Saturday, December 31, 2016

I, JOKER by Bob Hall

What if Batman was the bad guy and Joker was the good guy?

That simple idea is the basis for this short graphic novel, an idea that evolves into this fascinating concept about a dystopian future version of Gotham City, ruled by a religious cult that worships the supposed descendant of Batman as a god. This man, called The Bruce, holds gladiator-style combat shows every year that involves the brainwashing of innocent civilians, surgically altering them to look like Batman's villains of legend, so that followers can hunt them down and kill them for sport, get the chance to challenge The Bruce, and become a god themselves. But this year's Joker is a bit different, and he has to survive the night and try to stop The Bruce once and for all.

Great idea right? And there are some truly cool moments in this one that I would've loved to see fleshed out more. But many aspects of the story are rushed over or the writer took cheap shortcuts getting to certain plot points. And the artwork leaves much to be desired, with some of the action being a bit hard to follow. But the final image is pretty great and it's only about 50 pages long so it's a quick read to at least just see where they go with the concept.


Friday, December 30, 2016


I thought I'd get a re-read in before the year was out.
He's done it with the western and he's done it with the post-apocalyptic novel. And now Cormac McCarthy tackles a crime thriller and does what he usually does, turns it into something else that's part of a whole different genre: "Cormac McCarthy Fiction."

It starts as a simple noir. Llewellyn Moss is out hunting game when he stumbles onto a botched drug deal complete with dead Mexicans, dead dogs, dead trucks, and a satchel of 2 million dollars. He decides that finders keepers, so he does what any hot-blooded human would do and takes it for himself, setting off a chain reaction of violence across Texas, as a multitude of enemies search for him.

I prefer the more recent McCarthy novels, like this and The Road, to his earlier work. It feels like he's been able to really hone his style and become more disciplined and economical, straying away from some of the distracting bloat without losing any of the trademark lyricism and rumination he's famous for. And this book has some of his best characters. I think that Moss is a great "hero," a simple but resourceful man of straight action while still being charming, while with his lady Carla Jean, I at first got the sense that she was a bimbo, but she turns out to be much stronger, resilient, and acute than I initially thought. McCarthy really surprised me with her character. And then there's Anton Chigurh, the enigmatic figure doggedly chasing Moss. He's less of a person than a force, similar to the Judge in Blood Meridian. He's the embodiment of unstoppable judgment and inescapable fate. His character is pretty unsettling.
Anything can be an instrument, Chigurh said. Small things. Things you wouldn't even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People don't pay attention. And then one day there's an accounting. And after that nothing is the same.
But then you have the character of Sheriff Bell, whose character is what provides the soul and transforms this crime noir into Cormac McCarthy fiction, and turns a four star book into a five-star book. He's the real main character here, providing a point of view for the reader, as he muses on the nature of violence and his horror at the way that evil has evolved into something that he's unable reckon with.
Things happen to you they happen. They don't ask first. They don't require your permission.
Another stunning, instant-classic McCarthy novel.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CRIMINAL VOL. 1: COWARD by Ed Brubaker

This year, I decided to download the Comixology app and jump back into reading graphic novels and comic books, which I was a big fan of when I was a wee lad. Back then, I was more into the superhero reads but now I wanted to venture into more reality based, "non-super" stories. In my search, the name Ed Brubaker kept popping up, and I thought, "Hey isn't that the dude that wrote some Captain America stuff and a few Batman stories?" Then I decided to drop some dough on his work and give them a go, the first of which is his first book in the Criminal series.

For the few that don't know, the series is a set of stand-alone but loosely connected noir tales that take place in the same city. This first volume, Coward, is a heist story about a meticulously picky career thief and pickpocket who reluctantly takes a shady armored car job, and of course it all goes to hell in a hand basket.

For those who dismiss graphic fiction as simply colorful books about Avengers, Superman, and skimpy Japanese anime, I submit this as Exhibit A as to why you're wrong. This is classic crime noir, a pulp offering of burnt-out criminals, crooked cops, regrettable pasts, and a whole lot of desperation. The writing is solid, and I could definitely see more first-time comic readers  really enjoying this story if they tried it. At first, I didn't like the artwork, having gotten used to the crisper, sharper, more colorful 1990's art that I grew up with, but then by the end, I grew to love it. The rounder, rougher, grungier artwork is perfectly suited to the atmosphere and I can't wait to jump into the world of Criminal again for the next installment.


Monday, December 26, 2016

THE LAST DEEP BREATH by Tom Piccirilli

There's something sneaky about Tom Piccirilli's writing. His plots, such as in this novella, were deceptively simple. Here, we have a brooding drifter traveling across country from New York City to Hollywood in a search to find the man who put a 4-inch knife in his sister's side. It seems like a pretty straightforward crime thriller, but as everyone should come to expect from Tommy Pic's work, by the end of this short book, you discover that it's all a ploy, a simple vehicle (as most good crime fiction should be) to touch on complex topics like violent natures and the meaning of family and why you choose to include certain people in that category. And even then, you get the sense that the story is about even more than that. It feels like these later books by Piccirilli can't be fully appreciated in one reading. But I haven't been dissatisfied with a Piccirilli book so far. With each book, he quickly climbs higher on my favorite authors list.
She had an easy way about her, an effortless laugh that sounded just a little too natural. It was the soft melody of every woman you wanted to lie beside, your head resting in her lap while she stroked your forehead. You look up into her eyes and she leans down, gives you the killer grin, her bee-stung lips parting to meet your own.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


You think you may know what Santa Claus does on Christmas Eve while you're sleeping, but you have no idea! Here, in just 50-something pages, author Edward Lorn takes old fables, established Christmas lore, and his own mischievous imagination, mixes it all in a pot and comes up with an entirely new Christmas mythology that's ripe for a whole slew of stories beyond this one!

On Christmas Eve night, Santa and his team of reindeer are going about their usual Yuletide business, when they fall for a no-good trap and are bushwhacked by the Naughties (the little demons that possess children and make them act like little shits sometimes). And when Santa discovers that his beloved Mrs. Claus has been kidnapped, he and the team spring into action, ready to kick ass and take names!

Lorn is a talented storyteller that I discovered when I got thoroughly creeped out by his novella Crawl. He's an equally effective tale-spinner in this novella collection of three serial short stories he's released every Christmas for the last few years. He really knows how to maintain pace, does an impressive amount of world and myth building in a very short amount of time, and it seems like he had a damn fun time writing it as well! There are a handful of surprises here that made me grin while reading!

