Wednesday, August 27, 2014

REVIEW: you don't exist by Pablo D'Stair and Chris Rhatigan

Without a doubt, one of the best crime fiction magazines on the market is All Due Respect. It became a quarterly print and digital magazine under the reign of Chris Rhatigan and Mike Monson, both incredible writers in their own right. Now Rhatigan and Monson have brought us All Due Respect Books, "publishing down and dirty novellas, novels, and short story collections from the best writers in the genre." They've got some great books planned, including Tussinland by Mike Monson which I've already been fortunate enough to have a look at and a novella by Zelmer Pulp madman Ryan Sayles.

What's even better, their first book is already out. It's called 'you don't exist' and it is a kind of novella double feature from Pablo D'Stair and Chris Rhatigan. This is a really great idea and one that I would like to see more of. The aforementioned upcoming novella from Ryan Sayles will be part of a double feature also with Rhatigan so I assume that this will be a thing that ADR Books is doing. Like I said, it's a terrific idea and I look forward to more pulpy double features. How does this one measure up? Let's see...

"I might have been imagining the thing with these signs, I thought, but shook my head even while I did, snorting. Cigarette lit, lighter replaced, I said aloud that I didn't mean Imagining, I'd meant I might not understand how the roads worked." 

The novella begins with Pablo D'Stair's novella "bleed the ghost empty." This is an clear example of why the belief that there are no original ideas is simply false. If there are other novellas like "bleed the ghost empty", I have never read them or heard of them. It is incredibly unlike anything I've ever read and, honestly, made me kind of uncomfortable.

"I kept telling myself Okay okay okay, not just muttering, telling myself the word in sets of threes and sets of three-sets-of-three Okay okay okay Okay okay okay making a relaxation of it, a sing song."

The act of reading D'Stair's novella is like being inside someone's head during a fever dream or a nightmare. What was it about? Was it about anything? Did it make sense? Does anything? If other noir stories, like Mike Monson's Scent of New Death, are like being given a shot of adrenalin, D'Stair's novella "bleed the ghost empty" is like being force fed hallucinogens. Regardless of what followed it, this novella would be worth the price of admission alone. I don't know if I will read it again but the experience has stuck with me.

Fortunately, what follows it is Chris Rhatigan's "Pessimist." That it is written by Rhatigan should be all you need to know. The man has never gone wrong before and this is no exception. It is starkly different from D'Stair's novella and some might say it is more fun, but it is excellent both as a companion piece and on its own.

"The guy in the aisle seat, who hadn't said anything the whole flight, slapped Pullman on the shoulder, said, 'Man, the way you looked, I thought we were all gonna die! Ha ha! Ha ha!' He laughed like an asshole. 'You going to be all right there, buddy?'"

Rhatigan's novella is funny and dark, much like other things that I've read from him. It deals with a man in over his head. As the title might suggest, he is pessimistic and incredibly on edge. His situation is not an easy one for anyone but our protagonist is exceptionally ill-equipped to deal with it.

"He wanted to buy one of those awful, enormous vehicles, one that said, Fuck you, other cars. Fuck you global warming. Fuck you, traffic laws."

If you are a fan of good pulp fiction, Pablo D'Stair, Chris Rhatigan, or All Due Respect, you owe it to yourself to go and buy "you don't exist." It is an incredible double feature of insecurities, , insanity, and suspicion. I eagerly await all future releases from ADR Books if this first release is any indication of the sort of things they will be doing. This is a publisher to watch, folks. As I have said many times, we are living in a golden age.

Monday, August 25, 2014

REVIEW: The Billy Lafitte novels by Anthony Neil Smith

One of the reasons why this is the best time ever to be a fan of pulp fiction is that there are so many bold, original authors in the scene nowadays writing fiction unlike anything before it. One of the very best examples I can think of is Anthony Neil Smith. Time and again, Smith has displayed an ability to surprise, shock, and entertain readers with strikingly unique storytelling. He has a voice all his own and it is one that you will never forget.

My introduction to Smith was the novel Yellow Medicine. It is the first novel to feature corrupt cop Billy Lafitte. He was dismissed from Gulfport, Ms. after some questionable actions post-Katrina and Yellow Medicine finds him in Minnesota. Smith does an excellent job of handling the great differences between these two places and Lafitte understandably has some trouble adjusting to the climate up north.

