Wednesday, December 26, 2018

CEMETERY ROAD by Gar Anthony Haywood

I'm surprised that this isn't a more well-known bestseller. It shows that you can't always trust those sales numbers in a search for quality. Because this was one of the most well-crafted mystery novels I've read in a while. It follows a middle-aged repairman named Handy White who travels back to his native Los Angeles in a half-hearted attempt to look into the murder of an old friend, a murder that might have something to do with tragic events that happened in their younger days nearly 30 years prior.

Not only is it very well-plotted and entertaining with a perfect pace skillfully transitioning between the past and present stories to develop the mystery, but it also has prose that's at times incredible in it's sharp proficiency. It might not be the most surprising mystery, as it's fairly easy to figure out who's been doing what, but the book's strength is in how it gets there and how it tells it's story of guilt and remorse, debt, and redemption, and whether or not full redemption is ever really attainable.
Right around the time he hits his middle forties, a man starts giving serious thought to dying well. In his sleep, in his own bed, or in the course of a street fight meant to settle something meaningful. His end doesn't have to be poignant, just devoid of dignity. You wouldn't think that would be too much to ask. 
But how a man leaves this world, much like the way he comes into it, is almost never his own call to make, so evil men die on satin sheets in 400-dollar-a-night hotel rooms, while good ones breathe their last lying face down in cold, dark alleyways, their bodies growing stiff and blue on beds of rain-soaked newspaper.

Monday, December 17, 2018


Two souls adrift: a woman running away from a toxic marriage trying to start a new life with her kids, and a mid-level mob guy on the lam because of his connections to the JFK assassination. They meet and find a glimmer of happiness and the promise of a new start in each other. This one was at times tender and ruminative, while other times thrilling not only in it's surface action and suspense, but also in it's look at the excitement that comes with personal connection and discovery. I love reading about characters at a major crossroads in their life and the fateful choices they make, and that theme is at the core of this good book.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

THE HOOK by Donald Westlake

The plot master Donald Westlake does it again by weaving a tale of two writers: Bryce Proctorr, a widely popular author with marriage problems and serious writer's block, and Wayne Prentice, a failing mid-level writer with money problems; and in the vein of Strangers on a Train, Bryce allows Wayne to use his name on his next book and split the profits, in exchange for getting rid of Bryce's wife...permanently.

I didn't realize how fun it would be to watch two nerdy writers try to pull off a murder and get away with it, but this is Westlake of course. He makes it all really believable and engaging as the two deal with committing a crime the way writers would: crafting motivations, red herrings, and plot twists in order to not only get away with murder but navigate the publishing industry, all while Westlake is doing the same thing with us. Fun times!


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

KNOW ME FROM SMOKE by Matt Phillips

"Does the past ever stay where it should?"
This started out as an A-book for me, with writing and subject matter that was right up my alley, telling the story of a lounge singer who's got the blues because of her murdered husband and the .45 caliber bullet in her hip, an ex-convict trying to go straight after being in prison for 20 years, and their efforts to pull each other out of the muck they've found themselves in on the streets of San Diego. I love reading about troubled characters like this and these two were particularly compelling. It was bittersweet seeing them fall in love with the knowledge that soon I would have to watch it all fall apart when the kept secrets between them begin to blow things apart in true noir fashion. But the final half of the book dropped a grade once it started to get a bit repetitive and I also couldn't understand why someone that seems as smart as Royal is would allow himself to get so caught up and controlled by someone like Phoenix. But maybe that's the point...maybe Royal not as smart as he should be, and destined to go down the bad path again.
"The fishmonger smells like fish and the bartender smells like sex. And what is it, Stella asked herself, that the devil smells like? 
Like a match struck and shaken back into darkness—that old devil smells like sulfur."

Saturday, November 17, 2018


I shouldn't even need to review or recommend this. If you see a book written by Ed Brubaker with art by Sean Phillips, you should just get it and read it because it more than likely is awesome. At this point it's like preaching to the choir. But this is so enjoyable that I want to talk about it so it might as well be with you!
The way he felt about was out of touch with the world. It was unfair to everything and everyone else.
Brubaker focuses on the archetypal "femme fatale": that stock character in so much of noir fiction, the seductive woman that helps to lead the hapless protagonist down a destructive path. But in an original and inspired turn, Brubaker has the awesome idea to focus on the fatale herself and explore the notion that the femme fatale title might be supernatural in origin, a curse on the woman bearing it. In a potent mix of noir and horror, Brubaker tells of the cursed Josephine, the creepy cult that hunts her, and the men that fall in her path, in parallel stories set in 1950's San Francisco, 1970's Los Angeles, and the modern day.

As usual, Phillips's art is moody and expressive, and Brubaker never spoon-feeds the reader, peeling back the layers of his story at just the right pace. I loved seeing the femme fatale trope turned on it's head and into a sympathetic woman who doesn't want the influence that she has on men, but it's also cool to see that the tragic inevitability of noir is still there as she can only watch as these men destroy their lives. Memorable writing, great characters, and atmosphere to burn prove once again why Brubaker and Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser are three of the best creators in comic books today. And as usual this Deluxe Edition from Image is simply gorgeous.