Like I said, there's so much potential material here in Lorn's mythology and I would gladly read anything else. I'll also be waiting for the War on Christmas movie as well. Obviously starring Chuck Norris because Chuck Norris is such a badass.

 Or maybe this guy:


Friday, December 23, 2016


Steph Post's debut novel is a solid piece of southern crime focusing on a solitary mechanic who travels back home to Crystal Springs, Florida after his mom sends him a postcard with news that his father blew himself up in a tangerine grove. James gets there too late for his dad's funeral, but just in time to try to help his younger brother Rabbit get out of some trouble with the Alligator Mafia following one of Rabbit's latest schemes.

It's southern grit that's less about James and company blasting away with guns and more about him coming to terms with the strained relationship with his family and the self-imposed exile from his childhood home (although the gun blasting scenes are pretty well written). James is a man that's shut himself away emotionally due to his regret of his criminal past and his failure to follow his dreams, but his trip back home forces him to confront it all.

Post's work here feels similar to Walter Mosley, in the sincere and tactful way that she allows sensitivity, sentiment, and anxiety to find it's way into her tough hero. I love the way she portrayed his attraction to Marlena, the local bar owner, and I love that she avoided the usual played-out, courtship tropes that you see in many novels these days.
They traded demons and devils as the electricity and the atmosphere brawled above them, the fistfight in the sky mirroring the struggle their hearts were playing out, blow by blow. 
I enjoyed this and wanted to get to it before reading Steph's second novel, Lightwood, which comes out next month.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BLACKSAD by Juan Díaz Canales

This volume collects the first three graphic novels in the award-winning Blacksad series, which follows the adventures of cool cat private detective John Blacksad as he navigates the 1950's, fighting crime, righting wrongs, and bedding down some sexy pussycats while he's at it. It reads like the classic hard-boiled tales of Chandler, Hammet, and Spillane, with many familiar genre conventions on display.

In the debut story, Somewhere Within The Shadows, John investigates the violent death of a beautiful actress, who also happens to be an old flame of his. It's a decent intro to the character and the world, even if it's a little too simple and pretty derivative by design.

The next story, Arctic Nation, is an overall improvement with higher stakes and deeper themes, as Blacksad searches for a missing child in a town brimming with racial tension. It's the best story in the collection.

And the final story, Red Soul, finds our hero in the middle of a conspiracy involving Communist witch-hunts and the nuclear fear that was everywhere during that time period. I like that Canales tries to expand his stories beyond just detective tales and tackle bigger issues.

Although storywise there really isn't much that's new and original here, the real star is the drop-dead gorgeous, Eisner-Award-winning artwork by Juanjo Guarnido, who laces every page with lovingly detailed watercolors. The whole thing is a real pleasure to look at.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016


I've owned this book for years but kept putting it off until now. I got about 50 pages in and knew that I should have gotten around to this earlier and was peeved at myself for wasting time this year on more disappointing reads. This is the type of book that doesn't come around too often. A book that finds the perfect balance between it's attention to detail and research, it's sensitivity to character, and it's great structure, all wrapped up in passionate prose.

Imagine a mix of Traffic, Sicario, and Narcos, with elements of The Godfather and then multiply it by 3, then you'll get a sense of what to expect from The Power of the Dog, which details an epic battle during America's unwinnable War on Drugs, a 30-year battle between DEA agent Art Keller and Mexican cartel lord Adán Barrera, who were once good buddies. We witness the rise of both men within their respective ranks, and as the feud strengthens, they struggle to stay one step ahead of the other, dragging others into the trenches with them, into a war that neither side can truly win.

This was one of the longest books I read this year, but it felt like I sped through reading it. It was endlessly engaging and one of the most compulsively readable books for me this year. Every character was fascinating and I found myself rooting for all of them, especially Art Keller and his unwavering drive to bring down the Barreras, and Sean Callan, a young New Yorker whose fateful actions to protect his buddy leads him into a life of violence where he faces a constant struggle to keep his morals. And it's all very tragic, because all of this violence and death is part of a silly "War" on Drugs where the priorities and the objectives have been skewed big time, a war that should've ended a long time ago.

You know those addictive tv shows that you can't help but binge-watch on Netflix, Prime, or HBONow all weekend? Well, here's one in book form. And guess what? There's a sequel.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016


In this debut novel, a surly, crazy old man named Fielding reflects on an eventful summer in 1984 during his childhood in rural Ohio. It was the summer that brought one of the biggest heat waves in history. The summer when Fielding's family invited the devil into their home.  It's a cool concept and a great idea for a coming of age story.
The heat was making people behave on their most terrible side. Maybe it even gave them the confidence to act foolishly, rashly, without real reason. Hands in such heat bloom to fists. Fists are the flora of the mad season.
Many positive reviews are mentioning their surprise that this is a first time novelist. Now I'm not an expert or anything but there were many times when I recognized things that felt like the symptoms of a first novel, and many of these things got in the way of the story really reaching it's full potential. Besides the overbearing nostalgia that gets distracting, the book is also pretty long-winded. McDaniel is clearly a great word slinger, but I'm attracted to writing that finds a better balance between poetry and efficiency, and this could've been half the length and would've been even more effective. At first, I was enamored by the prose, but eventually I was constantly tempted to skim entire passages, especially the seemingly endless stories and fables that the character Sal would start spewing, bringing the pace to a screeching halt. It was as if McDaniel tried to fit as many ideas as she could into the book. I think many readers will find a lot to like in this book, and I think that McDaniel has great promise, but next time she simply needs to just get out of the way a little and let that great story fly.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

FOUR DAYS by Iain Ryan

This rugged, hard-boiled noir is a solid debut for Australian author Iain Ryan. It's a short, moody crime novel about a broken and self-destructive Brisbane detective with one foot forcefully out the door to retirement, who decides to go all the way out on his own terms and not only solve a haunting murder case, but also confront his demons and the corruption that he's been a part of for years.

It's a gloomy, fatalist story and I really enjoyed Ryan's use of language to illuminate it's flawed hero in Jim Harris. I only wish that less time was spent on the murder mystery element and more time on Jim himself, his backstory, and his struggle for redemption. Because when Ryan does focus on Jim's internal, personal struggle, that's when the book really shines!
The late night phone calls kept coming.
Harris knew this was it this time. It didn't matter who was on the other line or what the world thought of him. He was home now and all the ghosts were interconnected. They all knew where to find him. They were all calling. And they all had the same body.
He waited.
And she eventually came.

