Monday, July 13, 2015

REVIEW: Pig Iron by David James Keaton

Well, folks, we've reached the end. This is the end of the line for the ole Chronicler. What's more is we're going out like we should - with a Viking funeral, or a burnt offering. What is being offered up and sent off? A book, of course, but not just any book. It goes by the name of Pig Iron. The author is one near and dear to me, David James Keaton. This book? It'll set your mind ablaze.

Pig Iron is a western but it's a western like all of those trippy spaghetti western movies from the 60's and 70's, mixed with some alternative rock and born into a world post-Bizarro. The plot takes place in the town of Aqua Fria, a town straight out of Django Kill. The wells have run dry and there's a gunslinger named Red who has come to town. I don't know if there's any point in talking much more about this book. I loved it so damn much that I burned it. I liked watching it burn (fire figures prominently in the thing itself, after all) and I could hardly think of a more fitting tribute to the book or the man who wrote it.

Keaton is a man working and writing his ass off on the frontlines in the war against literary complacency. The Last Projector, also by Keaton, was my favorite read of last year. I don't know if Pig Iron will be my favorite this year - it's got Skullcrack City to contend with, after all - but it is a hell of a read. It's got a strange cinematic quality to it that will make you blaze (ha! blaze! get it?) through it and want to return to its pages again and again in the future.

The dialogue is crisp, the characters are rich, the prose is sharp, and the pages burn awful nice. Go and get you a copy. Keep yours on the shelf though.

So there you have it, folks. That's it. Closing up shop. You don't have to go home but you sure as shit can't stay here. I'll be around, of course. You can't get rid of me that easily. So long as there are folks like Tiffany Scandal, Mike Monson, Jake Hinkson, and David James Keaton out there doing what they do best, I'll be around to scream at people until they buy more books.

Friday, May 29, 2015

REVIEW: THE TRIANGLE by J. Buck Williams

Rock n roll and noir. You don't often see those words together, even though if there is a rock n roll of the literary world, its crime fiction. It is surprising, then, that there have been so few attempts at dealing with these themes. However, crime fiction fans can rest assured because J. Buck Williams is in town.

His debut novel The Triangle deals with all the ups and downs of the rock n roll life. Life on the road, life on stage, self - destruction. Its all here. Probably the greatest strength of the novel is that the author writes about his subject so convincingly. This sort of thing could give way to cliche so easily but it does not. This is all to the credit of Williams and his strong prose.

The Triangle is at turns funny and tense and thoughtful. Williams has written a very strong debut and showcased himself as a crime author worth watching.

Friday, May 22, 2015

INTERVIEW: J. Buck Williams

Howdy folks,

Its been a long time but The Chronicler is back. Today and Monday I'll be dealing with an author and a book that you should be paying attention to. The author -- J. Buck Williams. The book -- The Triangle. Its a rock n roll crime novel and it's one you should be grabbing ASAP. I'll review it Monday since this post will run a bit long.

First, however, interviewed the man hisself to see what he had to say. Check it out below.

1) Your novel is, of course, about music and your own background is in music. How do you think your experiences in music have shaped your writing?

In a sense it's kind of a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and a justification for spending 15 years trying really hard at music but never even coming close to making a life of it. I wanted to create the ultimate rock and roll shaggy dog story, plus give outsiders an idea how serious it is--even if it's only for 5 people in a lonely bar at midnight in Wednesday, the people playing are working their asses off, putting their souls into it. People who aren't musicians think playing in a band is kind of a joke. It's not to the people playing. It's really hard to do well, even if you don't like the result.

The last band I played with--my favorite, a surf-noir band out of Seattle called Diminished Men--replaced me as their bass player because I had a kid and a house and a day job that I took pretty seriously, so I couldn't tour much or record in the middle of the week. They wanted someone less bound up. Totally made sense, but I was sad anyway. I was 37 at the time and that was pretty much it. I didn't want to play covers in a crap "dad band," but I wasn't able to be serious enough to keep playing with the musicians I really liked, who I was good enough to play with but needed more from me. So this was kind of a goodbye to rock and roll in my own life.

2) How did The Triangle come to be?

I wrote at night for about a year when my daughter was a baby and I wasn't sleeping much anyway. I put it through a couple of revisions, showed it to a friend or two, sent it to a couple agents...and then my wife and I had a second kid. A few years later, Joe Clifford from Gutter decided he wanted it, so I was happy to sell it. The funny thing was, when I opened the file to edit it, the last time I had opened it was three days before my son was born. I hadn't looked at it for almost three years. Life intervened!

3) Did you move straight from music to fiction or have they both always been important to you?

I've actually wanted to be a novelist since I was old enough to read, and I've always written stories. The Triangle was the fourth novel I started, the second I finished, and the first that was decent enough to be published. I was also into music pretty early--I started as a band geek when I was about 10, then taught myself to play bass when I was 20 or so. So I've always done both. I just changed the time and effort I put into each, like pulling a fader up and down.

