Friday, December 31, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Stephen Blackmoore

I have a memory like a sieve. I'm lucky to remember what day it is, where my pants are, what my name is. You want me to list the top ten anything of the last year? You're kidding right? Well, shit.

Fine. Ten things.

FEED - Mira Grant
The zombie apocalypse has come and gone. They're still here, sure, but the world has survived. Security measures that make a TSA patdown look like a kiss in the backseat on date night, cities abandoned to the dead and good for little more than adrenaline junkies to film their narrow escapes. The risen dead have changed everything.

Well, not everything. Politics and journalism are still around. FEED follows a team of bush-league news bloggers as they get the opportunity of a lifetime to follow the Republican Presidential campaign of 2039. A presidential race that will show them the uglier side of politics, greed, power and that, as always, the real monsters are the ones that smile and shake your hand.

Part political thriller, part horror story, FEED reads like some twisted version of Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail written by George Romero. Grant's world building is superb, her science is excellent and has the most plausible zombie infection scenario I've ever read.

Angela Choi pulls together a compelling story of a young Asian American woman trying to break free of the bonds of family tradition and discover who it is she really wants to be.

It just happens that what she really wants to be is a serial killer.

American Psycho meets The Joy Luck Club. A satire on murder, money, marriage and what it's like to be Asian in America. Hysterically funny and darkly disturbing.

SOUTHERN GODS - John Hornor Jacobs
I was lucky enough to read this novel in manuscript form. It was recently picked up by Night Shade Books. And when it comes out y'all are in for a treat. A beautifully written, gripping story of the Blues, the deep south, and, best of all, Lovecraftian horror.

SLEEPLESS - Charlie Huston
A disease is sweeping the world that prevents its sufferers from sleeping, eventually driving them mad and killing them. It has no cure. It infects over half the population. It is in every nation, every city, every town.

SLEEPLESS is Apocalypse in progress. The world has stepped off the cliff and it's screaming toward the ground at a hundred mils an hour. And in the middle of all this is a good cop, a gay assassin, and a family that is dying in front of our eyes. Fascinating, electrifying and tragic, there are passages that showcase Huston's razor edge humor and whole chapters that will break your heart.

8 POUNDS - Chris F Holm
This collection of short stories showcases an incredibly talented writer, showing a versatility many of us would kill for. Can't wait to see his books in print. A writer to watch.

THE DEPUTY - Victor Gischler
Another in a long line of great books that somehow manage to be hard-boiled noir and incredibly funny, THE DEPUTY follows fuck-up-with-the-best-of-
intentions Toby Sawyer who gets pressed into duty as a deputy to guard a body on the road. Too bad he decides to leave it for a quickie with his girlfriend. When he comes back the body's gone and thus begins Toby's descent into a comedic hell as he tries to get it back.

Johannes Cabal has sold his soul for the secrets of necromancy. Only his lack of soul is getting in the way of his research and he wants it back. So the Devil makes him a deal. Get the Devil 100 souls within a year and it will be returned. Fail and he goes straight to Hell.

With the aid of a demonic carnival that rides the tracks into unsuspecting towns Cabal and his brother Horst, who Cabal was responsible for getting turned into a vampire, the book reads like Something Wicked The Way Comes via the Marx Brothers and Howard has a distinct Pratchett vibe about his work.

SAVAGES - Don Winslow
The only things I can definitively say about this book is that it's both brilliant and insane. In turns funny and brutally violent, SAVAGES is the story of a pair of weed growers who run afoul of the Mexican Mafia and have their shared girlfriend kidnapped using prose, screenplays, text messages and whatever else he can get his hands on. He takes the conventions of a novel and throws them out the window to great effect.

Not just because they published my story FOR THE CHILDREN, but because they have an eye for amazing fiction, show a passion and a dedication that is awe-inspiring. And now I'm lucky enough to be one of the guys reading some of those incredible stories that come down the pike. It's been an honor and a privilege to be part of that team and I can't wait to see what happens next.

These folks decided to take a chance on me. An idea that is in turns amazing and terrifying. I'm still having trouble wrapping my brain around it. Two books, CITY OF THE LOST and DEAD THINGS. I'm really trying to not fuck it up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Blackmoore is a writer of pulp, crime and urban fantasy who occasionally lapses into talking about himself in the third person. His first novel, CITY OF THE LOST, a dark urban fantasy will be coming out from DAW Books in early 2012. His short stories and poetry have appeared in Plots With Guns, Spinetingler, Thrilling Detective, Shots, Demolition, Clean Sheets and Flashing In The Gutters. He has also written essays on Los Angeles politics and crime for the website L.A. VOICE.

The Best of Whatever—Chris Benton

Here are the things that stuck in my mind this past year, they're pretty old most of them, but it's the first time I read them and it made a hellava impact, won't be offended if you don't include them...

A Miracle of Catfish by Larry Brown: Brown was the greatest writer in America and this maundering, nearly finished masterpiece proves it. Yes, maundering, he lingers on details with a lyrical love no other writer will ever emulate.

The Need by Frank Bill: This story relieved me so much with its primal, timely intensity, Bill is a superb craftsman, and deserves tremendous exposure

The Gypsy's Curse by Harry Crews: Every one shits bricks about A Feast of Snakes but this baby is his most physically personal and mentally naked work. if you don't believe me then you know shit about the life of My Man.