Collects the first two story arcs: "Death Chases Me" and "The Devil's Business"


Friday, November 9, 2018

COUNTRY DARK by Chris Offutt

This is a striking novel with a potent sense of place, surprising narrative momentum, memorable prose, and most impressive, a sense of humanity and authenticity that sets it apart from other more run-of-the-mill stories in a similar vein. Throughout the book, you can feel the love that Offutt has for each and every character that populates these small Kentucky hollers. Every character is very well-drawn, no matter how small, almost immediately getting a sense of who they are, all due to Offutt's storytelling talent. The main characters, Tucker and Rhonda are honorable people with a way of life that is tied to the land on which they live and without concern for outside trifle. And Offutt's lean, simple, but effective prose is a great fit for these characters and makes for an affecting read.
"People don't know they're lucky until the bad luck comes along"

Friday, November 2, 2018

POINT & SHOOT by Duane Swierczynski

*Book 3 of the Charlie Hardie Trilogy*

This is the slam-bang finale to Duane Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardie trilogy! At this point, if you thought that Swierczynski had already put ex-badass/house sitter/super-prison escapee Hardie through every insane situation his twisted mind could think of, you will discover immediately how wrong you were when the book opens with Hardie stuck on a satellite in freakin' outer space. When a familiar face visits the satellite, this sparks Hardie on one last adventure to finally defeat the shadowy organization that’s been plaguing his life once and for all. 

This whole series of books have been a joy to read because of Swierczynski’s sheer audacity in storytelling and his talent for riding the line of absurdity and almost never falling off into silliness. And although it’s not as well-structured in its approach and some of the ideas don’t land as well as the other books, this is still a fun conclusion to a series and a story featuring not only a man having to confront an unstoppable organization but a man having to confront himself ;). 


Sunday, October 28, 2018


The concept here is a cool modern haunted house spin that follows a couple recovering from a family tragedy that decides to star on a house swap reality show for a few months and come back to discover that their house isn't quite right.
"Don't you see what she's doing? Don't you see what she did in our house?"
I appreciated the focus on the pain of loss and the effects of ignoring it. But, unfortunately, I found this to be pretty "meh." It was entertaining to read on a surface level but it didn't have much more impact than that for me. I found the writing to be a bit pedestrian and on-the-nose, and because all the horror bits were pretty predictable and filled with things I've seen before, it just felt as if horror-trope boxes were simply being checked off rather than creating something special. I did really enjoy the last act and the way that the truth of the tragedy was revealed. But, this is another recent read that I found pretty forgettable and another one of my opinions that seem to be in the minority.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

WOLF HUNT 2 by Jeff Strand

The same way that Ellen Ripley in the Alien movie series is destined to always do battle with the alien, George and Lou in the Wolf Hunt series will always be forever linked to werewolves for our sadistic entertainment. This sequel picks up soon after the first adventure and George and Lou are on the run after botching the last job, watching telenovelas and trying not to get killed by bounty hunters. But their luck runs out and now their only way to save their butts is to take a job kidnapping another werewolf, this time a young girl, with bloodthirsty parents.

While this sequel doesn't have the novelty or quite the same relentless pace as the first, it still has the same great humor, suspenseful and scary moments, and pretty well-written action scenes. There are twists galore here, and I'm constantly impressed by how well Strand can handle it all juggling the changing tones and keeping it all entertaining.


Sunday, October 7, 2018


I'm really curious to find out whether or not this story was written very early in Curran's career. Because it reads like it. It feels like it was written as a first draft in a college freshman writing class. Not only is the prose messy with too much telling and not enough showing, Curran also doesn't seem to have much of a grasp of his main character Kitty Seevers (Seavers/Seever). He doesn't even keep her name consistent from page to page. There also doesn't seem to be much consistency even in what little personality is there, and she seems to mostly exist solely because of the need to have a protagonist. There's a big jump in the tone of her character halfway through this novella that was so jarring that it distracted me throughout the whole last half.

And this is sad because there's potential here, with the creepy subject of a ventriloquist doll, and the fact that some of Tim Curran's other work is great, such as The Underdwelling. So it seems like I'm in the minority here, but this one really didn't work for me. It really needed a few additional drafts to make it more polished.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

JACK & JILL by Kealan Patrick Burke

Kealan Patrick Burke knows horror. In this novella, he once again shows us that real horror lies in tragedy, and is at it's strongest when it's tied to emotional pain rather than just in the physical. I don't want to say too much about the plot other than we follow a woman still struggling to cope with childhood trauma. Burke pulls the rug out from under us and the ending is as horrifying as you can imagine, immediately making you want to read it over again just to see if you read it right.

But part of the reason why this works so well is how much of a grasp Burke has on the characters and the interactions. Gillian and her husband. The way they interact with their children. Everything is so recognizable that it hurts even more when it all begins to crumble in an epic way. Kealan Patrick Burke is definitely an author you can depend on.


Monday, September 24, 2018


"A man's mind is its own kind of hell."
I've been interested in reading David Joy's books for years but there's only so much time in a day and I'm only now getting to them. It's now time to make his work a real priority. It's been a while since I've been truly impressed with a writer's wordplay. The last time was probably when I discovered the work of the great Tom Piccirilli. But David Joy is up there now. There were passages that I really wanted to read again just to simply savor. But I was also surprised by how fast of a read this was, given the heavy content.