4) Similarly, how do you think your music career has influenced your writing career and vice versa?

I can't properly say I had a music career, but playing music taught me persistence and gave me a thick skin. I played a lot of gigs for a dozen people, in a lot of bands that just weren't particularly great. It also taught me how to listen, get real-time feedback, and improvise on the spot, which is a great skill to have in all aspects of life, not just writing.

I've always made a living writing and editing (non-fiction), so it's always been an influence on how my brain works. That probably made me more organized than some musicians--I always was a straight bass player, keeping the beat hard and strong, rarely going off or soloing. That's probably an effect of the discipline required to write and edit.

5) Related to the last two, who/what are your primary literary and musical inspirations?

 I really like Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth, but don't imagine I can write as well as either of them. Roth especially was able to create this sort of "galloping" in the last halves of his best books, where you're racing toward an inevitable and dire conclusion and nothing can stop it. I really admire how he does that but can't even try to imitate it. Otherwise it's specific books more than authors who stand out. "Already Dead" by Denis Johnson. William Gibson's latest, "The Peripheral." I never read much genre except sci-fi. Ursula LeGuin was a favorite. 

Musically, I like guitar rock of all eras, from The Who and The Stones through Zeppelin through The Pixies and The Replacements through Modest Mouse. I've probably listened to more Pink Floyd and Neil Young than anything, and these days lots of Yo La Tengo. For a while I was really into instrumental post-rock like Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros, Tortoise. Brian Eno comes up a lot. Aphex Twin. Miles, Mingus, and Coltrane as far as jazz goes. I hate most modern pop music and I'm a real snob about it but I've leaned to keep it to myself. I judge you silently.

6) If you could only have all of your musical dreams come true or all of your literary dreams come true, which would you choose? Would you give up one for the other completely?

Music in a heartbeat. I can't imagine a more satisfying evening than having somebody else set up all your gear for you, then you get to go out on stage and play for people who are there to listen to you, then somebody breaks your gear down and you basically hang out and party with strangers. The rest of the time you practice your instrument and write songs and go to concerts.

Writing is awful. It's solitary and hard and dull, it's time consuming, it turns you into a misanthrope, and you get no feedback until you're done. You may have spent the last year working on crap that will never see an audience, but you'll never know it until it's too late.

I always played music out of pure desire. I write because I'm compelled and it's what I'm best at. It's a different sin, lust (music) versus pride (writing), if that makes sense.

7) What's next for you? Working on more books (might I suggest)?

My next book will be a crime-noir mystery/satire set in the weird tech island of San Francisco in the current tech boom, or tech bubble as the case may be. It's tentatively titled "Idempotent" and will feature mysterious murders of homeless people and artificial intelligence. Probably not much music, though

8) Why do you think there aren't more rock and roll themed crime novels?

I hadn't really thought about it before. I don't know! Maybe because rock and roll is supposed to be frivolous and fun and crime is supposed to be taken very seriously? I think some of Stephen King's early books had rock music featured pretty prominently, didn't they? But you're right, it's a pretty rare combo.

Thanks to J. Buck Williams for talking to me. The book is a wonderful read, y'all. Watch this space for a review on Monday!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

REVIEW: Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Skullcrack City is, by my estimation, a perfect book. It might have warts and bruises (though I couldn't point them to you if you asked) but I don't mean to say that its a book without flaws. It perfectly accomplishes what a book is supposed to, what a book can, in 2015.

Jeremy Robert Johnson is a novelist whose head is so full of ideas and the purest essence of Story that the book practically explodes when you open it. Moving at a breakneck speed, Skullcrack City never lets up. I was skeptical of its size when I started it because many books have at least SOME filler in them. Not this one. Johnson doesn't have time for filler.

Next, Skullcrack City is a novel that defies genre and classification. It features moments of pure poetry and moments of terror. Its funny and sad and sober and bizarro. Genres are useful for selling books and sometimes for finding similar books to one that you really enjoyed but genre lines are not visible to truly great authors and Johnson is one of the best I've encountered this year. Skullcrack City doesn't hold your hand. It expects you to keep up and you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you let it pass you by.

Skullcrack City is a perfect book because it is an entertaining, exciting book that still refuses to pander to anyone or hold back in any area. It can be challenging because you are in the hands of a truly talented writer but he never lets anything get in the way of the story he's telling. Do yourself a favor and buy this book and keep your eye on Johnson and Lazy Fascist Press.

Here's the details on Skullcrack City...

 "Life as a corporate drone was killing S.P. Doyle, so he decided to bring down the whole corrupt system from the inside. But after discovering something monstrous in the bank’s files, he was framed for murder and trapped inside a conspiracy beyond reason.

