Thursday, May 28, 2009


Anthony Neil Smith's The Drummer is a fucking strange-ass crime novel, but it somehow never crosses into the "wacky" crime novel sub-genre. I mean, it's about eighties hair metal (the stupidest of all the metals) but The Drummer resists the urge go all Spinal Tap on your ass. It's got a classic crime plot (guy disappears only to be discovered years later by those he was trying to escape from) but for a lot of the book Smith is giving us flashbacks that are mainly meant just to develop our narrator and his relationships to the other characters. There are mysteries to be solved, and there's a bit of ticking clock shit going on and the big secret is revealed at the end and all that, but for the most part The Drummer feels more like an acutely observed character piece than a crime thriller. And our hero is involved in murders and beat downs (receiving and giving) and all that good pulpy stuff, but there's also this cool New-Orleans-right-before-the-flood portrait being painted steadily throughout the book.

In other words, The Drummer is a fucking crazy original noir in the Goodis-ian sense (the best of the senses).

The Drummer tells the story of Calvin Christopher, drummer for the band Savage Night (fellow nerds: note the Jim Thompson nod), a successful hair metal band in the late eighties (you know, when hair metal was dying fast). Seeing the end in sight and getting word that the band owes tons of money to the IRS and others, Cal decides it's better to burn out than to fade away. He torches his mansion - cool vintage cars still in the garage - and changes his name to Merle Johnson, hoping that people will figure he's dead even without a body for proof. He eventually ends up in New Orleans, makes a nice life for himself with a girlfriend named Beth and a gay best friend named Justin, just drinking away the nights in cool bars listening to good music on the stage.

Then the grade-A douchebag lead singer (is there any other kind?) of the band shows up after fifteen years. Todd Delacroix has never left Hollywood (though Hollywood wishes he'd leave) and figures resurrecting Calvin Christopher would be a hell of a way to give all of their careers a good shot in the arm. Merle/Calvin has no interest in coming out of hiding but tells Todd they'll work something out the next day, stalling for time to make another escape. Then when he does go to Todd's hotel, he finds the singer with a belly full of booze and a suicide note detailing Merle's whereabouts, saying the proof is in the car.

But somebody has fucking stolen the car...

So begins the big chase with cops, band members, and mysterious thugs all coming after Merle's ass while Merle has to either salvage his nice hidden life in New Orleans or decide to light out for the territories again. But like I said, it's not as nutso as you would think. The story kicks the most ass when it's just about Merle's fucked up relationships with women and how he's hurt his friends past and present with his evasion and lies. It should be said that of all the noir authors working today, few match Anthony Neil Smith for sheer emotional pain. And not in a sentimental "woe is me" bullshit sort of way, no fucking sir. Smith makes you hurt along with the characters in a sobering, stark way that never veers into sentimentality.

But don't let all my high-minded bullshit talk keep you from picking up The Drummer. Like any great noir, it's got the sex, drugs and violence to pull your through it, but has the smarts and emotional impact to make that shit stick in the mind after ward. The Drummer is unlike anything Smith has yet written, and sure as fuck different from anything else on the current shelf that we call modern noir fiction. You better believe The Nerd well fucking approves of that shit.

Catching Up #31: KILLSHOT by JOHN MADDEN

Yeah, I know - it's been fucking ages since the Nerd did a movie review on the site. No, it's not that I don't watch movies anymore because I've become a pretentious books-only douche (I usually watch a movie a day), it's just that I've been doing tiny 140 character reviews on my twitter account instead. That's usually enough to express how I feel about a movie and besides, there are hardly any crime movies coming out these days anyhow. That said, you should go see Next Day Air if it's still playing in your town. Surprisingly fun little crime flick.

But back to the topic at hand, watching Killshot last night and then afterward trying to form a decent tweet, I realized that that shit just wasn't going to work out. It was too complicated of an experience to really condense like that. So now that I got the backstory out of the way, let's get to meat, the blood, the fucking review already.

John Madden, the director of Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli's Mandolin, decided to branch out with this violent, fast-paced adaptation of the classic Elmore Leonard novel Killshot. His take on the material is kind of fucked up because he doesn't exactly get why people like Elmore Leonard, but he doesn't completely not get it, either. Its closest cousin would be John Frankenheimer's Fifty-Two Pickup starring Roy Scheider, a film that was primarily a dark thriller, but with enough funny moments thrown in so as not to completely piss off the Elmore Leonard fanatics. That's the approach Madden has gone with here.