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson: Johnson is my god, and many people thought this was a lazy work, but his laziness blows away everyone in a fucking second. "He needed to keep seeing his blood."

Sony Liston Was A Friend of Mine by Thom Jones: Jones is the greatest short story writer since fucking Babel, case closed. His voice his vivid, vicious, and scarily ambidextrous and this collection is his best so far. I'm pretty jacked about his upcoming novel in waiting for over a decade, Deep Blue Dream, oh, baby, don't get me started on that one...)

The Collected Stories of Issac Babel: This Russian writer serving in the Red Calvary, who eventually got whacked by Stalin's secret police taught me more about brevity and macabre humor than any fucking writer on earth.

Ninety Two in the Shade by Thomas McGuane: "Will I find it hard to die?" I don't think I will thanks to this masterpiece, oh by the way this was made into a film, directed by the author staring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates and Margot Kidder, which I've never seen yet to my eternal fucking chagrin.

House of Bones by Aj Hayes: Hayes nailed me forever with this fever dream. It's awful in all the right ways.

Rock Springs By Richard Ford: Before Ford got devoured by Frank fucking Bascombe, he actually wrote some beautiful quiet noir stories set in Montana and Wyoming, he taught me that lingering unease is sometimes better than gunshots

Where The Money Went by Kevin Canty: Canty is the closest thing we have to Carver these day's, his edgy melancholy is unmatched anywhere, he actually taught at my hometown college for a while, before he moved to Montana.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Benton was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina where he still resides. He’s had fiction appear in Plots with Guns and A Twist of Noir and can be found on Facebook

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Peter Farris

Favorite Books of 2010

I read a lot of great stuff this year...

But I should preface this list with the admission that I haven't read every '10 release I would have liked. In fact, I'm staring at the city skyline of TBR stacks in my office and I can see from here Ron Rash's Burning Bright, Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Hills, Hilary Davidson's The Damage Done and a just-published posthumous collection by Barry Hannah: Long, Lost, Happy—four titles that I'm sure belong here based on reputation and reviews alone. Probably fodder for another blog post, right? For the paperback enthusiasts: The Best Fiction Released Last Year That I Didn't Read Until This Year...or something like that.

Anyway, here's some recommendations for what to spend those holiday gift cards on:


A perfect companion to Ellroy's first foray into memoir-land with My Dark Places, The Hilliker Curse is an absolutely fascinating piece of literary psychoanalysis. I couldn't help but feel like a voyeur while reading this, as Ellroy meticulously catalogs his relationships with women in that telegraphic prose that belongs in the Smithsonian. Every obsession, spank session, brood job, perv-out, tryst, toxic relationship, divorce, heartbreak and awkward interaction is all there on the page—the minutiae of Ellroy's sexual history, with his mother's ghost languishing over him through the decades. I'm convinced that Ellroy is a functional sociopath, and if it wasn't for his literary success he'd be on a park bench somewhere, eye-fucking women from afar, rubbing himself through his pants. Thank god we discovered and appreciated his talents while he was still alive. But after reading The Hilliker Curse, I couldn't help but feel bad for Ellroy. Despite the public persona he's cultivated during a bestselling career, underneath was a fragile personality, a man seeking love and sex on his own selfish terms, and a life full of personal disasters to show for it. Certainly not the best place to start if you're curious about James Ellroy, but an amazing peek behind the curtain of a genius.


I recently got hip to what is technically John Rector's debut novel, although you don't have to read more than a few pages to figure he's got a few (publishable) books hibernating on a hard drive, and another (The Grove) that I'm eager to read. Rector's prose is so economical, so effortless that my first impression was that Raymond Carver had, uh, risen from the grave, watched Fargo and decided to write crime-noir fiction. What I loved about The Cold Kiss was Rector's ability to pile on the bad, a technique I'm a big fan of. As in how much bad can my main characters take? And how many bad (but not stupid) decisions can they make? That makes for great fiction, which The Cold Kiss most certainly is.


The novel that landed me an agent was partially inspired by Peter Gent's North Dallas Forty, and to a larger extent inspired by the Oakland Raiders teams of the 1970's. Although my novel was set in the world of NASCAR, it was the spirit of that renegade franchise that captivated my imagination and influenced the writing without a doubt. Peter Richmond's tale of the NFL's wildest decade, and in particular the most outlaw squad ever to step on a football field, proved to be one of my favorite non-fiction reads of the past decade. Drugs, booze, hookers, pistols, gambling, driving motorcycles through a bar...and that was just training camp. Jack "the Assassin" Tatum, George "the Hit Man" Atkinson, Kenny "the Snake" Stabler, Gene "the Governor" Upshaw, Fred "Freddy" Biletnikoff and John "Tooz" Matuszak. Today's game is a Pop Warner grab-ass by comparison.