At his new home, Lafitte continues his corrupt ways and finds himself caught in a web of violence and insanity involving a drug mob and terrorism. To make matters worse, because of his questionable actions, Lafitte doesn't really seem that innocent. As a result, Lafitte decides to take matters into his own hands and try to set things -- maybe not right -- but as right as they can be with Lafitte still in the equation.

It is hard to explain exactly what I got from the experience of first reading Yellow Medicine. Smith's characterization of Lafitte is superb. Billy Lafitte is one of the most fully realized characters I think I've ever encountered. In spite of his questionable decisions, you cannot help but root for him. This is partially because, while bad, he is at least better than the terrorists. Another reason for this, however, is that Smith so compellingly and so comprehensively lets the reader inside the head of the main character. You see what he sees. You feel what he feels. While you're reading, at least, his twisted point of view becomes your point of view. Anthony Neil Smith cranks it up to 11 and does not let up. Yellow Medicine is one of the most eye-opening reading experiences of my life. It masterfully does what this sort of fiction is supposed to do.

And then there are the sequels...

The saga of Billy Lafitte picks up in Hogdoggin'. Obviously I will not be discussing the finer points of the sequels because I don't want to spoil anything. However, Smith continues to drag Lafitte down in the dirt and he encounters more insane situations. Again, Lafitte's moral compass is uniquely his own. Again still, Smith puts you in his corner. The character of Steel God in Hogdoggin' is one of the more interesting characters I have encountered in recent memory and Billy Lafitte becomes more complex, more vulnerable than ever before.

The third and most recent Lafitte novel is called The Baddest Ass and was published by the great Blasted Heath. Once again, Smith manages to surprise his readers with a balls-to-the-wall insane novel. There was more than one occasion in the third Lafitte novel where I really had no idea where Smith was going with it and each time he managed to surprise me. It is a badass adrenaline-fueled crime novel that will leave you speechless and dying to know what will happen next to Billy Lafitte.

I am a diehard fan of Anthony Neil Smith, in case you hadn't noticed. I have not encountered a novel or story by him that I have not been a big fan of. He is undoubtedly a cult writer, something I believe Smith himself has even acknowledged. What he does is not for everyone. However, you will know immediately if what he does is for you and, if it is, everything he has ever done and will ever do will be for you. He is an unsung hero of the scene, although he is certainly acknowledged quite a bit in the right circles. Like a modern day Gil Brewer, future generations will look back on the work of Anthony Neil Smith as being one of the greatest pulp fiction bibliographies of our time. His writing is pure distilled pulp, free from all the excess crap that the mainstream writers do which audiences skip over. You won't be skipping any pages in a Anthony Neil Smith novel, you'll be rereading them.

You can get Yellow Medicine for your Kindle free. If you haven't read it, you should do so immediately.

Monday, August 18, 2014

REVIEW: Lamentation by Joe Clifford

Joe Clifford's a cool guy. He joins the list of so many hard-working folks in the scene today who hold down jobs, edit things (like Flash Fiction Offensive, Gutter Books), do all kinds of impressive work, and somehow manage to still be absolutely brilliant writers. His blog is constantly surprising with how smart and witty he manages to be. On top of it all, every time I've had correspondence with the man he has been kind, thoughtful, interesting, and funny. He's a kind of Pulp Renaissance Man.

Like I said, dude's all over the place...
His third novel, Lamentation, is hitting in October from Oceanview Publishing. I was recently fortunate enough to be able to read a review copy of it. When I starting reading though, I had a tough time with it. Not because its poorly written. It's incredible. I guess what held me back was how honest and real the book is. Lamentation is a hell of a book.

There are relationships at the heart of Lamentation. Jay Porter, the main character, is a guy just trying to get by in New Hampshire. One of these relationships is with his ex-girlfriend Jenny and their two year old son. The other relationship, however, is with his drug-addled older brother Chris. You might say that the latter defines the former and most other relationships in Jay's life. The novel opens with Jay having to bail his brother out once again, something the reader senses that Jay has to do a lot of. Jay describes his brother after picking him up:

"In the five or six months since I'd seen him last, he appeared to have lost weight. I'd seen cancer patients with more meat on their bones. Over six feet, he couldn't have weighed more than a buck forty. Despite the long time apart, I felt no joy in our reunion. I'm pretty sure the feeling was mutual."

