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Drainland by Iain Ryan

Drainland by Iain RyanThis is the second book I’ve read that has taken place near and around the coast of Australia’s Queensland – for those of us unfamiliar with this area of Australia imagine the beaches of Florida and the casinos of Las Vegas all mixed in with crime, a lot crime and on both sides of the law. This first book was Andrew Nette’s Gunshine State (280 Steps) which I reviewed in the beginning of November.

Throughout the fall, I saw a lot of Iain Ryan’s Drainland (self-published) on the internets. This can mean two things: either that Ryan is doing a great job self-promoting the book or other readers were recommending the book. Turns out it was both.

Ryan’s Drainland takes place on Tunnel Island, a fictional place where all the cops are as honest as Vic Mackey. When we first meet Laura Romano, we find out she is a cop who has friends in all the wrong people. With a drug problem that includes anything that can be snorted or popped in her mouth, things come quickly crashing down on her as she is finally arrested. But she is offered a life-line as a spot on the Tunnel Island police force just opened up.

When we arrive on Tunnel Island with Romano, both the reader and Romano are trying to get their bearings on what is exactly happening in this decadent resort island. Throwing a not-so recovering drug addict who washes down pills with booze on an island filled with lackadaisical policemen, drugs, gambling and more drugs is a cluster fuck in the making.

Ryan has built an incredible corrupt world filled with dangerous criminals and equally dangerous cops. His writing on the Romano’s constant downfall is incredibly detailed as well as her battle to remain a cop.

Laura Romano looked like hell up close. Her eyes had a creamy red hue to them and seemed to elude focus. A ginger crop of her fringe lay greased to her forehead with sweat. She moved slowly, but was well trained. As soon as she stepped inside she went into cop mode, scanning.

Ryan has several other books on Tunnel Island with Harsh Recovery just out. And with a quick subscription to Ryan’s newsletter, he will give you the prequel, Four Days, gratis. If any of these books are half-as-good as Drainland, I will have some good reading in my new future.

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Leadfoot by Eric Beetner

There is something comforting about getting into the passenger seat of a hot rod driven by Calvin McGraw. You can hear the sound of the pistons; the car shakes and rattles, and the tires rumble over the roadway as corn fields whip on by. It’s like baseball and apple pie made into a book.

Eric Beetner’s latest novel, Leadfoot (Down & Out Books), is a prequel to his wonderful book of this summer, Rumrunners. Set in 1971, Calvin is a much younger man than the one we met in Rumrunners. While Calvin is torn between making runs for the Stanley family or making an honest living teaching stock car racers how to drive, he is showing his son, Webb, the ropes of the McGraw legacy and what it means to be an outlaw..

Like Rumrunners, Beetner masterfully takes us for a ride with Calvin as he tries to outrun the competition from Nebraska, the Cantrells. Beetner also makes us the passenger for the 19-year-old Webb’s first run, picking up a package in St. Louis – a package that happens to be a young woman that the boss Hugh Stanely wants back.

Calvin watched his son pull out of the driveway. He hadn’t told him of his own assignment. The boy didn’t need anything clouding his head on his first solo run. As Calvin watched the Mercury fade away he thought of all the things he didn’t tell his boy, like don’t fuck the girl. Women in the shotgun seat always came with a side of trouble. He also should have given him a lesson in how to talk— or not to say a goddamn word— to the men he was picking up the package from. Show up, drive the car, get the cargo and go. But shit, this was all stuff Calvin had been educating the boy in since the day he took to two wheels on a bicycle in the park.

Calvin watched with pride. His boy was a man today. He was a McGraw.

Beetner’s Leadfoot is filled with the darkness of dangerous drives that evoke the thrill of the road, much like Bruce Springsteen’s earlier music. Past the stylings and engines of American muscle cars, Beetner’s Leadfoot exposes a world of outlaw freedom and outlaw justice.

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Histories of the Dead by Math Bird

Histories of the Dead by Math BirdMath Bird’s Histories of the Dead (All Due Respect Books) is a collection of crime stories set in Wales, all published over the last four years. If the characters are not directly involved in crime, their lives are skating along the periphery of lawlessness. The book opens with the eponymous short story about a man dealing with his friend’s murder. Should he try to get revenge or not?

