Incident Report

Incident Report No. 87

Photograph by Dacian Dorca (CC BY)

The Incident Report No. 87 features highlights from the Small Crimes posts I run almost every day. If you don’t have the time to read the daily missives then this might just be for you.

Several months ago, Chris Rhatigan, publisher of All Due Respect Books, asked if I’d like to help out his plan on resurrecting the All Due Respect zine. The idea was simple: we would publish hard-as-nails crime fiction with a touch of drinking money sent to the writers. I was already used to reading a slush pile. Years ago I use to read the slush pile for a literary magazine in Boston but reading so many stories again was definitely eye-opening with what makes or breaks a short story.

Luckily for y’all, over at Do Some Damage, Rhatigan lays down some guidelines that could be followed when writing short stories.

You don’t need a twist to construct a good short story. In fact, one of the most common mistakes I see is writers constructing stories that are built around a twist. In other words, the first three-quarters of the story seems to express, “wait for it, wait for it, the twist is coming!” Every part of a story should be engaging—not just the end. A related problem is that twists are so common that the law of diminishing returns kicks in. I would imagine most readers have seen plenty of twist endings. 

Simple plots that are handled with expert care and focus on a natural progression of events tend to make stronger stories.

Throughout Rhatigan’s “One Approach To Writing Short Stories”, he also recommends some great examples by Tom Pitts, Paul D. Brazill, and Stephen D. Rogers.

Over at LitReactor, Max Booth III wrote about trigger warnings in horror fiction and, not surprisingly, there’s a lot of carryover to the crime fiction genre.

Imagine the following scenario: You are lounging on the couch wanting nothing more than to chill out with a cool-ass horror book. You are enjoying everything going on in the story until—whoa wait what the absolute fuck suddenly—you’ve come across a random rape scene, and now instead of having a good time you are reliving a past traumatic experience from your own life. Your entire goddamn day is ruined. Replace “rape” with “suicide” and it’s the same outcome. All you can think about now is a lost loved one who took their own life or perhaps the long struggle you faced overcoming personal suicidal ideations. Or, to continue with one more example, imagine reading a book where a young child dies in a gruesome manner soon after losing your own child. No way are you in any mental state to possibly continue reading. Shit like that is very likely to wreck you.

I feel I’m giving this essay short shrift, but it’s quality especially given Booth’s wearing of multiple hats in the horror genre: writer, editor, publisher, reviewer, and fan.

The fifth book of Dana King’s Penns River series, “Pushing Water” (Down & Out Books), recently came out, and King has been busy. There’s his Do Some Damage article about writing police procedurals which is quite informative.

It bothers me that so many people think what they “learn” in cop and courtroom novels and shows are how things really are. It creates unhealthy ideas of how law enforcement works, or doesn’t. To feel one has to choose between realism and entertainment is a door to lazy writing. There’s no reason the story can’t be both.

Then King’s off to be interviewed by Dietrich Kalteis at Off the Cuff.

I read cop memoirs to get an idea of how they think. I still leaf through Connie Fletcher’s books of cops’ stories. Adam Plantinga’s books 400 Things Cops Know and Police Craft are wonderful resources. Ask some cops how cases get solved and they’ll tell you it’s usually because someone talks.

But wait there’s more!

King interviewed Tom Pitts on the eve of his upcoming release Cold Water (Down & Out Books). Pitts talked about his new book.

I think the Everyman facing insurmountable odds is a powerful theme, and very relatable. I wanted to write something akin to Joe Lansdale’s Hot in December or Cold in July, but my own version. And in Northern California. And I wanted it to play out in a few locations, not just San Francisco. I think the suburban sprawl is under-represented in fiction. Gentrification has made the big cities so banal. Where’s the hunger, where’s the struggle, where’s the passion? In the burbs, baby.

