Thursday, March 24, 2016


"The veil of ignorance has been set over your face since birth. Shall I pull it free?"
While I'm generally familiar with HP Lovecraft and his work, including his Cthulhu mythos, I haven't  read that much from him. From what I gather though, he was a hardcore racist, and one must look past some of the uncomfortable material in his work to get to the good stuff and appreciate him. It seems like this has been the case with author Victor LaValle, who begrudgingly considers himself a fan. But he decided to use this conflicted appreciation of the horror master as inspiration for his latest project. In this novella, he has taken what many consider to be one of Lovecraft's most xenophobic work, "The Horror at Red Hook," and remixed it, cleverly transforming it into a cosmic horror tale that is also a commentary on racial and immigrant prejudice, and a big clapback at Lovecraft's bigotry in his own work.
The smell of age, meaning undifferentiated time, had settled throughout the home, a musty odor, as if the winds of the present never blew through here. 
I don't want to say much about the plot other than it's about a young black hustler in Harlem that does whatever it takes to survive as a black man in 1920's New York, the strange world he encounters in the underbelly of the city, and how these things affect and provide an outlet for his frustration and anger at the oppression that he must endure everyday. There's some great creepy imagery in this that LaValle handles masterfully and with a steady pace that sucks you in, making this short book hard to put down.
A cataclysm was happening on Parker Place, and belowground the air here smelled of sewage and smoke and the threat of divination.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock

This debut short story collection by Donald Ray Pollock is comprised of hard little nuggets of country grit that follow a variety of individuals living in and around the small Ohio holler of Knockemstiff, a place based on Pollock's own hometown. It's hard to look back on the book and single out stories for review because each story truly does feel like part of a whole, making the book feel more cohesive than most story collections. Many of the characters are referenced in more than story, and some even reappear in multiple stories. But, at the risk of sounding like a cliche, the main character in all the stories is the town itself, acting as the stories' sort-of-antagonist, placing an almost mystical hold on its inhabitants. Some dream of leaving but are either held back by circumstances or terrified of the world outside. Some even actually leave but are ultimately brought down by the past or are pulled back. And here, Pollock's blunt and doom-filled language gives the reader a hint of what's to come in his great follow-up novel, The Devil All The Time.
I'm beginning to believe that anything that I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

THE DAY I WORE PURPLE by Jake Vander Ark

I don't think I've ever read anything quite like this one. Not only is it a tender love story and grand family drama, it's also an epic of speculative science fiction that spans a trillion years, examines the creation of our universe, and takes a look at what it would be like to live forever and the effect that would have on society. But above all it's a portrait of a complex woman trying to find meaning in eternal life. Not only does the book defy genre, but the synopsis on Amazon barely cracks the surface of what readers are in for.
I read this is as an advance prereader in exchange for constructive notes, of which I gave a ton. So the edition of the book that was released today might be different. But it's most likely even better than the version I read. Vander Ark is a writer of great talent and deserves to be discovered by more readers. Get on the train early! While The Day I Wore Purple isn't as tightly wound and smoothly crafted as his previous novels like The Accidental Siren and The Brandywine Prophet, it's Vander Ark at his rawest; the book is undeniably his most ambitious, and in some ways, the most impressive. The closest I can get to describing my reaction after finishing it was the same way I felt about finishing Christopher Nolan's film Interstellar. After the end, not only did I have to put my brain back together again , but I knew that I'd seen something unique, something that wrestled with ideas beyond what everyone else is tackling in stories. But because of  it's size and ambition, like Interstellar, it's almost impossible for the book to be perfect. It can get a bit long-winded at times and it sometimes stumbles on it's tightrope balance of character development, exposition and sci-fi ideas. But even with its rough edges, you can sense Vander Ark pouring his all into this story, writing as if it's the last time he'll ever get to sit at a keyboard.

Some might love it, some might be confused, some might even think it's a mess, but I'm 100% positive that everyone who finishes it will think of it for a long time afterwards. Everyone should experience it!


Monday, March 21, 2016

FEDERALES by Christopher Irvin

This somber novella examines the power that the cartels have over certain states in Mexico, the futility of the efforts to stand up against them, and the brave and passionate people that still try to do just that. The book's main character, Marcos, is a tired and disillusioned federal police officer who takes a job protecting an outspoken anti-cartel politician and her young daughter.  I love the idea of Marcos knowing that it's impossible for him to solve Mexico's cartel problem all by himself, but believing that maybe the least he could do is protect this little family, making up for his failures. This too-short book is best read all at once, to soak up the imagery and atmosphere that author Christopher Irvin evokes in his to-the-point, no-frills prose that is still vivid and expressive. It moves at a slow, thoughtful pace until Irvin pulls the rug out from under you in the bittersweet final act.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A TASTE FOR SIN by Gil Brewer

While the last Brewer novel I read left much to be desired, A Taste For Sin, one of his later works, hits all the right notes! In it, we follow Jim Phalen, a drunk with money problems, as he hooks up with Felice Anderson, a hot, barely legal Latina with rough rape fantasies. It's all fun and games at first, but then this feisty femme goes from zero to fatale almost immediately, blackmailing him into helping her not only kill her husband but also rob the bank where he works of a million bucks.
She was a juvenile delinquent with a Spanish tinge, and she was absolutely out of her mind.
This book has a lot of the ingredients that make a great pulp novel: ultra fast pacing that leaves you breathless, a vulnerable and morally questionable protagonist, an icy but irresistible femme fatale, dark humor, and surprising violence. We've seen a plot like this many times in pulp noir, but Brewer stands out and writes it all with his usual sharp wit and ratchets the intensity way up.

I read this book as part of the Gil Brewer two-fer from Stark House that also includes Wild To Possess. While that book was pretty bland with a clunky plot, in A Taste For Sin, not only does the plot move as smooth as butter, but Brewer holds no punches with the depravity in the material. There aren't many books where you'll have a scene where the two main characters run around the house rough-sexin' each other while they have a police officer blind-folded and gagged and dog-chained to a radiator upstairs. A fun read!
When you dine with Death, Fear sits at the head of the table.