OFFLINE by Kealan Patrick Burke

The concept here is perfect for a short format, as it's a standalone tale that can't really be expanded on, but feels like it's tailor-made for the short form like this quick story. Yes, it's a gimmick, but who cares, it's a great one. The whole thing is told in a series of a Facebook conversation between a high school girl and her admirer that's been transcribed into official evidence by the police. It's an enjoyable read, the same way I felt about the unexpectedly entertaining Skype horror movie Unfriended.

It's an epistolary story for the millennial age!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NOWHERE by Roger Smith

A recurring theme in Roger Smith's work is the residue of Apartheid and how the South African people are still affected by those ghosts of the past. That theme is something that you can't avoid when you write in the unflinching way that Smith does about race and class conflict in modern South Africa. The ghosts of Apartheid are always lurking in the background of all of his books, but in this one, his latest, they are brought front and center.

It follows two separate investigations that ultimately connect and collide: in the first, a cop on the outs travels to Nêrens ("nowhere" in Afrikaans) to arrest a racist, white-power Afrikaaner who's created a white-only outpost in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, and in the second, after the South African President murders his #1 wife with a tribal spear, a decorated, retired cop is blackmailed into conducting a sham-investigation to cover up the murder. These two stories come together in violence and reckoning, in grand Roger Smith fashion.

The characters here are some of his best, including a fascinating and complex "villain" in the fixer Steve Bungu, who is also one of my favorite characters I've read about this year. Former cop Joe Louw is also great, a man tortured by the fact that his unavoidable past has put him in a position where he has to go against his usually unwavering ethics.

The book is also a pleasure to read from a story standpoint as I loved the way Smith meticulously laid all of the groundwork and then revealed layer after layer as the story went on until I realized that there was much more to all of it than I expected, a tale of conspiracy and revenge, of a coming to terms with past legacy in a similar way to Brian Panowich's Bull Mountain from last year.

Smith is such a great storyteller that too many readers are missing out on.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

RIDGERUNNER by Rusty Barnes

All things become clearer in sunlight.
Ridgerunner is a piece of country grit from 280 Steps, in which a part-time wildlife conservation deputy in rural Pennsylvania gets embroiled in a bullet-ridden feud with the Pittmans, the local family of outlaws. Initially I was excited with the prospect of having our hero, Matt Rider, stumble through the book with gunshot wounds and a broken ankle in a cast. I thought this would add an extra layer to the action and the tension that I was pumped to read about. But this plot element either backfired or wasn't used to it's potential because Matt spent a lot of the novel just waiting around. That was my biggest problem with this one: there is almost no urgency. There are serious threats to Matt's family by villains who are largely unseen and can pop up at anytime, but yet Matt somehow finds time to go shopping and sit on the couch. He doesn't even really seem all that pressed about the situation he's in. There are many parts in this book where narrative urgency comes to a total halt and I felt no sense of real danger through most of it.
I wanted blood, and I wanted it now, without my uniform and all the bullshit that went with it.
I also loved the idea of keeping the villains fairly mysterious in order to build their reputation along with the reader's anticipation. But then this build-up didn't pay-off at all and it turns out that the Pittmans are lightweights in a big way, with a climactic shoot-out that's instantly forgettable.  I would normally call the end of this novel "anti-climactic," but then again, it's not really a letdown because nothing really happened in rest of the book either.


Sunday, November 20, 2016


This graphic adaptation of James Sallis's great novella seems to take its cue in part from the Nicolas Winding Refn movie adaptation, with its neon-infused, 80's nostalgia vibe. One of the first things I noticed in the graphic novel was the color, the magenta and green tones really evoked a similar mood to the movie.

The book, which collects the four comic issues of Drive, pares Sallis's book down to the bare essentials, which isn't always a good thing, especially because a Sallis book is most likely already just bare essentials. Although it keeps the ultra-hard-boiled vibe and some of Sallis's best lines, it loses much of the thoughtfulness and idiosyncrasies that are some of the trademarks of a Sallis book. Also, the abbreviated comic book structure causes it all to seem like a rush, skimming over important elements, like Irina and Benicio, and the Driver's past. This adaptation isn't bad, just not very memorable.


Saturday, November 19, 2016


In one of the most ambitious books I've read all year, author Laird Barron presents us with a collection of stories that not only play with the mixing of pulp genres like hard-boiled noir, slasher thriller, and cosmic horror, but also build a whole horror mythology as they move along, compiling to become a mosaic novel in which everything is connected. All of the stories revolve around various people that live in a small, cursed Alaskan town, and the horrors that befall them.
"There's a hole no man can fill," says the count. "No amount of love or hate or heat poured into the pit. No amount of light. I am the voice of the abyss."
This is my introduction to Laird Barron and he truly has a voice of his own. I was really impressed with his writing; on a sentence level, it might be some of the best prose I've read all year. Every story has a palpable atmosphere and there are parts of these stories that are truly creepy and stuck with me at night. But I do feel that each story meandered and took too long to get to its payoff. Although I loved the writing, I do feel that the tales were a little long-winded and overstuffed. Because this book reportedly builds on other Barron stories, I wonder if I would've enjoyed this more if I read some of his other work first. There are many things about this book I still don't fully understand, but I was always intrigued, similar to the way I felt after seeing David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. Although it's sometimes confusing and frustrating, it's a unique piece of work and definitely going on my re-read list again so I can appreciate and explore it more.


Friday, November 4, 2016

ODD MAN OUT by James Newman

James Newman's new novella shares similar themes to his acclaimed novel Animosity, themes like mob mentality, the nature of hate, and the way that hate is contagious. Eight teenage boys are spending a summer at the brand new Black Mountain Camp for Boys, kayaking, swimming, and playing baseball. But when a secret of one of the boys is revealed and the campers are left without much responsible supervision, normal teasing and shit-talking turns into something much more horrifying.

I didn't fully buy into the descent to hardcore violence that happened in Animosity, but I didn't have that problem here, partially because it involved unsupervised high school boys, with whom anything is possible. Newman doesn't pussy-foot around the subject of bigotry and the ugliness in the way kids treat each other and it was sometimes difficult to read. With me, it felt like Newman was preaching to the choir, but there are many people out there that need to read this book and understand the depths to where intolerance can take you. I'll even go as far to say that this probably should be assigned reading in some high school classes. A strong look at the dark side of human nature.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

SUNBLIND by Michael McBride

There are tried-and-true, heavily-used conventions in horror fiction, elements like darkness and the cold and snow. They've become things that we equate with atmospheric creepiness, trembling, and goosebumps. But here, Michael McBride skillfully uses bright sunlight and intense heat to instill more terror than most of the horror fiction I've read. Here, it's all about sunburn blisters, and not being able to blink because your eyelids are too dry,
The novel opens with an ace Border Patrol agent discovering the body of a Mexican woman in the middle of the Sonoran desert, a woman that's carved a cryptic message onto her chest. Along with a couple of his fellow agents, he sets out into the desert night to find out what happened to her and her fellow companions trying to cross the border. In a parallel story, the book follows what happened to the travelers from the woman's point of view and we discover the true horror of what happened.

