Incident Report

Incident Report No. 99

Photo by Khoa Võ from Pexels


Gabino Iglesias on the crime writing of Paco Ignacio Taibo II at CrimeReads.

“Why Is Publishing So White?” by Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek at The New York Times.

Interview with Ron Rash, author of “In the Valley”, at Southern Review of Books.

Jay Wilburn live-streamed writing 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo.

KKUURRTT and Tex Gresham chat about Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s film “Greener Gass” at Babou 691.

Interview with Erika T. Wurth, author of “Buckskin Cocaine” (Astrophil Press, 2017) at Full Stop.

Tom Quiller, author of “Evergreen” (Dream Paladin Books, 2020), is interviewed by John Wisniewski at Punk Noir Magazine.

“The Long, Dark Legacy of William Hjortsberg’s Supernatural Neo-Noirs” by Andrew Nette at CrimeReads.

Interview with cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, creator of “Bloom County”, at The New York Times.

Interview with crime fiction master Janet Evanovich at CrimeReads.

Brian Morton on the politics of cultural appropriation at Dissent Magazine.

A fantastic essay in The New York Times by Ligaya Mishan, “The Long and Tortured History of Cancel Culture”.

Gabino Iglesias on agents, can’t live with them, can’t stuff them in a sack.

Everyone has a different journey to writing, and Chris Whitaker’s path was certainly odd.

Some new short story collections via Chicago Review of Books.

A short interview with Andrzej Sapkowski, the mind behind “The Witcher”, at Literary Hub.

CrimeReads presents us with a 1965 TV interview with John le Carré.

There’s some much juiciness in Joanna Scutts’s The Times Literary Supplement essay on self-help books and their relationship to literary criticism.

An appreciation of Alison Lurie at the Los Angeles Times.

Electric Lit’s Favorite Short Story Collections of 2020

Part II of LitReactor’s Best of 2020.

Taking a test spin of the Netflix of Books, BingeBooks.

Interview with Les Edgerton, author of “Hard Times” (Bronzeville Books, 2020).

Interview with science fiction master Kim Stanley Robinson at Los Angeles Review of Books.

The First Two Pages: “When the Wind Is Southerly” by Leone Ciporin at Art Taylor, Writer.

What the pandemic could mean to Arts in the United States.

Interview Judith Levine and Erica R. Meiners, authors of “The Feminist and the Sex Offender”, who talk about the history of the sex offender registry and explore how we can strive to reduce sexual harm without mass incarceration.

Longreads Best of 2020: Crime Reporting.

Quite a few stories and poems were released on Hypnopmp.


Review of “The Wingspan of Severed Hands” by Joanna Koch (Weirdpunk Books, 2020) at Babou 691.

Kevin Tipple reviews “All Due Respect 2020” edited by Chris Rhatigan and yours truly.

Review of “The Aosawa Murders” by Riku Onda, translated by Alison Watts (Bitter Lemon Press, 2020)

Ian Ayris reviews “The Art of Serial Killing” by Mark Ramsden (Fahrenheit 13, 2015).

Review of “The Ancient Hours” by Michael Bible (Melville House, 2020) at Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

Review of “Saying Uncle” by Greg Gifune (2008) at Black Guys Do Read.

Scott Alderberg reviews of “Loveloid” by J.L. Morin (Harvard Square Editions, 2020) at Do Some Damage.


New fiction from Daniel Torday at Guernica.

New flash fiction by Max Thrax at Bristol Noir.

New fiction by Phil Hurst at Punk Noir Magazine.

Bristol Noir presents us with new disturbing flash fiction from William R. Soldan.

New fiction from Bryan Costales at Close to the Bone.

Bristol Noir has new fiction from C.W. Blackwell.

New fiction by Rosemary McLean at Tough.

New flash fiction by Ted Flanagan at Shotgun Honey.

New fiction by Mark McConville at Bristol Noir.

New fiction from David Summers at Close to the Bone.

Fiction from Paul D. Brazill.

New fiction by Stephen J. Golds.

New flash fiction from Jeff Esterholm at Pulp Modern.

New fiction by Ian Ayris at Punk Noir Magazine.


New poetry by Sharon Waller Knutson at The Five-Two.

Review of Alex Balgiu and Mónica de la Torre’s “Women in Concrete Poetry: 1959–1979” at BOMB Magazine.

New poetry by J.J. Campbell at The Rye Whiskey Review

New poetry by Ian Lewis Copestick at Punk Noir Magazine.

New poetry by Timothy Gager at Live Nude Poems.

New poetry by Brian Rihlmann at The Rye Whiskey Review.

New poetry from Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal at The Rye Whiskey Review,

Punk Noir Magazine has new poetry from John Patrick Robbins.

New poetry by Scott Ferry.

Louise Glück’s Nobel Lecture.