Over the course of this reunion, Jay discovers that Chris is in trouble yet again. Chris's business partner has been found dead and the fingers are pointing at his way. Jay once again steps up to try to help his brother. What unfolds sets off a chain reaction of violence and corruption that will leave everyone changed for better or worse.

The incredible thing about Lamentation is Clifford's ability to balance the different things that the novel tries to do. It has just the right amount of action, just the right amount of mystery, just the right amount of humor -- all wrapped up in small town reality. The novel packs a punch and it's a fun read. Clifford keeps the pages turning. However, it's not exploitative or contrived. Bad things happen because bad things happen and these particular bad things are unfortunately all too real. The ending of the novel is neither oppressively bleak nor unrealistically optimistic. Joe Clifford has quite a novel on his hands and it is one that he should be very proud of. More than that, it is a novel that you should mark the release date on your calendar for. If you like stuff like Hustle by Tom Pitts, you are going to like this. It's a book that stays with you.

When you're done, go over to Joe's blog and bug him about when his next book is going to be out. Tell him The Chronicler sent you.

Friday, August 15, 2014

REVIEW: Last Chance Canyon and Last Stagecoach to Hell! by James Reasoner

James Reasoner is a titan of pulp. Since the mid-70's, he has been actively writing both short and long-form works, producing more than one-hundred short stories and over THREE-HUNDRED novels, sometimes under pseudonyms. While perhaps best known for his westerns, Reasoner has also done mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction, and other genres. Like the great pulp masters of old, he is seemingly able to write in any genre at any time with equal wit, intelligence, and quality. If you have visited this page, you probably know and like James Reasoner's fiction or you will.

My introduction to Reasoner was his Gabriel Hunt novel Hunt at the Well of Eternity. It immediately appealed to my pulpy, adventure-loving heart. However, as many of my friends know, there are few things in this world I enjoy more than a good weird western. Enter Rye Callahan.

Last Chance Canyon is a 6,000-word short story featuring bounty hunter Rye Callahan. It was originally published a number of years ago in Finnish and this year it has seen its English-language debut as an ebook. Spoiling the experience for the reader would be a shame, so I will not talk much about the plot of this story except to say that Callahan is a bounty hunter that finds himself in a very weird and spooky situation. As I mentioned before, Reasoner is a master of his craft and the pages fly by. Like any great pulp writer, it is as though you aren't even reading and soon you will be left wanting more.

And you'd be in luck! At the beginning of this month, Reasoner released another, longer, Callahan tale in the form of Last Stagecoach to Hell! A 10,000 word-novella, Stagecoach delivers a bit of weird menace with its pulp western. It opens with Callahan bringing outlaw Ike Blaine to justice. However, when Callahan and Blaine get on a stagecoach to a settlement in Arizona, things are not as they appear to be.

If you've read Last Chance Canyon, though, you know that Callahan is a tough-as-nails pulp character and all the deep, dark secrets in Last Stagecoach to Hell are no match for him. I enjoyed Stagecoach even more than Canyon and it recalled the sort of stories that I fell in love with growing up.

The weird western is a genre that few have mastered. Joe R. Lansdale and Heath Lowrance are pretty much the masters at this sort of thing. However, Reasoner is one of the best pulp writers alive and his weird westerns are every bit as terrific as you expect them to be. I fully expect every single one of you to grab these Callahan stories and clear your schedule for an evening of exciting, suspenseful, brilliantly-crafted pulp. The Chronicler demands it!

Monday, August 11, 2014

REVIEW: Trouble In The Heartland

It is no secret to anyone that I am one of the world's biggest fans of Zelmer Pulp, that crazy collective of writers who specialize in "retro-futuristic, pulp hero, dark crime, monster noir, and neoclassical post-apocalyptic multi-generation uber-exploitive psychodrama." As a matter of fact, I think I'll declare myself as Zelmer Pulp's #1 fan. Got a problem with that? Leave a comment and prove yourself to me. If you prove me wrong, I'll delete your comment and pretend it never happened.