I've been a big fan of Tom Franklin for years now, one of the South's best talents (along with Ron Rash and William Gay) that seem hell bent on carrying the torch lit by Harry Crews, Larry Brown, Barry Hannah and before them Flannery O'Connor, Faulkner, Welty, Erskine Caldwell and Thomas Wolfe. But Crooked Letter works on so many levels: a crime novel at its core, a coming-of-age story full of estrangement and tragedy that could appeal to a mass audience, and a commentary on the lies and misunderstandings that can haunt a life spent in the “country”…all written by a guy firmly rooted in the aforementioned literary tradition. It's a challenge for a marketing department, sure, but all I know is that Tom Franklin can write like a motherfucker. Nobody has captured race relations and rural decay in the 21st Century South quite like Franklin has with this novel, the fringe existence of folks in his Mississippi no different from what you might find in Georgia, South Carolina or Alabama and no less depressing. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter has heart and soul, an authenticity you can't teach, and that magic that the finest storytellers are able to perform.


Expiration Date really defies categorization. This is the second novel by Duane Swierczynski that I've read, and a brain-busting treat it is, with dialogue that pops and sizzles and a plot that I can only describe as galloping. His latest is unique in that it refuses to sit still or be defined by genre trappings. It's a thinking-man's thriller, a post-modern mystery, a love letter to his hometown of Philadelphia, a sci-fi noir and ultimately, a story about a man scouring the Microfiche of his shattered family history for closure. Not to simplify what Swierczy pulls off here, but ED really does for astral projection what Inception did for dreams or 12 Monkeys did for time travel...all with an ending that is absolutely knee-buckling. But the highest compliment I can offer to any work of fiction is to say how much I learned by reading it. And I learned a helluva lot about writing by reading Expiration Date.


My review from Amazon with a few alterations:

Schow has written the thriller of the year...

But INTERNECINE is not just a thriller. It's a satire, a spy novel, a roid-raging Doc Savage action yarn and a post-modern gun porn masterpiece. INTERNECINE is seven novels working seamlessly at once.

1) GUNS: As in Stephen Hunter would give this novel an enthusiastic double tap. The weapons are exotic, realistic, loud on the page, sinister when holstered, blamming and blaaaawhing every other paragraph and killing EVERYONE. INTERNECINE is righteous literary Peckinpah.

2) LOS ANGELES: INTERNECINE is one of the best novels about L.A. well...ever. Bruce Wagner would smirk with jealousy. Michael Connelly would scratch his goatee in admiration. James Ellroy would shrug his shoulders in arrogant indifference and Raymond Chandler would barf up his liquid lunch in appreciation.

3) SATIRE: This is the post-modern, ironic, meta-transgressive Don Delillo novel Chuck Palahniuk wishes he could write. But Schow is too articulate, too original and far too deft to mimic any voice but the one he's created in INTERNECINE. It is a first person narrative that should be studied in writing seminars.

Believe the hype here, folks. Want to read a thriller with brains? Put down the Patterson and Koontz novels for that flight and let INTERNECINE be your legacy at the crash site.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Peter Farris is a writer from Cobb County, Georgia. His debut novel will be published by Tom Doherty Associates/Forge Books next winter. Find him raving and drooling at the Sentence Salvo

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Jon & Ruth Jordan

Ruth’s (Mrs. Crimespree) favorite books & comics

The best of pretty much begins and ends with the reading this year. What moments I had. Michael Koryta's SO COLD THE RIVER, Laura Lippman's I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE, Don Winslow's SAVAGES, Reed Farrel Coleman's INNOCENT MONSTER. There were new writers, too, Hilary Davidson, Angela Choi & Stephen Jay Schwartz just to name a few.

We had two books from Lee Child and Michael Connelly brought us two protagonist to the same book. John Connolly made me cry and Gregg Hurwitz had me looking for fiber optics in my home. I owe a special tip of the hat to Duane Swiercynski and Charlie Huston. EXPIRATION DATE & SLEEPLESS are two wonderful books that are making me re-think my whole Sci-Fi position.

The most wonderfully strange moment was cracking open Dennis Lehane's MIDNIGHT MILE. I haven't quite decided if it was more de ja vous or going back in time, but what a nice visit with Patrick and Angie.

Like everyone I'm excited about Mulholland Books but I'm also thrilled with the Tyrus Books/ Busted Flush merger and I thank God that Hard Case Crime has a new home.

I continue to enjoy my Comic Books. Denise Mina's A SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY was brilliantly horrifying while FABLES 100 was a true treat for those of us along for the ride. I adored Victor Gischler's DeadPool run and am liking the X-Men. The Evan Dorkin/Jill Thompson Beasts of Burden is also a comics must read.

Comics to screen? Kick Ass and The Walking Dead. I'll refrain from talking about movies because, damn it, Winter's Bone didn't make it here. For must watch TV, I'll keep it short. Craig Ferguson does great interview. Laura Lippman's Naughty Librarian and Dennis Lehane's Zombie conversation captivated me. Intelligent, funny, and relevant I'm glad I saw him in person this year. I continue to adore True Blood and giggle at Charlaine Harris' success.

It's the up close and personal moments that make a year though so I thank all of my friends for sharing their lives with me in 2010 and here's to next year.

Jon's (CrimespreeJon) favorites

Favorite comics of 2010

Fables from Vertigo Comics - the series gets better and better and Bill Willingham even added a prose novel to the mix this year. Great stuff.

The vertigo Crime books have all been really good, loved the Jason Starr book THE CHILL and AREA 10 by Christos Gage as well as the creepy Denise Mina A SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY

Gregg Hurwitz's work on Moon Knight has been fun.

Victor Gischler on DEADPOOL has been REALLY fun.

GREEK STREET by Peter Milligan has great crime fiction mixed with Greek tragedy and is some cool reading from Vertigo.

Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming have brought POWERS back to a more regular schedule. Not as awesome as when the series started but still damn good reading.

VICTORIAN UNDEAD from Vertigo is a nice take on zombies, being hunted by Sherlock Holmes no less.

THE BOYS by Garth Ennis gets better and better.

I also really like CHEW. A weird book involving food crimes and a guy who eats things to get insight into them, like bodies....

The ASTRO CITY books by Kurt Busiek are some of the best reading of done recently.

BEASTS OF BURDEN by Even Dorkin and Jill Thompson is a must own, out in a collected hardcover. Dogs and 1 cat solving supernatural mysteries. And not really for kids....

And if you are anywhere near Chicago, check out Challengers comics, a great store. My local is Collector's Edge and they are amazing.

Jon’s favorite books

Benn, James R., RAG AND BONE
Connolly, John, THE WHISPERERS
Crais, Robert, THE FIRST RULE
Dorsey, Tim, GATOR A-GO-GO
Dunlap, Susan, POWER SLIDE
Estleman, Loren D., LEFT-HANDED DOLLAR
Freveletti, Jamie, RUNNING DARK
Grant, Andrew, DIE TWICE
Hamilton, Steve, THE LOCK ARTIST
Hurwitz, Gregg, THEY'RE WATCHING
Huston, Charlie, SLEEPLESS
Robinson, Peter, BAD BOY
Wiprud, Brian, BUY BACK

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Jon and Ruth Jordan are the publishers of Crimespree Magazine and some would say they're the heart and soul of the crime fiction community. The Crimefactory crew thinks they’re the bee’s knees

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Jason Duke

This was a very exciting year all around, but looking back, the top of my list for 2010 was Bouchercon in San Francisco. I got to meet a lot of wonderful crime writers, hang out at parties like the one Mulholland threw at Gordon Biersch, and drink ridiculous amounts of liquor. I also bought a lot of books while I was at Bouchercon, some were bought for me, and some were given to me. I haven't had a chance to read all of them yet, but most of these books on my list I picked up at the con:

Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith: granted this isn't from 2010, but it's still my favorite because I really dig Neil's style. Also check out Yellow Medicine, the first in the series (I hope this will be a series, you hear me Neil?)

Do They Know I'm Running by David Corbet: this one I was fortunate to pick up from David himself when he read from it at the City Lights black envelope event. Some of it deals with soldiers and Iraq, which is right up my alley.

Last Known Address by Theresa Schwegel, Jump by Tim Maleeny, One Too Many Blows to the Head by Eric Beetner and JB Kohl: also not from 2010, but great books nonetheless and definitely worth reading.

Pike by Benjamin Whitmer, The Underbelly by Gary Phillips: two I picked up from the PM Press booth at Bouchercon. Gary never disappoints, and Ben's first book Pike will knock you on your ass.

Young Junius by Seth Harwood: what can I say, this book is all kinds of dope, and not because there's a lot of drugs and drug dealing going on. Plus, the special edition was a really nice touch, with the extra artwork and cloth cover, if you preordered like I did.

Killer Tease by Danny Hogan, Broken Dreams by Nick Quantril: a little shout out to my blokes across the pond. Don't get me wrong, all of the Pulp Press line is top notch, this one just happens to be my favorite. A big plus for me because I'm a lazy reader is that these books can all be read in about an hour or so. And Nick hit it out of the park with his first try with Broken Dreams, featuring his private investigator Joe Geraghty. I expect more grandslams in his future, and lots more of Geraghty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Duke is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army with a 15 month deployment to Iraq under his belt. His stories have appeared in Plots With Guns, Thuglit, Spinetingler Magazine, Crimefactory,, Darkest Before the Dawn, and A Twist of Noir, among others. Jason can be reached at or on Facebook

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Mike Maclean

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I’m well aware that the previous contributors to this blog admire the works of (INSERT fancy-pants literary types HERE) with their searing portrayals of the modern human condition, shedding light on man’s innate, Freudian propensity towards self-deconstruction. But admit it, sometimes don’t you just want to sit back and watch monsters eat some people?

For those of you who screamed, “HELL YEAH,” I give you my top ten Syfy original movie moments (In no particular order).

Full disclosure: I worked on two of these and considered recusing myself from the candidates, but then realized no one gives a crap.

Sharktopus (2010): Easily the most memorable scene in the film. A swimsuit-clad chick becomes a human metaphor when she hangs like bait for Sharktopus to chomp, striking a blow for fish-kind everywhere.;

Ice Spiders (2007): When faced with the threat of massive blood-thirsty spiders, one should…
a. Die gruesomely.
b. Cower behind a sofa cushion like an eight year-old girl.
c. Beat said spider to death then make a lame joke, disregarding the fact that two people just died gruesomely in front of you.
d. All of the above;

Alien Apocalypse (2005): Because no list of B-movies would be complete without an appearance from Bruce Campbell.;

Mega Piranha (2010): If jazzercise just isn’t cutting it anymore…;

Dinocroc (2004): Now let’s get this straight—I get no joy out of witnessing violence towards children. I wish Dinocroc had gone after a bimbo or frat boy instead. Still, there is no denying this scene’s genuine intensity (a rare commodity among the cheese-infused Syfy films). And given the budget of these flicks (very, very low), it’s damn well produced.;

Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010): Raise you hand if you’d like to see a douche-bag movie producer brutally chomped to death by a giant, mutant crocodile (the bottom clip). This scene pisses me off because it’s my favorite part of the movie, and I had absolutely nothing to do with it.;

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002): If anyone badmouths the CGI on Sharktopus, I just show them this clip. I love the jet-ski guy’s evil, sneering laugh. Pure golden cheese.;
Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009): Wait a second. I got anal probed from the TSA for this!!!;

Mega Snake (2007): Lot of “Mega” going on in the Syfy world. My favorite from this gem is the scene where the guy gets chomped on the sofa while watching Mansquito. Is it me, or does he actually scream “Oh, ho, ho, ho,” as his head is being devoured?;

I couldn’t find another good one, so here is my favorite scene from Seinfeld.;

Cheers and happy New Year!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike MacLean wrote the Syfy original movie Sharktopus and co-wrote Dinocroc vs. Supergator. In addition, his short crime fiction has appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories, Thuglit: Hardcore Hardboiled, and The Deadly Bride. Teaching high school by day, Mike lives in Tempe, Arizona with his wonderful wife and daughter. Visit him online at;

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and what not

So, gang, I'm going to be taking the next couple of days off to enjoy the holiday with the family here at Casa del Rawson. But I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you and yours the best of holidays from the entire Crimefactory ganng.
Merry Christmas!!!

Rawson’s Best of Whatever #6: Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith

What set 2010 apart for me book wise was the stellar wave of sophomore novels which made it onto bookstore shelves. Dennis Tafoya's The Wolves of Fairmount Park (more on that one later) Stuart Nevile's heartbreaking Collusion and Roger Smith's Wake Up Dead. None of these author's suffered from the so-called "sophomore slump". In fact, their second novels were far more satisfying, complex pieces of writing. This, in particular, can be said about Smith's Wake Up Dead. Below is my original review of Wake Up Dead from Spinetingler Magazine, I hope you enjoy.

Review—Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith

Imagine the worst ghetto you’ve ever been in.

Imagine the poverty, strife, and outward hostility you experienced while you were there stranded in your broken down car, or because you got off on the wrong subway stop.

Now, what I want you to do is multiply that by a hundred.

No, screw a hundred, make it a thousand.

If you can even remotely picture this, you might have an idea about the world in which Roger Smith’s Cape Town, in his stellar sophomore novel, Wake Up Dead, exists.

Wake Up Dead is the Story of Roxy Palmer, an on the wrong side of thirty ex-runway model who has tumbled into the arms of one rich man after another until she lands in the gruff, alcoholic embrace of her husband, Joe. Joe is an arms dealer and freelance private security broker. After a charming evening dining with a central African cannibal/terrorist and his Russian whore, the couple is carjacked in the driveway of their home. Joe suffers a minor gunshot wound to the leg. However, as the thieves speed away in Joe’s former luxury automobile, his loving wife recovers the weapon Joe was shot with and decides to put an end to their lackluster five year marriage by blowing his brains out with plans of blaming it on the carjackers.

Enter Billy Africa.

Billy is a native of the ruthless slums of Cape Town, a former gangbanger and cop who worked for Joe’s private security firm. Billy returns to Cape Town after being injured—and subsequently fired—from a protection job in Bagdad. Billy dreads coming home because of the violent ghosts—including suffering a brutal attack where he was burned over 50% of his body and then buried alive and witnessing the murder of his mentor and partner by the same malicious animal, Piper—which haunt its streets. But Joe owes Billy money, thirty thousand dollars to be exact, for his nearly flawless service.

Roxy and Billy’s paths inevitably intertwine once the carjackers return to the scene of the crime after one of the speed freaks—Disco, who also happens to be the former “wife” of Billy Africa’s nemesis, Piper in Pollsmoor maximum-security prison—is brought in for a lineup and they get it into their tck-tck (South African slang for crystal Methane) addled skulls to blackmail the unrepentant widow with their knowledge that she was the one who murdered Joe.

Billy comes onto the scene after the two junkies kidnap Roxy off the street and bring her back to her and Joe’s home to terrorize her and steal whatever isn’t nailed down. Billy, of course, is looking for his money and after untying Roxy, quickly comes to the realization that Roxy killed Joe due to her reluctance to call in the police about the home invasion and in turn decides that it’s in his best interests to more or less blackmail Roxy in order to recover his earnings, but he also decides to act as her bodyguard in order to insure that he gets his money.

To further muddy the waters, the vicious Piper, has become obsessed with his former “wife” Disco and wants the pretty boy back at any cost, including breaking out of prison and leaving behind a long line of corpses in order to get him back inside of Pollsmoor at Piper’s side to spend the rest of their lives together.

As you can guess there’s a lot going on in Wake Up Dead (and a lot more that I’ve failed to mention.) and in lesser hands, this book might have been a hazy, lackluster mess of a novel. However, with his second effort, Smith has proven what a natural born storyteller he is. Smith takes the multiple strands of his broken, tragic characters and weaves them into a complex, cinematic tapestry, which keeps you turning pages at a machine gun fire pace. Smith’s prose is simple and straightforward. His sentences are clipped and unadorned, but yet have unique, poetic quality.

And yes, much has been said about the violence of Wake Up Dead, (and of his equally impressive debut, Mixed Blood.) and no question about it, the novel is a virtual bloodbath, but you never feel that it’s too gratuitous or simply inserted to shock the audience. I felt each dramatic episode was absolutely necessary in moving the plot towards its brutal, emotionally exhausting climax.

Wake Up Dead is an intense, visceral experience and the type of novel where you’ll almost want to immediately turn back to page one and experience the harder than nails ride all over again. And I for one whole heartedly believe that if Smith continues to write with this level of self assuredness and quality, that his work may very well stand as equal to such hard-boiled masters as Bruen and Ellroy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Cameron Ashley

The Top Ten things I love about Crime Factory founder Dave Honeybone:

  • Dave is the world's tallest librarian. Fact. He hates when people point out his height, but sorry, it must be pointed out. Seriously, if I had to go collect money, I'd take Dave and Seth Harwood for back-up. Plus, he's always good for fucked-up library stories, like the time he caught a guy having a wank while watching porn on not one but TWO library computers. Dave had to tell the guy that masturbating in the library is not the done thing and see to it that he zipped up and left. Dave calls the guy a perv, I call him an innovator. Whatever. We don't always see eye to eye, Honeybone and me. Oh! And if you ever meet Dave, he may bust out his librarian voice – hilarious.
  • Dave will lend you books with absolutely no need to ever get them back again. Seriously, he hands them out like Halloween candy. Not just to me but to CF reviewer Andrew Prentice and others. Dave has such love of crime fiction that he will share it with anyone who gets it, simply for the love of sharing it.

  • Dave now loves comics. Took him some time to come around, but you will not meet a bigger SCALPED or UNKNOWN SOLDIER fan than The Honeybone. Dave: when are we writing our “Outback Scalped”?

  • Back when Dave ran the Ned Kelly's (the Aussie crime fiction awards) with the awesome Peter Lawrence, the night was waaaay cooler, more enjoyable and held in a much more aesthetically-appropriate venue (a fucking jazz bar!). Now, co-opted totally by the Melbourne Writers Festival (at which barely any crime writers appear), they are kind of odd, detached from the spirit of the event, and filled with people who have barely read a crime novel in their lives. Basically, the Ned's lack the noir power of Dave.

  • Dave recently threatened to move to Canberra, thus depriving me of a reliable drinking partner and one of the only people here who understands what the fuck I'm rambling on about. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and he and his family are staying put in Melbourne. Unfortunately, he is still not willing to bear arms with me in our fight with the Literary establishment. Ahh well. At least we can still have Hightail Ale with Jamie chasers.
  • Dave has an idea for an Aussie crime novel that starts with a decapitated head floating in a cop shop aquarium. Yeah, I think he should finish it too.

  • Dave could barely hear the interview he did with Peter Temple in CF 4. He had to sit there with his ear right up against the recording device, listen to the recording, pause it, transcribe and repeat and repeat and repeat. The interview was later significantly changed, much to Dave's amusement. Oh, prospective writers take heed: DAVE STILL MADE DEADLINE.

  • Dave is under-appreciated by the country in which he lives and the genre which he loves. Fact. If he had moved to America instead of Australia, he'd be David Thompson (and I mean that with all due respect to the late Mr Thompson – that's just how special Dave is).
  • Ken Bruen came over to dinner at Dave's house in 2003. I was there too. In Dave's backyard, we smoked and Ken told me that the secret to writing was to write every day for two hours a day, first thing in the morning and then...stop dead. Dave and I told this to Jason Starr a couple of years later. Starr laughed, called it “bullshit.”

  • Dave gave CF to me when he realized that he could not participate in its relaunch, much to my own personal heartbreak. It's a scab he simply did not want to pick. Fair enough. I still like to think that one day he'll be back and we can dust off his desk once and for all and get some real shit done. We'll see. Remember: this is a man who single-handedly created CF (okay, he had a designer friend help), in Australia, back before massive internet exposure, print on demand, or any of the nonsense that the magazine so comparatively easy for us today. We had subscribers all over the world – including, no shit, Syria – and the mag was so highly regarded that the first person to reply to my tweets about the relaunch was none other than Duane Swierczynski. So, here's to Mr David Honeybone, Crime Factory godfather, pulp-fiend and my dear friend. Thank you for everything, Dave. We may do things differently in this newish factory, but everyone who works in it owes their shifts to you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Uuuuummmmm, yeah, it's Cam people. The picture on the left is his usual state

Rawson’s Best of Whatever—#7: Dodging Bullets By Joe Mckinney

Raise your hand if you know who Joe Mckinney is?

Right, he’s the guy who wrote those kick ass zombie novels Dead City, Apocalypse of the Dead and Quarantined. He’s also a police officer with the city of San Antonio, Texas.

But did you know he wrote crime fiction?

Yeah, I imagine some of you did.