But first, for those of you who haven't read it (which you should, like, fucking now because it is one of Leonard's best), a quick plot description. Retired hitman Armand "Blackbird" Degas (Mickey Rourke) takes up with dumbass punk Ricky Nix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to shake down a real estate agent for $20K. When they go to confront the real estate guy they confuse their target with Wayne Colson (Thomas Jane), a construction worker looking to get a job alongside his wife Carmen (Diane Lane). Wayne fights the two off without correcting them and the two criminals flee. But Carmen and Wayne have seen the Blackbird's face, and he never lets that shit go...

So the movie gets some important shit right. The Michigan locations are great, the entire "plot" is intact and handled well, the performances are all very good (with one exception I'll talk about later), and it is entertaining and involving, wrapping up in an hour and a half very nicely. All in all an agreeable movie, something that certainly deserved more of a theatrical run, that's for fucking sure. Plus, it's still pretty fucking funny in some spots, thankfully.

But if you have seen Out of Sight or Jackie Brown you know there's a better way to handle Leonard. And I'm not even saying that Killshot is as relaxed a book as Out of Sight and Rum Punch either. It's sure as shit more of a straight-forward thriller than those two books, but if Madden had just let certain character moments breathe a little more, let the story wander a few more minutes, he could have really had something special here. He gets it pretty much right when it comes to the interaction between Degas and Nix, letting them play off of each other nicely and letting them carry most of the movie even though they're the bad guys.

But when it comes to Wayne and Carmen's relationship, there is no reason we should really care about either of them. They get a couple of scenes together to explain the crisis that their marriage is facing, but that's it. We know next to nothing about the two characters, and they're our good guys! In the book, Carmen was pretty fun and cool, not just the scared wife with some hidden grit. She was our heroine and we wanted her to win. In the movie we only want her to win because she's not a bad person and the two fun characters most definitely fucking are bad people.

And don't get me started on Thomas fucking Jane. That guy is one of the worst actors working today. He is the biggest fucking ham we have. I remember seeing him as Todd Parker in Boogie Nights, the fucked up friend of Dirk and Reed's that fucks up the drug deal at Alfred Molina's house, and thinking that he was going to be the next big thing. He was exciting and funny and cool and alive, man.

But everything I've seen him in since has just made me fucking cringe.

He almost single-handedly ruined The Mist for me, a pretty good, very ballsy horror movie. Time and time again Jane straight up fucking fails to do the most basic job of movie acting - make me believe that he is a character in a story, not an actor playing a character. Most movies - even really shitty ones - you can just accept that the people in the movie are "the sheriff" or "the wife" right when they come on screen. Thomas Jane is often incapable of even that fucking level of acting. That's just fucking sheer incompetence. There are so many little scenes just completely ruined with his mugging. YOU'RE JUST PLAYING AN AVERAGE FUCKING JOE, DUDE! IT'S NOT THAT TOUGH OF A FUCKING JOB!

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah: What doesn't fucking work about Killshot. So there's the fact that they don't let character moments happen often enough, the pace should have been more chill, Thomas fucking Jane is in it, and then there's the fucking thriller music throughout the piece. Just constant fucking shitty soundtrack music. The dark, indistinguishable soundtrack that you hear on network cop shows all the time. Just fucking boring-ass music. And that would have been all right with me if the boring cop show soundtrack showed up every now and then, like during the suspense sequences or something, but all the fucking time? Just lazy and generic, man. Again, I'm not saying they should have been all source music like a Tarantino film on this bitch, or had a really cool and sexy soundtrack like Soderberg's Out of Sight but still, something other than the lazy fucking mess that's in my ears throughout.

So yeah, let's wrap this shit up. Killshot is a good movie that deserved to be seen in theatres. It's not one of the great Leonard adaptations that it so deserved to be, but it's not a travesty by any means. I'll bet there's a two hour cut somewhere that just fucking kicks ass, that allows the characters to hang out and distinguish themselves. That said, there's probably not a cut that doesn't have Thomas Jane in it...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ruminating In My Pants #8: The REAL Crime Summer Reads

While pissing away the evening on twitter, I found out from the always informative Sarah Weinman that NPR has put up a summer reading list on their website. How nice of them, right? I checked that shit out, found that they had a section for mystery/crime novels.

A quick peek at that list and you can tell that the Nerd's blood was no doubt angried up toot-fucking-sweet.

After voicing my disappointment via the sad soapbox that is twitter, short story wunderkind Keith Rawson suggested that I do my own anti-NPR summer reading list. I, you know, fucking concurred and lo, here is the fucking list.

