Saturday, August 30, 2008


Anthony Neil Smith's stellar (not to mention FREE) online magazine,, just released its third issue!

As with the first two issues, there are eight stories by eight different authors in the latest issue, the tales all in some way noir-ish.

All three issues are available at the Plots With Guns site, some of my past favorite stories being Bardsley's "Upper Deck" and Zackel's "Backing Down the On-Ramp."

Can't really reccomend the site enough!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

THE MAX by Ken Bruen & Jason Starr

The demented duo have completely lost their minds.

The third in their Max & Angela trilogy for Hard Case Crime is undoubtedly Ken Bruen and Jason Starr's most gleefully insane and self-refefential book to date. The Max is a prison novel, travelogue, revenge story, struggling writer tale, and sly tribute to their literary friends all in one book. Also, like Slide and Bust, it is sick, violent, nihilistic, funny, and just plain fun.

The book starts out with the increasingly deluded and stupid Max Fisher adjusting to prison life in Attica after having been convicted of numerous charges in Slide. After his crack high wears off, Max is initially scared to death, the promise of ass-rape is thick in the air, but then word gets out about the dick removal Max was (barely) party to in Slide and suddenly he is a prison legend with everything at his disposal. To inflate his hilarious ego even more, a struggling "cozy to middle-boiled" writer named Paula (whose boobs are up to Max's high standards) has decided to become the next Anne Rule, figuring Max's story is her ticket to the big bucks.

Meanwhile, Angela has been looking for love in Greece, where she eventually comes upon a self-styled playboy named Sebastian, a trust-fund Brit Boy who bears a stiking resemblance to Lee Child. The two end up involved in the murder of Angela's Greek landlord and Sebastian makes a break for it, finding Angela's murderous ways a bit too much for him. From there Angela ends up in a sexy Greek prison full of hot lesbians and Sebastian is pursued by the landlord's revenge-minded cousin.

Needless to say, through hyper-fatalistic-super-noir coincidences, eventually all these characters will converge in Attica for a bloody, disgusting finale where even I was surprised who was left dead and who lived to fuck up another day.

It should be said that this book is for strictly the hardcore. I don't mean that simply in the sense that the reader should enjoy sex, violence, and four-letter words (though that certainly helps), but in that the reader should have a fair amount of knowledge about present day crime writers. There are countless references to Bruen and Starr's colleagues and their books, even a reference to the world's greatest bookstore: Richard Katz's Mystery One in Milwaukee. That being said, most of the discussion is in reference to the sexiness of both Lee Child and Laura Lippman.

But, hell, why even review this book? If you could handle Bust and Slide, you probably already have your greasy mitts around The Max. Like the two books previous, The Max is what happens when you let two of the most talented and exciting writers in noir let loose and have a whole lot of sick nasty fun together on the page.

Thankfully, Charles Ardai and Hard Case Crime are crazy enough to publish their efforts.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CATCHING UP #3: When One Man Dies by Dave White

On one hand, Dave White's When One Man Dies is a very traditional P.I. novel. It has the drunk ex-cop P.I. who has suffered great loss (his wife was killed by a drunk driver). Said P.I. takes on two cases at once and - waddaya know! - the cases are related. He gets his ass kicked mercilessly a number of times and, naturally, then there's a big revelation and big action sequence in the last act. In other words, this ain't your Ken Bruen/Ray Banks-style take on the well-worn genre.

But When One Man Dies lives and dies not with its plot but with its characters, and fuckin-A there are some great ones throughout.

Our P.I. is Jackson Donne, a New Jersey cop who has already gone through hell-and-back before the novel even begins. In the first lines of the book he explains that he has killed people both lawfully and unlawfully in the near past. His wife is dead and more shit is set to pop up that will tarnish even that memory. He's been to rehab for coke addiction and every cop in New Jersey has it in for him since he left the force after ratting out the illegal doings of the narcotics department. Yeah, he's got it a little rough.

As I said earlier, Jackson has two cases to work in this novel. The first one, one which he isn't crazy about solving, is the murder of his drinking buddy by a hit-and-run driver outside of their favorite bar, the Olde Towne Tavern. The second starts as a simple cheating husband case but soon gets quite a bit more serious when he watches said husband shittily dispose of a body. Like I said, these two investigations are not so different as they might seem...

Jackson's portion of the story is told in first person, but throughout his narration we are interrupted by the third-person perspective following Bill Martin, Jackson's asshole ex-partner, the one guy Jackson decidedly didn't testify against all those years ago. Bill Martin has nabbed the hit-and-run case. Once he finds out his vic was in tight with Donne, Martin makes it his personal mission to both crack the case and ruin Jackson Donne.

It's confusing why Martin hates Donne so much when he let the guy off easy, but the real reason is revealed toward the end of the book and - holy shit! - does it rock. For my money, the depth and sadness that is eventually exposed in Bill Martin, someone we hate the shit out of for like two-hundred pages, is what elevates this book into something special, distinguishes it from the sea of P.I. books that are available.

