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The Weird Wild West, The Southland, and John Bowie

New book from John Bowie, “Untethered: Dreams of Future Memories” (Red Dog Press; 2020). You may know Bowie as the guy behind the exceptional blog, Bristol Noir.

Interview with Isabel Allende at Fictions Writers Review.

Interview with Ron Corbett, author of “Mission Road” (ECW Press; 2020).

If you’ve bought any books recently from Barnes & Noble, your information my have been compromised.

Review of “The Southland” by Johnny Shaw (Agora Books; 2020)

Review of Keven McQueen’s “Weird Wild West” (Indiana University Press; 2019) at the Cleveland Review of Books.

New fiction by Lance Mason at Close to the Bone.

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Third Degree by Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara, and Charles Salzberg

Anthologies are always tough to pull off. The biggest difficulty is navigating the space between the different voices – this occurs whether one reads a short story anthology or an anthology of novellas such as “Third Degree: 3 Authors, 3 Novellas” by Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara, and Charles Salzberg (Down & Out Books; 2020). Add to that that a novella itself is a difficult beast – does it have the room of a novel or the urgency of a short story? I lean toward the latter. Oddly, all three novellas – “Cut Loose All Those Who Drag You Down” by Ross Klavan, “Beaned’ by Tim O’Mara, and “The Fifth Column” by Charles Salzberg – are told in the first person which forced me to have an extended paused between readings, sort of a palate cleanser between voices.

Klavan’s novella, which was my favorite of the three, is told by a narrator who seemingly can’t keep a coherent thread going. Klavan’s seemingly disjointed tale works well mainly because of a staple of crime fiction – the unlikeable character. Ex-Doctor Solly is so unlikeable you wouldn’t want to buy him a beer, but Solly kept my interested through out.

I did have problems with O’Mara’s and Salzberg’s novellas for different reasons. In “Beaned”, nothing happened in the first several chapters, not few or a couple, but several chapters. As a reader, I need to be grabbed at the beginning and not teased with something that may or may not happen in the future. “The Fifth Column” uses the a crime fiction trope usually found in police procedurals or detective stories – I call it the gut trope. The gut trope is one where the protagonist, against all logic, follows a path to a crime and its criminals that no one would have thought of. I’m not a huge fan of the gut trope, but if you are an aficionado of police procedurals, you will probably enjoy Salzberg’s novella.


This review was part of a blog tour. To see other reviews of “Third Degree” click here.

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Books

Time, Violence, and Council Estates

“Time, Violence, and Council Estates” features links about our relationship to time, growing up as a child of a cop, book reviews, interviews, etc.

Interview: Dr. Adrian Bardon, a philosopher of time, on why time feels so right now (Vox)

News: Oh, for fuck’s sake (Lit Hub)

Essay: Kylie Logan, author of “The Secrets of Bones”, on growing up as a child of a police officer (Criminal Element)

Book Review: “All Things Violent” by Nikki Dolson (Fahrenheit Press) (Do Some Damage)

Book Review: “Nightmare Asylum and Other Deadly Delights” by Sonia Kilvington (Close to the Bone) (Messy Business)

Photographs: Daniel Frasnay (Fragments of Noir)

Book: “Tales from The Longcroft Estate” by Darren Sant (Close to the Bone)

Thanks for stopping by Unlawful Acts and reading “Time, Violence, and Council Estates”. For more Small Crimes, click here.

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Books

Small Crimes: Thursday Reads

Pushing Water by Dana King | Small Crimes, The Taco Bell Edition

Small Crimes, the Thursday edition, features Taco Bell, Willie Nelson, Chris Rhatigan, Frank Zafiro, Max Booth III, Spelk, Fragments of Noir, and Dana King.