He’s made a few appearances in Out of the Gutter and his novel, Dodging Bullets, was the first full length release from the newly minted Gutter Books. (Yup, the same crew that brings you Out of the Gutter magazine.) Now don’t get me wrong, I dig Officer Mckinny’s horror stories, (I tend to love horror fiction where Armageddon is the focus of the storyline, especially if corpses come back to life and ravage the survivors) but the man has a serious knack for crime fiction.

Case in point: Dodging Bullets.

Dodging Bullets is the story of Peto. Peto is your average heroin dealing piece of shit, the difference being is the man is deeply in love with uber rich girlfriend, Shannon Dupree. Peto would do anything for Shannon, he’s convinced they’re soulmates, so, of course, anything means stealing account ledgers which proves Shannon’s father—Waylon Dupree, a high priced lawyer who happens to make most of his cash representing Peto’s employers, the local Mexican mafia—has been embezzling loads of cash from his ruthless, blood thirsty clients. The ledgers are in the possession of Peto’s mentor and supplier, Fernando Laza. Peto breaks into Laza’s house, steals the ledgers, plus a shitload of cash and heroin.

When Laza discovers the theft, he frantically calls Peto asking for his help. Laza has no idea Peto was the one who ripped him off and instead suspects a prostitute he picked for an evening of fun and games. Peto agrees to come over, but little does he know that Laza also calls his boss, Frankie Rodriguez, the head of San Antonio’s Puro Eme. When arrives at the house to find the whore bound and gagged and Frankie wanting to know where his heroin is? The prostitute is quickly dispatched, using her death and disposal more as a means of interrogating Peto and Laza, who he suspects were the true thief’s of the hefty stash.

Soon after the prostitutes murder, Peto is busted by the San Antonio police and he’s convinced into narcing out Laza. He returns to Laza’s house wearing a wire and is turned out as the rat he is, taking a solid beating from Laza, who’s killed during the police raid Peto helped or orchestrate. After this, Frankie is 100% positive Peto is the thief, and begins to tear Peto’s fragile existence with Shannon to pieces.

Dodging Bullets is an intense, sparsely written read along the same lines as the classic Fawcett-Gold Medal paperbacks of the 50’s and 60’s, (Yeah, I know, a reviewer offering up this kind of comparison is becoming a cliché, but when it’s true, what other association can you use?) the difference being that each page rocks with violence and action without becoming cartoonish. McKinney crafts Peto into a sympathetic protagonist, albeit you never feel sorry for the bloody situations in which you find him in. As a reader, you understand he’s getting what he deserves after a life time of scumbag entitlement, but you desperately want him to grow beyond his tumultuous life and to finally have some kind of normalcy with Shannon (little bit of a spoiler here, folks, it ain’t gonna happen.)

But for lovers of the brand of hardcore, hardboiled crime fiction that is the hallmark of Out of the Gutter, you can’t go wrong with Dodging Bullets.

The Best of Whatever—Andrew Nette

When I started making a list of my top ten reads for 2010 I found to my horror I hadn't read as may books compared to previous years. I suppose that's what comes from spending so much time on the manuscript for my own novel, which hopefully will see the light of day in 2011. In no particular order, my top ten reads for 2010 are:

Garry Disher, Wyatt (Text Publishing): Australia's answer to Parker. Wyatt is an old-school heist man increasingly out of sorts in a high tech world. Veteran Australian crime writer Garry Disher wrote six Wyatt novels in the nineties. It was nearly a decade before he would produce a seventh, Wyatt, in 2010. Great writing and a tough, gritty plot. Here's hoping it won't be another ten years before the next one.

Martin Limon (Soho Crime): Jade Lady Burning: I don't know why it took me so long to discover Limon, but now I have I'm a convert. Hard-boiled action on the streets of seventies Seoul. What's not to like.

Megan Abbott, The Song Is You (Pocket Books): The woman who seems to be on everyone's list of best reads for 2010. Probably because she's so bloody good.

Richard Stark, The Handle (University of Chicago Press): I knocked off a few of the Parker novels pre-1997 Parker novels this year. The Handle was the best. Parker is employed by his nemesis the Outfit to knock over a casino on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

David Whish Wilson, Line of Sight (Penguin Viking): A great tale of corrupt cops and the murder, set in seventies Western Australia (yeah, I know, there's a bit of seventies theme going on). Great stuff, partly based on fact.

Tom Robb Smith, Child 44 (Pocket Books): I love a good piece of historical crime fiction and Robb Smith's tale of a disgraced secret service officer investigating a serial killer in Stalin's Soviet Union, fit the bill perfectly.

William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley (Rinehart): An oldie but a goodie.

Jame's Ellroy, Blood's a Rover (Century): Not Ellroy's best, but an average book by Ellroy still makes my top 10.

Angela Savage, The Half Child (Text): Full disclosure, Angela is my partner and he book set in Thailand featuring female PI Jayne Keeney is great.

