Thursday, August 27, 2015


This novella starts out with one of the best book introductions I've read in a while. In it, author Jack O'Connell details the time when he and Piccirilli got drunk at a Hollywood restaurant, drove over to
some random road-side church in East LA with a mission to light votive candles in honor of David Goodis, and ended up getting beaten up by a gang of cholos. That alone was worth the 3 bucks. 

I've collected several books by author Tom Piccirilli over the past year. I discovered him after seeing that he was a major influence on Lee Thompson, who I'm already a fan of. I've been meaning to read some of his work and recently saw the news that he has unfortunately passed away. He has many very loyal fans and it's made me want to get more familiar with the work and legacy he's left behind. And what a great place to start. Fuckin' Lie Down Already starts where most books of its kind have their climax! Clay, a Brooklyn cop that's been raising hell for a New York mob family for years, discovers that his family has been slaughtered by his enemies. With an unbelievable resolve and his guts hanging out, he stalks the night with vengeance on his mind. It's a short tale that packs a powerful punch. And thanks to Piccirilli's no-holds-barred prose, we are right there with Clay on his agonizing, almost unbearable journey in all its painful detail. This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're a fan of dark and gloomy crime fiction like I am, head over to your favorite ebook vendor and fuckin' buy this one already.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DEADLIFT by Craig Saunders

This little DarkFuse novella starts out with the most attention-grabbing of premises. A man stands for 1 minute and 36 seconds braced in the door of an elevator shaft high up in a fancy hotel, holding up
an elevator car with his bare hands by its severed cable; an elevator holding his beloved wife inside. He's hired a hitman to kill her but now is having second thoughts. We're allowed to have those every now and then, no? But I don't want to say much more than that because it will spoil readers to what happens next.

It's a simple story but very original and I love the way it's told, in a matter of fact voice like a nature show narrator, and with great efficiency at only 70 pages. It's a story about love that can withstand all obstacles, including nerdy arsonists, gunshot wounds, explosions, masked murderers, and the British legal system. There's a horror element introduced in the novel that, while creepy, distracted a bit from the real heart of the story: the main character David Lowe, an endearing and sympathetic man that's impressively rendered for such a short tale. There's plenty of action and dark(fuse) happenings, but the book is surprisingly emotional and moving by the end.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

GHOST OF THE FLEA by James Sallis

* Book 6 of the Lew Griffin series *

And finally we get to the grand finale of James Sallis's atypical, challenging, and elusive Lew Griffin
series. This novel has solidified the feeling that all six books are just part of one large story, a singular investigation into Lew Griffin's own life and purpose. No single book in the series can stand on its own without the others surrounding it. These novels probably shouldn't even be considered crime fiction, but if they are, they should definitely be seen collectively as one of the bravest pieces of crime fiction out there. I believe that not only was Sallis painting us a portrait of a complex man named Lew Griffin, but he was also painting a portrait of himself as a writer, with details for us to discover, or as he puts it many times in his books: he was sending us messages in code. Sallis is a superb writer, and this book is possibly the most impressive in the series in regards to pure prose. Sallis also provides a wonderful conclusion to the series, with a tone that fits perfectly in with the rest of the novels. But I want this review and the 5-star rating to not refer to this book alone, but to show big love to the series as a whole. These six novels might not be for everyone, and can be demanding and at times frustrating, but by its end, you'll know you experienced something special.
Out there in the window-world where a moth beat against glass, a man I knew both too well and not at all stood watching. A man dark and ill-defined, with the mark of lateness, of the autumnal, upon him too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


"Without God, there's no wall between us and the dark."
I didn't think that the second novel that I read by Jake Hinkson could be better than his first slam-dunk, Hell On Church Street. I mean, I hoped that might be the case but I definitely had doubts. But then I got about a quarter of the way through this one and realized that, yep, somehow it's even better. Here, Hinkson crafts yet another politically-incorrect pot-boiler that you can't help but watch like a massive car wreck on the side of the road.