Podcast: Chris Rhatigan interviewed by Frank Zafiro (Wrong Place, Write Crimes)

Book Review: “We Need to do Something” by Max Booth III (Perpetual Motion Machine) (Jay Wilburn)

Short Story: “Happy Hour at the Pussy Cat Club” by Laure Van Rensburg (Spelk)

Interview: “The editor of Taco Bell Quarterly explains how to make art out of a fast food brand” by Constance Grady (Vox)

Movie Posters: More Film Noir (Fragments of Noir)

Music: “All 143 Willie Nelson Albums, Ranked” – this is a seriously good article (Texas Monthly)

Pre-Order Book: “Pushing Water” by Dana King (Down & Out Books)

Thank you for stopping by and reading the latest edition of Small Crimes.

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Never Go Back by Jason Beech

Could any disrespectful English tale exist without trains? Trains are to England as cars are to Springsteen, they’re fucking everywhere. At the beginning of Jason Beech’s “Never Go Back” (Close to the Bone), we meet Barlow Vine on the 3:15 from Manchester to Sheffield. Vine is fleeing both Spain and a woman, but there’s the immediate problem of a passenger, a beast of a bald man, looking to bully anyone weaker than himself.

Instead of the classic good-hearted bad guy trope, Beech constricts the space around Vine forcing him to react to the bully. True, he had those tropish feelings already, but the fun, and writer’s work, is how you get there. Beech gets us there in style.

After the altercation, the train leaves Vine off at Sheffield, and Vine’s best only friend’s lame-ass welcoming home sets his mood for an evening of dark pints. Hell, Beech even works out a well-executed Dad joke with “Bollocks to that. I needed a drink now, and I’d learned how to drink Han Solo.”

Vine gets into a few tussles, but in Beech’s “Never Go Back”, each of these encounters has ramifications. Turns out, if you get your head slammed up against a brick wall, there are symptoms for that. So as Barlow Vine skulks about the the streets of Sheffield, his head is swimming in the delirium of post-concussion syndrome.

Too much to think about in my dehydrated state. I could drink a lake and eat the ducks which faffed around on it. I limped to the little window on the legs of an astronaut who’d been in space too long. My nose demanded attention now my headache had subsided. The grey light outside hit me like sunburst. Forced me to turn away. I squinted away the sear and tried again.

No shoulder wound cliches here.

“Never Go Back” is told from Vine’s perspective, a man driven by outside forces throughout, though he would disagree, he believes he is in complete control. This confusion between Vine’s reality and his interpretation is one of the great conflicts that propels the reader through this gritty crime novel.

Englishness oozes out of “Never Go Back” like Royal blood drips out of a Parisian car accident. There were times I found myself on Google street view following in Vine’s footsteps or pining for my English pub during the quarantine.

Beech scores a perfect hat trick with “Never Go Back” with writing, execution, and story all at a top-notch level. Great lines like “The bar heaved” or scenes like “The pub across the road invited me back in. So warm. Good beer. Too crammed, and occupied by a few arseholes, but isn’t that life?’ had me turning the pages swiftly and ignoring the handful of typos and formatting issues I came upon.

Buy: Amazon US |Amazon UK | Amazon CA

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Books

“The Coldest Warrior” by Paul Vidich

After the TV series “The Americans” and reading some John Le Carré, Paul Vidich’s “The Coldest Warrior” (No Exit Press) had an opportunity with me to like it, really like it. I was ready for this, but I stumbled at the beginning of with Vidich’s preface which informs that Frank Olsen, the subject of the documentary “Wormwood”, was Vidich’s uncle. Oddly, I find this sort of admission disarming as do not care how close a piece of fiction comes to reality. I acknowledge that I might be in the minority. Vidich writes, “My novel puts a human face on the Cold War by focusing on the psychological burdens of its characters rather than on Byzantine plot, or high politics.” Hey wait, I’m back on board.