It's a totally ingenious concept, that not only tackles the topical subject of illegal immigration but shows the absolute horror of walking across the hot desert with limited resources. Intense heat from which there's no escape or relief, dehydration to the point where you can't even sweat or cry anymore, snakes, hunger, the cartels and their narcos, and the truth about what you would really be willing to do if you were thirsty enough; just these elements alone and the way that McBride uses them are enough to make a pretty effective scary book. But as if that wasn't enough already, he takes it a step further and ups the ante considerably by introducing a terrifying creature that hunts the group in the middle of all this as they try to make their way through the desert.
The day was not even half over and already I was no longer praying for the sun to set, but for my death, when it came, to be swift and merciful. 
I also really loved the novel's structure, cutting back and forth between the border agents' nighttime search and the first-hand account of what happened. The parallel stories work in tandem, each informing the other and raising the tension in each section even more. And McBride doesn't pussy out and hold back on the horror. There were many times here that my skin crawled and my mouth dropped open because I couldn't believe that this was all happening! And McBride does a great job with detailing the characters as well, especially our main heroine, but also all of the supporting cast as well, even though most of them remain nameless. I noticed a few editing mistakes, but it was a great read for October, one of the best written horror novels I've come across, and definitely the best book I've read from DarkFuse.

It was the smell of death, a death for which I had far too recently prayed, but one I now knew I wanted no part of, an abstraction made far too real. I refused to die in this place. Not down here where my soul would forever remain outside of the reach of God, destined to wander the darkness, holding the hand of La Santa Muerte.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


"All I ever wanted was a mad, mad world."
It feels like Ed Kurtz borrows a lot of this book's structure from much of Stephen King's small town work, especially 'Salem's Lot and Needful Things, where the story moves at a slow pace for the first half, introducing us to the various characters around town and getting you invested in their stories and their fate until all hell breaks loose. And that's just what happens here. Just not as effectively.

The everyday laid-back ambience in the small Arkansas town of Litchfield is shaken up with the arrival of a traveling movie roadshow. It's an educational "hygiene picture" meant to teach the kiddies and their parents about the horrors of sex but the locals discover that the roadshow's purpose is much more horrifying. We first learn about the people of Litchfield and not a whole lot happens initially, but then the story devolves into all kinds of scary shit like voodoo, werewolves, old silent films, circuses, creepy nurses, calliope music and even Hell itself.

And although Kurtz gives it a good try at first, the final half just doesn't work and all the pieces of Kurtz's story puzzle kept falling apart all the way to the end. The characters ultimately fell flat and their relationships never rang true, with some dying throwaway deaths that should have been more impactful. Attempts at a little levity and witty one-liners here and there just rang silly. There are also several good ideas in this book that should work well in any good horror tale, but they never came together as a cohesive whole for me. It felt like Kurtz had a bunch of ideas that he found interesting and tried to stitch together for this book but just couldn't get the threads to stick right. Some story points even felt forgotten about, or maybe they just weren't all that important to begin with.



*The hunt for Margie seemed really important at first but then everyone, including the author, seemed to just stop caring.

*What was the point of spending all that time on the hygeine picture when it's really not all that important? If the hygiene picture didn't exist at all in the book, and we just stuck with the midnight show as the roadshow, we wouldn't lose anything at all in the story.

*What was so special about Margie and Theodora, that they were spared of going crazy after watching the midnight show? And although Jojo and the priest didn't watch it, they were still under the same Barker magic, so what the hell is so special about them that they don't go crazy? And I don't buy the "a god just toyng with everyone" reason because that's cheap. There should be something to why this small group of special people that we are following are not affected.


Friday, October 14, 2016

TRIGGERMAN #1 by Walter Hill and Matz

Triggerman, along with Peepland, is part of the first round of Hard Case Crime's great expansion into the comic book world. And it's a great way to start. It's a story by famous film director Walter Hill, one that he couldn't get made into a movie. Some French comic book guys picked it up decades later and adapted it for publication in Europe and now it's made its way to the U.S comic scene. It's a hard-boiled, 1930's-era crime story that follows a gunman for hire who's recently been busted out of prison by the Mob for one last assignment.

The art in this one (by artist Jef) is stellar! It's rich, detailed, and laced with dusty shades of brown and great textures, really evoking the Dust Bowl-ish Arizona landscape where this first issue takes place. Being the first issue, we're only introduced to a tiny bit of the story so there are still tons of un-answered questions, but what we do get is compelling enough to continue. It definitely sets the stage. I'm excited with what Hard Case is trying to do now, and both of their new comic series are a success!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

PEEPLAND #1 by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips

Leave it to Christa Faust and Hard Case Crime to drag me back into reading comic books! It's my first full comic book issue or graphic novel that I've read in about 15 years. When I heard that Hard Case Crime was jumping into the comic publishing world I couldn't resist, especially after learning that the one of the first series would be written by acclaimed crime authors Christa Faust and Gary Phillips. Peepland was an idea spawned by Faust's experiences working in the New York City peep booths back in the day. It takes place in 1986 NYC and is about Roxy Bell, a peepshow artist in a booth at Peepland in Manhattan, who's minding her own business cleaning up after a customer, when a colleague, pornographer Dirty Dick, runs into her booth and stashes a VHS tape. But little does she know, a coupla hard dudes and the cops are after Dirty Dick and this bit of contraband.
The first issue does a great job of dropping you into the world of pre-Guiliani 80's Manhattan (filled with porno theaters, pawn shops, and graffiti) and the people who roam the island. The art is engaging, with the saturated colors that we've come to expect from 80's stories, especially in the neon-infused cover! The dialogue is great, the story moves at a nice clip, and the characters are well introduced. I can't wait to learn more about AJ, Nick, Aiesha, and of course Roxy herself. I loved the introduction of the Uncle Leo character, which not only added more depth to Roxy's character, but also added an unfortunate New York 80's element that I was not expecting. I can't wait to read the next issue. By combining Faust's knowledge of the time and place, Gary Phillips's knowledge of writing for comic books, and both of their great noir sensibilities, Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics should have a hit on their hands!