Where was I? Ah, yes -- Zelmer. Sayles, Panowich and company are some of my favorites in this business of ours. As far as I'm concerned, when there's a new Zelmer Pulp release, people had better pay attention. Therefore, when I discovered that Zelmer was teaming up with Gutter Books (one of the best publishers in the noir/crime field) to bring an anthology of songs based on the music of Bruce Springsteen, I was so excited that my body went into hibernation until I got a review copy. The book is now in my hands and I have risen from my cave. Was it everything I hoped it would be? No, it wasn't.

It was better than that! (See what I did there?) There is something to be said for the inherent noir nature of Bruce Springsteen's songs. I'm not going to talk about that. Chances are, you already know that. If not, I encourage you to delve into that yourself. Me? I came here to review books and make references to cult movies and I'm all outta references!

Trouble in the Heartland is like a Greatest Hits of crime/noir. Almost everyone you can think of is included within the pages of this volume. In fact, my sole criticism of Trouble is going to be that word "almost." There are some puzzling absences (Mike Monson, for one) of some of my favorite writers but generally speaking everyone is here. What do I mean by that? Here is just HALF the list...

Dennis Lehane, Dyer Wilks, Tom Pitts, Chuck Wendig, Rob Pierce, David James Keaton, Ryan Sayles, Chris F. Holm, Les Edgerton, Todd Robinson, Ezra Letra, Jen Conley, Richard Thomas, Chuck Regan, Court Merrigan, Chris Rhatigan, Steve Weddle, Hilary Davidson, Chris Irvin and Jordan Harper.

Again, folks -- this is just HALF of the authors in this anthology. I'll leave you to discover the rest of the names yourselves. Of course, the inclusion of all the authors in all the world wouldn't matter if the stories were bogus. Luckily, you're in for some terrific tales when you pick up Trouble in the Heartland. I'll give you the rundown on ten of these tracks.

"Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" by Ezra Letra -- Letra's a guy who is new to me. He's a dude who wears so many hats (writer, rapper, photographer, producer, graphic designer, and more) that it's a wonder he manages to keep any one of them on his head. I'm here to tell you, though, that he's got the talent. His story here is just a small slice of life of a guy who knows a hard life. "We knew at any moment we could be left with nothing, but fuck it, we had nothing else." Ezra Letra is a guy to watch and you should let this be your introduction. After you read the story, visit his website. Listen to his music. Tell him the Chronicler sent you.

"The Iceman" by Les Edgerton -- "I shot her. Twice." Bam! Edgerton's story gets you right in the gut immediately. That shouldn't surprise any fan of good noir or crime fiction, though, because Les Edgerton is one of the best writers alive. That sounds like hyperbole but, if you've read things from him like The Bitch, you know it isn't. Here, Edgerton tells a story about a lady who thinks she knows everything about her husband. Spoiler: she doesn't. This one will kick your ass.

"Mansion on the Hill" by Chris F. Holm -- Again, Holm is a guy that everyone knows I dig. I covered his Collector book over at my old blog and even scored an interview with the man himself. Here, he spins a yarn about a guy who loves the ladies. Of course, this is crime anthology so you know nothing is as it seems. As the story says, "Love's a funny thing."

"The Promised Land" by Court Merrigan -- Merrigan tells a story of revenge, in a sense. It's also a story about people looking to use other people. It's a story about how unfair life can be. However, when the land is full of people screwing over other people, there is a lot of opportunity for someone who walks tall and carries a big stick.

"Prove it all Night" by Jordan Harper -- Harper is another name in this anthology that I didn't know before but it's definitely a name that I will be remembering. "Prove it all Night" is about two young lovers on a criminal spree straight to Hell. "One two three four five gas stations and liquor stores before four a.m." What's left at the end of it all is blood, sweat, and maybe, just maybe, a little yearning for the old bad times when all the wrong choices were still left unmade.

"Highway Patrolman" by Ryan Sayles -- I've already talked about my fondness for Ryan Sayles. Apart from being one of the Zelmer guys, he's a hell of a writer by himself. He's got a story forthcoming in my own pulp magazine Dark Corners. Here, Sayles (one of my favorites) writes a crime story (one of my favorite genres) that involves New Orleans (my favorite place). To make things even better, the story is full of language so carefully and perfectly chosen that you will re-read sentences just to hear them again in your head. "Reds and yellows and blues and whites shimmer, flapping every time God breathes along the subtle incline of the graveyard." Like so many other writers in this anthology, Sayles uses the hell out of his instrument. He's a consummate wordsmith.