The story begins with an accidental killing deep in the woods, with deceit and cover-up eventually leading to an exploration of murder, redemption, true love, sacrifice, and primal justice. The story isn't necessarily original but it's classic storytelling with rich characterizations and a powerful, commanding voice.
The tears would wane only when something greater found him. Only one feeling could mask that kind of sadness, only one emotion he knew more powerful than suffering. In time, it would fill him.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

THE MAN WHO CAME UPTOWN by George Pelecanos

The work of George Pelecanos has a special place in my heart. I've read every single one of his books  and they always leave me affected in some way. I know many people complain about his constant focus on the minutiae of his native Washington D.C. and popular culture references, but there's something about it that adds to the experience and the charm. His latest book is classic Pelecanos and one of his most instantly reader-friendly, which is saying a lot, because he's known for that.

In it, a young man is recently released from jail with a new love of books and a new determination to make his life better. He's then torn between two influences after his release, the jail librarian and the slightly bent private detective responsible for his release.

Again, Pelecanos focuses not only on what it means to be a man but also what it takes to get there. He has such an acute sense of character that sometimes the skill can sneak right past you. There are no heroes or villains here, just different people trying to make it for themselves, who happen to make different decisions to get there. Phil Ornazian is especially a great three-dimensional character. His adoration for his wife and kids made me root for him and want him to succeed, but he constantly wonders where along his path of life his actions suddenly turned crooked. Also, with a less aware writer, the handling of a slight romance angle in the story that could have gone another way, but here it is surprisingly tasteful, mature, and truly refreshing.

The book is not only a love letter to reading and the life-changing quality books have (and also a great excuse for Pelecanos to sport his great taste!), but like in the book Northline (a major reference here), it's also really about small kindnesses and how they can change not only someone else's life, but your's as well.

Pelecanos's books are crime novels but he's not a heavy plotter; the action is uncomplicated and the prose is simple, direct, and workman-like. But the power and charm here is in the small, everyday life things: from the small increase in salary at the new job or the gradual connection with coworkers there, to the banter between violent prisoners during a book club debate, or even a simple walk in the District rain. It's easy for a reader to argue against giving an A-score to a Pelecanos book, because it all may seem too simple and unadorned. But this book made me want to be a better man after reading it, so there's really only one score I can give it.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

GALVESTON by Nic Pizzolatto

This short, moody novel opens with a mob muscle/strongarm guy named Roy Cady finding out that he's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. While accepting his imminent death, he fatefully crosses paths with a young prostitute named Rocky who ends up on the run with him.  It's a gorgeously written debut novel with sequences that took my breath away. There's a scene where Roy visits an old girlfriend where you can feel his yearning for the past oozing out of the words, even while she remembers that past very differently. There are also tender scenes between Roy and Rocky where they open up to each other and you can truly feel the connection in the pages.
I wanted to shout, but it dawned on me that all my objections involved the future, and I didn’t really have one.
The atmosphere in this one hypnotized me. Pizzolatto's prose shines here; his writing is equal parts lyrical and woeful, at times filled with both beauty and brutality as he tells this story of two broken souls who first find each other at their most hopeless, but end up providing one another with a light in all the darkness.
You’re here because it’s somewhere. Dogs pant in the streets. Beer won’t stay cold. The last new song you liked came out a long, long time ago, and the radio never plays it anymore.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

SUNBURN by Laura Lippman

I've waited to long to read more books by the popular Laura Lippman, and this one seemed right up my alley. Lippman's set-up is classic pulp noir: a drifter meets a sexy redhead with a mysterious past in a sleepy small town diner and they embark on a relationship that they both know probably won't be the healthiest one. What takes the book down even more fascinating paths is that we get not one, not two, but numerous unreliable narrators. Each character's past starts to be revealed, but not just through their point of view, but the POV of others around them as well. We not only start to learn their history but we learn that they're also harboring secrets as well, and as the reader, we struggle to figure out what is true and what isn't.
He knows everything about her. the hard part has been keeping track of what he's supposed to know and what she has yet to tell him.
It makes for very engaging reading, making this one of the more interesting reading experiences I've had this year. For the first half of the book, I couldn't wait to keep reading to see where the story would take me.

Then, coming up near the end of the novel, I began to suspect that it wasn't really taking me anywhere. The pace slowed down significantly, and by the end, my fears were confirmed. Not much actually happened here, at least not anything that lived up to the promise of the first half. The book was fine but not as amazing as I was hoping, especially with the great character work that Lippman featured here.



"The thunder's calling our names Lincoln. You hear it? I do.
I'll race ya."
What a fantastic series. And Aaron brings it all to a fitting conclusion here. If you're a fan of shows like Deadwood or Sons of Anarchy, and other well-conceived crime dramas, definitely check this story out. I wish I could erase my memory and start over again fresh from the beginning and relive the story one more time. All of the painstaking and meticulous character building and world building pays off as each character and storyline comes to a head and converges dramatic resolution that will leave the Prairie Rose Reservation in flames.



"You gotta sin to get saved..."
This penultimate chapter of Scalped reads like more of a waypoint on the way to it's inevitable finale. While the writing is still incredibly strong and the story continues to be compelling, much of it focuses on the characters dealing with the aftermath of the events from the previous book and setting them in place for the next one. It's really a transition story so it's not as stunning as the last installment. But you'd be hard pressed to find a better comic book series than this one.