The realizaiton that Stevey is dead returns to me in flashes. Like a rotten tooth, it suddenly strikes a nerve and throbs inside me. It’s nothing anyone says that brings it all back. It’s these old Beatles songs he used to love. They keep playing them on the radio.

In “All the Hungry Ghosts”, a scar-faced underling on an old boss not only has to deal with his boss’ demands, he has to stomach the outrages behavior his boss has towards the boss’ new mail-order bride.

Usually, Wales is just a detailed backdrop to Bird’s stories, but in “This Land of the Strange”, the countryside becomes a player in helping or hindering the escape of the main character from the pursuit of two London criminals.

Jernegan marched towards the trees, then stepped into the woods. He breathed deeply, inhaling the sweet smell of pine. He carried on walking, following the trail, his feet squelching in the mud. Occasionally, he gazed up at the sky, at the huge grey clouds drifting over him. He hoped the rain would lead them here, running for shelter, like two lambs to the slaughter.

I only had problem with the reading on one story and that was “The Devilfish” which is told from the point of view of a woman with dementia. This is most likely more problem in my reading and not the writer’s issue. The moments of Bird’s Histories of the Dead that stuck with me the most were honest looks at people on the fringes of society.

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The Motel Whore by Paul Heatley

Motel Whore by Paul HeatleyI came across Paul Heatley‘s The Motel Whore (self-published) via Paul Brazill’s review of the book calling it “sad, brutal and completely enthralling.” Shit, I cannot disagree with him at all, though I might add to it by calling in a minor masterpiece — minor in that The Motel Whore is just a novella.

We witness more or less one day in the life of Joanie as she exists in the motel, servicing both customers and her motel-owning pimp. Heatley’s descriptions of Joanie’s life are overly depressing as she tries to compartmentalize her life using her room and bathroom.

The bathroom shines, painfully clean. Bottles of bleach sit half-empty on the linoleum floor next to the toilet. The showerhead leaks, but it gleams. It is used often, to wash, to wash the waste of customers from between her legs or inside her mouth or from upon her chest before she moves on to the next. Not all of them will wear a condom. She never forces the issue. Pregnancy is not a concern. Pregnancy is impossible, a womb destroyed by cheap, careless abortions. Diseases are not a concern. Diseases are cast from her mind. Life is the disease. She has the life. She can’t shake the life.

But she cannot escape the stench. Even a brief foray to a diner gives her no respite. The Motel Whore is not a redemption story, Heatley just gives us the facts of Joanie in bleak descriptive prose. The Motel Whore is a stunning work.

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Gunshine State by Andrew Nette

Andrew Nette‘s Gunshine State (280 Steps), as the author put it The Rap Sheet is “a quintessentially Australian take on the heist-gone-wrong novel.” Actually, as Nette called it an attempt, though I thought he quite nailed it.

The novel begins with Gary Chance helping out with a small-time heist, a heist that goes terribly wrong. Chance has to get out of Port Pirie, South Australia, fast and, ten hours later, he finds himself in Surfers Paradise, Queensland — the Gunshine State. This time a new heist as a hired hand, but he hoped that things would go better.

He could think of half a dozen holes in the plan. He always could. Even supposedly fool proof plans something could always go wrong. But he liked the relative simplicity of what Curry had proposed, the absence of too many moving parts. With a bit of luck it could work.

But as you probably already know this heist will go upside down too. Nette does a great job of having us follow Chance pre- and post-heist as he tries to figure out what went wrong, how he can fix, and, most importantly, how he can get revenge.

In the article, Nette wrote for The Rap Sheet, he talks of influences on the novel:

There are several literary influences behind Gunshine State. I am, for instance, a big fan of the Crissa Stone books by Wallace Stroby (Shoot the Woman First, The Devil’s Share). I was also conscious that what I was creating could be viewed as a darker version of Australian writer Garry Disher’s Wyatt novels, which are already pretty hard-boiled. But my most obvious inspiration—and one of my favorite crime-fiction protagonists ever—is the master thief known as Parker, created by Richard Stark, aka Donald E. Westlake.