Monday, October 10, 2016


I really enjoy reading Greg Gifune's work. I enjoy his effortless way with words and his knack for injecting compelling emotional drama into his horror tales. I loved The Rain Dancers and really enjoyed the suspenseful Oasis of the Damned, and this novella, Lords of Twilight, falls in the same vein. Lane Boyce is a newcomer to a middle-of-nowhere town in Maine looking to start over and forget his past. But the past isn't easily forgotten when strange things start happening around town, leading up to a terrible snowstorm that traps Lane in his tiny cabin, with just his dog, and the memories that he is trying so hard to forget.

One thing that Gifune proves to be great at again and again is the building of atmospheric tension and mood, especially with his use of weather. And oppressive snow is always a tried and true element in memorable horror and naturally, Gifune uses it here to great effect. And as usual, the book is filled with smooth, gorgeous passages that's always a pleasure to read in his work. But the strongest element here is how the real horror lies not with the snow, nor the strange things happening in town, but in a man not only trapped with the terrible memories of his past but also forced to confront the consequences of that past.
He thought he knew what it was to be alone, but now understands what it truly means. Hope is an illusion, a memory of something once possible that has been relegated to the realm of myth and broken promises whispered in the dark. 
Although it wasn't as strong as some of the other work I've read by Gifune, it's definitely a solid example of why he's probably one of the most underrated horror writers out there today.


Saturday, October 8, 2016


I've had my eye on Stephen Graham Jones' work for a while and have read nothing but awesome things about his talent. Rave reviews for his latest short story/novelette, "The Night Cyclist," led me to make it my first jump into his work. It follows a restaurant cook and avid cyclist who bikes from work to home everyday, and the unexpected encounter he has one night on a dark stretch of road. 

As promised, the story is wonderfully well-written and detailed, especially when describing the joys and experiences of bike riding as well as the eerie nights that the rider encounters while on the road. And like all of the great horror writers, Jones uses the fantastic as a vehicle to touch on the themes that are at the heart of the story, mid-life crises and second chances. I enjoyed the ending as well and now I have to decide which Stephen Graham Jones book to read next!
He'd picked my scent out of all the smells of the city. Out of all the thousands of other bodies out after dark. He'd known me through the rain.

DANGEROUS SEX: 3 STORIES by Vicki Hendricks

I read this tiny collection as a little companion to my read of Vicki Hendricks' Miami Purity, similar to how you would watch a couple of short cartoons before feature presentations at the movie house back in the day. Here she gives us three strange and graphically erotic tales that all share a theme of women taking control of sex in some very bizarre ways. The stories might turn some people off but might excite others interested in seeing the original ways that Hendricks can empower her women. For example, there's one story where a woman with an extra-large clitoris exhausts her boy toy by pegging him all day. If you've read Hendricks before, I''m sure you'll know what to expect. The stories here are good enough but none of them really blew me away though. It worked well as a quick companion read!


Friday, October 7, 2016

MIAMI PURITY by Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks' acclaimed erotic debut novel takes it's cue from noir godfather James M. Cain and is a clear homage to his The Postman Always Rings Twice. In this one, after exotic dancer Sherri Parlay "accidentally" kills her abusive husband, she decides to start over fresh. One way to do it is to get a legit job working at the indie dry cleaners Miami Purity. Here she quickly falls for the owner's son and his "Jagger-lips," but his controlling mom stands in the way.

Hendricks' noir voice is smooth and assured, totally spot on. Her writing is one of the best examples I've seen of truly evoking the pulp paperback era but never feeling forced. There are not many things in the story that really date it, so it has a timeless feel and there are many times that I forgot that it was published in the early 2000's. Along with the Miami humidity, the dry cleaners is a perfect setting for this steamy book and all of the illicit going-ons, a place where people take all their dirty things to get them cleaned and "purified." And Sherri is a great protagonist, unapologetic about her sexuality, strong in going after what she wants at the same time she's weak in her self-control.

Now while there are lots of great things in Miami Purity, especially the final act, much of it's beginning and middle is bogged down by monotony, where it falls into a soap opera slump, with not much going on except for Sherri pining over Payne, and the two of them having hot sex and trying to hide it from his mom. In this way, it's also similar to another Cain book, Mildred Pierce, which I had similar feelings about: well-written but weakened by it's eye-rolling soapy elements. So if you think James M. Cain, but with a lot more vagina and penis, you'll get an idea of what to expect from this book. And it's cool seeing how many awesome authors have blurbed lovingly about Vicki Hendricks and her work, from Dennis Lehane, to George Pelecanos, to Joe R. Lansdale, and this edition even sports a thoughtful Afterword by Megan Abbott.


Friday, September 30, 2016

RUMRUNNERS by Eric Beetner

This is the third Eric Beetner book I've read this year and for the third time in a row, he delivers thrilling, pulpy, criminal entertainment. Rumrunners, which so far might actually be his most popular book, follows the McGraw family, who for generations have been working as talented wheelmen for the Stanley's, an Iowa crime family. Tucker McGraw has been set on ending this outlaw legacy by going to college and becoming an insurance salesman. But when his father Webb goes missing with the Stanley's latest package, the Stanley's put the debt on him. So Tucker must reluctantly get involved in the family business, and with the help of his OG grandfather Calvin, find out the truth about Webb's disappearance, and get out from under the thumb of the Stanley's.

Like in Dig Two Graves and Run For the Money, in this one, Beetner once again shows a knack for creating engaging criminal characters. Calvin McGraw stole the show here as the 84-year-old whose fondness for beer is only eclipsed by his love for American muscle cars, and who is growing tired of his retirement and jumps at a chance for reliving his glory days outrunning the Feds on the open road. Also, seeing the McGraw side of straight-man Tucker gradually emerge from within as he begins to embrace the outlaw life was fun to see as well. And Beetner has a talent for crafting great action scenes, with the fist-fights and car chases properly standing out the way they should in a book like this. And when you include Beetner's trademark wit and humor, you won't be disappointed with this classic crime thriller.
"Well, Milo. You're really going from zero to McGraw in one shot tonight. Tell you what, cops and our family are like magnets and wood—they don't stick. Lose this son of a bitch and we'll add your name to the wall of honor."

Monday, September 19, 2016


I apologize in advance for bringing up politics in this review. But recently a number of supporters of  U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump were referred to as a "basket of deplorables." Many people had an issue with that. The thing is, it's not much of a stretch to imagine the two main characters in this novel voting for him, and they are the very definition of deplorable. Publisher All Due Respect has truly lived up to their mission statement of delivering 'low-life fiction," by showing us some of the lowest of the low here.

