Monday, May 30, 2016


This 2016 Anthony Award-nominated short story collection by Christopher Irvin focuses mainly on ordinary individuals that many people almost never notice, the disenfranchised people who live quietly on society's borders: garbage men, cleaning ladies, immigrants, and returning war veterans, factory workers. And rather than the standard crime stories that most people expect, many of these stories and characters mostly exist on the fringes of crime, sometimes before or after major violence. And Irvin, as with his novella Federales, the brooding Mexico-set noir I read earlier this year, shows a real sensitivity to character as he sketches (in only a few pages) people that feel totally real.

I appreciate that Irvin respects the reader's intelligence, never spoon-feeding or spelling everything out for you. All the stories have a "lived-in" feel, as if they exist in a bigger world beyond each tale, as if there's a novel or two lurking before or after the story takes place. This is what some people dislike about short stories, but it's what has always attracted me to them. I wouldn't mind if Irvin returned to any of these characters and fleshed them out even more in other books. And although each story feels like a part of a bigger narrative, they never feel incomplete.

Standout tales include: "Blind Spot," "Bitter Work," "Lupe's Lemon Elixir," and "Napoleon of the North End."


Monday, May 23, 2016

RUN FOR THE MONEY by Eric Beetner

When I jumped into Eric Beetner's newest novel, based on the synopsis, I expected a quick, fast-paced, and entertaining action-comedy of bumbling criminals. But what I didn't expect was how well-realized the characters would be in the midst of all the action. Run For The Money (I believe it was originally titled Criminal Economics) follows the odd-couple bank thieves Slick and Bo on their way to prison after they've both been caught and convicted. They're planning on shanking each other when they get behind bars but Hurricane Esmerelda puts a pin in that and suddenly both of them are free, and the race is on to get the hidden money! But our boys have to face every crazy obstacle imaginable before they can see that dough.

Like I mentioned before, it's really impressive how well Beetner not only fully developed these engaging characters but how he incorporates the character developments into the action. Slick, Bo, and Emma's backstories, desires, and quirks are not only affected by the plot but also help to push the action forward at the same time. By making these wild characters relatable and three-dimensional, it makes all the crazy events more grounded and makes for a well-rounded and entertaining thriller rather than just pure slapstick action/comedy. But don't worry, the fun factor is never sacrificed! The book is a blast!


Sunday, May 15, 2016


In this novella, professional thief and zen master Phil Gaines lives a relatively quiet life robbing banks and staying out of the police spotlight. But it all goes to shit when he falls for and marries a young fiery redhead named Paige, who's looking for the thrill of the criminal fast life, which she definitely doesn't find with Phil. She eventually hooks up with Phil's psycho wheelman partner Jeff Sweet and double crosses Phil on his latest job, where they both steal all the loot and run away to go rape, torture, and murder whoever they can, with Phil hot on their heals, set on revenge.

But who cares?

It all sounds very exciting though, right? Not really. It's all pretty dry and unremarkable, and Monson's writing feels lazy and strangely uninterested in the whole thing. The characters are pretty forgettable and most of it is so by the numbers that even the extreme violence and sex feels like it's all there just to fulfill a requirement, never leading to the real consequence or impact that graphic violence should have.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Good things might come to those who wait, but trouble always seems to show up right away.
I first became familiar with Chris Leek after reading "Last Exit," his great tale of gritty revenge on the streets of Brooklyn that opens the Zelmer Pulp collection Maybe I Should Just Shoot You In The Face. And when I discovered his debut collection, which has one of the coolest titles ever for a compilation of crime stories, I knew I had to snatch it up!
She played me like a goddamn slot machine and knew exactly how hard to yank the handle to make me pay out.
I was so relieved to see that Leek's stories are exactly what they're supposed to be: short. Along with other authors I've been gravitating to recently, his efficient work is a breath of fresh air in this time of bloat in the crime genre. While there are so many short story authors out there who's stories sometimes feel like they're pushing into novella territory, the length of the pieces here average about 4-6 pages. In these little sketches of criminal life and the losers involved, Leek uses the great technique of jumping into a scene late and leaving it early, a technique that's perfect for the short story form. The stories usually open by throwing you right into the mix and then Leek's prose and structure knocks you around hard a bit and you barely have time to recover before jumping into the next round. As usual, some of the stories are better than others but it's a pretty damn good collection overall. My favorites were "The Johnny Cash Killer," "Take 'Em As They Come," "The Ties That Bind," and "Jacks, Queens, and Evens." Great pieces of work. If you enjoy good short crime fiction and you've got 2 bucks to spare, grab this short collection.
"Who the fuck are you?" he said.

I wanted to tell him, to scream "I'm Pete Jones motherfucker" in his face, making sure it was the last thing he heard before his organs shut down and he shit his designer jockeys. But my name wouldn't mean a damn thing to him and neither would hers. He didn't stop to ask it when he dragged her off the street and into the backseat of his beat-up Pinto. Names didn't matter; names were for toe tags and arrest warrants, not for revenge.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

ZERO SAINTS by Gabino Iglesias

It's impressive how much great material author Gabino Iglesias is able to fit into such a tiny book. This, his Spanglish-language 2nd novel, is filled with everything from heavy doses of SanterĂ­a and Yoruba religions, Mara Salvatrucha bangers that just may have a hint of demon in them, a hitman who is also an aspiring reggaeton artist, examinations of immigrant life, and a man who never blinks.
Her smile had all the power of the sun but didn't blind me. Instead, I wanted to look at it forever, to stay there and just look at her glorious face until everything around us turned to dust except our bodies.
But this is a difficult one to review. I also find it difficult to summarize it without spoiling the experience for others. It's one of those books that feels like it truly deserves a second read to fully process. From page 1, Iglesias hit me hard, and then the book was over before I even grasped what I read. The book is engrossing though, and mixes a somber tone and  moments of quiet contemplation with moments of savage, visceral violence. There's even a hint of the fantastic, what I'll call magical noirism! Not only is about a quarter of it told in untranslated Spanish, but there is also untranslated Russian and Yoruba. As I said, there's a lot going on in this one! Many might find it a difficult read, but it's definitely rewarding. Give it a look, I'll wager you've probably not read anything quite like it...
The thing about life is that time gets between facts and memories and as memories turn into what they are, facts start sliding back, moving into a space full of images from pelĂ­culas and skeletons from bad dreams and imagined monstruos and stuff that someone told you.