Monday, August 6, 2018


Don't go into this book with it's crime label on your mind thinking that it'll be full of big violent thrills. In fact, it's the opposite, filled with quiet, small tales of little moments in the lives of the people in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the moments that leave an impression, no matter how small. But that's not to say that the stories here are boring. As a matter of fact, I was pretty engaged throughout, as Conley has a real talent for quickly getting to the core of a character and an emotion, instantly grabbing you in a few paragraphs. There's an interesting nostalgic quality to the stories, where they feel more like memories, as if the characters, or in some cases, the omniscient narrator, can't shake the influence that these moments have had. I really enjoyed this taste of Conley's work and I wish that more writers had her skill with brevity. My favorite stories were probably "Finn's Missing Sister," "Angels," "Metalhead Marty In Love," and "Home Invasion".


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

OVERNIGHT by Philip Fracassi

This time around Fracassi takes us on a noir ride through the after-hours of a film set, where a night security guard meets a mysterious stranger and contends with temptation and an offer he can't refuse. I love how simple the story was, and how relatively innocent it all is at first. In the beginning I can see anyone agreeing to what Pete does. But as we all know, that's how it all starts. It's a short novelette with n anxiety-ridden ending and I love how much is left unsaid, but there are enough nuggets and details dropped for the reader to glean character motivations. I actually just got off set myself and said bye to the security guard and thought about this story; wondering what will happen after-hours!



"Been down so goddamn long that it looks like up to me."
Jeez, this thing just keeps getting better and better. By the climax of this installment, the tension is so high you can almost smell it coming off the page. Bad Horse is getting in WAAAYYY too deep and Red Crow is getting closer and closer to losing everything. And I want to see them both find some sort of peace. If you're a crime fiction fan and not reading Scalped, it's not too late to make a change and get your life together!
"I want to take you away from here. I want to tell you my secrets and I want you to love me for them."

Saturday, July 14, 2018

HERETICS by Greg F. Gifune

Told in alternating chapters detailing the events of the past and present, Gifune paints a picture of three outcast friends involved in a terrible tragedy in high school who must confront those events again as adults. The novella is told in Gifune's trademark atmospheric style and is exciting in the way it evolves. Not only does the book maintain a creepy but strangely romantic tone, but Gifune also skillfully doles out backstory slowly so that the feeling of dread grows and grows as we get closer to discovering what happened to these teenagers on that fateful night. I was worried about finding out the details but couldn't look away once it all started to go down. So far, Gifune's work has been pretty consistent in it's quality!
Harry wondered if someone without eyes still produced tears.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

SCALPED: BOOK TWO by Jason Aaron

"And once we've claimed what's due us, then all those people I shot, stabbed, scalped, hanged, an buried alone the way...all those poor bastards won't have died in vain. And for the first time in far too long, my dreams might again outnumber my regrets."
Book Two in this series improves on the solid first installment in every conceivable way. Not only is the artwork better rendered, the writing seems to have jumped up to the next level as well! While the first book introduces you to the characters and their world, now that all of that is over with, it's time to take a deeper dive, particularly into an exploration of the rich supporting characters. At the same time, as he continues to feel the pressure closing in from all sides, our protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse seeks comfort in every place he shouldn't. I can feel it. This series is going to be great.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

SCALPED: BOOK ONE by Jason Aaron

Dashiell Bad Horse resentfully returns to the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation with a pair of nunchucks and a bad attitude, beginning this dark dive into a tough and gritty crime drama and a new world created by Jason Aaron, and I thought this first installment was great.

This inciting plot isn't the newest thing you've probably read, with a guy returning to his hometown sparking a whole lotta drama. We've seen that before. But this is Jason Aaron we're talking about here, and he paints a complex tapestry the same way he does in his Southern Bastards series. He steadily reveals character and relationships and motivations through flashbacks and shifting POV's, and what you originally think you know about certain characters gets challenged constantly.

The art was a little problematic for me though. It was hard to tell certain characters apart and much of the action was messy and difficult to keep track of. Just like in movies, I feel like the rendering of action in comics should be clear and everytime I paused to try and get a sense of what was happening and who was who, it took me out of the story, and that's a problem. With better art I might've given this a better score. But I'm excited about where this story can go.


Friday, June 15, 2018

SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn

I had pretty high hopes for this one. I was smitten with Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, one of the most fascinating examples of modern noir in my opinion. But to my disappointment, Flynn's first novel happens to be a big fat bore in comparison. It's another one of those banal mystery books where most of the story features the "detective" walking around town conducting seemingly endless interviews looking for clues. If these scenes were integral to character development, or worked on a surface level with cool dialogue, I would've been more interested. But all this could've been forgiven if the mystery was interesting, but it's pretty obvious who the killer is almost immediately. And that wouldn't have been a big issue if I was really engaged in the characters and the family story depicted here, but I really just didn't care about any of them, aside from Camille.

The idea of a chronic cutter protagonist could've been really gripping, and Camille was the best part of the book, but I still felt like Flynn should've gone further with her development; it just wasn't enough to make the book fully enjoyable. Crime/mysteries are at their best when character and plot are inseparable and dependent on the other to succeed and I wish that these elements here worked in tandem more with one another. You can tell that Flynn grew and improved as a writer in a big way between this and her third book.