New poetry by Lisa Reynolds at The Rye Whiskey Review.


Frank Zafiro interviews TK Thorne, author of “House of Rose” (Camel Press, 2020) at Wrong Place, Write Crime.

Interview with Christopher Golden, author of Red Hands (2020) at Ink Heist.

Film and TV

Nick Kolakowski thinks that “The Good Thief” might be the best heist movie you’ve never seen.

Growing up watching “Bewitched” and loving Elizabeth Montgomery in “The Legend of Lizzie Borden”, I’m interested in watching the TV movie “Mrs. Sundance” (1974) that was reviewed by David Cranmer in Western Fictioneers.

That’s a hell-a lotta words about Goodfellas.

The Babou 691 interview with Chris Kelso and Laura Lee Bahr, screenwriters of the short film, “Strange Bird”.


New music from Sturgill Simpson.

Ambient composer Harold Budd has died.

Best Southern Albums of 2020 from The Bitter Southerner.

The importance of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack 20 years later.

Art and Photography

Photography of Joan Colom at Fragments of Noir.

Fragments of Noir presents more photographs by Roger Schall.

The Dirty Femmes series continues at Fragments of Noir.


Jason Parent’s “Eight Cylinders” (Crystal Lake Publishing, 2020) is out.

Scott Grand’s “The Girl with the Stone Heart” (All Due Respect, 2020) is out.

“Damaged Goods”, a short story collection, by J. Travis Grundon (2020).

“Killer, Come Back to Me” by Ray Bradbury (Hard Case Crime, 2020), a collection of crime stories.

All Due Respect is accepting short story submissions. We’d love to publish more stories from women, writers of color, and other marginalized voices. We pay $25 upon publication. Submission guidelines here.


Jason Beech, Erika T. Wurth, and Elizabeth Montgomery

The second book of Jason Beech’s City of Forts series is out and it’s called “American Spartan” (2020). It’s going for .99¢ right now, so get on it.

Tom Quiller, author of “Evergreen” (Dream Paladin Books, 2020), is interviewed by John Wisniewski at Punk Noir Magazine.

Interview with Erika T. Wurth, author of “Buckskin Cocaine” (Astrophil Press, 2017) at Full Stop.

“The Long, Dark Legacy of William Hjortsberg’s Supernatural Neo-Noirs” by Andrew Nette at CrimeReads.

Kevin Tipple reviews “All Due Respect 2020” edited by Chris Rhatigan and yours truly.

Growing up watching “Bewitched” and loving Elizabeth Montgomery in “The Legend of Lizzie Borden”, I’m interested in watching the TV movie “Mrs. Sundance” (1974) that was reviewed by David Cranmer in Western Fictioneers.

KKUURRTT and Tex Gresham chat about Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s film “Greener Gass” at Babou 691.

All Due Respect is accepting short story submissions. We’d love to publish more stories from women, writers of color, and other marginalized voices. We pay $25 upon publication. Submission guidelines here.

Incident Report

Incident Report No. 88

“Late Night Decisions”, photograph by J Stimp, CC BY

How did last week go for you? The objectivity of time is losing its battle against the subjective interpretation of time during the quarantine, last week was both fast and slow for me. No prose recap this week, only links collected throughout the week. There are articles, book reviews, assorted other media links, and a few featured books. My one complaint — oh, I have many —, but my one complaint I’ll voice here was my inability to carve out some space to read more short stories. Maybe this week. Maybe not.


“Roller Derby and Mystery” by A.J. Devlin (Do Some Damage)

“Thrillers Bring The Light” by James Scott Bell (Kill Zone)

“25 Classic But Lesser-Known Crime Novels to Read in Lockdown, From King Dido to the Sam Dean Series” by Sarah Hughes (inews)

Next stop for S.A. Cosby, the cover of Rolling Stone (Booklist)

“Legendary Paris bookshop reveals reading habits of illustrious clientele” by Alison Flood (The Guardian)

Submissions are open and what the editors are looking for (Longreads)

“‘This Is A Crazy Time, And It’s Okay If You’re Scared’ Says Man Burying Gagged Prisoner Alive” (The Onion)

“How I Hustled Hundreds of Dollars of Free Tacos for the Literary World” by MM Carrigan (Lit Hub)

More on Greil Marcus’s obsession with “The Great Gatsby” (The Baffler)

The First Two Pages: “Limited Liability” by Sarah Weinman (Art Taylor, Writer)

Otto Penzler’s out (The Crime Lady)

The beginnings of volume two is out now (The Exquisite Corpse)

“Murder in My High School” by K.A. Laity (Punk Noir)

Chapters by Ron Earl Phillips, Todd Morr, and Joseph S. Walker (The Exquisite Corpse)

“Robert Stone’s Bad Trips” by Scott Bradfield (The New Republic)