Lee Williams is a bitter, damaged, directionless man who has just been released from prison and thrown into America's Great Recession. He is haunted and broken not only by his years as a sex toy for various gangs on the inside, but also by his abuse from his mother, and his fantasies of tying her up and torturing her. But it's not until he moves in with his cousin Jeff, a Neo Nazi Iraq vet with a blown-up face gearing up for a race war, that he's really able to express himself and let loose all of the urges that have been building in him all along.
Lee swore he would never smoke crack again yet kept looking at the floor as though expecting to see some there.
My emotions toward this story ran the whole gamut. There were times where I was totally disgusted, where it felt like sloppy crime porn and the author was just trying to see how much he could shock the reader. There were a few times where I thought I'd made a mistake purchasing this and I was going to put it down. Lee and Jeff are truly pieces of shit, and it's a real challenge to be so entrenched in their point of view. Miller's writing is so uncompromising and direct that it's hard to take at times. But it's also these things that make it difficult to put down, and ultimately makes it a must read for people who might deny this dark side of America. Miller is showing us how it's possible that the bigoted sickness that simmers below the surface of our country can come bubbling to the surface and how certain people can latch onto that and make it fester. As I watch the news everyday, I can't think of a better year for this book to have been released.

There are only the barest of plots here, instead it's more of a character study of a man taking a drug-addled, violent exploration of his own hatred. It hurts to read but it's something that I ultimately couldn't turn away from. Check out the passage below from a scene where Lee gets crack-high and you'll know what to expect from this crazed, rabid hyena of a novel. I struggled a bit with how to grade this. But, even if this turns out not to be my favorite read this year, I can't think of a book that will prove to be more important.
What fucking problems?
The only "problems" he had were monetary and these could be fixed the next day. 
He'd go back out and sign spin. He'd go out with the Mexicans and do day labor. He'd rob banks! He'd get that money, one way or the other, then he'd get wheels, he'd get that chromed out black Dually. He'd get tools, he'd do renovations. He'd be an independent contractor. He'd have business cards. He'd make some money, put that into a house, he'd fix that house up, then he'd sell that house. Profit. He'd take that money and buy two more houses, fix them up. Sell them. Profit. He'd buy some rental units. Income stream! Profit!! He'd give out money to everyone he knew. To everyone who deserved it. He'd buy Jeff his face back. That's why he was so fucking crazy, of course! He'd buy Gary his house and his wife and his daughter and his other kids and his life back. Then he'd kill all of them. He'd kill at random. He'd fuck all the pussies of all the women in the world. He'd tie Gary up and fuck his dead wife in front of him! He'd decorate the inside of a church with the bones of thousands! He would never be stopped because no one could stop him. His powers would spread outwards forever and ever and ever until they encircled the entire universe, then Lee would begin squeezing...
But for now Lee needed music and more crack.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

THE BRAT by Gil Brewer

Pulpy tagline!: "She wanted out and she had the price—a lovely body and the will to use it."

This is a middle of the road Gil Brewer novel that falls somewhere between the pulp awesomeness of The Vengeful Virgin or A Taste For Sin, and the disappointing Wild To Possess. In this book, Brewer pushes to create the "fatalest" of femmes in Evis Helling, the titular "brat" of the story. But brat is an understatement! Lee first meets her when he's riding down a river one day minding his own business and he sees her sitting on a dock, as if she's been waiting specifically for him to ride by, like a sweaty swamp succubus ready to suck him in. They soon marry and then begin to plot a robbery together. After he starts to get cold feet, she goes through with the robbery anyway and sets him up to take the fall, prompting Lee to travel back into the heart of swampy darkness to track her down!

I thought that the beginning of the book was great and the final act was pretty good, but the middle of the book that mostly consists of Lee traveling through the swamp did not have the same urgency that Brewer is known for, and it falls into a repetitive slog. I also thought that the desperate sheriff was a pretty annoying character. But even though it doesn't stand up to his best work, it's still entertaining enough, even if just for it's pulpiness and for Evis herself!
I cursed her and tore that dress to shreds.
It was like tearing us apart. I had to demolish every last stitch of cloth, scattering what remained of the dream across the floor of the room where a ghost of her still moaned and writhed in ecstasy.

Friday, September 9, 2016

THE BLACK WIDOW CLUB by Hilary Davidson

I've been searching for more female crime writers that tell the kind of dark stories that I love, and in my search I stumbled onto award-winner Hilary Davidson and thought that this collection of nine previously published tales of betrayal and murder would be a good start. The main theme in the majority of these are tales of desperate women doing bad things, things like revenge, cuckolding, plastic surgery, and other kinds of psycho shit.
Richard sank to his knees. It was almost how Kelly had pictured him proposing, except for all the blood.
I can see why Davidson has gotten a fair amount of praise with her short stories. The concepts might be familiar to some but Davidson writes with a precision and a wicked little sense of humor that makes them special. There's a playful naughtiness to each story that would make Hitchcock proud and sharp twists that made me smile. All of the stories are equally entertaining and well-told but if I were forced to pick favorites, I'd probably say "Beast," "Son of So Many Tears," and "The Other Man." Hilary Davidson really knows her stuff and I'll definitely be checking out more of her work.


Monday, September 5, 2016

BLISTER by Jeff Strand

This is not what it looks like.

Yes, I know that the cover art and title is creepy. Yes, I know that it's written by Jeff Strand, who has an extensive bibliography filled with lovely titles like: Dead Clown Barbecue, Benjamin's Parasite, and Casket For Sale: Only Used Once.  But trust me, this book is not a horror tale. Now, there are some horrifying events detailed, but in fact, this is actually a tender-hearted, quirky love story with doses of great comedy and also some small-town mystery.

It begins with one of the best opening lines ever:
I'm a liar, but this is the truth.
I think that line is not only a great way to start this particular tale, but it also simply sums up everything about what it means to be a writer of fiction. While reading this book, I was so worried that this story would fall off the rails in an epic way. It's not the easiest tale to tell and the love story aspect as well as Rachel's backstory have to be handled delicately or it all could've fallen apart. And there's a twist near the end that I believe could've been handled better. But Jeff Strand is such a witty writer and has so much confidence in what he's doing, it seems like he could take any crazy story and really make it stand out.