Monday, June 11, 2018

ALEX + ADA by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

I've been increasingly interested in artificial intelligence and the idea of artificial conciousness after watching things like Westworld, Her, and Ex Machina, and Alex + Ada was a great way to continue that exploration. Set in a future where owning robots are an everyday trend, lonely and recently heartbroken Alex is gifted a state-of-the-art X5 model robot for his birthday. At first he wants nothing to do with it but then sees something special within her and decides to do the forbidden: allow her to gain sentience.

The simple, minimalist art works very well with this story, it's stark, digital appearance lends perfectly to this world and the atmosphere. Not only is this a an ambitious, heartfelt romance about true love crossing boundaries most people normally wouldn't think would be possible, it's also a smart,, humorous, thoughtful commentary on tolerance and an allegory that works in many different ways.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

LIKE LIONS by Brian Panowich

Yep, this book does exist. I was a little confused about whether or not that was true at first and I'm not sure what the hell is going with this book's release. It was delayed a couple of times and then out of nowhere and with little fanfare, the book showed up on small online marketplace sellers, not available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or even in libraries, without an book or an audiobook. I actually doubted whether or not the novel was actually available at all, but I saw that some reviews were out there.  And lo and behold,  I ordered it and got an actual, real-life copy!
"This mountain was a circle of tragedy that never stopped rolling."
I'd been meaning to read this for a while as I LOVED Panowich's first novel, Bull Mountain, and I couldn't wait to read the sequel. It takes place a year after the events in the first novel and features Clayton Burroughs struggling to protect his family and his land in the midst of the power vacuum created by the events of the first novel.

This deserves a proper release soon. Once again, Panowich shows real skill with pacing, reveals, and reversals, making for an entertaining, quick-read novel that's never boring. The story itself isn't as riveting and absorbing as Bull Mountain's, and not as well structured; feeling slightly rushed, but dammit, Panowich really knows how to suck you in! I really enjoyed this one and while the stunner of an ending may seem gimmicky to some, but not only does it work perfectly as a whole with Bull Mountain, but I thought it was a very fitting cherry-on-top to a narrative about legacy, consequences, and the cyclical, never-ending nature of violence.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

IN THE RIVER by Jeremy Robert Johnson

She stated it as a fact. The sun shines. The wind blows. If he dies, so do I.
In this book about a man and his young son on a fateful fishing trip and the tragedy that befalls them, author Jeremy Robert Johnson crafts an intense tale of loss and grief wrapped up in a package of powerful imagery, top-notch writing and evocative language. It's creative, original, and never goes where you expect it to. I don't want to say too much and ruin the effect of experiencing it.
The sound of the rushing river became a torment. Time was broken. The man was broken. But the river acknowledged neither and carried on as it always had and would and the sound of it was the song of nothing caring and the man knew it would be the last thing he'd hear.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

SHILOH by Philip Fracassi

Philip Fracassi once again gives us another unsettling, haunting novella, this time set during the infamous Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest of the American Civil War. As we follow two twin brothers struggling to survive the conflict, the story is told in vivid, indelible imagery that paints the graphic horror of war, but also the OTHER disturbing horrors they discover amidst the carnage.
The war might spare my life, but I’m confident my soul is long-since forfeit. You don’t wash with another man’s blood and expect to get clean.
There is also a bonus story here called "Soda Jerk," abut a teenage girl who has recently moved to the small town of Sabbath, and what happens when the creepy dude next door gives her a tour of the town. It's a nifty little Matheson-ish story that's worth a read!


Thursday, May 17, 2018


There are many movies, especially the exploitation ones in the 70's, that present prostitution and pimps in a heightened way, whether it's glorifying a pimp's excess, or soaking us in the tragedy of it all, like on HBO's Hookers at the Point.

This noir does something different, showing us a less melodramatic transition that two people take into the business and letting us see how easy it can be to get caught up. We follow Lester Banks, a depressed loser who is barely making it by driving a cab, and his apartment neighbor Chelsea, a college student who has equally terrible money problems and finds solace in the arms of lovers every night. They decide to team up and go into business together, selling Chelsea's sex to horny men online while Lester provides transportation and protection. And as you can guess, it doesn't take long at all for this situation to go bad really fast.

Cizak double dares you to judge these characters. There were many times in the book where I was tempted to, but realized that it would be too easy and unfair to dismiss these two as simply: the loose girl who doesn't respect herself and the asshole that takes advantage of her. Cizak even has a chorus of bench ladies who live in their apartment building who judge berate the two constantly and I didn't want to be like them. We see everything through the lens of a man who's too broke and broken to care about much of anything. Because of this, the book's tone is very nihilistic and bitter and makes it challenging to empathize.

And it was tragic witnessing Lester and Chelsea's increasing resentment toward one another as they fell deeper into self-loathing. My main issue with the book is the conclusion and the fact that it feels like there wasn't as big of a consequence for Lester's actions as there were for Chelsea's. Books like this almost always end in destruction, and it's unfair that the woman in this situation bears the brunt of it more than the guy. But hell, I don't know, maybe life ain't fair...

In the end, it's a tricky book and not for everyone, but I enjoy books that challenge me in this way, daring me to follow unlikable characters, forcing me to see them and understand them in all their complexity.


