount once you get to Queens) and some fucking HUGE secrets are revealed, but it really feels like he's setting you up for the big pay-off that promises to come down upon us in the upcoming last book. More so than any of the previous three books, Every Last Drop doesn't really work without having read what came before, hence why I told you, uninformed-readers-still-reading, to stop reading after the first paragraph otherwise none of this will make any sense to you.

But I guess in another way, if you HAVE read the first three, you don't need a review to tell you to read the living shit out of this one. Thing is, because the release dates of Charlie's books got switched around, it's most likely going to be at least a year and a half before the final Pitt book comes out.


Friday, October 3, 2008


I am not a fan of reading series books out of order. Thankfully, there was only one book in the Toronto series prior to Everybody Know this is Nowhere so I wasn't ridiculously behind, but if I'd read them in order Everybody Knows probably would have read a little smoother, certain events wouldn't have seemed so out-of-the-blue. In other words, don't make my mistake: read Dirty Sweet then Everybody Knows.

And I'm not advising this simply simply because it makes the characters easier to distinguish. No, it's because Dirty Sweet is an easier way to enter McFetridge's vast world simply from a storytelling perspective. Dirty Sweet is more like classic Elmore Leonard while Everybody Knows plays out more like Clockers (okay, so despite the last few pages of Everybody Knows which were jarringly cute and tidy in a Get Shorty sort of way). But this is not to suggest that Dirty Sweet isn't as smart or exciting as Everybody Knows, not by a longshot.

Down-on-her-luck real-estate agent Roxanne Keyes saw a man shot in the head right in the middle of downtown traffic. Guy just gets out of the passenger seat of a car and pops a fellow motorist three times in the fucking face. Cops Price and Loewen question her and it's clear that she knows more than she's fessing up to. They're right: She knows who the driver of the murderer's car was, a Russian strip club owner named Boris Suliemanov. Roxanne figures she can use this knowledge to her advantage, coerce Boris into taking some real estate off her hands.

But then she meets internet porn entrepeneur Vince Fournier, a charmer with a secretive past and a bright idea for how to launder money for Boris through his web operation. There would be percentages handed out, naturally...

From here the cops and the Mounties breath down all of their necks and the motorcycle club boys try to edge in on Boris's small-time operation and, of course, murder and mayhem ensue.

As with Everybody Knows, Dirty Sweet has a massive cast of characters and doles out seemingly authentic lore left and right about Toronto, police work, porn, money-laundering, organized crime and many other topics that have rarely been covered in crime fiction so intelligently. The scam at the center of Dirty Sweet is much more complex and realistic than any I've read in quite some time.

But the real kicker here is how complex McFetridge's characters and their respective arcs are. There are no good guys and bad guys, in a sense you're rooting for just about everybody on all sides. Even the "romance" in the novel is touching and quite achingly sad. Roxanne and Vince seem to hit it off in the manner that they would in a Leonard novel, but then takes a realistically melancholy turn later in the book as their dark secrets are slowly revealed to the reader.

I hope that McFetridge keeps writing in this police precinct/Toronto underworld series. It has such a rich cast that I could see McFetridge's Toronto growing and growing to become something as wonderful as Pelecanos's D.C.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


"He was thinking, if this really was one of that guy's movies, this scene wouldn't be here, it would be in that restaurant on top of the Tower, the 360. [He] would look out over the lights of Toronto stretching off in three directions as far as he could see. He'd look south to New York state, right there, and he'd say something like, "I own this town.""

That passage comes late in John McFetridge's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and it is the most important passage in the whole novel. I picked up this book because I had heard favorable comparisons made to Elmore Leonard (also, it didn't hurt that the title comes from one of my favorite songs from my all-time favorite artist). I can see where such comparisons come from. Everybody Knows is driven by sharp dialogue delivered by solid characters involved in a large scam. Classic Leonard, right? But this book is so much more complex, so much more ambitious in its scope, it is more like an episode of The Wire than Killshot (which is not to take a shot at Killshot, a great book in itself).

In fact, I would argue that Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere should be the basis of an HBO series. McFetridge's Toronto is just as interesting as Simon's Baltimore and shit, everything's shot in Toronto anyway so why the fuck not?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The passage above spells out what this strange and wonderful book is about: the reality of cops and criminals in a constantly changing urban environment named Toronto. The story begins with a man falling onto the hood of a car from twenty-five storeys above. This brings detectives Armstrong and Bergeron on the scene, only for them to find that investigating the players surrounding the crime interferes with a narco investigation of a grow room operation within the building the deceased jumped from. Or is it that narcotics is trying to cover up their knowledge of the grow room?

Also thrown into the mix is Richard, a motorcycle club member from Quebec looking to expand his already vast operations even further in Toronto. Then there's one of his underlings, Sharon McDonald, who runs the grow room in the building, who is visited by a strange man named Ray who has a plan to rip off Richard and the club big time.

But all of this is revealed extremely gradually and in a very subtle manner. This novel takes its time introducing the many, many players and then slowly revealing their place in this vast world. Also, don't expect big action scenes and violence. Almost all the violence and "action" happens off camera, so to speak. This can be frustrating, but you learn quickly that McFetridge is not interested in telling the same story you've heard a million times before the same way you've heard it. He's trying something new and damn, is it exciting. There is no hand-holding in Everybody Knows, just a steady stream of events (and great dialogue on every page) that you trust will cohere into a bigger story (Don't worry, it pays off, just not always in the way you think).