The novel opens in the 1950s with a CIA scientist “falling or jumping” from his hotel window. Then we are in the 70s and “The Coldest Warrior” focuses on Jack Gabriel, the CIA agent tasked with investigating suicide twenty years later. Vidich moves the book along, characters are introduced, stakes are claimed, but my mind keeps on wandering back to the trueness of the book. That admission nagged and nagged at me deterring me from enjoying the book. If you don’t care about such things and are into the Cold War espionage, Paul Vidich’s “The Coldest Warrior” delivers.

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The Best Lousy Choice by Jim Nesbitt

When the opportunity came up for me to review the new book by Jim Nesbitt, I grabbed at the chance. I mean we are doppelgangers after all. Nesbitt’s “The Best Lousy Choice” is the third in his self-published Ed Earl Burch series, a Dallas PI who used be a cop and now skirts the line between good and bad. Nesbitt wraps the reader in a world that most are unfamiliar with. At the beginning of the book, it was late at night sometime around the early ’90s, a World War II vet rides his horse up a mountain switchback to spy on the goings-on in his cousin’s land.

The rider felt the horse rise underneath him in a crow hop toward the rocky edge of the trail, a barely seen boundary with nothing beyond but a free-fall into a black void. He checked the hop, gritting his teeth as he closed the door on the wayward move by pressing his left leg into the horse’s flank while cueing him to move forward, not sideways, with reins and body.

I was a little lost, but immediately hooked. Here I was a reader in a strange land and excited that in some ways was reading my first Western since my childhood.*

Throughout “The Best Lousy Choice”, Nesbitt straddles multiple genres as he sees fit whether its Westerns, PI stories, Military, or Rogue Cop. All of taking from one to give to the other moves this action-packed story along at a frantic pace. Nesbitt writes stories about hard men, harder women, and menacing times–stories I couldn’t help but wonder were stories that Michael Connolly wished he could write.

I could have done without the dream sequences or the many flashbacks, but damn this was a good Border Noir story there filled with gunslingers, crooked cops, and men who would shoot you just to watch you die. Imagine a pill-popping John Wayne setting things “right” for a sizeable paycheck and the adrenaline of danger.

Buy: Amazon

*I was confused in the beginning because in my mind I had placed the story in today’s world when it was mentioned earlier in the Author’s Note that the book took place in the late ’80s / early ’90s. But I persevered.

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The Drive-Thru Crematorium by Jon Bassoff

Let’s get this out of the way, Jon Bassoff’s “The Drive-Thru Crematorium” (Eraserhead Press, 2019) is not in the crime fiction genre and that’s okay. Felonious assaults might be what brought you here but hopefully, you’re more interested in great writing than a trope police procedural or serial killer novel.

Before one reads the first words of Bassoff’s new book, one is struck by the title and the cover. The collage of bent, twisted shapes and its dark earth tones is removed of any comfort by the eyes haphazardly staring back. (I find the eye in the upper left-hand side to be most disconcerting, but the others are gaining.) The conflicting makeup of the title with its ubiquitous “Drive-Thru” and the known but unfamiliar “Crematorium” is genius.

For a short book, “The Drive-Thru Crematorium” is meaty in flesh and words. In the opening chapter, the main character while in the office is forgotten about at his job, “Stanley Maddux had worked at Evergreen Lending for six years before they forgot who he was.” Things don’t escalate in anger or violence, they rudderlessly move along mapping to Maddux’s non-descript life in a nondescript house. Maddux, or Mallory as he’s constantly referred to at a job that is not a job, responds not as a man who’s been beaten down, he responds as a man who has gone through life unnoticed and invisible. Maddux achieves all of this without wanting or trying.

As each chapter ends, the story in “The Drive-Thru Crematorium” shifts but turns unlike our regular day may stray: a screwed-up order at the coffee shop, another weekly strategy change at work, or the unspooled weed wacker that beats you gain. The normalcy that is Maddux’s life is instead challenged by bloody rabbits, people disappearing from photographs, and, of course, the Lifebridge Drive-Thru Mortuary and Crematorium. Even though Maddux is the milquetoast that sits a few bar stools down from you and orders a Bud Lite, Bassoff entrances us.