Submissions call for PM Press (Damppebbles)

Colman Keane interview Nigel Bird, author of “Let it Snow” (Col’s Criminal Library)

“Conflict Without Violence: How to Add More Depth To Your Fiction” by Autumn Christian (LitReactor)

“Tales From the Waffle House and other 24/7 Adventures” by Eve Fisher (SleuthSayers)

“A Day in the Life of a Detective” by Garry Rogers (Kill Zone)

I betcha that CrimeReads will continue to publish the old racist (Facebook)

Short Stories

“Against the Grain” by Rob McClure Smith (Tough)

Book Reviews

“Tommy Shakes” by Rob Pierce (All Due Respect Books) (Col’s Criminal Library)

“Rigged” by D.P. Lyle (Oceanview) (Lesa’s Book Critiques)

“The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones (Saga Press) (Malcolm Avenue Reviews)

“Done Deal” by Tony Berry (Lume) (Kevin’s Corner)

“Throwing Off Sparks” by Michael Pool (PI Tales) (Kevin’s Corner)

“Cold Water” by Tom Pitts (Down & Out Books) (Criminal Element)

“The Girl in the Video” by Michael David Wilson (Perpetual Motion Machine) (Do Some Damage)

“We Don’t Talk About Her” by Andersen Prunty (Self-Published) (Just A Guy Who Likes To Read)

“A.P.B.” by David Pedneau (Col’s Criminal Library)

Two opposing views of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins (Vox and NPR)

“Sorry for Your Trouble” by Richard Ford (Fiction Writers Review)

“Everything has Teeth” by Jeff Strand (Black Guys Do Read)

“Take Me Apart” By Sara Sligar (MCD) (LA Review of Books)

“Honky Tonk Samurai” by Joe Lansdale (Just A Guy Who Likes To Read)

“Dead Girl Blues” by Lawrence Block (Do Some Damage)

“A Rage at Sea / A Party Every Night” by Lorenz Heller (Bookgasm)


Podcast: “SILO” by Cameron Mount (EconoClash Review)

Podcast: Robin Burcell, ex-cop and writer, interviewed by Frank Zafiro (Wrong Place, Write Crime)

Podcast: Kimberly McCreight, Tom Pitts, Mary Keliikoa (Writer Types)

Other Media

Photographs: Big Lonely City #101 (Fragments of Noir)

Music: Drug dealers put up George Jones reel-to-reel tapes as bail decades ago (Saving Country Music)

TV Review: “The Cry” (BOLO Books)

Illustrations: Thomas Ott (Fragments of Noir)

Music: “Shelved: The Misfits’ 12 Hits From Hell” by Tom Maxwell (Longreads)

Photographs: Mosiac Noir #25 (Fragments of Noir)

Music: “Was 1973 the Greatest Year for Roots Music?” by Amos Perrine (No Depression)

Featured Books

“Raise the Blade” by Tess Makovesky (Amazon)

“Cold Water” by Tom Pitts (Down & Out Books)

“Benediction for a Thief” by LA Sykes (Close to the Bone)

“Slow Bear” by Anthony Neil Smith (Fahrenheit Press)

“A Rage at Sea / A Party Every Night” by Lorenz Heller (Stark House Press)

“Slow Down” by Lee Matthew Goldberg (All Due Respect Books)

Thanks for stopping by to read Incident Report No. 88. If you’d like to read more posts like this, please click here.


Misfits, Tacos, and Otto Penzler

Small Crimes: Wednesday Reads

Benediction for a thief by LA Sykes | misfits, tacos, and otto penzler

“Misfits, Tacos, and Otto Penzler – Small Crimes: Wednesday Reads” features burying people alive, Michael Pool, Tom Pitts, and much more.

Article: “‘This Is A Crazy Time, And It’s Okay If You’re Scared’ Says Man Burying Gagged Prisoner Alive” (The Onion)

Article: “How I Hustled Hundreds of Dollars of Free Tacos for the Literary World” by MM Carrigan (Lit Hub)

Article: More on Greil Marcus’s obsession with “The Great Gatsby” (The Baffler)

Article: The First Two Pages: “Limited Liability” by Sarah Weinman (Art Taylor, Writer)

Article: Otto Penzler’s out (The Crime Lady)

Book Review: “Throwing Off Sparks” by Michael Pool (PI Tales) (Kevin’s Corner)

Book Review: “Cold Water” by Tom Pitts (Down & Out Books) (Criminal Element)

Book Review: “The Girl in the Video” by Michael David Wilson (Perpetual Motion Machine) (Do Some Damage)

Book Review: “We Don’t Talk About Her” by Andersen Prunty (Self-Published) (Just A Guy Who Likes To Read)

Podcast: “SILO” by Cameron Mount (EconoClash Review)

Illustrations: Thomas Ott (Fragments of Noir)

Music: “Shelved: The Misfits’ 12 Hits From Hell” by Tom Maxwell (Longreads)

Book: “Benediction for a Thief” by LA Sykes (Close to the Bone)

Thanks for stopping by Unlawful Acts and reading “Misfits, Tacos, and Otto Penzler”. For more Small Crimes, click here.