     Now Doyle’s doing his best to survive against a nightmare cabal of crooked conglomerates, DNA-doped mutants, drug-addled freak show celebs, experimental surgeons, depraved doomsday cults, and the ultra-bad mojo of a full-blown Hexadrine habit. Joined by his pet turtle Deckard, and Dara, a beautiful missionary with a murderous past, Doyle must find a way to save humankind and fight the terrible truth at the heart of Skullcrack City."

Monday, January 19, 2015

REVIEW: The Lost Level by Brian Keene

Today we are going to have a look at a new novel from an author that I should have already had much more experience with: Brian Keene. His new book, The Lost Level, was already out for Kindle and comes out today in paperback. I can hardly think of a book more appropriate for review on this site.

The Lost Level is a pulp adventure novel in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Much like the Pellucidar series by Burroughs, The Lost Level concerns itself with a man who finds himself in a bizarre lost world. In The Lost Level, that man is Aaron Pace.

Pace is a man with an interest in the occult. This interest leads him to inter dimensional travel. However, that travel eventually leads him to The Lost Level, a dangerous place where the sun never sets and all manner of bizarre and threatening things await.

All manner is not hyperbole here. You've got dinosaurs. You've got robots. You've got dinosaurs fighting robots. You've got blades of grass that attack those who walk on the grass. You've got giant slugs. Keene's imagination seems limitless here.

That's really the strength of The Lost Level. Brian Keene has entirely succeeded in writing a fun, adventurous novel that keeps the pages turning and makes you want a sequel. Whatever issues the novel has are small compared to the sheer enjoyment you'll get out of this story. It'll remind you why you started reading pulp in the first place.

If "great horror writer doing a pulp adventure novel" appeals to you AT ALL, you need to make this book a priority. You'll love it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

REVIEW: The Deepening Shade by Jake Hinkson

There are great short story writers. Jake Hinkson is one of those. There are also great novelists. Hinkson happens to be one of those too. It is a very rare thing for a writer to be equally comfortable in both the long and short forms but Jake Hinkson proves with his new collection, The Deepening Shade, that he is one of the best.

This volume contains everything great about crime fiction. I honestly, deeply love genre fiction but the best writers know that genres are tools to be used when you're gathering at the well of Story. Hinkson is a guy that has storytelling flowing in his veins. These are deep tales featuring complex characters dealing with complex themes that will haunt you after you've turned the final page. There isn't a single misstep here.

Additionally, I think Hinkson deals with the South in a way that is authentically his own. This is important. Most "Southern fiction" goes on the shelf next to O'Connor and Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe and Daniel Woodrell for marketing reasons, because their style apes one of these other writers. Not so with Hinkson. He deserves this place on the shelf because he's as honestly bold and unique a storyteller in the Southern tradition as there is.

Christian fundamentalism, of more than one stripe, is a recurring theme in this collection but Hinkson does not give easy answers. Indeed, he takes all of these deep concepts like God and love and hate and grief and he puts them in front of you for you to sort out. Reading The Deepening Shade is not a passive experience. Each one of these stories will plant its seed in your brain and leave it there to grow long after the stories themselves are done.

ADR Books has another winner with Hinkson who is one of the best crime writers alive, especially from the South. To miss out on this volume is to miss out on genius.

Monday, December 29, 2014

REVIEW: The Mordecai Slate stories by John Whalen

If you know me and my reading habits, you know that I love weird westerns. Something about the blending of the western genre with horror has always really appealed to me. You may also know that, as far as I'm concerned, there are three names at the top of the weird western pile -- Robert E Howard, Joe Lansdale and Heath Lowrance. Well, now its time to add another to the list.

John Whalen is the author of stories about Mordecai Slate. There are presently two volumes to concern yourself with: Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto and Hunting Monsters Is My Business.

Vampire Siege is, predictably, about Mordecai Slate on the hunt for vampires. Specifically, a wealthy ranchero from New Mexico hires Slate to hunt Kord Manion, the vampire that ravished his daughter. The trick is that Slate is to bring Manion back alive (undead?). This sets the stage for one hell of a ride. Whalen recalls the very best that the genre has to offer. If you want a good, entertaining way to spend your time, you'd be hard pressed to do any better than Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto.

Unless, of course, we are talking about Hunting Monsters Is My Business. That's the name of the brand new collection of stories about Slate by Whalen. As the title might imply, you've got monsters of all varieties being represented here in this volume. They all run afoul of Mordecai Slate and, while he sometimes struggles, he always finishes the job.

That's the cool thing about Slate. He's a professional. There's no ennui or existential crises with this character. He hunts monsters because its a way to get paid and he always gets paid. Imagine Clint Eastwood meets Parker meets the John Carpenter film Vampires. Very highly recommended.

Basically, you need to pick these books up. Tell em the Chronicler sent ya.