Elliot Stilling is a former Baptist preacher that kills himself only to be revived and brought back to life in the hospital by a pretty young nurse named Felicia. Now back in the land of the living and feeling a connection to Felicia, he gets roped into a heist she's involved in to steal a bunch of Oxy and make over $2 million. 
For the first time since the robbery had begun I felt a real, gut-level fear. Committing a crime, I'd discovered, wasn't that scary. Trying to get away with it, however, was terrifying.
I loved the idea of this man who is reluctantly given a second chance at life, feeling like he got brought back for a reason, and now feels compelled to live this new life he's been given, which just happens to be a criminal one. To me that concept was pretty fascinating. At it's core, the story is this existential portrait of a man reborn and ready to atone. But then on top of that, the story is impeccably paced, well-constructed, and wonderfully-written. This might be weird to say, but Hinkson's talent reminds me a lot of Quentin Tarantino. I'm not a Tarantino fanboy, but like him, Hinkson has this real knack of crafting these extended sequences that build so much inherent tension that they get difficult to bear but at the same time it's literally impossible to put the book down until the end of the chapter. There are scenes in this book that are just pitch perfect in their construction and filled with great dialogue. Anything involving Stan the Man, naked dead-body-disposal, or porn-addicted junkyard hillbillies! I swear, if I didn't have to deal with everyday life stuff, I could've finished this in one sitting. Now I'm even more excited to read Hinkson's other work and to see what he does next, because this book was awesome.
The only thing worse than being a monster is being a daily reminder that horrible things happen for no reason at all.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

OUT OF THE BLACK by John Rector

Once again John Rector has written a potent thriller that is addictive and enjoyable and guaranteed to
keep you turning pages. Following Rector's usual theme of protagonist getting in way over their heads in crime, this novel follows Matt Caine, a recent widower who is struggling with finances and taking care of his daughter on his own. Adding to that, he is in deep to a loan shark gangster that he has a history with. He is approached by a shifty, drug-addicted old buddy with a quick kidnapping scheme. From the beginning, he thinks it's a bad idea but feels like it's only choice, as long as he can keep control of the situation. And of course, he realized that's a bunch of bull and control quickly starts to spiral away. 

The novel is a great read for a lazy afternoon, a day at the pool or on a long bus or plane ride. Rector always has a knack for sustaining a great pace throughout his novels and you'll never be bored. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if people flew through this in one sitting. It really moves. You can really feel Matt's desperation as the issues escalate and the villain is particularly menacing this time around. I did have a little issue with Matt's relationship to Brian Murphy, the loan shark that he's in debt to. I never really bought into him being such a great friend to Matt; such a great friend that he'll help him out when shit hits the fan in the story, but not a good enough friend to forgive his debt and not threaten to hurt him if he doesn't pay it back. I never truly bought into that. But the scenes between Brian and Matt feature some great moments and cool dialogue. I also felt like the ending is a bit anti-climactic and not as dark as I was hoping for, but who says that a noir ending ALWAYS has to be a downer? It's a fun and exciting read, so any issues were minor to me and I enjoyed it! Definitely recommended to thriller fans!
I reached out and lifted her chin until our eyes met, then I leaned in and kissed her. I wanted that kiss to say all the things I couldn't. I wanted it to tell her how sorry I was, and that no matter what happened, she wasn't to blame. But most of all, I wanted the kiss to take away all the pain I'd caused.
   Of course, it didn't.
   And when I pulled away, all I could taste was the salt of her tears on my lips.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


She had an ass like a heart turned upside down and torn in half, and that's what you call foreshadowing, friend.

Holy Hell This Book Is Awesome.
STUNNING writing.
That's the first thing that kept running through my head while reading this stellar collection of dark crime stories. The five next thoughts were:
1) Who is Jordan Harper?
2) Where did he come from?
3) Where has he been all my life?
4) What book is he releasing next?
5) Where can I do more damage to my wallet to buy said book?!

Harper's mastery of prose is completely evident all throughout this collection. He is one of those writers that wastes no words, but is always creative with choosing the right ones with awesome efficiency. At times his writing is growling and brutal and other times it's just plain lyrical. Every story here is a beauty of a read.
Here's an excerpt where the author describes a death: 
First there was fear and then there was pain and then there was knowing and then there was nothing.
At times, I found myself reading out loud, so I could appreciate the story's rhythm and the cadence in the writing. If anyone wants to record a random audiobook for this thing I would contribute just out of the pure fun of it!

There are some standout stories though (in no particular order):

"Plan C" and "Your Finest Moment" are hilariously violent bumbling crime tales and they both look at what we all know about best laid plans

"Prove It All Night" is a beautiful little twist on the cliched Bonnie and Clyde tale, with a great ending.

"Beautiful Trash" is a melancholy and romantic story of finding love among all the decadence and manufactured romance of Hollywood. Great characters. If any of these stories was to be fleshed out and extended, I would vote for this one. It could be like Ray Donovan, or a Tinseltown Scandal with balls.

"Playing Dead" is a well-told little tale of survival and vengeance in Brooklyn.

I also really enjoyed the tragic ambition in "Heart Check."

And finally, in what seems to be the crowd favorite, "Lucy In The Pit," is a tender but savage tale of a dogfight medic and handler trying to save a fight dog that just became a legend in the pit.
The fight is a pit dog's highest purpose. We have bred them to not feel fear or pain. We have bred them to have wide jaws and a low center of gravity. A pit dog wants the fight the way a ratter wants the rat, the way a bloodhound wants the scent. A dead-game dog wants it more than it wants life.
And while there are standouts, it's hard to pick those out because every story was enjoyable, with great characters, creative developments, callbacks to other stories in the book, and recurring players. And each tale is about a varying group of individuals around the country living mostly on the fringes, who find themselves at a crossroads in their lives of violence. I can't wait to see what Jordan Harper can do with a full-length novel! As you can tell, I REALLY enjoyed this book (definitely one of my favorites released so far this year, along with Bull Mountain and The Whites), and if you enjoy great stories, you'll love this one too.
Tommy and Nikki had been all fireworks—Roman candles pointed at each other's faces. They had raged. Lived hard, drank hard, fucked hard, fought hard. He needed the fireworks for the heat they gave him. Everything else in his life felt cold.

Monday, August 10, 2015

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline

This sci-fi/fantasy novel takes place in the near future on an Earth which is in the middle of a massive energy crisis and much of the natural resources have been depleted. Most people escape this dismal
reality by spending most of their lives in the OASIS, a vast, fully-immersive, virtual reality online world/game that has taken over the Internet and our way of life. The simulation's billionaire designer has recently died and to pass on his fortune, he has created an epic contest where the player's must use knowledge of 80's pop culture to track down a hidden Easter Egg buried within the OASIS. The book follow's young Wade Watts, one of the gunters (egg hunters) who is on a quest to find Halliday's Egg. But once he becomes the first player to find the first clue, he realizes that the contest is much more dangerous than he could have imagined.

Once I started reading Ready Player One I got totally sucked in. I mean, who could resist such an awesome premise? Time and pages just flew by and my mood rose every time I picked the book up. Now that's a conundrum because multiple times throughout the book I cringed at some of the writing. Cline's desire to impress the reader with his vast knowledge of 80's pop culture got in the way at times, constantly stopping the story to drone on and on for three pages about some random video game or movie. And although, I am familiar with a lot of this stuff, it still seemed to go on for a while, with some of it not having any impact on the story whatsoever. For example, why have an entire chapter of characters arguing about the quality of Ladyhawke and not have it affect the story? It would have been really cool for Wade to eventually have to use his unpopular knowledge (that no one else would have) of Ladyhawke to gain the advantage in the game and make this chapter important, but instead it just sits there as a missed opportunity. And there was a lot of really pedestrian writing throughout the novel, like repeating pieces of dialogue or ideas throughout the book, as if Cline forgot that he wrote about the same exact thing a few chapters before.
And there are also awkward, repetitive exchanges like this:
"It looks just like Rivendell," Aech said, taking the words right out of my mouth.
I nodded. "It looks exactly like Rivendell from the Lord of the Rings movies," I said.
Why have I spent most of the beginning of this review harping on the negative stuff you ask? Well, because I wanted to stress how impressive it is that Cline, despite all of these issues, managed to make my wide-eyed, whimsical self grab my critical self, shake him and say, "Stop being a hater and a boring party-pooper, Richard, this book is awesome!" It's so imaginative and filled with great ideas, like the stacked trailer parks (how great of a visual is that?), and the creative rules within the OASIS itself. There's such a joyous sense of adventure, a celebration of geekiness and friendship, and a true love for the material that is laced into this book that it's pretty difficult not to look at any shortcomings and say, "Screw it, let me jump on this ride, strap in and have a total blast!"

I would recommend this to anyone, so buckle up, forgive the shortcomings, and get ready for a lively and captivating summer read!


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

SOLOMON'S VINEYARD by Jonathan Latimer

From the way her buttocks looked under the black silk dress, I knew she'd be good in bed. The silk was tight and 
under it the muscles worked slow and easy. I saw weight there, and control, and, brother, those were things I like in a woman.
Yea, from that first line, we know that this book puts the "hard" in hard-boiled. This one might just be the "hardest" of them all. I can see now why it's publication was delayed for NINE(!) years due to content. It follows private detective Karl Craven, who's hired to travel to a small town to convince a young woman to leave a religious sex cult that has wild orgies every year in the woods, worships a rotting corpse they keep in a temple, and chooses a girl to go marry the dead dude and have sex with it. Like Craven says about his story in the prologue: "It's got everything but an abortion and a tornado."

I thought it was pretty cool that Craven's true nature was kept vague throughout the story, causing the reader to never fully know where he stood on certain things and never be able to predict what he would do. We know he's supposed to be a detective, but is he disguising himself as one? Is that a lie? Is he a con man? Or maybe he's just the worst private eye in the world and is just using the job to bed down as many ladies as possible? This added an interesting dynamic on top of the craziness. But at the the same time, it was a thin line to walk for a writer because I also felt like I was distanced from him as well. He also sometimes seemed like a real dick in the way he treated women, minorities, or for that matter, every other human being he came in contact with...

I also thought the book was unexpectedly funny because Craven seemed like he didn't really give a damn about solving the case for most of the story. He spends a good amount of the book either napping, eating, taking multiple showers, reading Black Mask magazines, or having rough sex with the cult's princess, who likes to get punched around while in bed instead of getting kissed. I just got a kick out of how laid back he was, as if he thought that the pleasures in life were the priority and everything else would work itself out in the end. And who knows, maybe it will. You'll have to read to find out.
I took a peek into the grave. Flowers had almost covered the coffin. I thought: there goes $135. It was the first time I'd ever spent that much on a doll without getting something in return.

Monday, August 3, 2015

WHITE JAZZ by James Ellroy

* Book 4 of the L.A. Quartet *

Every time I've finished an Ellroy book, I've had to sit back and process everything, climb up out of
his world, shake my brain free of his expert grasp. With White Jazz, he concludes his epic "L.A. Quartet," by narrowing his focus even more so than in The Black Dahlia, and miles away from the gargantuan L.A. Confidential. Returning to first-person narration and a single protagonist, Ellroy presents a portrait of racist and corrupt police lieutenant Dave Klein, who finds himself a pawn in a law enforcement political war when a Federal attorney mounts an investigation into LAPD malfeasance and its involvement in Southland vice.

Klein is a fascinating character, because he's not some hero or your everyday good guy caught up in a conspiracy and must be the one to bring it all to light. Instead he's a full-time criminal/part-time cop who finds himself in over his head, involved with individuals and systems that are even more corrupt than he is, and must fight through the whole book just to keep his head above water. And it was cool to witness as some semblance of justice (maybe goodness) starts to seep in to his motivations, once he gets a little love in his life and is forced to confront his actions in the past.

Style-wise, Ellroy takes the trimmed and slashed prose style he adopted for L.A. Confidential (by cutting out unnecessary words to cut the manuscript down by 100 pages per his editor) and ratchets it up to a thousand here! Paired with yet another complex plot, the clipped style makes White Jazz a very challenging read, as it's hard at times to follow, as major plot developments and twists can occur in just several well-chosen words, and if you blink (or skim), you miss it. It's not a casual read. But once I got settled in and used to it, I was along for the ride. And I began to realize how much this jazzy, bebop prose fits the confessional, stream-of-consciousness style that's used in the book. It's Dave Klein truly telling his story in his own words. And at times, it can be really poetic in it's own way. Here's what Ellroy himself had to say about his choice to continue the use of this technique for Klein in a Paris Review interview:
"I saw that if I eliminated words from his speech, I would develop a more convincing cadence for him: paranoid, jagged, enervated..."

This book, it's content, and it's writing style, as with most of Ellroy's work, definitely won't be to  everyone's taste, and I would suggest that people new to Ellroy not start with this one (probably start with the more accessible Dahlia). For a taste of what's in store in the book, here's a portion of the novel where Klein searches police records for a possible suspect:
Keyed up—glom the pervert file. Dog stuff/B&E/Peeping Tom, see what jumped:
  A German Shepherd-fucking Marine. Doctor "Dog": popped for shooting his daughter up with beagle pus. Dog killers—none fit my man's specs. Dog fuckers, dog suckers, dog beaters, dog worshipers, a geek who chopped his wife while dressed up as Pluto. Panty sniffers, sink shitters, masturbators—lingerie jackoffs only. Faggot burglars, transvestite break-ins, "Rita Hayworth"–Gilda gown, dyed bush hair, caught blowing a chloroformed toddler. The right age—but a jocker cut his dick off, he killed himself, a full-drag San Quentin burial.Peepers: windows, skylights, roofs—the roof clowns a chink brother act. No watchdog choppers, the geeks read passive, caught holding their puds with a whimper. Darryl Wishnick, a cute MO: peep, break, enter, rape, watchdogs subdued by goofball-laced meat—too bad he kicked from syph in '56. One flash: peepers played passive, my guy killed badass canines.
Although the style is more challenging than the previous books, making for a less smooth a read as I wanted, this novel is still an incredibly engaging crime saga, and skillfully ties in the events in the earlier novels, bringing the entire Quartet to a close in satisfying fashion (Ellroy's most poignant ending since Dahlia)! Ellroy and his work continues to fascinate me and he just climbed even higher in the ranks of my favorite authors.
To eclipse my guilt with the sheer weight of his evil. I'm going to kill him in the name of our victims, find Glenda and say:
  Tell me anything.
  Tell me everything.
  Revoke our time apart.
  Love me fierce in danger.