Along the way, we get seemingly authentic dirt about marijuana grow rooms, Toronto real estate, the movie business, the rising influence of motorcycle clubs in organized crime (something that Sons of Anarchy has failed to illustrate in its cliche-ridden storyline), and much more. This guy knows Toronto and its cops and robbers (and those in-between) inside and out. There is a scene late in the book where a group of cops are discussing the elephant in the room without ever actually saying the elephant's name that should be handed out to creative writing students everywhere.

I think that for paperback run, the publishers should try to appeal to fans of Pelecanos and Price instead of the new noir writers. Yeah, it sort of fits on the shelf alongside The White Trilogy or Pistol Poets , but Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere would be much more snug between The Sweet Forever and Samaritan.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


What continues to amaze me about Goodis is that he gets away with so much despite the highly censored times he was writing in. In Black Friday not only is the violence as nasty as anything you could read today, but the sexual discussion within (impotency, the female sex drive, closing your eyes and making a go of fucking someone who disgusts you - all discussed at great length) is close to what you'd find in a Philip Roth novel. Aside from an overall lack of the word "fuck," Black Friday almost reads like it was written in the present.

The extremely tight plot follows Hart, a desperate man stranded in Philadelphia with not even a buck to his name and no winter jacket. He rips off an overcoat from a retail store and is pursued by the police around town for a while before he stumbles across a man dying in the street. The man offers him eleven grand in thousand dollar bills and Hart takes it, only to then be pursued by the dying man's killers.

A scuffle ensues and Hart ends up killing one the men and earning the respect of the other, Charley. Charley is apparently the head of a gang, a gang that once included the man Hart took the money from before said man betrayed the gang. Naturally, the gang also included the man who Hart killed, Paul, whose sister Myrna is none too happy to see Hart accepted with open arms by Charley after Hart gives the eleven grand back to its rightful owners. The gang now consists of Charley, Mattone, Riccio, Myrna, Hart and Frieda, all of whom live under the same roof. Charley only allows Hart to join them on their next job - a mansion robbery that will go down on Friday the thirteenth (hence the title) - after Hart explains that he is on the lam since murdering his brother back in New Orleans for control of the family fortune. It is Charley's belief that to kill for practical reasons like money makes you a professional, and he'll have nothing but pros in his outfit.

Thing is, Hart's reasons for offing his brother are a little more complicated than that...

This leads to a sort of hyper-intense play of sorts, with most of the action taking place within the gang's hideout. Mattone is an ex-boxer moron whose insecurity makes him challenge Hart at every turn. Myrna seethes with hate for Hart since he killed her brother. Frieda is sexually attracted to him but belongs to Charley who is impotent. She also can tell that Hart isn't a professional. Hart knows that Charley will kill him if he doubts Hart's professionalism in any way. All of this keeps the tension up around eleven.

Then, of course, there's the ill-fated Black Friday heist on the near horizon.

In other words, Black Friday never lets up. It has that perfect mix that we occasionally find in crime fiction where the plot is both extremely simple and agonizingly complicated at the same time. Every character is clearly defined and made vivid in the imagination. The dialogue is both witty and cleverly profound, like it's out of a Ben Hecht-Howard Hawks screenplay.

In other words, it's pure Goodis. Also, if you read the Serpent's Tail edition of the novel, you get a bunch of Goodis short stories as well, most of which kick some solid ass as well.

As I close this review, let me say that things have been rather black in the literary world as of late. We've lost Fletch creator Gregory McDonald, literary wunderkind David Foster Wallace, and now Sughrue/Milo creator James Crumley. Crumley's Bordersnakes was a major part of my noir self-education when I was in junior high, a book that sparked and warped my fragile imagination, and for that I'll never forgive or forget him. May Mr. Crumley, Mr. McDonald, and Mr. Wallace all rest in peace.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Nightfall could easily have been adapted for Hitchcock.

The 1947 novel by David Goodis follows Jim Vanning as he hides out in New York City working as a commercial artist. Three hoods think he has $300,000, their stolen $300,000. Thing is, Vanning doesn't have it. Yeah, he did have it. But he lost it. How do you lose that kind of money?'s complicated.

Detective Fraser is onto Vanning. He's been following the suspect for weeks now. He feels like he knows Vanning. And something tells him that this man, this working artist, could not have killed a man and absconded with three-hundred K. But now those three hoods are following Vanning as well...

Things go on from there like one would expect from a good suspense novel. Vanning has to keep ahead of the hoods and the cops while also trying to decide if the lovely Martha is with the crooks or merely being used by them. So you have your wrong man scenario, a follow-that-cab scene, some fight scenes, a hair-raising escape, a romance - the whole Hitchcock package. There's even a groaner explanation in the denouement (I'm a douche) like the one in Psycho!

In other words, Nightfall is kind of a disappointment. The book was written while he was in Hollywood (right after he wrote Dark Passage, which would be adapted into a Bogie/Bacall film), which might explain why it's more conventional than the work he did in the early fifties. For a suspense novel, it's pretty damned good.

But when you're expecting a DAVID GOODIS NOIR NOVEL it feels fairly tame.

The good dialogue, the bitter prose, the solid action - that's all here, no complaints. It's just that, well, the story isn't as dark, the protagonist not as tortured, the ending not as achingly sad. It just doesn't blow you away like his fifties stuff does.

Speaking of his fifties stuff, I've already started reading Black Friday and ho-lee shee-it does it rock so far. But I have to say, what was Goodis' deal with thousand dollar bills? I can't think of ANY crime novel featuring the thousand dollar bill off the top of my head and then I read Nightfall and Black Friday back-to-back and they both prominently feature thousand-dollar bills. Yeah, it makes copious amounts of cash easier to stow (or, in the case of Nightfall, lose), but come on.

Expect a Black Friday review soon...