Matt Phillips’ Bad Luck City (Near to the Knuckle) opens weirdly, even the narrator, a newspaper reporter, says so, “Editors will tell you that most great stories start with a major conflict, some kind of tension unresolved. I’d agree with that, but sometimes there’s a story that’s simmering, a narrative not quite ready to boil. That’s how I felt about my life. It kept wanting to start, kept feeling like it might be starting, but in the end I was 36–years–old and my story never got going.”
But after that Sim Palmer’s life kicks off in a run-down airport bar. A stranger meets up with Palmer to give him a tip on a story which involves human trafficking and the search for a young woman. Matt Phillips’ Bad Luck City is an open vein of noir: Palmer’s apartment is bathed in red neon light, lunches are meant to be drunk not eaten, and the narrator tries to tread water in a sea of hotel moguls, gangsters and the Vegas streets that tourists fear to tread.
“This is a Colt Detective Special, a .38 snubnosed belly gun,” he said. “It’ll shoot a man’s belly out his lower back, Sim. And one day, when I die, this gun’s gonna be yours.”
“I can shoot people?”
My dad shook his head. “You only shoot people if they do you wrong, if they deserve it. It’s better to come at life with a strategy. You watch the moves and then you make your own—like on the chess board. You remember how I taught you that game, the one where all the pieces move in different directions?”
“See, Sim,” my dad said, “shooting a man is like knocking over his king before the game is over. It’s only right under certain circumstances.”
“Like right now?”
He nodded. “Like right now,” he said.
Palmer tears away at dark canvas surrounding him, trying to grasp at some sort of light that he can apply some sense too. But this is noir and Palmer is bound to fail. Matt Phillips’ Bad Luck City is a book that any crime writer would have wanted to write and any crime fiction fan needs to read.
In a couple of weeks, Matt Phillips’ Accidental Outlaws (All Due Respect Books) will be released. Bad Luck City is now the second Phillips book I’ve read, Three Kinds of Fool (All Due Respect Books) was the first. One more to go and that is Redbone (Number Thirteen Press) which Eryk Pruitt said, “In Redbone, Matt Phillips speaks fluently the language of the dispossessed … His whiskey-soaked prose can at times be as slick as a man slinging snake-oil, and other times as brutal as a baseball bat to the back of the head.” I can’t wait.