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.