Other Articles

Adam Scovell on reading crime fiction during the pandemic (3:AM Magazine)

Alex George on letting it all burn, “Why Do Some Writers Burn Their Work” (Lit Hub)

“The Comprehensive Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Working with an Editor” by Chantel Hamilton (Jane Friedman)

“Author Spotlight: Andrew Davie” by Scott Cumming (Eight Million Books to Read)

Rachel Howzell Hall and Alex Segura discussed crime fiction (Writer’s Digest)

“The Origins of Scandinavian Noir” by Wendy Lesser (The Paris Review)

Book Reviews

“This Letter to Norman Court” by Pabo D’Stair (All Due Respect Books) (Col’s Criminal Library)

“Love is a Grift” by Graham Wynd (Fox Spirit Books) (Sonia Kilvington)

“We Need To Do Something” by Max Booth III (Perpetual Motion Machine) (Dead End Follies)

“Dead Man’s Mistress” by David Housewright (Minotaur) (Kevin’s Corner)

“Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron) (So Much To Talk About)

“Sordid: Five Crime Stories” by Harry Hunsicker (Kevin’s Corner)

“Broken Dreams” by Nick Quantrill (Fahrenheit Press) (Ian Ayris)

“The Waiting Rooms” by Eve Smith (Orenda Books) (Crime Fiction Lover)

“Rock and a Hard Place Issue #2” (Eight Million Books to Read)

Featured Books

“Shotgun Honey Presents Volume 4: Recoil” edited by Ron Earl Phillips (Shotgun Honey)

“Throwing Off Sparks” by Michael Pool (PI Tales)

“The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men” by Tom Leins (All Due Respect Books)

“We Need To Do Something” by Max Booth III (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing)

“Nightmare Asylum and other Deadly Delights” by Sonia Kilvington (Close to the Bone)

“The Brooklyn Trilogy” by Robert J. Randisi (Down & Out Books)

Thanks for stopping by to read Incident Report No. 87. If you’d like to read more posts like this, please click here.


Delinquents, Reading, and Finding Bodies

Throwing Off Sparks by Michael Pool  | Delinquents, Reading, and Finding Bodies

“Delinquents, Reading, and Finding Bodies” features Rachel Howzell Hall, Alex Segura, the problem with reading in a pandemic, book reviews, and much more.

Conversation: Rachel Howzell Hall and Alex Segura discussed crime fiction (Writer’s Digest)

Article: A neuroscientist on why it may be difficult for you to read (Vox)

Short Story: “A World Full of Strangers” by Stephen J. Golds (Bristol Noir)

Book Review: “Love is a Grift” by Graham Wynd (Fox Spirit Books) (Sonia Kilvington)

Book Review: “We Need To Do Something” by Max Booth III (Perpetual Motion Machine) (Dead End Follies)

Book Review: “Dead Man’s Mistress” by David Housewright (Minotaur) (Kevin’s Corner)

Book Review: “Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron) (So Much To Talk About)

Film: K.A. Laity watched “The Party’s Over”, directed by Guy Hamilton (Punk Noir)

Photographs: Dave Jordano (Fragments of Noir)

Book: “Throwing Off Sparks” by Michael Pool (PI Tales)

Thanks for stopping by Unlawful Acts and reading “Delinquents, Reading, and Finding Bodies.: For more Small Crimes, click here.


Blackout by Alex Segura

When I read a P.I. novel there are certain expectations I have, but I’m not a monster as I hope these tropes to be played with, twisted and even destroyed. Even though Alex Segura’s “Blackout” is marketed as a detective novel, it’s not a P.I. novel, it’s a thriller where the protagonist happens to be a P.I. rather than a spy or something along those lines. Thinking back to Segura’s “Dangerous Ends”, the Pete Fernandez Mystery series does lean more toward the thriller genre.

And action-packed “Blackout” is with the mob chasing Fernandez, a Miami gang still gunning for him, political intrigue, assassinations, trigger-happy cult followers, Fernandez’s best friend framed for murder, a hurricane fast approaching, and a dead teenage girl from 20 years ago. For me, a bit too much, but I don’t know as thrillers aren’t my bag.

Luckily, I love detestable characters and “Blackout” has Pete Fernandez who is a douche of the highest order–there’s no debate about this. Fernandez’s alcoholism had him destroy all his relationships, Florida is filled with ex-friends and lovers who are pissed at him. Even in New York where “Blackout” begins, we find that Fernandez has walked away from a relationship with a client turned girlfriend and he even disregards good advice from his AA sponsor. Fernandez doesn’t burn bridges when he’s passed them, he lights them afire when he’s walking across.