I haven’t read Stroby or Stark, but I guess they are moving up on my To-Be-Read List. Equally as important, I’ll need to take a gander at two other books by Nette: Ghost Money and his collection of short stories, Crime Scenes.

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Cleaning Up Finn by Sarah M. Chen

Cleaning Up Finn by Sarah M ChenFinn Roose likens himself as a player as he hits on female customers of a chain restaurant that he manages in Sarah M. Chen‘s Cleaning Up Finn (All Due Respect Books). Chen does not paint an appetizing picture of Finn’s despicableness and even though he is somewhat a likeable loser, he thinks much more of himself.

Finn’s latest target is Rhonda Havemeyer aka Ronnie.

Finn flashed his most charming smile. Oh boy, a college student. How he did love the college students. They were at that ideal age, the perfect combination of naïveté and bold self-assurance. Eager to try anything.

The only catch was, after their date, she disappears and the police suspected foul play. Chen’s novel retraces Finn’s last five days as he tries to figure out what happened. Cleaning Up Finn also looks at Finn’s past on how he got to be managing a restaurant, how he went to jail, and his strained relationship with his best friend from high school. Finn isn’t someone you’d want to bring home to meet Mom and Dad; shit, he isn’t even someone you would want to have a few beers with. But to Chen’s credit, she creates a character that most would despise, you do find yourself rooting for him now and then.

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Three Kinds of Fool by Matt Phillips

It doesn’t take long in Matt PhillipsThree Kinds of Fool (All Due Respect Books), for regret to set in on the main character, it takes two paragraphs.

Jess Forsyth took the same freeway exit as Mikey Watt— it was east of the city— and powered his black Nissan mini-truck past a smattering of half-assed mobile homes flanked by dirt lots and rusted swing sets. Up ahead, Mikey’s taillights flashed red at a four-way stop and Jess slowed for a moment, watched Mikey through the yellow cab’s rear window as he looked both ways and punched the gas.

Jess said to himself, “I shouldn’t be doing this.”

Three Kinds of Fool is the story of an ex-con who has gotten his shit together by leading a somewhat normal life of cleaning pools and surfing. But Jess doesn’t always make the best decisions and it doesn’t help matters much that he likes drinking in dive bars frequented by old criminal associates. Jess meets up with Mikey and they head out to a beach house ostensibly for an introduction to a man who has a job for them to do, a job that would entail a little bit of trouble. The reader finds out quickly that Jess has gotten himself neck deep into some serious shit.

Phillips’novel is part history, how Jess became a convict and his friendship with the store owner he held up, how Jess attempts to dig himself out of the mess Watt go him into, and  will Jess ever be able to get back to his newly established boring life. I quite enjoyed Three Times of Fool.

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Rumrunners by Eric Beetner

Eric Beetner‘s Rumrunners (Down & Out Books) accomplished two firsts for me: this is the first book I’ve read by Beetner and the first book I’ve read from the publisher, 280 Steps. This was followed quickly by the fact that I will be reading more books by Beetner and 280 Steps in the near future.

Rumrunners opens with an old man at a donut counter where Calvin McGraw gets into an argument with the hipster-donut-slinger about electric cars.

“What’s wrong with electric cars?”

Calvin rolled his eyes. He wanted to sit and watch his cars in silence. Longing and regret about the past was a solitary hobby.

“Nothing other than everything. They’re fuckin’ stupid.”

“I happen to drive a Prius.”

“Of course you do.” Calvin swiveled on his stool. He wasn’t sure if the skinny guy was being bold because Calvin’s age made him feel safe, but he was sure the guy had no clue who he was dealing with.

The hipster didn’t and, as Rumrunners progresses, neither does anyone else who encounters the McGraws.