"Radio Nowhere" by Chuck Regan -- Another story, another Zelmer crew member. Regan does great sci-fi and here is no exception. Regan also does the great cover art that graces this anthology. When it comes to his fiction, though, what I love so much about Regan is that he does the sort of pulp fiction I loved as a kid. It's the sort of stuff that sparked my obsession with reading and writing. Regan seems to have a limitless imagination. He's a bold writer and he takes you, the reader, places you haven't been before. How many times is that actually true for a writer? It's true here, friends. Read this one twice.

"Wrecking Ball" by Chris Rhatigan -- "I need fire running through my veins for this." If you've read Rhatigan's The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, you know his unique brand of funny, badass noir. His story in this anthology is more of the same from Rhatigan which is to say that you'll laugh and you won't believe what you're reading. Rhatigan's characters are not good people but you'll never forget them. You just strap in and try to hold on for the ride.

"Local Hero" by Tom Pitts -- Also joining the anthology is Tom Pitts, author of Piggyback and Hustle. He writes with a knowledge of the darker, harder side of life that a lot of other writers simply don't possess. His story in this anthology is about what its like to be a hero in a thankless world. As one character says, "You think you're special? Because you can throw a fucking baseball?", but this ain't a story about just baseball. It's a story about small towns and pain, blood and anger. It's a story that'll make you look at Piggyback and Hustle on your shelf and make you pick them up again. I don't even want to think about the possibility of someone not having those on their shelf. If that is the case, you know what to do.

"State Trooper" by Dennis Lehane -- This is, no doubt, the story that a lot of folks are gonna be talking about, and for good reason. Lehane is a popular writer. Here, at least, he's also a damn good one. "State Trooper" is the sort of story that doesn't tell you anything you don't need to know. It's far longer than the other pieces in this anthology but it doesn't outstay its welcome. In many ways, this story being first sets the stage for the rest of the stories to follow. That's also why I am talking about it last. A little bit of the themes that I have talked about in the other stories are present here. You've got a simple scenario, one that doesn't have to lead to violence and heartbreak. Of course, it will. Lehane doesn't even show you the violence. That would be too much. He doesn't have to hold your hand and he's sure as hell not going to. Instead, he sets everything up, lets you see whats coming, and then he leaves you in the dirt. All you really need to know is about Dale's (our main character) luck. "Most of his life" Dale's luck had been "glass-half-empty or glass-never-fucking-was". Those words are all you need to know. You know how this story goes, you've heard it before. However, like a good reliable rock band, you can count on the experience.

That's ten of these tracks, ten of forty. Does that mean I only enjoyed these ten? Not in the slightest. This is one of the most enjoyable fiction anthologies you are likely to encounter this year. Editor Joe Clifford and  the other folks that worked on this one have something to be proud of. If anyone reading this review has any doubt when I say that we are living in a golden age of pulp fiction, they have only to pick up this one volume when it is released and be ushered into a world of great, dark, amazing stories. I promise that you will be grateful that you got this one and I can guarantee that there will be at least one writer here whose work you will want to better familiarize yourself with after you've closed the book. So says the Pulp Chronicler, this one's a MUST own.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

NEWS: Broken River Books to release Ed Dinger novel

J David Osborne from Broken River Books revealed the following on his Facebook:

"ON THE BLACK by Ed Dinger will be released in mid-November from Broken River Books.

"A former private detective suffering from dementia finds himself in a Philadelphia hotel room with a dead body, a blonde, and a smoking gun in his hand. He has only minutes before the police arrive to unravel what just took place, as well as to solve a mystery from a 1950 case that somehow seems connected."'

Ed Dinger is a name that I do not know but Broken River is a name that I know very well indeed. I would imagine that many of you reading this are also more than familiar with the great work they're doing over there at Broken River. I am very excited about any future release from them. One of the great things that Broken River does is the books consistently always have great artwork. ON THE BLACK is no exception. 

If that doesn't get you excited for ON THE BLACK, folks, I don't know what will. I'll be reviewing it upon release and let you guys know what I think. 

Stay pulpy.