Monday, May 14, 2018


This is one of the best comic series that I’ve been following so it’s disappointing that it’s single issue releases have been constantly delayed as of late. But the concluding chapter to this 2nd Book was finally released last week! In Book Two we follow a number of supporting characters as they deal with the aftermath of the two recent deaths in Craw County, and prepare for the fateful Homecoming game against Wetumpka County. The town is really expanded here for the reader as we focus on characters like Esaw, the Sheriff, the crazy snake-handling woodsman Boone, and vengeful newcomer Roberta Tubb, and we get too see how they all revolve around Coach Boss and the violent legacy of the county.

I was bowled over by Book One and once again, Southern Bastards features almost first-rate writing, including some stunning moments of dialogue. It's so impressive how Aaron forces you to follow a truly nasty villain like Coach Boss and actually make it really work, where you find yourself empathizing just a little. I hate the guy, but do I dare say I understand him? It's riveting stuff. And it's cool to see Aaron setting up the different characters on an inevitably violent collision course with Boss. It's like addictive, binge-worthy tv. Along with writers like Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, and Jeff Lemire, Jason Aaron shows us what happens when you push the comic book medium to its full potential. This series suffers from too many delays, but everyone should be reading this awesome story of blood, beer, and BBQ.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

MAY by Marietta Miles

Let's get this out of the way. I don't know who decided on the cover for this book but it's terrible. And I'm bringing it up because Down & Out Books usually has fairly decent covers for their books. So did someone have something against this one? I'm confused. This book doesn't deserve this.

May tells parallel tales of a solitary woman: first in 1987 as she prepares for a storm on a North Carolina island, which is presented consecutively with the story of her life as a teenager on the mainland and the unfortunate circumstances that led her to where she is now.

The book takes an interesting approach at depicting loneliness and the events that can feed it, especially in showing the differences between May and the two other lead characters, Junior and Tommy, who all share a similar isolation but with totally different backgrounds. They all struggle to stay afloat emotionally and to feel that they matter. And by the end, May realizes that the salvation she needs might be found in caring for someone else rather than expecting to be cared for by others. I must say that I preferred the past storylines better than the present day one, mainly because the present story was filled with so many day-to-day minutiae, details that I feel were unnecessary, cramped the pace, and overstayed their welcome.

Even though you might see this book billed as a crime novel, it's nothing of the sort and it's more enjoyable when you don't have those expectations. I feel like Marietta Miles has a masterpiece in her and I'll be here to see it.

But please, please do better with covers Down & Out Books, if you're looking to actually sell copies!


Friday, May 11, 2018

HELL & GONE by Duane Swierczynski

*Book 2 of the Charlie Hardie Trilogy*

If you read the first book in the Charlie Hardie trilogy, Fun & Games, and think you know the way this series is going to continue, trust me, you have no idea.

Hell & Gone takes our favorite ex-cop-turned-house-sitter Charlie Hardie deeper into another level of the conspiracy that he found himself violently thrust into in the first novel, where he'll be challenged even more than before. It's pretty cool that this sequel feels completely different than it's predecessor, but yet totally fits. Swierczynski is one of the best writers of pure thriller out there, and like all of the great thriller writers, takes the most ridiculous of concepts and makes something really entertaining. All the craziness never felt forced to me or out of place. He kept throwing out so many creative and unexpected twists that I just gave up on trying to figure everything out and just went along for the ride.  Especially after the final scene, I can't wait to see where the final book takes us.


Monday, April 30, 2018


William Boyle's new novel isn't exactly a sequel to his previous one, Gravesend, but we do follow Amy, a small side character from that first novel, a party girl who formed a relationship with Gravesend's heroine, Alessandra. In The Lonely Witness she has cut herself off from her past life after Alessandra abandons her, and sequesters herself socially in her Brooklyn neighborhood, where she volunteers for a local Catholic church, providing in-home communion for the elderly.

Once again, Boyle provides us with a deep study of an emotionally lost character as she drifts through a detailed Brooklyn steeped in sadness. The novel is all about identity as Amy struggles to figure out her place in the world. She constantly believes that the life she's set up for herself as a helper to the ignored is the right one, but she keeps finding herself pulled in other directions. Old friends from the past and the people who inhabit her life presently all know different Amy's, but the real question that she has to ask herself is which one is the real her. You get the sense that Amy has hidden behind all of these personality facades all her life and now she's on a journey to realize who she truly is. Amy, as well as most of the other characters in the book, set about to leave their dead end lives, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Like Gravesend, this book is a slow novel and a bit meandering, but the reason why it doesn't fully succeed for me the way Gravesend did is because where that first novel switched back and forth between equally fascinating POV's, keeping it fresh, this one just focuses on one character, one that happens to be a hard nut to crack, so the pace and other issues were more evident. But the novel's conclusion as well as Boyle's keen-eyed observance really clicked with me.

The Lonely Witness come out tomorrow, May 1, and this is my review of an advanced copy that I received in exchange for an honest review!


