Accidental Outlaws by Matt Phillips

Imagine a town somewhere in the desert. Between this town and the hills are a people living in desperation from paycheck to paycheck and with future that may include tomorrow if they are lucky. Matt Phillips calls this land The Mesa in his new collection of novellas, Accidental Outlaws (All Due Respect Books), which by the way is the best thing he’s ever written.

Not only are the stories connected the land and its people, the continuous appearance of a drifter named Packard throughout helps bind them together.

Ronnie finished slicing the ham and put it into one of the low coolers, a backup for later. When he stood and looked back out the window he saw a Harley Davidson motorcycle coming down the highway like a banshee. It was only a moment until he heard the engine roar into the Chevron parking lot. The rider, with long hair and a white beard, wore a leather vest with a reaper on the back. Middle-aged guy, maybe early forties. Young enough that his white beard was a trip.

“Mesa Boys”, the first novella of Matt Phillips’ wonderful book, Packard robs a Chevron-gas-station-slash-Subway-sandwich-shop and leaves with only a few dollars and a “free” meatball sub. Ronnie, the sandwich maker, lives like everyone else in The Mesa where “an outlaw stench hung everywhere alongside the dust; in the saloons, the diners, the tattoo parlors. That stench hung like air over The Mesa.” Ronnie’s friend and landlord Marl has come up with a scheme for them to steal a restored Bronco from Ronnie’s uncle and then sell it for parts. Financially, shit wasn’t going well for Ronnie and he needed something more, something t

Like most of the characters in Accidental Outlaws, Matt Phillips understands that many are getting pushed down into a hole of crime, not so much to make ends meet, but just to give them that boost, that footing so that they may have a chance in succeeding. In “The Feud”, Rex and Lou hit golf balls into the desert and then towards their neighbor’s house who responds with gunshots.

Rex goes to work each day, working hard and hating his job just as hard.

Rex found himself dead-tired after work. Tired as a damn dog.

Each day it was the same: He got there at seven and helped unload any new deliveries. They used a forklift when they could, but the place was old and had some tight spaces. Sometimes that meant moving things by hand, one piece at a time. The guys Rex worked with, they laughed at him. Shit, he knew it wasn’t the hardest work—it wasn’t digging ditches or laying asphalt under the desert sun.

No, Rex had it easy.

But if this was easy, and if it was all he’d ever be—man, Rex wasn’t good with that.

Not a chance.

It is this working-class spirit that fuels the pages. Matt Phillips’ Accidental Outlaws is not so much crime fiction rather it is the story of men and women pushed by drugs and everyday life

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