Beetner’s novel is the story of two Iowa crime families, the Stanelys who are trying run Iowa City, and the McGraws who do the Stanely’s smuggling. These two multi-generational families square off between lies and betrayal, as the McGraws have to stay ahead of the threats and bullets of the Stanleys using the only thing they know, good old Detroit-made cars. Rumrunners is a great American road drama filled with speed, drugs, murder and treachery. The prequel, Leadfoot, comes out tomorrow and I’ll be reading it.

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The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

The unnamed character in Fuminori Nakamura’s The Thief (Soho Crime) is a savant at picking victims as well as picking pockets. He skirts through existence drinking canned coffee, riding trains, and lifting wallets. But this thief has his own troubles, the first of which are images of towers that have plagued him his whole life, “When I was young, there was always the tower in the distance.” Several times throughout The Thief different images of the tower come to him whether “… an enormous iron tower flashed by me with a loud roar” or “When the tower appeared in front of me, the dirty black plastic moved into clearer focus. I stared at the pathetic, flesh-like trash.”

Towards beginning of the book, the ant-hero comes across a young boy, the son a of prostitute.

I noticed a mother with her child and I stopped. The woman, her damaged hair tied in a ponytail, touched the boy lightly with her knee. At that moment he slipped a packet of fish fillets into the Uniqlo bag he was carrying. A towel had been placed inside and by shaking the paper bag the stuff was hidden. My heart skipped a beat and I was annoyed with myself. The child was seizing the items earnestly, as though trying to live up to his mother’s expectations. He was skillful, and he seemed determined that even if he were caught his mother wouldn’t be blamed.

It is apparent that the boy reminds the thief of himself at a young age, though he consistently denies this to himself. The boy quickly attaches himself to the thief and becomes his second problem as our anti-hero doesn’t know what to do with him: ignore the boy, teach the child the craft, make the mother take better care of her child, or turn the boy over to the authorities.

The last of the thief’s troubles is that he, by way of a friend, is unwillingly recruited for a home invasion/burglary. The leader of the gang that recruited him is a bit tough —”They say a couple of people have run away from him and ended up dead. He’s relentless, I hear.”

The action is quite limited in Nakamura’s novel, but the despair is not as The Thief is filled with sadness.. The novel is more in line with Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment than with Hammett, Thompson and others. Even though a constant pathos that permeates through all the characters, The Thief was a worthwhile read.

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Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson

With books published by New Pulp Press, BEAT to a PULP, and Crime Factory Publications, it was no wonder that I had never heard of Jake Hinkson before. (Yeah, I’m new to this, but learning fast.) The classic noirs seem to get all the press. Since Hinkson’s book, Hell on Church Street, was the July selection of the Pulp Fiction Group at Goodreads, so I felt obliged and I am glad I did.

Hell on Church Street (280 Steps) has the guts of Jim Thompson, the storytelling of Joseph Conrad and a sprinkling of Nabokov’s Lolita. Hinkson begins the book with an unnamed narrator, a man with a short temper, on the run from the law, and looking for an easy mark to roll. The mark he finds is a fat man name Geoffrey Webb, but this robbery is not going to be as easy as he thought. Even with a gun pressed to the back of his head, Webb, the “victim”, was going to be robbed his way and he had a story to tell first.

The new narrator, Webb, talks of his abusive father without any excuses and then how the church may or may not have saved him.

I’m not an intimidating man. Believe me, I know. But I’m not talking about being intimidating. I used to be the safest man you could imagine. At one time, years ago, so many people loved me and trusted me you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve known the kind of trust that few people are ever afforded. And I betrayed it. So now I guess I deserve the termite life I’ve been living. I deserve to die the way I’m going to die. I betrayed everyone who ever trusted me, and God saw fit to cast me down with the termites. No amount of forgiveness or understanding will change what I’ve done.

At it’s simplest, Hell on Church Street, is the story of an awkward man hired as a youth minister. He has a fine porn collection and attracted to his minister’s 15-year-old daughter. Set in modern times, though prior to the internet, Hinkson’s novel spins the decline of a decadent man and his lame-ass attempt at redemption. I can only say that Hell on Church Street is good, real good; it may even be great, but that is something some that comes with time and multiple re-reads.

Originally posted on September 02, 2016. Updated on October 30, 2016.