Thursday, April 19, 2018

TRILLIUM by Jeff Lemire

"My father used to tell me that we were all made of stars. That each of us had one inside us and when we die, that light goes up and mixes with all the other stars. That way we never have to be alone. 'Cause no matter what happens, we all end up together."
Jeff Lemire continues to impress me with his complete control over the comic book medium and his refusal to be constrained by its conventions, limitations, and what people have come to expect. What he does here is assemble a romance between a scientist in the year 3797 who's looking for a cure to prevent a sentient virus know as The Caul from exterminating what's left of mankind and an explorer in 1921 searching for a secret Incan temple in the jungle. It's a mind-boggling, millennia-spanning love story that crosses galaxies, parallel universes, and the limits of time, while somehow still managing to be grounded in character. And it's all told with Lemire's usual expressive watercolor art and creative paneling that favors the story's structure. It's like Interstellar meets The Fountain, and thoroughly enjoyable.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

WOLF HUNT by Jeff Strand

If you're looking for a wild ride, you've come to the right place! Author Jeff Strand is known for his outrageous and bizarre horror comedy and this book is one of the best examples of what he can do. It follows two thumbbreaker thugs on an epic adventure through Florida as they try to transport a werewolf to a mysterious client.

George and Lou are great protagonists, who start out as your usual dickish thugs but quickly become lovable and memorable heroes that are trying to do what's right. And what's right is stopping a damn werewolf from slaughtering innocent people. Their constant bickering and increasingly apparent moral code really make them a pair to root for. You especially want to stand on their side when you see the crazy shit they're up against. The werewolf is one of the most nasty and sadistic villains I've read in a long time; unpredictable and ruthless, making any scene with him crackle with intensity.

And a Jeff Strand book is anything but boring. He writes with a manic urgency and a lightning pace that makes it hard to look away. One thing I'm always worried about when I start a book like this is that the comedy would weaken the impact of the horrific. But that's not the case here. Strand impressively finds the perfect balance, where I genuinely laughed out loud at times but it didn't lessen  the discomforting shock I felt at certain sequences, scenes that I'll remember for a while.

If you're looking for an ultra fast-paced, action-packed novel written by a natural, I would highly recommend this one!


Monday, April 16, 2018

GRAVESEND by William Boyle

I've heard many people refer to New York City as a "small town disguised as a big city." This novel really touches on that theme as we watch our main characters constantly circle each other as they all navigate their Brooklyn neighborhood and try not to get sucked under by it's pull of family and past sins. The novel has the soul of Pelecanos's best but with the nihilism of David Goodis at his most downhearted. It's definitely one of the more depressing novels I've read, with some scenes coming close to making me cry because of the sheer disappointment and desperation that the characters feel as well as the actions they take to escape their situations. It's a violent book, but not in guns, blood, and guts kind of a way, but it's an emotional violence that turned out to be even more affecting and relatable. A constant theme in Gravesend is mistaken perception and how that's wrecked by the truth. Whether it's in the way everyone has viewed Ray Boy Calabrese as one thing once he gets out of prison but he's actually something else, or the way Conway believes that he's capable of vengeance, but in truth he's just a coward, or the way that people see Alessandra as this beautiful actress who found success in Hollywood and has it all figured out but in truth it's just the opposite; every character gets a rude awakening that shatters that perception.

It's a slow novel that is heavy on character, but it's all told through Boyle's sharp, direct gaze that feels full of honesty and compassion. It was previously released by Broken River Books (the version I read) but is seeing a re-release in hardcover from Pegasus Books later this year.


Monday, March 26, 2018

THE LISTENER by Robert McCammon

McCammon is one of our most naturally gifted storytellers. There's a folksy quality to his work that is charming and enchanting and I can't help but love it. When it's paired with a strong story he's among the best of the best. His new novel is one of the better standalone books he's written in a while and a great showcase for his style and the qualities that make him stand out. It's a 1930's Depression period piece that begins as an awesome pulpy sleaze noir about a morally shifty grifter, the cutthroat harpy he gets tangled with and the kidnapping scheme they concoct, but then the story morphs into a magical adventure thriller about the telepathic New Orleans redcap that gets in their way, and somehow it all works!
He didn’t doubt that Hell wouldn’t claim Ginger LaFrance before the count got to a mere three. For the moment, though, he had first dibs on her. And boy, did he mean to get his Satan’s share of payback.
Also, even though I've got a thing for dark and gloomy crime stories with morally flawed characters, I also really do appreciate characters that are undeniably likable and that's also something McCammon excels at, this time giving us the character of Curtis Mayhew, a genuinely nice guy you can't help but care for and root for immediately.

Even though his Matthew Corbett series is top-notch, this sports some of McCammon's best prose in a long time, stirring and touching writing that feels like it's told around a campfire or at bedtime. And although I feel like he still can be long-winded and the some of the third act overstays it's welcome a little, it's all brought to a close with a really moving conclusion.
They stood in the beautiful room, neither speaking, each uncomfortable in their unaccustomed freedom, both waiting on the other like shadows soon to pass.
Read this. Now.


Monday, March 12, 2018

FUN & GAMES by Duane Swierczynski

*Book 1 of the Charlie Hardie Trilogy*

Damn, talk about a thriller! This thing comes guns blazing right out the gate and maintains it's fast pace all the way through. One thing you definitely can't say about Swierczynski is that he's boring. He really knows how to keep the reader interested. He tells us the story of Charlie Hardie, an ex-police "consultant" who is trying to distance himself from mistakes in the past by enjoying the exile and solitude of house sitting. On his latest job in the Hollywood Hills, he stumbles onto a beautiful woman claiming to be hunted by a connected network of professional assassins, and the action only rises from there.