The Nerd Pimpeth Thusly:

1. FAKE ID by JASON STARR (Hardcase Crime, May 26. 2009)

Now you're thinking, Nerd, doesn't Jason Starr have a book coming out in August called PANIC ATTACK? Why isn't that one on your list? Well, dear reader, I'm sort of excited about that one, but Fake ID is one from Starr's early period where he was just letting it rip. After The Follower I have begun to fear that Starr has moved too far into the main stream with his fiction. I mean, The Follower had some great frat boy douchebag characters in it, but the overall story was much more pf a traditional thriller than noir ass-kicker. I've been waiting for Fake ID to hit America for years now, and thanks to Charles Ardai and the Hardcase crew, the dream is fucking well realized at last.

2. HOGDOGGIN' by ANTHONY NEIL SMITH (Bleak House Books, June 1, 2009)

Unlike everything else on this list, I've read Hogdoggin' already. Hell, as you well know I've fucking pimped for it already by participating in Smith's kick ass HOGDOGGIN' VIRTUAL MOTORCYCLE RALLY. My review of the book will be up on Bookspot Central on June the fucking first, also known as HOGDOGGIN' MONDAY. In other words, I've supported the shit out of this beast of a book. Well, dear reader, I've said it before and I'll say it a-fucking-gain: I don't pimp for shit I don't fucking straight-up love. Order that shit now, thank the Nerd later.

3. BURY ME DEEP by MEGAN ABBOTT (Simon & Schuster, July 7, 2009)

I've reviewed all three of Megan Abbott's books here at the site and she started out super fucking strong and has only gotten better as she goes along. Not to put the pressure on, but hopes are sky-fucking-high for her latest. Abbott's one of the true originals working today, and her take on the forties and fifties that has been covered in countless films is unlike any Widmark or Mitchum black-and-white classic you'll ever see.

4. THE DEPUTY by VICTOR GISCHLER (Bleak House Books, August 2009)

Gischler's Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse sure as shit kicked my ass and I'm definitely pumped as all hell for Vampire A Go-Go to drop on September 1st, but I'm even more excited for Gischler's return to crime with The Deputy. Expectations are high, but fuck, this is the dude that wrote The Pistol Poets. You better believe his ass is gonna deliver the goods like fucking John Holmes...before coke and AIDS and all that shit did him in, that is.

5. STAIRWAY TO HELL by CHARLIE WILLIAMS (Serpent's Tail Press, August 20, 2009)

Charlie Williams hasn't given us a book since 2006 when he wrapped up the Mangel Trilogy, one of the most fucked up and hilarious series in recent years. Stairway to Hell marks his triumphant return. It's got soul-swapping and David Bowie and Jimmy Page sounds fucking insane is what I'm trying to say. Here's hoping it kicks more ass than Royston Blake on a crazy night bouncing at Hopper's.

So there you go, dear readers, my list to cancel out the lame-fest that is the NPR list. Granted, that won't hold your noir-craving junkie ass for the three whole fucking months of summer, but it's a damned good start. Expect reviews of all of the above as I catch 'em, dear reader.

Expect it like death and fucking taxes. And pledge drives.


George Pelecanos has his shit down fucking cold. He is simply fucking incapable of writing a bad book. His prose is tight, his characters sharp, his sense of place unmatched, his plots organic. Thing is, I’ve read all of his shit and now the Nerd has the dude’s formula down cold.

It wasn’t always this way, dear readers. Remember all those great series that he did in his early and middle periods? The Nick Stefanos PI shit? The Karras and Clay revenge series (my personal favorite)? The Quinn and Strange PI stuff? Fucking Shoedog? Exciting-ass fucking books all.

And don’t get me wrong - I like all his late period standalones that he’s rocking now, like them something fierce. Shit, I think that The Night Gardener is one of his best and most strikingly different novels to date. It’s just that after Drama City and The Turnaround I fucking knew what was going to happen in The Way Home just from the plot description. I didn’t know the specifics and was still wrapped up in the story, all that shit, but it seems like he’s just repeating the same lessons over and over.  You know which character will be sacrificed and which will be redeemed and who will make the right choice to fit Pelecanos’s positive yet sober outlook on the struggles of inner city life in Washington D.C.

And I fucking love his seemingly authentic D.C., think it’s one of the most fascinating places to go in modern fiction. It’s just that I wish that he would shock and upset me again like he used to - like with Soul Circus or The Sweet Forever, books that were brilliant but had some fire to them, some danger, a sense that anything could happen at any moment to any character. Now Pelecanos won’t even allow random tragedy to enter his universe. If you do the right thing and work hard you’ll have some sort of redemption, mean streets and other obstacles be damned. He’s lost his sense of noir and just become the social realist crime novelist. I mean, he’s got the market cornered and everything but come on.