Peter Thompson, Pacific Fury (William Heinemann Australia): A brilliantly written warts and all account of WWII in the Asia Pacific from an Australian perspective (that means there's heaps of detail on what self promoting bastard MacArthur was).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Nette lived in Southeast Asia for six years in the nineties and was based in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, as well as traveling around the wider region. Nette has reviewed film and books for Crime Factory, Friday’s Forgotten Books and Back Alley Noir, the official on-line forum of the US-based Film Noir Foundation. He has also completed a crime novel titled Cambodia Darkness and Light. You can read more of his reviews at Pulp Curry

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Jedidiah Ayres

My best of 2010 in no particular order:

Noir at the Bar. It was an amazing year for the tawdry little event that I host along with Scott Phillips. We were validated by the participation of Pinckney Benedict, Laura Benedict, Sean Doolittle, Derek Nikitas, Dennis Tafoya, Tim Lane, Matt Kindt and Jonathan Woods. We also got to see the first public readings of Matthew McBride, Chris La Tray, Dan O’Shea and (I think) Cameron Ashley. Don’t have any idea how 2011 could possibly top that.

People I know getting book deals. You guys make me sick. (You can find those guys HERE and HERE)

Great debuts: Jack Clark – Nobody’s Angel, Benjamin Whitmer – Pike, John Rector – The Cold Kiss

Knockout sophomore efforts: Dennis Tafoya – Wolves of Fairmount Park, Roger Smith – Wake Up Dead, Millard Kaufman – Misadventure, John Brandon – Citrus County.

“Discoveries” – Lynn Kostoff, Dave Zeltserman, Larry Brown, Thomas McGuane, Jim Nesbit

Good films from great books – Winter’s Bone, The Killer Inside Me, True Grit (it’s gonna be, I just know it)

Young punk upstarts online – Crimefactory, Muholland Books blog

And in print – Needle, Beat to a Pulp (yeah, in print)

Unconfirmed accounts of people reading my bullshit: William Gay, Chris Offutt, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jedidiah Ayres recently made his big screen debut playing the part of Yogi Bear. He loooooooovess pic-i-nic baskets. He blogs at Hardboild Wonderland and B&N's Ransom Notes and his fiction has appeared in more publications than you can shake a dead cat at. (which makes the editors of Crimefactory Magazine green with envy.) He also penned the screenplay for the film Mosquito Kingdom

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Best of Whatever—Heath Lowrance

When I’m not busy with the important things in life, like video games or napping, I get a lot of reading done. Most of what I read is old shit, like, not even this century, but I managed to pick out ten newer books that made my list this past year. These are reads I’d recommend to anyone with any sense.

In no particular order, they are:

Imperial Bedrooms by Brett Easton Ellis.

Bleak, brutal, uncompromising. Ellis experiments with minimalism and meta-fiction with this sequel to Less Than Zero. It’s an uneasy book, and Ellis is his usual fearless self.

The Devil by Ken Bruen,

The Devil finds our boy Jack Taylor screwing up again, getting drawn into a situation that causes him to look back over his previous cases for links, and starting to suspect that his real foe is actually Satan himself. We all know, of course, that Jack’s biggest adversary is himself. Jack is a major fuck-up, but I’ve never felt more sympathy for a character than I do Jack Taylor.

It’s been a banner year for Dave Zeltserman, starting with the last of his ‘Man Out of Prison’ books, The Killer. It’s remarkably different from the others-- quieter, sadder even, with a strangely contemplative nature that surprised me. And the ending… wow, the ending. Amazing. Zeltserman has earned his place as one of the modern masters.
Like everyone else on the planet, my eyes started bleeding while reading Allan Guthrie’s Slammer. It’s his best book so far, and one of the best noirs written in the last twenty years. Unrelentingly suspenseful, bizarre, scary and blackly funny.

Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptation of Richard Stark’s The Outfit was a work of genius. Never has an artist been so perfectly suited to a character. I can’t wait for more Parker adaptations from Cooke.

And speaking of graphic novels (okay, comic books, let’s just call ‘em what they are), writer Jason Aaron and artist Steve Dillon have been doing amazing things with the Punisher in PunisherMAX. The first collected volume, Kingpin, is an over-the-top, bloody, profane work of art. There’s heads exploding, eyeballs a-poppin’, gratuitous use of the F-word, and well, gratuitous everything. Can’t remember the last time I had so much fun reading a comic.

Every year, editor Stephen Jones puts out a new edition of the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. This last year saw the 20th volume, and once again Jones’ choices are exceptional. The guy just has great taste. Stories from Ramsey Campbell, Steve Rasnic Tem, Christopher Fowler, and the inevitable Neil Gaiman. Great stuff.

And speaking of short stories, whenever Stephen King puts out a collection, I pay attention. I gave up a long time ago trying to keep up with his novels, but I never ever miss the story collections because that’s where the man really shines. Just After Sunset is not quite as good a collection as Everything’s Eventual, but I don’t know of any other writer who gives us such real and endearing characters as the King-man.

Sometimes you need a dose of good non-fiction, don’t you think? Just to clear out the system. This year we were lucky to have a new book from the awesome Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, which outlined beautifully the theory of evolution, and why its opponents don’t seem to really grasp it. The information in this book should lay the entire debate to rest.

And The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, offers a new way of thinking about morality in the modern age, and why religion is not necessary to leading a decent, moral life.
That’s ten, right? Just made it under the wire, there. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more reading to do. Or maybe I’ll just play a video game. Or take a nap.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heath Lowrance is the author of The Bastard Hand, coming soon from New Pulp Press. Stories and articles have appeared in ChiZine, Well Told Tales, Demon Minds, Necrotic Tissue and The Nautilus Engine, as well as History Magazine and Real Detroit Weekly. He blogs at Psycho-Noir