I liked Fernandez in “Dangerous Ends”, but in “Blackout” he’s digressed to that guy at work that you avoid at all costs. There’s something ballsy about writing a character as abhorrent as Fernandez is in “Blackout”–a character I couldn’t even like. The problem is that I could not find anything to make me root for Fernandez and a reader needs that connection to a protagonist even if it is the thinnest of threads. I’m not looking for a hero, but Fernandez’s unrelenting dickish demeanor was impossible to get past and I don’t know how thriller fans will get by it either.

Amazon: AU CA UK US


Dangerous Ends by Alex Segura

On one of my visits to Miami, I witnessed someone switch without hesitation from Yiddish to English to Spanish. Though New York City might pride itself as the melting pot, Miami lives it each and every day. Alex Segura’s  Dangerous Ends (Polis Book) gets much of its vibrancy and life from Miami’s internacional.

Dangerous Ends opens as Batista’s Cuba crumbles in 1959. Diego Fernandez sits in his home office, his family is on the run to safety, his friends are being slaughtered, and the Cuba Fernandez loves is being destroyed. Then in walks a delegate from Castro’s regime with a job offer: acceptance would be the antithesis of Diego’s life and rejection means certain death. Diego stubbornly sticks with his principles.

Segura then brings us to present day Miami where we meet private investigator Pete Fernandez, who is also the grandson of Diego. Pete is finishing up his surveillance on a cheating husband but before he headed back home, he knew he needed the money shot — so to speak  —, “It was Pete’s job to make these things airtight.” As a private investigator, Pete Fernandez enjoys the monotony of “chasing deadbeat dads for child support money and snagging people on insurance fraud,” but when the opportunity comes up to help his friend and free-lance journalist, Kathy Bentley, investigate the ten-year-old case of a wife-killing narcotics cop, Fernandez cannot say no.

There are a lot of moving parts within Dangerous Ends, but Segura never confuses us with a jumbled cast of characters or drown the reader in new and contrary information as what happens with lesser writers; he’s got it locked down. One of the other pleasures of reading Dangerous Ends is Segura’s mastery at writing little scenes that bask in their truth. Here is Pete Fernandez at a Waffle House.

The door jangled as he opened it and walked into the restaurant. The bright lights coated the place’s yellow and brown décor, giving the space a grimy, painted-on feeling. He took a seat at the counter and nodded as the waitress handed him a sticky plastic menu. Like most nights, the place was empty, except for a group of teenagers plotting their evening and an elderly couple sitting by the windows facing the expressway, finishing their dinner. The faint sound of the Eagles filtered through the overhead speakers, the bland, finger-picky ballad spreading over the evening like lukewarm gravy that needed a bit more salt. He motioned for the waitress, a woman in her late forties named Ruth. She had kind eyes and a cigarette-coated voice that made Pete feel at home, even here in the middle of nowhere. She nodded and walked over.

He didn’t need a menu. He didn’t even need to say his order, but the ritual was part of the pleasure of coming here.

“Hey, hon,” she said. “How’s your night going?”

“So far,” Pete said, “not bad.”

“You look tired,” she said, pulling her notebook from her apron and clicking her pen.

“If you’re perpetually tired, is that a thing?”

“It’s the kind of thing you cure with either coffee, sleep, cocaine, or a doctor’s prescription,” she said. “What’ll it be?”

“Just two scrambled eggs and a side of home fries.”

Ruth smiled and moved toward the kitchen.

But what makes Dangerous Ends really succeed is Segura’s central character, Pete Fernandez. Like his fictional hard-boiled detective predecessors, Fernandez is broken, but unlike them, he is deliberately on the mend. Fernandez might slip in his journey through sobriety, but he isn’t going to fail by ignoring his mistakes either. Fernandez is not some sort of hippie-feel-good-crystal-wearing-self-help-new-millennium guy, he’s just not dumb, though he makes his share of stupid mistakes which just makes him a character who exists off the pages as well as on.

Dangerous Ends is the third in the Pete Fernandez books and the first that I have read. Though I caught spoilers from the earlier works, Segura’s writing is good enough for me to go back and enjoy the earlier books in the Fernandez universe, spoilers be damned.

Amazon: AU CA US