The Way Home’s basic plot is an old standby for crime readers: Dudes find dirty money, consequences ensue. Naturally, because Pelecanos is given free reign these days, the first third of the book is straight-up fucking prologue. We meet a bunch of kids in the same juvie cell block, the focus of the group being the sole white inmate, Chris Flynn. He comes from a good family and - unlike some others in the kiddie clink with him - is able to move on with his life and be a better person following his incarceration.

The book then picks up several years later where we find Chris and his old juvie buddy Ben working as carpet layers for Chris’s father Tom. Chris and Ben find fifty grand stashed in a gym bag while pulling up some old carpet in a house a real estate agent has acquired with the intention of flipping it. Chris, who has apparently learned the living shit out of his lesson, directs Ben to put it back where they found it, figuring it would just get the two of them in trouble somehow. Ben later gets drunk with another old cellblock pal of theirs named Lawrence and spills the beans on their discovery. Naturally, Lawrence goes and steals it where the other two boys just let it be. The two friends start to feel like suckers - Chris feels particularly bad for Ben since Ben doesn’t have the luxury of well-to-do white parents to fall back on in life - until a pair of motorcycle club boys come looking for the money they stashed before serving a sentence…

So yeah, obviously this time out Pelecanos is trying to shed light on the failures of youth offender reform and as always, the facts and preachifying parts are relatively painless and usually pretty interesting. The characters are all strong and feel very real. And, as with everything Pelecanos has ever written, the violence isn’t constant, but what’s there is fucking astoundingly well done and intense.

But Jesus fucking Christ, could there at least be a fucking twist somewhere in this beast? I mean, I’m not asking for it to end in a Mexican stand-off where everybody dies (on second thought, that would be hilariously fucking awesome) but shit, give me something to throw me off. And I’m not saying I want it to be like it turns out the butler did it mystery bullshit, just like anything noir-ish to happen. Like: the main character makes an ambiguous choice, a character I thought would never die dies, a decision by the main character gets his mom fucking killed - something exciting like the old days, something for the folks who liked it better when Pelecanos’s shit was a little bit fucking crazier.

Obviously the dude is trying to appeal to a more literary crowd, to yuppies who caught on to him from watching The Wire. That’s all well and good, but The Wire had the ability to shock, to be tragic on a grand scale. Pelecanos’s fiction has for a while now been decidedly more upbeat than that show, less bleak. I guess some would say his fiction has become more mature, more humane and positive, like one of the Curtis Mayfield songs Pelecanos likes to quote in seemingly every novel. Maybe the fact is that the Nerd just isn’t mature enough to appreciate what he’s doing these days, that the Nerd is too caught up with the more dark and badass elements of crime fiction to appreciate Pelecanos’s more Dickensian approach to the genre.

That very well could be, dear reader, but that doesn’t mean the Nerd can’t pray old George loosens up and has some unadulterated-low-brow-nasty-fucking fun next book around.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sanctuary by Ken Bruen

Truth be told, I will probably never miss a Ken Bruen novel as long as I live. I mean, the guy writes short-ass books with lean-ass prose that take just a couple of hours to plow right the fuck through. Also, his books always have enough despair, humor, violence, and cussing to keep my interest piqued like a teenager at his first titty bar. But Jesus H Fucking Christ the Third: the Jack Taylor series is getting pretty fucking old.

If you don’t know who Jack Taylor is, get caught up like fucking immediately. He’s an ex-cop and unlicensed PI in Galway, Ireland with the rottenest luck of any PI in the history of a genre made up of dudes with rotten-ass luck. He gets clean from coke and booze only to plummet off the wagon with the speed of a skydiver sans a fucking parachute. Over and over again he manages to kill the wrong suspect or get his few loved ones hurt or killed from his own drunkenness or incompetence. Jack Taylor is a great twist on the hard-boiled PI genre…at least he used to be.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the only way this series could shock me now is if Taylor married a good woman, won a billion dollars in the lottery, had a beautiful baby and then they all moved the Cayman Islands and lived out their days on the beach in peaceful tranquility (department of redundancy department?). I mean, the dude just keeps fucking up to the point that it is becoming old hat.

Also, it seems every fucking book the dude runs afoul of some crazy ritualistic killer. It seems like Taylor’s Galway is made up of nothing but serial killers who want to get Taylor’s goat. Shit, every Bruen novel in the last five or six years features at least one serial killer. There are other crimes and other types of criminals to fuck around with - and Bruen has dealt with other kinds of villains in his earlier works - but lately it seems Taylor’s Galway is worse than Dexter’s fucking Miami - just fucking lousy with serial killers. And don’t get the Nerd wrong here, dear reader, I love me some psycho killer shit as much as the next man (Bruen’s own standalone American Skin is arguably one of the best crime novels of the decade and that has a great psycho running through its pages), but it’s getting to be too much.

But now you’re thinking, Nerd, for fuck’s sake, I get it. Get onto the new novel already you douche.
I hear you, Reader-with-an-inner-monologue-as-profane-as-the-Nerd’s-own-inner-monologue-for-some-fucking-reason, and I’ll do just that fucking thusly.

With Sanctuary we find Taylor still hanging onto sobriety and dreaming of leaving the New Ireland for the States. The only thing holding him back: his lesbian cop friend Ridge’s slow, drunken recovery following the removal of her breast due to cancer. Well, that and someone calling themselves Benedictus is sending him letters assuring him that certain deaths he’s been reading about in the newspaper are indeed, connected. And he may be next on the next name on the list…

But it’s not all Zodiac bullshit, dear reader, not at all. The most interesting plot thread in Sanctuary is that it turns out that Jack may not be responsible for little Serena Mae’s death after all. Jack Taylor’s old drug-dealer-turned-Zen-master friend Stewart gives him a heads up that Serena May’s mother Cathy admitted in rehab that she was the one who pushed her daughter out the window (because she couldn’t handle the fact that the child was born with Down’s Syndrome) and placed the blame on Jack. So now Jack is free from his soul-crushing guilt for once in a long-time, but the guilt is obviously (and rightfully) replaced with pure rage. Either one can get a man back on the Jame-o, naturally.

So it’s a pretty substantial installment in the series, with events that actually move the overall arc of the series as a whole forward quite a bit and makes the Nerd wonder if maybe the end is in sight. I’d be sure as shit be happy if it were so, if only so Bruen could give Jack (and his fans) a fucking rest already. But like I said up top, it seems I’ve got a couple hours to spare for a Bruen no matter how many fucking serial killers I have to put up with.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Scott Phillips is a writer that you have to trust. When you crack one of his books, he only gives you hints as to what the story is going to be about. You can't read thirty pages and then be able to guess what the structure of the novel is going to be. Phillips is too sneaky for that, too confident that he can keep you reading without laying all his cards out on the table a few minutes into the game.

The thing is, dear reader, that the guy's confidence is well fucking warranted. I defy you to read the first few pages of Cottonwood and then toss it to the side, never to be read again. It ain't gonna fucking happen. The voice is too sharp, too hilarious, and too fresh to resist. You're gonna want to know what Bill Odgen, your humble narrator, is all about. You're gonna want to know just where this fucking freight train of a book is exactly fucking headed.

I'm not gonna shit on the Cottonwood virgins by spoiling the surprises that happen along the way. You'll notice that all my Scott Phillips reviews have thus far been pretty fucking spare on the plot details and heavy on the fucking priase. Well, that shit ain't changing any time soon, dear reader. Cottonwood is even better than The Walkaway which was even better than The Ice Harvest - which kicked plenty of fucking ass to begin with. Dude had a hell of a run in the first half of the 00's and we can only hope his next effort outdoes even what's come before. Not to set the bar ridiculously high or anything...

I will tell you that Bill Ogden is a bartender living in the newly formed town of Cottonwood, Kansas in the 1870's. The modest hamlet blows up big and it blows up fucking fast upon the arrival of a rich yankee name of Marc Leval, a guy with a plan to turn Cottonwood into a major cattle town with the arrival of the rail road just around the corner. Marc likes Ogden, sees ambition and smarts in the young man and offers to let him in on the ground floor, a chance to make it rich with him in the coming months and years. Now if only Marc's wife wasn't so damned sexy...and always giving Bill these little sideways glances...

So as with the previous novels set in Phillips' little world (you'll recognize that Bill shares the same surname with a character from The Walkaway), that little description doesn't hardly give you a clue as to the arc of the story and that's a good thing. The little secrets, the small revelations and connections - that's the shit that makes Cottonwood rock your shit. Well, that and the great violence and Ogden's pitch-perfect voice as a narrator. And of course, some fucking hilarious dialogue:

"Hey, killer," Lowry called. "I brought you some company."

After a moment's silence a dry croak came from the cell. "You go to hell."

"You'll see it before me," Lowry said with a chuckle as he unlocked the cell opposite.

"If that's so," came the voice from inside, "I'll give your ma a good kiss right on the cunt when I get there, for old time's sake."

If that shit doesn't make you read Cottonwood, I don't know what the fuck will. There's just no hope for you, I guess (either that or you can't spot a great 19th Century 'yo mama' joke when you see it).

So now I'm all caught up with Scott Phillips. It feels both great and horribly depressing. Hopefully his latest work will come out toot-fucking-sweet. And you better fucking believe this: It will sure as shit NOT be "Catching Up" post because my ass will there the fucking day it comes out.

Friday, May 15, 2009

HOGDOGGIN' Virtual Motorcycle Rally, DAY ONE, #2

Today we have special guest blogger ANTHONY NEIL FUCKIN' SMITH rocking his Virtual Motorcycle Rally book tour. Enjoy the shit out of it, dear readers. And oh yeah: order Hogdoggin' already because that shit is tits. I mean, fuck, I wouldn't pimp it if I didn't love it.

Also, if you wanna read some shit by yours truly, check out this post.

Let's get this shit started:

In the Last Episode, The BBQ Revelators rolled into town with mystery meat and a giant-ass smoker.

When Steel God had enough of the muttering and shouting and rock-throwing from the guy who kept poking his head out of the basement a few blocks down, he sent Lafitte to check it out. It was hard for Lafitte to concentrate with the smell of smoked brisket and Cajun sausage in the air, but he managed. Hoped it wouldn’t turn into something requiring the heavy artillery.
Shoved his Glock into the back of jeans, just in case.
The stairs into the place looked as if they’d been carved with teeth. As he descended, Lafitte’s arm-hairs stood on end, cold as a Minnesota winter all the sudden. Yes, indeed, maybe Dante was right about the ninth circle of Hell after all--already froze over.
He couldn’t recognize the tinny music seeping out of the torn speakers, but that was due to the guy inside on a beat-to-hell recliner cursing like he’d just killed a nun.
The hand drawn sign above the door said “Nerd o’ Noir’s Bar” beside a thick, Sharpied-in arrow pointing down. It meant at the door, but Lafitte took a quick peek at the ground, just to be sure. He pushed open the screen door, big N.O.N. striped across in electrical tape, and stepped inside.
Was it a bar? A slum? There was certainly a bar feel, but it was in spite of the fact that the rest of the place looked like a meth addict’s apartment--too clean and too dirty, all at once. The bar itself was untreated lumber, sawed rough on the ends and nailed together badly. The choices were all randomly scattered bottles, most three-fourths empty. The beer tap appeared to be an old Igloo cooler with a tap shoved through a hole in its side.
But more than anything else were the books. Stacked waist high all over the joint. Film noir posters on the walls. It smelled like stale beer and ambition.
The guy in the recliner shouted, “Motherfucker!”
Shocked Lafitte into reaching around for his pistol, but then he saw that the guy wasn’t even aware Lafitte was there. He was busy reading a paperback--something about a guy waking up. Bright red and blues on the cover flashed as the guy turned the page and curled it like a scroll.
Lafitte walked over, read over his shoulder a few seconds. The guy--presumably the Nerd--was still cursing under his breath. “Fucking shit. Goddamnit, you piece of shit.”
“Don’t like it?” Lafitte said.
The Nerd looked up, squinted, then went back to the book. “No. Shit. I’m loving it.”
“Didn’t sound like it.”
“Shows what the fuck you know.”
Lafitte checked the pile of books at chairside, as if they had been read and then tossed, left for months. Names Lafitte didn’t recognize--Casablanca, Doolittle, Abbott, Phillips. That last one, wait, maybe he saw the movie version. And then a couple by some cat named Smith. Sounded familiar, and for a moment Lafitte had a weird flashback to the scene in Frankenstein where the doctor shouts “It’s alive! Alive!”
But then again, the last time Lafitte tried to read a book, it was one he found at a truck stop in Nebraska while on the run last year, before he hooked up with Steel God’s crew. Couldn’t even get past the first few chapters. It was about some secret agent or MacGyver-type guy called Reacharound or some shit.
Lafitte said, “What do you do when you don’t like a book?”
Without looking up, The Nerd pointed to an old wood-burning stove, unlit this time of year, but it was surrounded by ashes and half-burned pages.
Lafitte though, That’ll show them.
The Nerd mumbled, “You fucker. You pig-fucking asshat, you.” Turned the page.
Time to get on back. Lafitte pulled a rock from his pocket, one The Nerd had thrown earlier. He set it on the stack of books by the chair--those yet to be read, Lafitte figured--and said, “I think you lost this. You know, when you threw it at me.”
That got The Nerd to dogear his page, lay the book on his knee, and sigh. Then, “I was here first.”
“Just a couple of weeks, then we’re gone.”
“I don’t have a motorcycle.”
“So? Neither did I until I met this bunch. Come on down. Have some barbecue.”
The Nerd nodded. Looked like he was thinking about it. Lafitte imagined he’d have to come back here by himself once the party was in full swing, sit off in the coldest corner and drink until his frayed nerves go the message and went numb.
He reached out a hand to help The Nerd up so they could go back to the Dive Bar, get some ribs or something.
The Nerd picked up his novel, flipped back to the bent page, and said, “Soon as I’m done with this awesome fucking chapter.”

I don’t know how he came to call himself The Nerd of Noir, but I do now know that noir nerds can kick other categories of nerds’ asses severely. And I don’t mean metaphorically--if you start throwing down on Battlestar Galactica trivia or some quantum mechanics or Magic: The Gathering, a Noir Nerd will literally kick you in the nuts…and he may even like all of those things.

You have to admire a guy who writes book reviews without any sort of social filter. Polite? Academic? Audience friendly? Fuck you. This is just pure id. Stream of fucking consciousness. The Nerd of Noir appreciates the pure visceral thrill of these books that so many people are sorely missing with their video games and their YouTubes (“Get off my lawn, you lousy kids!”). Not that those things are bad. Shit, I’m trolling the YouTube all the time, trying to find videos for my First Offenders gig. I’m just saying that the part of culture that embraced dangerously subversive pulp fiction has shrunk terribly…and maybe it’s not coming back.

Maybe it would if more reviewers could give you the thrill again. Check out Nerd’s review of Nate Flexer’s The Disassembled Man (from Bookspot Central):

The story of a nasty fucker who only gets more pit-bull-snarling-fucking mean as the story progresses, this shit ain’t for the casual crime fans. No sir, dear readers, The Disassembled Man is for the folks who want their pulp served rare, as in still pumping steaming hot fucking blood. So yeah, you could say I dug the holy fuck out of Nate Flexer’s debut.

Or Scott Phillips’s The Ice Harvest:

You should also know this: I envy the shit out of you, Ice Harvest Virgin. I envy the living motherfucking shit out of you something fierce.

Or, modestly, my own Psychosomatic:

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.

I can dig that. Someone who thinks about books on the page the way I do when talking to friends in bars. No quarter given. He’s a monster, and I hope he turns a lot of those fantasy dorks over at BSC (love you folks!) on to the Technicolor horror show that is contemporary neo-Noir.

I’m looking forward to his review of Hogdoggin’, which I hear is scheduled for Bookspot Central on June 1st (which is also HOGDOGGIN’ MONDAY, so help us knock it out of the park that day. Get an order in, or come find the trail of debris left along in the wake of my book tour.

And even if he hated one of my books, that’s okay. I’m sure I’d still be entertained as fuck by the review.

Not too far away from the Nerd’s Bar you’ll find Central Crime Zone Bookstore. But be warned--while they may look like an indie genre bookstore on the outside, they’ve got some big ass surprises awaiting you.

On Stage Tonight:

The Detroit Cobras, “I Wanna Holler (But the Town’s Too Small)”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood

I review Seth Harwood's debut thriller Jack Wakes Up over at Bookspotcentral.

If you weren't aware of this book's release, then I'm glad you made it out of the coma, the Nerd was pulling for ya.

Read the full review right....fucking....HERE.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Disassembled Man by Nate Flexer

Nate Flexer’s The Disassembled Man is one strictly for the purists, the basement crazies, the inmates that are so fucked up that they don’t even know they’re in the asylum - much less able to run the fucking thing. The story of a nasty fucker who only gets more pit-bull-snarling-fucking mean as the story progresses, this shit ain’t for the casual crime fans. No sir, dear readers, The Disassembled Man is for the folks who want their pulp served rare, as in still pumping steaming hot fucking blood.

So yeah, you could say I dug the holy fuck out of Nate Flexer’s debut.

Our narrator is Frankie Avicious, the dude in charge of cutting the throats of the cows as they come down the disassembly line at “Sunshine Foods.” You’d think he’d have caught a better job at the fucking place, seeing how his father-in-law owns the joint, but that’s just the story of Frankie’s life. His old man is dead, his ma’s in prison for making him that way, and his wife is a dumpy waste of space whose father wants jack shit to do with her, hence why they live in shitty shack in the shittiest town in Arizona.

The only joy in Frankie’s life - other than slamming booze until he pukes - is watching Scarlett Acres shake her ass on stage. His life is one sad cycle of killing cow after cow, drinking beer after beer, and dropping buck after buck on the stage, until a watch salesman shows up at his front door at a curious hour, whispering nefarious ideas in his ear. Soon enough, Frankie’s got a nasty plan and a basement full of bodies.

What makes The Disassembled Man stand out is just how fucking ugly and skuzzy the whole affair is. I mean, there is absolutely zero fucking glamour to be found in Frankie’s life or crimes. Fuck, even Frankie would admit that Scarlett is no fucking prize in the looks or personality department. It’s like killing old man Dietrichson for someone who looks like Linda Hunt instead of Barbara Stanwyck. Yes sir, this shit takes it up to eleven, dear readers.

But what makes it all hum is Frankie’s hilarious voice. The guy tells his story with more funny, disgusting metaphors and similes than Joe R. Lansdale, for fuck’s sake. Plus, Avicious is so gleefully nihilistic and self-destructive you can’t help but follow along with him, even after he does unspeakable acts you wouldn’t accept from even your most badass and beloved antiheroes. But then again, there’s no mistaking a code-less piece of shit psychopath like Avicious for Stark’s Parker, that’s for fucking sure.

So if you think you have the stones and the stomach for Nate Flexer’s The Disassembled Man, pick that shit up toot-fucking-sweet. If you like your pulp to kick you in the balls and shit on your face, then consider this foaming-at-the-mouth beast a fucking gift, dear reader. There’s hard-boiled and then there’s stomping on the egg as the cute little chick’s beak starts to peek through, and you best believe The Disassembled Man leans toward the fucking latter.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Catching Up #29: The Walkaway by Scott Phillips

The Walkaway, Scott Phillips's sequel to his kick-ass debut The Ice Harvest, somehow manages to be both fucking epic and intensely intimate at the very same time. It's a huge, sprawling book with a large cast of characters, many viewpoints, and two timelines running parallel to each other, but it's really only about three hundred pages long and the action within covers only a few days in both of said timelines. It seems to have a shit ton of exposition and charcter backstory, but somehow you don't notice any of that shit as you're blasting through the fucker. The crime story itself isn't fully revealed until you're almost done with the book, but you could give a shit because you're having so much fun watching it all unfold, hanging out with all the different characters.

In other words, Scott Phillips is a fucking born storyteller and The Walkaway is a great fucking story.

As with my review of The Ice Harvest, I'm not gonna get too deep into the plot because the joy in reading the novel is discovering just what the fuck the plot is exactly, to make guesses based on the little bits of information Phillips drops throughout the text only to find out later you were dead fucking wrong.

So. Fucking briefly: It's 1989 and Gunther Fahnsteil has wandered away from the dementia wing of his nursing home in search of...well, he can't really remember. Something about misplacing something at a quarry years ago, something like that. Meanwhile, his family and friends are also looking for him, some of them in hopes of nabbing the twelve grand reward Gunther's son-in-law Sidney has posted with flyers across Wichita.

While all this is going on, Phillips is also telling the story of Wayne Ogden's return from occupied Japan to Wichita in 1952. Wayne is an out-and-out bastard who was involved in some shady gangster shit back in Japan before stealing the identity of one of his superiors and lamming it back to Wichita to make some dough and settle some scores. That is, if officers Gunther Fahnsteil and Ed Dieterle don't fuck up his plans too much.

Everybody in Phillips's Wichita seems to either be on the take or burdened by huge secrets, and finding out what those schemes and secrets are over the course of the novel is a major part of the story's charm. Not until the end do you fully know the connection between the two separate timelines - a neat trick that most storytellers would have neither the patience nor the confidence to pull off so fucking masterfully.

Oh shit! Did I mention that on top of all that, The Walkaway is fucking hilarious? I was - no shit - that douche at the coffee shop who couldn't help but laugh out loud while reading silently to himself. Unlike your average "that douche" though, I wasn't holding a Pynchon novel at face level so that everyone could see that I totally "get" the humor in V. One of my favorite exchanges is this shit right here:

"You ever go out to the dog track?" he asked the counterman.
"Nope. In my church we don't believe in games of chance."
"Dog racing's not a game of chance. It's who the fastest dog is. Nothing random about it."
"It's gambling."
"Yeah, but you're betting on your own handicapping skills."

I should just let that shit speak for itself but in case you didn't notice, the dialogue in The Walkaway is pretty fucking sharp as well.

So don't be like the old Nerd of Noir, that lame-ass who had never read Scott Phillips before. Be like the new and improved Nerd, the one who is now admittedly a little sad (Haha! What a pussy!) that he has only one more book, Cottonwood, to go before he's officially caught the fuck up with Scott Phillips.