One thing I've noticed about Swierczynski's work is that he's not afraid to go over the top. But he does it with so much gusto and confidence that I totally go with it. Sometimes that walk on the tightrope of ridiculousness is what makes things really engrossing. The book also doesn't ignore the important stuff either, which sets it apart from your usual forgettable action thriller. Instead of slow-paced exposition at the beginning, the backstory and character development is cleverly laced into the action throughout, so not only do we get discoveries and twists amidst the real time action, but we're also constantly learning new twists about the history of the characters. In my opinion, this is one of the smartest things a writer can do to keep a reader engaged.

If you're curious about how to write great thrillers, check out this and Swierczynski's other work, to see how clever plotting and structure, humor, relatable characters and fearlessness can leading to pure entertainment.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

THE WARREN by Brian Evenson

Brian Evenson has a knack for mood setting in his stories, and he delivers atmosphere for days in this existential psychological sci-fi portrait. It's a fascinating little mind-fuck that I'm not sure I fully understand but it definitely kept my interest. It defies description a bit but think of it in the same vein as the movies Solaris or Moon. But, you know how it can get super annoying when someone keeps answering your serious questions with other questions? That's also what this book felt like.


Friday, March 2, 2018

GOTHAM CENTRAL OMNIBUS by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka

You know that Gotham City is a pretty screwed up place when a story focusing solely on the city's cops is just as compelling as the ones focusing on it's cape-wearing, billionaire vigilante. That's the case in this multiple award winning series by now superstar writers Brubaker and Rucka (splitting the writing duties between the day shift and night shift, and rotating story arcs). The detectives of the GCPD Major Crimes Unit are the stars here, in a constant struggle to navigate the dangerous criminal world of Gotham, all while dealing with sometimes playing second fiddle to a crazy person that runs around in a bat costume, overshadows their efforts, and undermines their authority, leaving them to constantly clean up his damn mess.

I loved seeing the Bat-world from this point of view of regular Joe's just trying to make a living: whether it's seeing the lasting effects that a super-weapon like Mr. Freeze's gun would have on a person, the day-to-day bureaucracy behind who will turn the switch on the Bat-Signal, or seeing how the mad chaos caused by The Joker could put the fear of god in a whole town.

Although I wish all of them got equal attention, all of the characters are enjoyable and well-drawn, lending to further ground the comic book atmosphere. Most of the story arcs were great but the standouts to me were:

"Soft Targets," about the unit trying to hunt down the Joker as he holds Gotham hostage during Christmas.

"Dead Robin," about the investigation of a serial killer dressing up his victims as the Boy Wonder.

"Corrigan," where Det. Renee Montoya must clear her partner's name after evidence is removed from the scene of an officer involved shooting by a corrupt forensics officer

And of course, the award-winning "Half a Life," in which Montoya's life gets turned upside down after being targeted by an unknown stalker.

This series is a must-read, and you don't need to be a Batman fan or reader to really enjoy this. The character is barely in this and only once in a while makes an appearance. It's less of a Batman book and something closer to NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life on the Street. So get on this quickly, especially if you love police procedurals!


Monday, February 19, 2018


This continues Garth Ennis's famous run on The Punisher, and saying he stepped his game up in this one is an understatement. I enjoyed the three story arcs in the first collection but this volume seems like it could've even been written by a different person. Frank Castle's personality and character shine brighter darker, I felt much more connected to him, the action is even crazier, and all of the stories are even more compelling. While at times the first book and it's character's and events felt a little cheeky, especially with some of the supporting characters, everything here seems way more genuine and confident and didn't feel like it was playing for jokes.

It begins with the "Mother Russia" story, which sees Castle on a rare mission to save a kidnapped little girl from a silo in Russia, a girl who happens to be carrying a deadly retrovirus in her bloodstream. It's like a blockbuster action movie that had me on the edge of my seat, with a lot of it due to it's breakneck pacing and the cutting of parallel action between Castle, the American generals, and the Russian generals. And it guest stars Nick Fury, who pretty much steals the whole show.

It then moves on to the insane "Up is Down, Black is White," which brings the return of crazed Mob guy Nicky Cavella, who has the dumb-as-nails idea to dig up The Punisher's dead family and piss on their skeletons just to draw him out. So you can obviously guess the violent insanity that happens subsequently. There are many returning characters here that really bring flavor to this one. Agent O'Brien and her relationship with Frank is one of the highlights of this story.

And finally we get to "The Slavers," the best story in the collection and considered by many to be one of the best Punisher stories ever written, where Frank stumbles onto a sex slave trade in New York and decides that he can''t stand around and do nothing about it. The story of the girls, the two well-meaning uniform cops, the nasty villains, and the morally-torn social worker are all richly-written and really make this story stand out. It's gripping stuff and very memorable, not only with the action but also with the reverence with which Ennis tackles the issue of sex slavery. And it's all topped off with a powerful ending.

This really impressed me and I hope the subsequent collections keep this same quality. And if not, both this volume and the first one (6 stories in total) will be collected in a complete omnibus which will be released this summer. If you're a fan of the well-received Netflix show, do yourself a favor and read this. This one's a stunner.