Monday, August 29, 2016

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch

It's really hard to find something else to add to the ton of accolades that's already been heaped onto this book, one of the most talked about novels of the year. The story by Blake Crouch, of a physics professor who is kidnapped one night and forced into an adventure beyond anyone's wildest imagination, has all the elements of crowd-pleasing, perfectly escapist entertainment. It has an amazing concept on which Crouch expertly adds layers upon layer, forcing me deeper into the rabbit hole. But not only does the concept make for great entertainment but it's also an ingenious way to tackle the issues that Crouch is really after: choices, regret, and what it truly means to love your family.

Along with a tender romance, a likable protagonist, and possibly the worst villain you can imagine, this book is a fast-moving adventure story that kept me reading past all the acceptable time limits! I'll just stop now because I don't have much more to add other than what others have already written. The book is cool as hell and much more fun than this redundant review.

Go read it.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A F*CKLOAD OF SHORTS by Jedidiah Ayres

Jedidiah Ayres is such a great writer that if he wrote more accessible stuff like a coming of age family drama or a thriller with the word Girl in the title, he would be a household name. But instead he writes stuff like this collection of stories full of depraved violence, filthy sex, disturbing psychology, comedy blacker than the darkest night, and characters devoid of any moral center and it's all for the better. It's one of the best written pieces of work I've read this year by a writer more people should know about. Most of the stories in this collection shouldn't work; they should feel too ridiculous. And Ayres takes these things to places you were sure he wouldn't dare go, but you'll be so wrapped up in his storytelling flair, that by the time you get to the witch-burning and the necrophilia, you will simply be along for the ride.

He tries his hands at a variety of genres here, from noir, Western, apocalyptic, or a couple of comedies that have a Friends of Eddie Coyle-ish stream-of-dialogue style, but he puts his own twisted spin on all of them. Try reading "Hoosier Daddy," "The Whole Buffalo," or this bewildering and tantalizing passage near the beginning of "The Adversary," and not want to read everything else he's written:
The witch had been holding ceremonies. Sacrifices. Poultry mostly. She blessed and hexed for a fee and she'd send and deliver messages across the Stygian chasms separating worlds.  All of her arts were brought over from the Dark Continent and she practiced in the woods under penalty of death by the Law of Moses, which the Reverend Chalfont Avery was charged with upholding now in the face of Armageddon.  He had been present at her execution, a willing and enthusiastic participant, but the kicking feet of the blasphemer brought not the warmth of God to his soul, so they torched her home to mirror the flames of Hades and on them he warmed his hands.
It's a shame that this book is out of print by SnubNose Press. I'm lucky to have stumbled onto a used copy in an LA bookstore. If you can find it, snatch it up. But if you can't, his novella Fierce Bitches is the best thing I've read so far this year, and I'm sure his full-length novel, Peckerwood, which I haven't read yet (soon come), is just as great.


Sunday, August 21, 2016


Sometimes, when presented with the opportunity to be a good samaritan, maybe you should think about just leaving well enough alone!

I'm sure Nick Gillis realizes this, after he helps a beautiful girl at a bar, and ends up on the radar of Chad Toll, the most dangerous dude in town. If Nick's own trouble trying to get over the suicide of his wife wasn't enough, now he has a psycho fascinated with him.

Chad, the charming psycho in question, is a well-illustrated, three-dimensional villain, who takes Nick on a date to watch classic films at the drive-in, before taking the most brutal act of revenge you'll read in fiction this year. He's one of the keys to the book's success, providing a quiet menace that permeates the book, even in scenes where he's absent, as if he can just pop up when you aren't expecting him and shocking you again with stunning violence. I'm sure that's how protagonist Nick Gillis felt too! This is a gripping novel that maintains the danger from beginning to end.
He pulled her tighter and she continued to cry. He felt better than he had in a long time. His own demons could sleep while he was dealing with hers. But even the relief nagged at him. Was it worth it? Leave one hell to vacation in another? And how long until he had to go back home?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


*Book 2 in the Underworld, U.S.A. Trilogy*
"You never know when you might rub shoulders with history."
Well here it is, the book that ends my A grade streak with James Ellroy's books. But it's definitely not a bad book, just not as impressively crafted as the others and much more difficult to read.

John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, all assassinated within five years, all by lone gunmen who all claimed to not be the only ones involved. Coincidence? James Ellroy thinks not, and just as in the stellar American Tabloid, he deconstructs the turbulent 1960's and rewrites his own version of American history during that time, leading up to the deaths of RFK and MLK. Picking up immediately after the JFK assassination at the end of Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand follows our characters cleaning up after the killing that has shaken the country to its core and they struggle to define their roles in the history being made. Pete Bondurant dedicates himself to staying useful and to mending his fraying relationship to the Mob and the CIA, dreaming of rekindling his Anti-Communist glory days that led up to the Cuban crisis, while Ward Littell uses all the skills he's learned from Kemper Boyd, dangerously juggling alliances with everyone from the Mob, Howard Hughes, the FBI, and the Civil Rights movement, and at the same time feeling increasing guilt with his role in a rising number of conspiracies. Debuting into this mess is Wayne Tedrow Jr., a Las Vegas cop struggling to avoid following in his racist father's footsteps, but tragic circumstances allow him to embrace the darkness within. And looming over everything is J. Edgar Hoover, the Emperor Palpatine of the Ellroy galaxy, increasingly unhinged, crafting conspiracies from behind a desk, wire-tapping every room in the country, struggling to make the country great again.

One of the things that made me fall in love with Ellroy's work is his ability to pull together an immense encyclopedia of material and, through the use of some black magic, craft these tight tales and characters that are engaging and fully memorable. And though his past five masterpieces that I've read haven't been short, this is the first of his work that I actually think is too long. And Ellroy takes his prose-style to the extreme here and that doesn't help. It's exhausting and many times tedious, and there are whole parts that I don't think were all that necessary; the Vietnam storyline in particular didn't really amount to much or affect much of anything. I wish that Ellroy spent less time on that and more time really fleshing out the character arcs, which weren't as finely tuned as in his previous novels. I wanted to feel the conflict in Ward Littell more as he feels the pull of the Left even though he tries so hard to be part of the Right. His story could've been the most fascinating. I wanted to further explore Wayne Junior's acceptance and rationalization of his racism. While all of these ideas were great, I just wish they were fleshed out more.

But the book is still an Ellroy book and like most of his work, it's an epic that stands out in a crowded field of fiction. There are times when the declarative sentence style really shines, as in a chapter where Littell witnesses firsthand the horrors that haunt the civil rights movement. It was also great catching up with old characters from previous books, or witnessing infamous history from a different perspective, like the JFK assassination clean-up, Sonny Liston's alleged Outfit ties, the plots to discredit Dr. King, or the recruitment of both Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray. There were times when the book hovered around an A-, but alas I have to settle on a B-. Hopefully the next book I read from him is back to the A-quality I've come to expect!


Saturday, July 30, 2016


He wished for his guns, but decided his hate would have to do.
While the country is neck-deep in civil war, unassuming Texas rancher Daniel Hays wakes up to find his loyal ranch-hand and lover Steven castrated and lynched, hanging from a juniper tree. Daniel gathers his guns and his horse Oscar and sets out to reap vengeance on those responsible.

Based on that summary, you might expect this novella to be a Death Wish-style Western actioner where Daniel tracks each man down one by one and we get episodes of violent, cathartic retribution in graphic detail. But I was pleasantly surprised that this was much more brooding and contemplative, and more about studying the nature of revenge, and how much of an ineffective effort it can be. It shows how muddled it can be, how it rarely goes the way many would expect, but shows how through it all, Daniel keeps going out of a sense of duty; it's something he simply has to do. Another thing that I really enjoyed was the little hint of what might be some magical realism, which really added great texture to this tale. I'm lowering the score a bit though because the ending felt like a bit of a rushed cop-out and a let-down.
"I hope you get your revenge. A man can't be right when there's somebody livin' that oughtn't be."

Friday, July 29, 2016

THE WINTER BOX by Tim Waggoner

A winter storm that has trapped everyone in their homes for the night. An unhappily married couple struggling to keep up appearances to each other even though they both know it's been a futile effort for years. Biting cold that seems to get worse by the minute. And an unassuming box that might hold more than just relationship memorabilia.

The stage is well set as the book begins; the atmosphere quickly and effectively developed. I loved the idea of telling what is essentially a simple story of a couple trying to save their marriage, and wrapping it in the trappings of a creepy horror tale. And I think it fits well in the DarkFuse line-up, with much of the book reminiscent of some of Greg F. Gifune's atmospheric work. But, the plot development here just didn't feel fully-conceived. I didn't get the sense that there was anything special about this anniversary night in particular that makes the time right for these events to happen, and I also didn't really understand what the importance of the winter box was as a plot point, although I understood it's thematic significance. All of the good ideas and concepts are there but it seemed like the second half of the book needed to be revisited to make it tighter, stronger, and more fully realized. And with that, this book's solid ending would have even more of an emotional pay-off. There's some good stuff in this one, enough for me to enjoy it, but it didn't feel fully accomplished.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

THE LAST KIND WORDS by Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is already one of my favorite authors even though this is actually the first novel I've read by him. I've read and loved a handful of his great novellas in the past year and have been infatuated with his sensitive but uncompromising writing. Tommy Pic doesn't disappoint in the full-length novel form either! Here, we follow the Rands, a family of Long Island thieves and burglars that go back generations who's strong bond has fallen apart after Collie, the oldest son, goes on an inexplicable killing spree that lands him on death row, and after the youngest son, Terrier, decides to abandon the family and go off on his own. But now after five years, Terry has returned and must confront this broken family that he deserted years before.

The characters pulled me in almost immediately, each one clearly drawn and familiar; each one deserving enough of their own novel. But the focus here is on Terry, a man haunted by the the potential legacy of the Rand name. Will he fall victim to severe Alzheimer's like his grandfather Shepherd, fall into the underneath and go mad-dog like his brother Collie, or will he simply just live the rest of his days in a house full of stolen junk; a faded, washed-up and lonely thief, breaking in to and creeping around in other homes at night, witnessing the lives of people happier than he is, and pining for his lost love? These questions haunt Terry throughout the novel as he knows that these are real possibilities. The themes Piccirilli tackles here are very similar to the one he explored in the last novella I read by him, All You Despise, the theme that the pull of family bond and obligation is almost impossible to explain, but can affect someone for the rest of their life. Both this novel and All You Despise can be seen as companion pieces, where Piccirilli tries to investigate why the power of family can be so strong and crippling. The novel is about family: longing for it, hating it, or simply just stuck with it whether you want to be or not.


Monday, July 18, 2016


I enjoyed this story collection by respected author Daniel Woodrell but it unfortunately suffers from the thing that threatens to plague many collections: the stories might not be very consistent in quality. There were several tales that really stood out, will definitely appeal to fans of his work, and really encompassed the themes Woodrell tackles throughout the whole collection. "Florianne" and "Uncle," two great tales of rural revenge, as well as "Black Step" and "Night Stand," two stunning sketches of PTSD in veterans, were very impressive, but many of the other stories were simply not that memorable. Also, many of the characters in this collection don't engage and stick with you the way other Woodrell creations do, like Shug or Glenda in The Death of Sweet Mister, or Ree in Winter's Bone. Fans of the author's poetic prose and the way he conjures environment and atmosphere should give this a go though!
Her chest had been cut away from her first, both sides, but she fell sick in other parts too, and the sick didn't rest; it prowled her body, salting her with ruin you couldn't see in her face for a good long while. Now the ruin just stares out at me, all the time, from those eyes that know about hope and that body that can't offer any.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

THE HEAVENLY TABLE by Donald Ray Pollock

Donald Ray Pollock's new novel can be equally frustrating and rewarding. Especially if you go into it expecting certain things based on the book blurb summary given by the publisher. I really enjoyed Pollock's writing in this one, just as tough and bold as we've come to expect in his work, but this time it has an added dose of black-humored wit that helped support the more pulp-y tone this book carried. Another thing that Pollock fans will expect are colorful, memorable characters, which this book has in spades. And that unfortunately leads to one aspect where the book falters, and that's in its pacing. The thing that's good to know before getting into the book is that it quickly jumps back and forth between a large cast of characters and Pollock spends a lot of time (one could argue unnecessarily) developing backstory for everyone, which really weakens the pace, to the point where a few times in the book I was wondering where he was going with all of this.

But once I got the hang of it all, it finally clicked to me that Pollock was creating a tapestry of this disparate cast of characters all dealing with the immense change that was happening around them in 1917, when the book is set. Whether it be the looming presence of the Great War across the sea in strange, faraway lands called Germany and France, to the growing popularity of automobiles, the introduction of indoor plumbing, or the breakdown of outlaw legend in the face of hard reality, every character here must come face to face with this change and decide either to move with it and embrace it, or to reject it. I wouldn't recommend this one to everyone, especially with its focus on so many seemingly secondary characters, but if you don't mind that, then give it a go. It's surely not as good as the author's first two books, but it's still a worthy addition to his work.

*I reviewed an Advance Copy of this through Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion*