Saturday, January 31, 2009

Guthrie's New Novel Announced: SLAMMER

Allan Guthrie's new novel has been announced over at his site!

Here's some descriptifying for your reading pleasure:

"Young prison officer Nicholas Glass is finding the stresses of the job increasingly hard to handle. Bullied and abused by inmates and colleagues alike, every day is getting longer than the one before. When a group of cons use outside help to threaten his wife and daughter, Glass agrees to help them out with a ‘favour’. But, as their threats escalate, and one favour leads to another, Glass grows ever closer to breaking point.

And when Glass breaks, he shatters..."

It's got a March release in the UK, but what does this mean for us hard-working Americanos?

It's a prison novel so I am expecting rampant butt-fuckery/shankery. In other words, a grand old time shall be had!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: DARK RIDE by Kent Harrington

"The things they used, the ropes, the safety handcuffs, Eve's special leather halters and hoods, the leashes, were all hung up neatly in the walk-in closet in the basement. Eve had a girl clean up afterward, so that when they first arrived, the house was always spotless and smelled of disinfectant. It was always the same. They met in the afternoons. There was very little talking, really; she didn't like to talk much before. They would do the drug; it was part of the ritual; it gave them the power to leave the normal and reach the other side. Speed made hours and hours of sex possible. It also made you mean. It was then, if you'd been in the alley on the second day, or even the third day (no one lasted longer than three days, even with the drug), you would have heard something, certainly."

That beautiful little paragraph does not appear half-way through Dark Ride like it would in your normal novel - no sir. It is on page three. Insurance salesman Jimmy Rogers and Eve, the wife of his boss and friend Phil, are that fucking awesomely depraved at the beginning of the novel. You know right off the bat that these two are gonna do some fucked up shit to keep this thing they got going, that their obsession is gonna take them on, you know, a dark ride.

1996 gave the world two great debuts from authors that would go on to have great careers in crime fiction: Miami Purity by Vicki Hendricks and Dark Ride by Kent Harrington. Thing is, both novels are classic James M. Cain-style noirs about sexual obsession. What was the fucking deal? I mean, we can't put it all on Clinton but...come on. What are the odds that two amazing sex-crazed crime classic debuts would come out at the same time? Oh, and by the way: Grad students looking for an awesome thesis - you're welcome.

Dark Ride is a classic story of a sleazy guy whose involvement with a sexpot makes him into an even sleazier dude, involving him in murder, blackmail, corruption and all kinds of other dark awesomeness. Think of Body Heat, Double Indemnity, Postman Always Rings Twice - all those "let's kill my husband and live happily ever after together" stories - then turn that shit up past eleven and you come somewhere in the vicinity of how bat-shit this stuff is. There's twisted and sick and then three miles after that you find Dark Ride.

And the book would be just fucking golden if it was nothing but a revamping of a classic story, but thankfully it is so much more. With the town of Clarksville, California Harrington has created a frightening little hamlet where the ugly past seems to raise it's head and bite you in the ass every couple of hours. Because you see, Jimmy Rogers isn't just fucked because he's boning a psycho - he probably would have been fucked simply for being the son of an influential evil politician. Clarksville isn't in California, it's in the darkest depths of fucking Hades.

Okay, but I'm still just talking about plot shit, getting caught up in the moment. Sorry, it happens when the Nerd gets worked up. I could talk about the impeccable, delicious prose that Harrington just seems to shit out on the page, but you read that awesome paragraph up top so you can tell that this dude can write like a fucking demon dog. I could talk about the sneaky little surprises Harrington reveals about his beautifully conceived protagonist Jimmy Rogers, but then I'd be spoiling the fun. I could talk about the careful attention to detail, the great supporting cast of characters, the horrifyingly rendered violence, the perfect unraveling of the plot, the ridiculous depravity of Eve - but all my lizard brain can think to rave and rant about is just how crazy fucking DARK this shit is, how Harrington never lets up, how he never fails to go absolutely all the goddamn way.

This is the kind of crime fiction that makes me want to shout "I CAN'T BELIEVE SOMEBODY ACTUALLY WENT THERE!" to anybody that will listen to my insane ramblings. This is the stuff that makes me thankful that a publisher had the huge fucking brass ones to let a book like this see the light of day, thankful that this crazy-ass manuscript is not getting moldy in some cardboard box in a dank basement. This is the kind of pulp I am constantly searching for - challenging, unrelenting, alarming. Dark Ride reminds me that somebody out there must like their entertainment as ape-shit as I do.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Catching Up #20: Voluntary Madness by Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks is fucking nuts in the best possible way. She fuses James M. Cain-style noir with hardcore erotica without missing a beat and - here's the thing, dear reader - it seems completely fucking natural. And I'm not talking about like, fucking Evanovich uses erotica in her bounty hunter books (where she lamely talks about Ranger's taut muscles and steely eyes and all that lame-ass bullshit) - no sir. This stuff is "thrust his cock in her pussy" kind of stuff, no "engorged members entering her womanhood" neutered crap that wouldn't even make a Quaker read one-handed. This is FUCKING, this is PORNOGRAPHY, this is...fucking awesome. But naturally, The Nerd wouldn't even give a shit about any of that stuff if it wasn't at its heart, stone-cold noir.

Voluntary Madness is indeed that. But you knew that, didn't you reader-who-is-looking-at-a-site-called-Nerd-of-Noir. You knew the Nerd would not bend the rules just so he could talk about stroking it to some book. That's not his style, that's not why you're here. So let's just walk away from the steamy stuff and head towards the fucking BLOOD. You want tits and asses, might I suggest looking JUST ABOUT EVERYWHERE ELSE ON THE INTERNET.

Voluntary Madness is about Juliette and Punch, a star-crossed couple in Key West looking to live it up for a few months before they end it all at Fantasy Fest, go out in a blaze of glory befitting their crazy love. Before they off themselves the mission is simple: Punch will write an amazing book and the two of them will do crazy shit to "inspire" his creative process. Also, they'll fuck a lot and Punch will get drunk off his ass most of the time. Not a bad plan, but yeah, they are some crazy motherfuckers.

Their forced adventures start out simple enough. Juliette decides to flash people late at night. They break into Hemmingway's house to fuck. Shit like that. But as their final day approaches, the stakes are raised and the shennanigans start to get pretty fucked up - like batshit stupid violent fucked up.

What makes such a nutso story work is how deeply Hendricks is able to get inside of Juliette's naive little brain. She is our narrator and we come to see why she likes a puke like Punch, see how intense her love is, how ignorant and unworldly she is. It's a helluva trick to pull off and Hendricks succeeds beautifully. As the book goes on and shit gets crazier and crazier, we almost grow to sympathize with Punch when at first such a thing doesn't seem remotely possible.

Hendricks also packs the book with great Key West shit too - a town that she renders as both extremely appealing and pretty much as annoying as you thought it was (no matter what lame-ass Parrothead shitfuckers tell you). There's also great supporting characters like a hot lesbian Wiccan named Isis who wants some sweet Juliette ass and an overly friendly cop named Woodly...who wants some sweet Juliette ass as well...pretty much everybody is running around with their pelvises leading the way in Hendricks' Key West.

And that's the way it should be. The only thing more powerful than money in the noir world is sexual obsession. Hendricks knows that better than anyone currently writing crime and Voluntary Madness is a prime example of her wonderfully dark world view. I can't wait to dip into my handsome copy of Iguana Love for another sweaty, sick ride.

Ruminating In My Pants #7: Best Books of 2008

Okay so I have thought long and hard (ha!) about this and have finally come up with my own little categories for the best books of twenty-aught-eight. Yeah, I know: I'm fucking awesome, but I pale in comparison to these books, these tomes of blood, guts, and - above all - massive fucking cojones.

Enjoy, discuss and fucking COWER in fear at the powerful prose that is about to singe your fucking eyebrows and smooth out your wrinkly, demented brains!

Best New COMIC series: SCALPED by Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera

There ain't much going on in crime comics at the moment (hopefully that will change with Vertigo's Crime Line in 2009) but what's there is fucking CHOICE. Scalped is not just the best thing going in comics but the best thing in crime PERIOD. This stuff is raw and completely uncompromised. Every character gets their time to shine and none of their storylines disappoint at all. If this were even half-way properly adapted into a television show it would hold its own with Deadwood, The Sopranos, and The Wire without a fucking doubt.

Best New STANDALONE Crime Novel: Savage Night by Allan Guthrie

Yeah, my love of Guthrie peppers every line of this little blog so this is probably no surprise - shit, I even predicted this would win back when I first reviewed it - but god damn this book kicked my ass. Guthrie is leading the pack as far as going all the way, taking the genre farther than we ever thought possible. Savage Night is extremely violent, agonizingly suspenseful, pathetically tragic, and absolutely hilarious. It seems the only way he could shock me next go around would be to write a sunny little book about an old lady and her crime solving cats. That said, he'll probably prove me dead-fucking-wrong.

Best New SERIES Crime Novel: Toros & Torsos by Craig McDonald

The Hector Lassiter novels are so ambitious, so meticulously researched, so ingenious that just about anybody who enjoys good fiction can appreciate them. Thankfully for hard-ass pulp fans like me, McDonald also fucking BRINGS IT with the noir goodies as well. For all its scope and history, Toros & Torsos never forgets to first and foremost entertain sick fucks like the Nerd with it's badass lead character, its shocking violence and its twisted, dread-filled plot. This guy covers all the bases in an unforced, refreshing, beautiful way. Hector Lassiter LIVES!

Best NEWLY DISCOVERED Crime Novel: Black Friday by David Goodis

It is always exciting to pick up an old gold standard of the genre and find that yeah, it actually IS a fucking gold fucking standard! The only thing about Black Friday that makes it stick out amongst the great novels of the present is an overall lack of cell phones and the word "fuck," otherwise this shit is as badass as a crime junkie could ask for. It hums along at a breakneck speed with a tight plot and gives you tons of fantastic, darkly shaded characters along the way. Kudos to Serpent's Tail for making more of Goodis's shit available. Keep that shit up!

So there you have it, my meaningless-yet-apparently-necessary list of the best crime novels I read in 2008. Naturally, if you've even glanced at this site before you can tell that I loved the shit out of a ton of other novels last year, but these are the greatest of the great, if such a distinction is possible. I didn't bother with honorable mentions or any of that shit because the Nerd's time is precious...which is why he has a rinky-dink blog...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Catching Up #19: Die A Little by Megan Abbott

It is alarming what Megan Abbott can do with the noir genre. And I’m not saying alarming like “oh bother that dislodged my monocle” alarming but like “let’s head to the fucking shelter” alarming. James Ellroy should thank his fucking lucky stars that he is supposedly no longer a writing crime after the last Underworld U.S.A. novel because Abbott’s ‘50’s L.A. gives his a goddamn sprint for its fucking money.

Now I know you’ve figured this shit out dear reader. You’re thinking, Okay Nerd, you’ve made your shocking statement, now explain the plot and then try and back up your boldness.

Well, ridiculously-perceptive-clearly-autistic reader…I guess I’ll go ahead and do just that. Here I fucking go. You happy now, smart-ass? No wonder the other kids think you’re weird.

So Die A Little is about a woman named Alice Steele whose sister-in-law Lora King is a nosy little bitch in 1950’s Pasadena. Well, actually Lora is right to be suspicious. Alice Steele is a lady with a past so seedy it could never stay hidden forever. She isn’t good enough for her straight-arrow husband Bill, an investigator with the D.A.’s office and his sister (who is yeah, a little too close to her brother…) is willing to dig through the muck, even if it costs her her life….or maybe even her soul (man, The Nerd really sucks at taglines).

Like any good story, what makes this one stick out particularly is the little details. There is tons of attention to appliances bought and usd by the newlweds and what everybody is wearing and the food they prepare for parties and all kinds of shit that normally bogs down a lesser novel. In Die A Little it serves as a hilarious contrast. These people all live buttoned-down boring-ass consumerist 1950's lives, no wonder it comes as such a shock - and thrill - to Lora that there is this whole other world outside of her own normalcy, that Alice comes from such ill fame. It's only natural she'd be up for hanging out there...just a little couldn't hurt, right?

As with my previous Abbott experience, Queenpin, the book goes all the way, gives the reader the most satisfyingly dark resolution they could ask for. Also, aside from a couple well-timed uses of the word "fuck," this one feels like it was actually written in the fifties while somehow not feeling neutered by the style choice either. It's a feat that never ceases to make my nerd-boner rage.

If you haven't checked out Abbott yet...jesus, I don't know what the fuck to tell you. I mean, do you have something better to do? It's a fucking blizzard out there - unless you're living in L.A. And even if you're living in L.A., why wouldn't you want to visit the town back when it had some class, when the secrets seemed dirtier, the movie business seemed exotic instead of something obsessed over on DVD extras. That is where Abbott takes you in Die A Little. I'd like to go back to that world real soon.

That's why I ordered The Song Is You.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ruminating In My Pants #6: Best Music of 2008

The list-making continues. Why? Because the Nerd has to feed the monkey, let you lot out there know that he is more than just a dude who likes crazy-ass crime shit - much fucking more.

I'm a guy who likes indie rock and independent film and HBO shows and...

Okay, so I'm basically every other educated twenty-something white dude - has my fucking number. But I do make LISTS about that shit. How novel!

Music! Gee-whiz!

1. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver

Okay, so it has a lame-ass "story" behind it about some sad bastard going off alone to make an album in the woods of Wisconsin (a story which no doubt helped sales, mind you), but come on, this thing is fucking beautiful. This album puts Justin Vernon up there with singer-songwriters like Eric Bachman and Bonnie "Prince" Billy - no fucking lie.

2. The Midnight Organ Fight - Frightened Rabbit

Great pop album - has all the traditional highs and lows you expect from a rock-solid rock album but done so goddamn well it seems unique, fresh. Main attraction here though is definitely the lead singer's crazy-ass voice - scottish lilt, voice-cracks and all.

3. Dear Science - TV on the Radio

Yeah, I know - real original, right? Look, I wanna be unimpressed by these dudes, but the Rich Man's Gnarls Barkley are just too fucking awesome. They just keep hitting that right balance of experimentalism and pop sensibility over and over, upping the ante with each album - these guys are gonna be fucking legendary toot-fucking-sweet.

4. Wrecking Ball - Dead Confederate

I remember having My Morning Jacket's sound explained to me before I ever heard their music and getting really excited. Then I heard the music and...they sucked. Dead Confederate is what I'd hoped they would sound like. If you like the Black Angels, you're gonna shit your pants when you get your gnarled, sweaty mitts on Wrecking Ball.

5. In Ear Park - Department of Eagles

I was a huge fan of Grizzly Bear's last album and this band is primarily those same dudes, only with a more radio-friendly sound. There's still some weird Beach Boys shit going on in the production, but now it's more like Pet Sounds than Smile.

That'll do it for music, expect my extremely well-thought-out books list to come out soon, gentle, impatient readers. EXPECT THAT SHIT!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Catching Up #18: PYRES by Derek Nikitas

So this beast right here, Pyres by Derek Nikitas, could be classified as more of a Crime-Centered-Literary-Thriller than a straight-up noir, but once you get to the last hundred pages, when it is just one awesomely violent action sequence after another, there is no denying that the book deserves to be reviewed on Nerd of Noir. This is tough stuff, dear reader, child-and-pregnant-woman-in-peril-type tough stuff. But there's weird little Nordic trolls and shit in it too so...there's that...

Yeah, you read that right, reader-who-doesn't-trust-his-own-fucking-eyes: there are fucking creatures from Nordic mythology in this book. Weirder than that - it actually worked for me instead of making me want to shoot myself in the face. But I'm getting ahead of myself, getting excited. Let's do that whole plot summary bullshit thing so you can keep the fuck up.

Pyres is set in upstate New York in the earlier nineties, weeks before young Lucia Moberg's sixteenth birthday. Lucia's life seems fairly typical until the day her professor father - who specializes in, you guessed it, Nordic mythology - is shot dead right before her eyes in a mall parking lot.

Greta Hurd, a middle-aged detective for the Rochester PD, takes the case which, you know, eventually gets personal. Hurd's messy personal life - which involves an estranged daughter about to be married to a schlub Greta doesn't approve of - seemingly can be redeemed if she could only figure out this case.

Also thrown into the mix is another woman named Tanya, an extremely pregnant Whiskey Tango (see Generation Kill for an explanation of that reference) girl whose violent boyfriend Mason just got made a member of the Skeleton Crew, a dangerous motorcycle club run by sinister bearded lard-ass Buck Hanson. If you don't think the Skeleton Crew is mixed up somehow in Oscar Moberg's murder, you don't read much.

Pyres is successful in large part due to one of my favorite, sly conventions in crime fiction. It is a very simple story, but because of the way and order information is revealed to the reader, it seems like a very complicated plot (For a great film example of this, see Eastern Promises). The storytelling is so fucking assured, so sly, that what eventually turns out to be a classic crime story seems at first to be ridiculously complex - and this is Nikitas's fucking debut!

And then there's the fucking Nordic trolls or tomte, as they are known in the book. The tomte show up once in a while to help Lucia through a tough spot - help her find something important or see something that helps move the plot along. It sounds completely gaytarded, as Brian Posehn would say, but it makes sense within the reality of the book, with how Nikitas depicts the events. Are there actually little creatures running around helping out Lucia, or is it just the delusions of a girl whose father - a father violently murdered in front of her eyes just days previous - drilled these stories and myths into her head from an early age? It's pretty ingenious, actually.

But what really makes this fucker hum is the action. This is some of the most intense violence you will read anywhere, depicted on a level that is arguably McCarthyian - no shit. If they were to adapt this novel for the screen, it could never keep the violence true to the book and still come away with an R-rating. Some shocking stuff happens in this motherfucker and when it isn't completely disgusting, it is absolutely riveting.

I can't wait for Nikitas to pump out another book. This dude has the chops to intrigue both the beret-wearing totebag-carriers and the folks like you and me who want our pulp to go all the way. He's fighting the best fight and I support the shit out of him for that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ruminating In My Pants #5: Doing the Whole "Best Of 08" Thing on TV, Movies

So the Nerd is most certainly not immune to sharing what his favorite shit of the year was. There is something just so fucking deep within him that cries out RANK YOUR FAVORITE SHIT IN NUMERICAL ORDER! Because we all like lists like that, don't we? When you get your local paper (assuming you don't scream PRINT IS DEAD like some people...) towards the end of the year and some critic puts up his top ten movies or books or concerts - it's fun to make fun of them, pretend like you're better than them. He liked THAT movie? What a douche!

Naturally, then you go check out THAT movie because it might be pretty good...

So yeah, make fun of my choices, call me a douche or just be confused why I'm doing this so late in the fucking game (it's because I'm in a middle market and certain movies take a few weeks to get to the Twin Cities). But do you know who I fucking am? I'm the goddamn Nerd of Noir and I know what good looks like and I have an even better fucking idea what great looks like and this fucking list coming up right below this fucking sentence looks good-goddamn-fucking-great to me:

Movies! Hoo-ray!

1. In Bruges - Martin McDonagh

No movie was more surprising, more exciting, more hilarious, more sad, more violent, more...fuck it, the list goes on. In Bruges is a cult classic, a movie I shouldn't have to explain, you should just pop it in and be awed. I can't even fathom what McDonagh will do next, I just hope he does it with Farrell. Somebody's gotta keep that dude's career on track.

2. The Wrestler - Darren Aronofsky

So The Wrestler is full of cliches and lacks the scope of Aronofsky's earlier efforts, but man does this movie hit me hard. Mickey Rourke just fucking IS Randy "Ram" Robinson and if he doesn't win an Oscar I'll shit in my hat. The final minutes of this movie just fucking haunt me.

3. Rachel Getting Married - Jonathan Demme

I've had many arguments over this movie with people as of late asking me why I thought it was so great. Well, fucking look at it! Rachel Getting Married just drew me in and made me part of the family, part of the great big emotional party in a way few movies have ever tried for. Even the structure of the movie is based on a certain "partying" logic, hence why it sort of tapers off...

4. Snow Angels - David Gordon Green

I've already talked about my love of the CCAHT in an earlier Ruminating so this one should come as no surprise. It's just a simple story of domestic strife in a small-town and how simple things can escalate to terrible extremes. This movie is for sure a bummer, but it's also agonizingly intense and sometimes even pretty funny. Sam Rockwell is a genius, too.

5. Let The Right One In - Tomas Alfredson

Last year's best horror film was from Spain (The Orphanage) and this year it was from Sweden. Right One is deliberate and strange and completely original while somehow actually following all the classic vampire rules. If you don't get creeped out by this one (or laugh your ass off during the infamous cat scene), you probably eat babies (speaking of eating babies, what happened to The Road coming out this year? I was so pumped for that and now...what?)

Television! Yippee!

1. Generation Kill - David Simon

This is the most refreshing war story ever told. It's so simple yet so complex. We hang out with a bunch of AWESOMELY foul-mouthed Marines as they do a recon mission through Iraq, ultimately ending up in Bagdad in the early days of the latest Iraq war. Through this small band of people, we see exactly how hard it is to do something really good in modern warfare. This shit is just so fucking ALIVE.

2. Mad Men - Matthew Weiner

After the show settled the whole "Will Don Draper Be Found Out?!" storyline in season one, many fans were left wondering just what the fuck we'd all care about in season two. Well, like in season two of The Sopranos, Mad Men chose to just expand our knowledge of the many great characters populating its cool-ass fucking world, and good God did it ever feel right.

3. The Wire - David Simon

Before you Johnny-Come-Lately Wire fans crawl up my ass about not putting this as number one, let me establish my impeccable Nerd cred by saying I was in the story from the beginning so don't you NPR folks who came on-board just because you heard season four was talking about "the children" (oh! What will happen to the children!?) get up my ass about this ranking. Season Five tried too hard and enlightened too little in its chosen subjects (print newspapers) and for that it ends up below these two. But still, there was plenty of greatness to be found, just not GREATNESS as with all the seasons before it.

4. Elvis Mitchell: Under The Influence - Elvis Mitchell

Though I also loved Elvis Costello's Spectacle show on the Sundance Channel, Elvis Mitchell's TCM interview program just felt more intimate, more real. Plus, he had better guests. Joan Allen, Tarantino, Sydney Pollack (right before he died!), Bill Murray - all of them talking about the movies that inspired them and shaped their career paths. Yeah, this show is for the nerdiest of nerds, but it also beefed up the Netflix queue (as if it needed any help).

5. The Paper

There was actually a reason to watch MTV in 2008! Shit, there was actually a reality-TV show that I kinda loved. That's a fucking miracle right there! The cuddly kids of Cypress Bay High in Weston Florida won this crotchety nerd's heart as they tried to put together something as earth-shattering as gasp! a school newspaper. There is really no accounting for why I loved this white-bread little show so damned much. Do I have what you humans call...feelings?

Jesus, this list-making is making me thirsty. I'm gonna hit you back later with book and music lists real soon. The Nerd's vacation is officially over!

Monday, January 5, 2009

BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway

Alright, so before you say jack-fucking-shit, up-in-my-fucking-grill reader, lemme just say this: Yeah, I fucking well realize that McGilloway's debut novel Borderlands doesn't fit the site all that well. Good it sure as fuck is, but hard-boiled/noir it sure as fuck ain't.

The hero is flawed but all in all a good guy, the language is usually pretty tame, there's some sex but nothing too graphic and, until the climax, the violence is primarily off-screen, as they say. And yeah, it's sorta your traditonal police procedural mystery where the detective pulls back the layers and peels at the paint until - oh my god! - this shit goes all the way to the big boys in power!

But you know what? It's good. So fuck you, purist readers. Good cuts the mustard fucking well enough this time out for the Nerd of Noir. Besides, it's about time I reviewed something my mom might enjoy (though thinking about it, she's a big Koryta and Lehane fan so I guess I've already covered that base).

Borderlands is set in the last days of 2002 in a small town near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (hence the title, how about that shit?). A teenage girl's nekkid body is found, the cause of death not apparent. The murder case, a rare thing for the local PD, falls on the shoulders of Inspector Ben Devlin, a family man who - like any decent small town cop - seems to know everybody in his normally happy little hamlet. But he's barely into the investigation before another young person is killed. If you don't think the two cases are related, you are easily fooled, retarded reader.

I pose a question: What is society's fascination with murdered or missing women?

Nah, I'm just fucking with you. If the Nerd wanted your opinions he wouldn't have formed his own - no doubt completely correct - opinions already.

Okay, so the mystery plot is solid and sound, everything connecting and complicating and involving like the best mysteries do. This bitch is complex and it moves. If that's your bag, you won't get pissed when you wrap this one up.

But, not that the Nerd traffics in cliches or nothin', but a series is only as good as its main character and Ben Devlin is pretty damn good. He's just a decent guy - yeah, he wants to fuck this rich bitch something awful but, you know, he doesn't so he's a decent guy. Loves his family, doesn't get drunk, gets boners but doesn't ruin his life over them, is honest with his wife most of the time. An average decent guy who is good at his job but not some kind of superman or "the dogged detective who will stop at nothing to pursue justice." He's just a decent guy with a job to do. Basically, he's a good man to have as your narrator, to have as the anchor of a new series.

Then there's the setting, which is also damn fine. McGilloway's depiction of small town Ireland feels real, lived-in, sharp. This is not a bunch of leprechauns dancing a spirited jig in the cobblestone streets nor is it nothing but dark alleyways and smoky pubs. This is small town life in the then just emerging New Ireland, a sometimes awkward mix of the traditional and the startlingly new. Also, there are travellers (gypsies or tinkers to my racist readers, roma or sinti to my p.c. readers) in the novel and I never get enough of that culture clash shit.

So yeah, if you like mysteries, McGilloway's Borderlands is the start of what will no doubt be a really good long-running series. He can unravel a mystery plot with the best of them, his Ben Devlin is a wonderfully real guy, and he's got a great sense of place.

You bet your ass I'll read the next Devlin.

See? Even the Nerd of Noir can't turn down a good mystery - even one such as this that doesn't involve the detective shooting an unarmed bad guy in the face or anything awesome like that - when it's done exceptionally well.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: BIG TOWN by Doug J. Swanson

Doug J. Swanson was a hero to me when I was a teenager. I can remember reading his debut, Big Town, on a camping trip when I was twelve. It was one of those books that just woke me up, showed me how down and dirty the crime genre could be.

I'd say that Big Town played a major role in making me a crime fiction fan for life. No shit, dear readers. None whatsofuckingever.

Big Town is the first in Swanson's shamefully under-appreciated Jack Flippo novels, a private eye series set in Dallas, Texas (in case you thought I meant the other Dallas...). Flippo used to work in the DA's office until his dick got him into some trouble (and I don't mean like his dick didn't use the proper format on a memo, I mean like his dick had sex with the wrong woman), costing him his job. Now he's one step ahead of the repo man and collection agencies, living in a shit shack that no bum would envy, and he still hasn't learned to think with the other head.

Jack is hard up for money (in case that last sentence wasn't clear...) so he takes a quick job from a scummy lawyer friend snapping photos of the famous huckster/entrepeneur Buddy George cheating on his wife. Bad shit goes down during the shoot and Jack ends up saving the mistress from George's violent idea of sex.

Then he finds out that George's "wife" is actually his opportunistic secretary, Paula (who happens to be smoking hot) and that someone paid the mistress to seduce Buddy George. Obviously, things are not what they seem and soon Jack is in the thick of a twisted blackmail plot that is - no joke - fucking brimming with double crosses, hot sex and some memorably nasty violence.

What first strikes you about Big Town is that while it seems to be a P.I. novel, it quickly becomes clear that it is more of a crime novel than a mystery. There aren't any major revelations or anything, we're kept abreast of shit along the way like an Elmore Leonard novel. We get to follow all the major players in this one and thank God, because Jack has some great fucking characters surrounding him - Teddy Deuce chief amongst them.

Teddy is the henchman in this book, the idiot muscle counted upon to deliver the beat downs and intimidate the competition. Thing is, dude's about as loyal as your dog when a stranger offers him a piece of hamburger. Teddy double-crosses people so often that his dumb ass can't keep straight who he's working for eventually.

Then there's Buddy George, the Napoleonic motivational speaker. And the sexy femme fatale Paula. And the mistress Sharronda. And Sharronda's white trash piece of shit boyfriend Delbert - a brief (guess what happens) but MAJOR highlight.

But of course, a series is only as strong as its hero and Jack is one of the all-timers. He is as smart as they come and says all the cool lines but, goddamnit, dude just can't see a foot in front of him if his dick is at attention. In other words, he's willing to over-look certain things about Paula, a woman he can't even remotely trust but man is she purty, a situation that leads to him becoming one of the more dark and fascinating series heroes I've ever encountered.

Swanson hit the fucker out the park his first time around and his following novels were no slouches either. Dreamboat, the second book, has this mistaken identity thing near the end involving tattoos that is just the nastiest, most perverse, excellent scene ever. I mean it just...shit. I guess this FFB entry is really just a plug for Swanson's body of work. The guy was just so damned good and it's coming up on a decade since we've heard anything from him. That is a shame and a fucking half.

I think Swanson's brand of sick, funny and dark would fit right in with the big boys of neo-noir that are pumping out the awesome today. He had his own thing going with Jack Flippo - a PI series that was more Cain than Chandler - and Big Town showed he had it down cold right out the fucking gate.