The photo used in the background for social media is by Dave Green and is licensed CC BY-SA.


Cops, Canada, Mistakes

Small Crimes: Wednesday Reads

Bleak Friday | Canada, Cops, Mistakes

“Canada, Cops, Mistakes” features Jennifer Hillier, Hannah Mary McKinnon, Roz Nay, Robyn Harding, Elena Taylor, Michael Pool, Paul J. Garth, and more.

Roundtable: Canadian Women Writers Talk Crime Fiction (The Thrill Begins)

Interview: James L’Etoile talked to Elena Taylor, author of “All We Buried” (Crooked Lane Press) (Do Some Damage)

Article: Frank Zafiro on being a cop and a writer, and what’s real and what’s not (Criminal Minds)

Article: The First Two Pages: “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” by Donna Andrews (Art Taylor, Writer)

Short Story: “Paper Boats” by Paul J. Garth (Tough)

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

Book Review: “Ash Mountain” by Helen FitzGerald (Orenda Books) (BOLO Books)

Book Review: “Girl Can’t Help It” by Max Allan Collins (Thomas & Mercer) (Bookgasm)

New Release: “Bleak Friday” by Various Artists (King Shot Press)

Thanks for stopping by Unlawful Acts and reading “Canada, Cops, Mistakes”. For more Small Crimes, click here.

Incident Report

Incident Report No. 84

What follows are some highlights from the Small Crimes posts I run almost every day, but it’s still the Incident Report. If you don’t have the time to read the daily missives then this might just be for you.

I am not a fan of American football and less of a fan of the National Football League’s yearly draft. Draft Day, which spans out several days, has approximately 50 million viewers. It’s a big deal with U.S. sports nerds. (For you non-Americans, Draft Day is akin to football’s Deadline Day.)

When I stumbled across Christoph Paul’s LitReactor essay “What Writers Can Learn From Watching The NFL Draft“, I immediately passed it by with nary a thought.1 But if Paul was willing to die on this analogy’s hill, I should at least give it a go. And I’m glad I did. It almost had me turning on the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

Michael Pool’s essay on the similarities and dissimilarities of the fictional and real private eye is worth your time. Pool talks about the clothes, the car, and, yes, the drinking.

Far from drinking on the job, real-life P.I.s are more likely to be snacking in the car between interviews. Or listening to podcasts to pass the time out on surveillance. Even after work, most of us tend to keep the alcohol intake lower than you might expect. Morning comes early in this job. Those early mornings can turn into long days, sometimes in the range of 15-18 hours. That’s a tall order with a hangover, so I rarely over-indulge.

In a Los Angeles Review of Books interview, Steve Weddle talked with William Boyle on the release of Boyle’s latest book “City of Margins”.

City of Margins is set between 1991 and 1994. I was ages 13–16 at that time, walking everywhere, taking the bus to school, making regular stops at my regular video store and pizza joint, getting into fights in the schoolyard, playing stickball at dusk, discovering the records and books and movies that would change my life, learning about evil. It was a really important, transitional time for me. I don’t know if it’s about the feeling of something being lost now that wasn’t lost then, but there was definitely a deeper sense of wonder and distance. 

K.A. Laity examined the origins of Patricia Highsmith’s most famous character Tom Ripley. In this Bristol Noir essay, Laity tied some of her thoughts of the literary Ripley, not the cinematic one, with “Eel in the Bathtub”, a short story she published in college literary journal in 1940.

Over at Punk Noir, Laity wrote about “Detour”, the book and the two movies–yeah, I didn’t know there was a remake of “Detour” in 1992. Martin H. Goldsmith’s 1939 is less famous than its 1942 classic film noir version, but like most books, in my opinion, it’s far better.

If you’ve never read or watched “Detour”, do yourself a favor. The movie is readily available, the book not so much.

I reviewed Jason Beech’s new novel “Never Go Back” (Close to the Bone, 2019). The book follows a man’s return to home and its ramifications.

“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.

There’s a new Twitter parody account everyone should follow, it’s @PublishrsWeakly. The folks at Electric Literature interviewed the duo behind the account.

There’s an elitism to publishing that stems from the product it produces. Books are “art,” books can “change the world,” and therefore publishing is necessarily good and just, that we’re all doing noble work, when that’s not exactly the case. Publishing is a business like any other, and so that comes with the trappings of many other industries, i.e. wealth inequality, mistreatment of workers, and racially segregated workforce, often determined by the disparity in wages. