Saturday, June 20, 2009

Catching Up #35: Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

This is yet another edition of "diluting the brand with the Nerd of Noir," where I review something that is only very loosely noir fiction. That said, going into Crooked Little Vein I was under the impression that it was very much up this site's alley, what from the way all-a youse dorks out there in internet-land had talked about it. I'd basically heard it was a fucked-up take on the PI-genre filled with dark, perv-y shit. I'll take it.

Well, dear reader, after burning through this motherfucker, I can say that that shit was fucked-up and it was definitely perv-y, but dark? Not so much. Essentially Warren Ellis' novel is a celebration of the American Freak Flag and the Information Age - and a love story to boot! By using the private eye novel structure (hero going around interviewing various characters to solve the case) Ellis has found an entertaining way to talk about what makes the current generation the truly greatest generation. It's a weirdly positive novel about the aspects of modern culture that the shittier members of society would think of as not so positive - but then that discourse alone is positive in itself and...

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's do the whole plot description thing and then I'll show you how fucking smart I am or whatever.

Private eye Mike McGill gets a break from being shit on when the White House chief of staff drops by his office offering him a major case: find the "real" constitution of the United States. You know, that one that Nixon traded for sex back in the fifties? The one that - when you're in the presence of it - turns you into a straight, upright, non-degenerate? Yeah, that one.

Why does McGill, the losingest of losers, get this case (and a half million untaxed dollars) you ask? Well, precisely because he has such epically rotten luck. No one but God's-Favorite-Toilet Mike would possibly be able to find such an object seeing how it no doubt is in possession of one of the very perverts it could potentially un-perv.

So McGill follows the trail with a sexually adventurous grad student doing her thesis on underground sex culture in tow named Trix who he quickly falls for. The search for the book (or is it McGill's shit luck?) leads them to all kinds of weirdoes with all kinds of crazy kinks stretching across America. Trix is as open to each odd experience as McGill is mortified by it.

Will these two crazy kids fall in love? Will McGill find the book? And if so, will he really give it to the White House so they can blast us all back to the Mad Men days? And just how much saline can one man fill his sack with before his balls pop out?

So it's obviously a fucking looney-ass book and totally ridiculous, but like some sort of cock-eyed optimist Vonnegut, there's a method and a message to Ellis' madness. Yeah, there's lots of funny and gross scenes of weirdoes doing sick shit rarely seen outside of the Savage Love column, but the laughs come with sharp commentary. He brings up great points about the greatness of our sick society, this place we live in where anybody can find whatever they want and where anybody with internet access can be part of the media.

Thankfully, the preachifying isn't as simple and boring as what I just typed. There are many much more interesting and challenging observations made in Crooked Little Vein, making for a highly enteraining romp (dear god) through the underground-that-isn't-really-underground-because-it's-on-the-internet-right?-so-it's-obviously-gotta-be-mainstream of America.

In other words, it's a lot of fun. But dark? Nah. If you disagree with the sentiments (and if you do, realize that you're reading a fucking BLOG from some nobody right now on the INTERWEB with somebody with a CURSING problem), then maybe it'd be kind of considered dark, but mainly it's a comedic satire with little danger and a sweet, atypical romance at the center of it. Not complaining or anything, but still. The Nerd can't help but dilute the brand these days.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I-5 by Summer Brenner

My review of I-5 by Summer Brenner is up over at Bookspotcentral.

Give 'er a glance right over here.

I mean, just one little glance can't hurt...


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Catching Up #34: Craig Davidson's The Fighter

Yeah, that's right, dear reader: The Nerd is doing yet another catching up post on some shit that ain't quite noir/crime. Right now you're no doubt thinking, What the fuck, Nerd? You're diluting the brand! A short story collection and now whatever the fuck this book is? What next? Are you gonna start reviewing fucking cat mysteries or some such bullshit?

Well, irate-as-all-hell reader, let me well-fucking-assure you that I will never post any shit up here that isn't dark as fuck. I mean, my poop-mouthing and ranting wouldn't make any sense if I were reviewing a Lillian Jackson Braun classic ("KoKo's badass clue-sniffing skills will have you licking your filthy fucking paws while Yum Yum is one hot-ass piece of feline tail!") or some other tame piece of shit. I would also never throw away your trust by pontificating on the latest Philip Roth novel I've read (love the shit out of his books though I do) or any other similarly non-violent novel. I mean shit, have a little faith in the Nerd, dear reader.

Especially when it comes to The Fighter, Craig Davidson's Canadian Fight Club for Generation Y. Shit, that should be all I have to say about this mofo, but I'll go on. The Nerd's got time to bloggify and he's gonna use it up thusly.

The Fighter is the story of twenty-something Ontario rich boy Paul Harris and working class upstate New York amateur boxing teen sensation Rob Tulley. Rob wants out of the life but he's too much of a born natural (and his uncle and father have invested too much time in his training) to shit on his ticket out of blue collar-dom. Paul has been coasting through life working for his old man's winery business until he gets the shit kicked out of him one night, an event that makes him want to see just how much punishment he can stand. Rob trains and looks for excuses not to fight while Paul gets more and more masochistic (and 'roid-filled) until the two come together in The Barn, a place for modern day gladiators on the Canadian-American border.

As with Fight Club, there's plenty of angry-young-man-who-fights-to-feel-something stuff in The Fighter. Paul's life gains a purpose once he discovers fighting. He figures he can never out-do his father's more traditional masculine achievements - building a successful wine business from the ground-up, wife-and-kids and all that - but he must know if he could thrive in a more primitive masculine way - taking and giving out punishment with his bare-fucking-hands (Speaking of Fight Club, there's a sly reference to the earlier classic in the form of a rich kid who Paul himself beats up who then becomes a radical animal rights activist who lives on Paper Street...).

But enough with the masculinity discussion bullshit. I mean, what next? The Nerd's gonna start pontificating about James Dickey and Cormac McCarthy or some such hoidy-toidy douchery? What stands out in this ass-kicker is the violence, which is plentiful and painful. If you find better descriptions of carnage, send that shit the Nerd's way. On second thought, I'm not sure I could handle shit much rougher than The Fighter. Yeah, I just said that shit. This shit hurts that fucking much.

Plus, this shit is funny, moving and full of awesome lore. There's shit in here about the good old days of traveling fighters going town-to-town betting they can take any man in the county along with shit about modern underground fighting circuits where they douse their wrapped fists in lye or worse. I mean, there's enough awesome fighting lore in this bitch to fill a hundred books. Then there's shit about steroids and boxing training and...goddamn this fucker Davidson has a ton of fucking cool ideas.

Crime novel or not, the Nerd guarantees that The Fighter will give you your sick noir jollies from page one onward. It's violent, it's challenging, it's sick, it's sad, and it's a fucking fast-as-all-hell read. Trust the Nerd, dear readers. It's not like he's asking you to pick up a quilting mystery here, for fuck's sake.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


There’s only one word for Gary Phillips’ The Jook and that word is fucking cool (you had to believe the Nerd would spice up said word with some Grade-A poop-mouth, am I right?). This fucking beast is just oozing with cool. I haven’t read any other shit from Gary Phillips yet, but if his other books are half as cool as The Jook, you can bet the fucking farm the Nerd’s gonna be on top of that shit toot-sweet.

The Jook tells the story of Zelmont Raines, a Super Bowl-winning wide receiver that’s fallen on hard times. He’s just been sent home to L.A. after getting the boot from the European leagues following his hip getting out of whack for the umpteenth time. Dude’s got bills and no money to pay them with, what with blowing all his NFL coin on drugs, alimony and lawyers (He swears she said she was legal). But Los Angeles is getting a new franchise called the Barons and nobody - not even the devoutly Christian NFL commissioner that hates the shit out of him - can stop Zelmont from trying out.

Surely he can make the team and start living the high life once again, fucked up hip or no.

But then a pretty little thing working for the owner of the Barons named Wilma Wells starts whispering in ol’ Zelmont’s ear, saying that there’s an easier way to gain the green. Namely, by ripping off some mobbed up NFL big wigs for cool millions…

So you have this classic femme fatale noir story with the neat twist of the main character being an ex-bad boy (well, not so “ex-“ I suppose) football player. That’s enough for me to recc this shit right there, but Phillips also loads this motherfucker up with tons of crazy sex scenes and gloriously violent, cinematic action sequences. Then there’s the fucking nutso heist shit towards the end and…

So yeah, you could say the Nerd dug this shit.

But what really makes it all work is Zelmont Raines himself. He’s telling his own story in a voice that is tres fucking cool, every other line dripping with distilled badassery. Zelmont’s a cocky motherfucker with flaws out the ass, but he’s so fucking enviably awesome (only a God like Jim Brown or Fred Williamson in the seventies could truly do him justice on the big screen) that you’re totally with him to the bitter end.

Like a double of Maker’s on the rocks, The Jook goes down easy then rocks your shit something fierce right afterward. It’s straight up hot sex, blazing action, and classic noir told in a bracingly modern, unabashedly cool way (I wish there were more words capable of expressing “cool”-ness, but there just fucking isn’t, dear reader).

So trust the Nerd, dear reader: your ass wants some of this shit right here. Your ass wants it in the right fucking now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Catching Up #33: KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock

I dunno if this is every english major's experience, but it seemed like every young man in my college workshop classes was trying to be the next Bukowski. Every other class we'd be going over some douchebag's story about a down-and-out young man who gets fucked up, fights some guy and then cheats on his girlfriend. That'd be all well and good if any of the fuckers could write worth a good goddamn, but shit, you know how it is (or you don't in which case the Nerd envies you).

So you'll forgive the Nerd if he was a bit skeptical of Knockemstiff, a collection of stories about down-and-out losers in the down-and-out town of Knockemstiff, Ohio by a first time writer named Donald Ray Pollock.

Well sir, the Nerd fully admits that he was wrong to doubt. There's a reason everyone and their mom is talking about this Pollock's debut. That reason is that it is fan-fucking-tastic.

Unlike the poor saps in my writing classes (love you guys!), the stories of pain and debauchery in Knockemstiff feel like they were written by a survivor of such times. Now I don't know if Pollock has ever fucked a retarded girl and hated himself for it or smoked shitty weed that made his mouth bleed, but if you told me he did I would believe it, dear reader. I'd believe that shit in a fucking heart beat. Knockemstiff may be juicy and lurid and bleak but it always feels real, no matter how fucked up the story is.

And this shit is fucked up, dear reader, very much so. You're probably wonderin what the Nerd is doing reviewing some "literary"-sounding short story collection, thinking I've gone NPR on your collective asses or some shit.

Let me assure you of this: if you dig noir, you're gonna dig Knockemstiff.

The language of Pollock's stories is occasionally poetic but never unnecessarily so. It's the poetry of the down-trodden, the losers, the...fuck, I got all literary on your asses, didn't I? Sorry about that. Pollock's language is always about character (and his characters are always wonderfully scuzzy and grotesquely tragic) and never about wowing the eggheads.

And these stories aren't subtle character sketches where jack-shit happens, either. No they're violent, cathartic and horrifying stories, like a godless paint-huffing Flannery O'Connor or some shit.

But what especially makes Knockemstiff work for the Nerd is that it feels like you're reading a novel. I mean, yeah, I like a good short story as much as the next guy (Plots with Guns, Thuglit - that stuff consistently rocks my shit), but more often than not I'm not gonna pick up a book unless it is a novel (though I did love Expletive Deleted which was...goddamn it, what is the Nerd without hard and fast fucking rules!?) and Knockemstiff works both as something you dip into at your leisure or read in a fury like a kick ass novel.

And you better believe the Nerd tore through this beast like it was great fucking pulp.

So don't fear Knockemstiff, my dear crime junkies. Sure, it's a change of pace, but I guarantee you'll read it as fast as you would a fucking Huston novel.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Jason Starr’s Fake I.D. was just released in the U.S. by Hardcase Crime after nearly a decade of only being available in the U.K. The wait has been hard on the old Nerd, but the timing of its release is kind of fucking perfect, really.

You see, dear reader, I’m scared for where Jason Starr appears to be heading. His last book (sans Ken Bruen, that is) was The Follower, no doubt a good book but way too “mainstream thriller” for the Nerd’s taste. Starr’s biting brand of yuppie douchedom peppered many of the main characters and the suspense was top-notch, but in the end it was a very traditional stalker novel, a plea for a new, less fucked-up readership.

Shit, The Follower even got a mass market paperback deal after long runs in hardcover and trade form. Obviously, somebody in the publishing world thinks Starr’s on the right track.

I wish the dude all the success in the world and everything, but I can’t seem to get excited about his new one, Panic Attack which is coming in August. I’ll fucking read it, for sure (no doubt it’ll be suspenseful as all hell, it’s what the dude does, for fuck’s sake), but I no longer have that raging nerd boner for his work like I used to, that old faith that his shit will go all the fucking way.

Fake I.D. is the old Starr doing what made me love him in the first place. It’s dark, nasty, hilarious, and undeniably hard-fucking-core.

It’s the story of bouncer, degenerate gambler and wannabe actor Tommy Russo, a cocky son of a bitch who thinks he’s got the world coming to him. One day at the track he gets an offer to join a horse-owning syndicate from a fellow degenerate gambler. Thing is, his stake in the ownership would be ten large, a lot of money for a New York bouncer to cough up. Then he remembers that the safe at the bar he works at has to have at least that much sitting in it…

Nobody writes asshole protagonists quite like Starr. He could really give a fuck whether you like Tommy Russo, just knows that the dude’s actions and general scumbaggery are going to draw you into the story regardless.

And that’s because, like I’ve said all along, the guy is a master at suspense. Fake I.D. is one of those rare books where you’re saying Oh fuck! and Oh shit! aloud through the whole thing, your heart just fucking racing from the tension. Goddamn it felt good to read some of the old nasty shit again.

I knew that Starr couldn’t do these types of books forever. There’s only so many ways to do his brand of updated yuppie James M. Cain novels before any self-respecting author would want to move on to something different. Personally, the Nerd could read this shit till the fucking cows come home and never give a shit about the same-y-ness in the fucking least.

But that’s, you know, just me in all my fucked-up glory, I suppose.

So pick this shit up toot-fucking-sweet, dear reader. Fake I.D. is a pleasant (in a nasty and sick sort of way) trip through Jason Starr’s old stomping ground: Noir York (Jesus fucking Christ - did I just type that lame shit?). And oh yeah: fingers well-fucking-crossed that Panic Attack is more Fake I.D. than it is The Follower.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Dennis Tafoya manages to have his cake and eat the shit out of it too with his debut novel Dope Thief. What starts out at as an ass-kicking noir actioner eventually turns into a thoughtful, honest and Pelecanos-esque (Pelecanish?) search for redemption. The real fucking kicker of it is, dear reader, is that Tafoya is able to pull that shit off in fucking spades.

Dope Thief is the story of Ray, a thirty year old ex-con who rips-and-runs a la Omar Little with his junkie pal Manny. The pair try to keep it light, never killing, and stealing only from small-time players around Pennsylvania who won’t be out for some get back. The beauty of their operation – and what keeps dealers from acting stupid – is that they dress as DEA agents while they rob (echoes of the cult classic blaxploitation flick Across 110th Street). Naturally, the two eventually rip off the wrong drug dealer and bodies happen while mucho dinero is scored. Next thing the boys know there’s a vicious motorcycle club after their stolen money and Manny and Ray’s blood.

First off, let the Nerd say that Tafoya is top-fucking-notch at writing action sequences. The violence in this beast is fucking cinematic as all hell and there are some set-pieces in here that bring to mind Charlie Fucking Huston – no joke, dear reader. There’s a scene where it’s Manny and Ray versus two pissed off bikers that just fucking rocked my shit – almost as hard as the molester house shoot-out in Gone Baby Gone did (the book, not the film, hands-down the best action sequence I’ve ever read).

Now you’re thinking, Silly Nerd, a novel cannot thrive on violence alone. What of the other elements of the text? Well, hoidy-toidy-pretentious-douche reader, here we fucking go:

Naturally, all this extremely well-done violence wouldn’t be worth the paper it was printed on if it weren’t for the reader caring about those that are affected by it, and Tafoya’s hero Ray is one hell of a complex protagonist. He’s smarter and wiser than the career he’s chosen for himself, where the most common retirement options are death or imprisonment. He’s also racked with guilt over a lover who died because of him back in his high school days, the pain of the loss fucking up all his present female relationships. Then his imprisoned father comes back into his life due to the old bastard being diagnosed with a terminal illness. And then there’s the bookstore girl that Ray falls hard for despite worrying that his father’s abuse of his mother means that he himself will be a piece of shit wife-beater…

So yeah, there’s a lot of shit outside of Ray’s crime life that is covered in the novel and that’s what makes the book really fucking sing. We grow to really care about him and become heavily invested in his efforts to leave his lawless days behind him. Thankfully, all that shit is handled with a sobriety that keeps shit from getting too touchy-feely lame on your ass. Like I said up top, dude’s Pelecanistic or whatever the fuck the term should be.

In case you’re just not fucking getting me, dear reader, I’m fucking well saying that you should check this shit out. Dope Thief is emotionally involving and bloody-as-hell to boot. What the fuck more could a crime fan ask for?

Monday, June 1, 2009


My review of Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith is up over at bookspotcentral.

If you're a regular reader here at the site, you already know my pro- stance on Hogdoggin' (the book, not the "sport"), but check that shit out regardless.
Where is it, you ask? Why right HERE, dear reader.
It's fucking Hogdoggin' Monday, motherfuckers!