If I had one problem with the book it was the use of the albino character. But in the context of the story and how Bassoff plays out “The Drive-Thru Crematorium”, the character could have been nothing but an albino. In the right hands, sometimes tropes work.

Bassoff’s “The Drive-Thru Crematorium” has the weirdness of Vonnegut and the dreaminess of Bradbury. Like these other authors, Bassoff takes the man out of the suburbs and twists his reality irreparably. The epigraph of “The Drive-Thru Crematorium” is from Joseph Campbell:

The happy ending is justly scorned as a misrepresentation; for the world, as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved.

There is no going back for Maddox even though he’s willing to work without a desk or even wages. He’s always willing to continue to mildly please. No, his life is headed toward the promised disintegration and dismemberment, and Bassoff kills it.

Buy: Amazon

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The Fragility of Bodies by Sergio Ogluín

Fragility of Bodies

Alfredo Carranza walks into a building he’s familiar with. He goes in unnoticed and makes his way to the roof. The deaths—the four deaths—weigh heavily on him. But it’s the death of the child that disturbs him the most, “I knew that day that I would kill him. That it would fall to me. We all knew it.” A rain had swept through the city and as he stood on the ledge willing himself to jump off, his legs would not move. He reached into his overcoat,s pocket, pulled out a pistol, pressed the barrel to his temple, and “then his hand accomplished what his legs had refused to do.” Thus begins “The Fragility of Bodies” by Sergio Ogluín and translated by Miranda France (Bitter Lemon Press).

Ogluín tells the story of Verónica Rosenthal, a thirty year-old writer for a successful magazine in Buenos Aires, and her investigation into the crimes of Carranza and his subsequent death. Like other good crime novels, “The Fragility of Bodies” is more than catching the bad guy, it’s about character–the investigation is the map that guides Rosenthal, but it is her soul (for lack of a better word) that concerns the reader. Like any young person, Rosenthal thinks herself impervious to the events and lives that surround her, but all of that’s going to change.

When reading “The Fragility of Bodies”, one cannot escape that they are reading a book which goes against the instincts of most North American readers, the written word should almost be invisible. This feeling of being immersed in words works with Ogluín’s novel. The reader journeys into Rosenthal’s life and thoughts which become inseparable from the sentences within.The translation by France is usually unobtrusive, but when needed, France has the ability to remind the reader that we are turning the pages of the written word.

Ogluín’s “The Fragility of Bodies” is a thriller but it’s pace isn’t frantic, rather we delve into the characters and watch them swim among the pages.


Fragility of Bodies
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The Case by Leopold Borstinski

The death of the private investigator (PI) genre is talked about every few years, and much like the short stories, the PI genre is not dying and is not going anywhere. In fact, there plenty around with Joe Clifford’s Jay Porter and Stephen Mack Jones’s August Snow being two shining examples. With “The Case”, Leopold Borstinski joins the PI fray with his character Jake Adkins. Adkins is as hard-boiled as they come. He’s not a man of time because “The Case” spans several decades from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Hired by the wife of his good friend Aaron Rothstein, Adkins is supposed to find out if his friend is cheating on his wife. Everyone in New York knows that Rothstein is stepping out, but Adkins likes the idea of vacationing in Las Vegas while “surveilling” his friend.

Borstinski nails down the bitter detective who lives in a violent and, at times, misogynistic world., and fills “The Case” with clever lines like “I’d drunk enough vodka to knock out the ghosts”. The reader journeys from Vegas in ’79 to New York ’61 to Chicago ’49 and much more. At times, the time jumping got confusing making the reader unsure which storyline was pushing “The Case” along. 


Thanks for stopping by and reading my review of Leopold Borstinski’s “The Case” which is part of a damppebbles blog tour.