In other words, if you start to feel a little deja vu with this one in the first half, don't sweat it. When One Man Dies still delivers handsomely on all the expected levels of traditional detective fiction, but that deeper emotional level, the sheer ache and sadness that comes in the last hundred or so pages, are what makes it first-class noir.

Rest assured, I'm breezing through White's latest Donne novel right now, The Evil Men Do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Michael Koryta's ENVY THE NIGHT

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been on vacation up north. That being said, I did manage to read a couple books in betweeen drinking and fishing. The first one was Michael Koryta's latest, a stand-alone entitled Envy the Night.

Koryta's P.I. series featuring Lincoln Perry/Joe Pritchard is one of the few "traditional" private detective series that I follow. Koryta has a tendency to cite Dennis Lehane as an inspiration every time he opens his mouth and there are certainly some similarities between the Perry/Pritchard books and the Kenzie/Gennaro novels (written in first person, lots of action, great characters, and the MAIN THING: the main characters actually grow and change with each book!). With his latest novel, Envy the Night, comparisons to Mystic River are inevitable. Thankfully, Koryta actually deserves such comparisons.

The story follows Frank Temple III, son of a U.S. Marshal/mob hitman who aced himself before being brought down by the FBI seven years previous. The man who ratted out his father, Devin Matteson, is said to be returning to his family's cabin in the North woods of Wisconsin, a cabin on the same land as Frank III's own father's cabin, a cabin on decidedly "sacred" land. Frank Temple III will not let this stand. He and Ezra Ballard, his father's best friend, promised to kill Matteson if he ever returned to the North woods. It seems that Devin is calling their bluff.

As Frank and mob hitmen and FBI agents converge on the lake, there are complications, betrayals, murders and everything else you would hope for. The plot is tight and the characters are rock-solid. From the cranky auto mechanic who can't stand to be ordered around by his female boss to the FBI agent from Chicago with a secret eating away at his soul, it seems everybody character gets their moment or their due with Koryta. The last third of the book has some great action set-pieces involving outboard motor boats along with some startling revelations.

But while the story is about revenge and haunted pasts and has a great sense of place, Koryta never goes as dark (or as blue) as Lehane's modern classic. Koryrta is strictly a PG-13 author - no use of words like fuck, cunt, dick, cock, and the like and certainly no graphic sex is ever described. The violence can occasionally get brutal but you can always tell that there is a limit, that he will never go that far, that the author will not upset the expectations of little-old ladies and casual readers just looking for a nice beach read. I don't know if it is a restriction put on Koryta by his publisher or if it is simply what Koryta is going for as a writer, but the fact is that Koryta does hard-boiled writing that my mom can love.

That being said, I love my mom and the wildly talented Koryta gets better with every book. Obviously, if you haven't read him, Envy the Night is a hell of a place to start. It doesn't hurt to read it up at the cabin or while camping, either.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Joe Pitt Lives!

Over at his site,, Charlie Huston has posted some reliably badass pages from Every Last Drop, the fourth book in his Joe Pitt series. If I wasn't dying to read it before (and I sure as shit was), now I could easily kill a dog (or torture a cat) for a copy.

The penultimate book in the vampire P.I. series is due out in September. If you haven't read any of the preceding novels, a month is more than enough time to catch up. Nothing reads faster than a Huston book. If you haven't read any of Charlie's work before, then you're missing out on some of the darkest, bloodiest, rock-and-fucking-rolling-est writing the noir genre has yet seen.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

George Pelecanos's THE TURNAROUND

Two summers ago I finally caught up with George Pelecanos's work. And I mean, CAUGHT UP. I spent the entire summer reading nothing but Pelecanos, capping it all off with the The Night Gardener, which came out that September. Aside from Elmore Leonard, I've never read more books by a single author, and Leonard's career stretches back fifty years.

Yeah, I'm a bit of a fan.

And yes, I also consider myself a bit of an authority. (What do you want from me? I'm The Nerd, for Christ's sakes!)

The Turnaround begins in Washington D.C. in 1972. We follow teenager Alex Pappas and his two friends Pete Whitten and Billy Cachoris as they get high and drive looking for trouble. We also look in on a group of black kids that includes young hot head Ray Monroe, his responsible gear head older brother James, and a badass from a broken home named Charles Baker. These six boys eventually have a confrontation which proves fatal for one of them. The story then switches to thirty-five years later and we see how that fateful day changed the survivors. Drugs, blackmail, and murder all rear their ugly heads.

The makings of a perfectly good crime novel, right?

Well, sort of. There are many things to love about Pelecanos. How alive his D.C. seems on the page. His cinematic violence. His spare, hip writing style. The way he weaves important social themes into his entertaining novels (this book has quite a bit in it about soldiers returning or not returning from Afghanistan and Iraq). But what I've always marveled at is his ability to tell an exciting, violent story in such a small, organic way.

The Turnaround doesn't feature any organized crime figures, cops, the FBI, or any other sexy, larger-than-life sort of thing. It's just people, people you can recognize from your own life maybe, who get thrown in a violent situation. There are no out-of-the-blue twists, no insane coincidences or many of the other things that we've come to expect from crime novels. Just a situation, characters, and a resolution.

Yet through all of the authenticity and attention to detail, Pelecanos still manages to entertain in that primal way that crime fans love. You still get the cool dialogue, the badass characters doing badass shit, the shocking violence, and even a couple plot twists. They just don't feel as forced is they do in so many novels.

In other words, The Turnaround is Pelecanos at his best.

Last week I did a piece on Ray Banks's Saturday's Child where I discussed "organic" storytelling in crime thrillers. Here is another example from a man who has perfected the form. The Turnaround is smart, realistic, redemptive and moving enough for lovers of mainstream literature while violent, dark and exciting enough for crime readers. In other words, I would reccomend it to anyone who reads books, simple as that.

Here's hoping I don't have to wait another two whole years for another taste. Though if he were working on something of the same caliber as The Wire I suppose I'd get over the long wait right quick.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Often when it comes to noir, I appreciate how sick the book is. I get swept up by how lurid the violence is, by how evil or tortured my protagonists are. I get dazzled by the nastiness, get excited by the sickness, am fueled by the whoa-shit!-ness of the book. That's really what brought me to noir in the first place. I liked to laugh along with bad guys. I liked my heroes un-heroic. I liked my plots brutal, my resolutions twisted or ambiguous. You know, all the stuff that amps up any ten-year-old.

But Saturday's Child is not a whoa-shit book. It does not have a totally fucked crazy plot. The bad guys don't behead someone then light a cigarette, walk toward the camera looking cool with flecks of blood on their two-thousand dollar suit showing in the harsh contrast lighting. It's not that type of book.

But it will make you say - probably about a dozen pages in - it will make you say, "Whoa shit!" but in a calm, clear voice.

Ray Banks is very similar to one of my favorite writers today, Sean Doolittle. Like Doolittle, Banks's book is real-life scale. Like Doolittle, the language is rock solid, simple yet undeniably perfect, precise. And above all, again like Doolittle, you are carried along not by the twisted plot but by the wonderful characters.

And fuck, Mo and Cal are quite the pair.

There are two first person narratives going on here at the same time. Over a few days we follow Callum Innes, low-rent P.I., and Mo Tiernan, son of legendary Manchester mob boss Morris Tiernan. It's easy to distinguish who is narrating chapter by chapter because Mo relates everything in a thick Manc accent, full of words like summat, nowt, owt, pringle, busy, and on and on (it gets easy to read really quick), while Cal's voice is more easily decipherable.

Big Morris has hired ex-con Cal to hunt down a dealer at one of his illegal gambling houses who has took off with some cash. Mo Tiernan, for reasons we don't find out until later, wants to find the dealer before Cal does. That's it. The stuff of classic noir. A P.I. and the guy trying to stop the P.I.

But what makes it so much more exciting is how human these guys are. Mo could have easily been the crazy motherfucker we've seen in countless novels - cutting off fingers on a whim, shooting people over nothing, etc. - but he is a crazy motherfucker that we could actually meet on the street. He is sociopathic and a right bastard, but not to the point that we don't believe him. He's a violent dick, not a serial killer.

Callum Innes is an ex-con with lots of worries. The cops are on his ass, he could be recalled to jail over any small misstep, his brother's cleaning up, and Morris Tiernan is not someone he can say no to under any circumstances. But he's not the tougher than tough guy we've come to expect in such P.I. novels. He's no Mike Hammer - hell, he doesn't even carry a gun. And he's certainly no great detective. His case is simple enough and the methods he employs relatable. There is no super-sleuthing going on in this book. He's just a guy with some troubles and a past. He doesn't want to do bad things, but he's human and forced into a shitty situation. And he's a bit of drunkard.

These two characters are so compelling, the plot so simple and organic (something you can hardly ever say for a P.I. book), the language so funny and exciting, that I couldn't tear myself away from Saturday's Child. Sick things happen, and there are fucked up moments, but on such a different, realistic level that make them resonate all the more. To really discuss what makes this such a different noir novel you have to discuss the last act of the book. It is just as exciting a conclusion as any noir novel, no doubt about it, but decidedly different. It is refreshing, original, ambiguous, and, well, believable.

If it's in the cards, I look forward to seeing more of Callum Innes and Mo Tiernan. If Callum Innes had his own series he would rival Jack Taylor for best P.I. out there. I need to read more of him, but Ray Banks is definitely someone I'll be looking out for. The right bastard is fuckin' cool as.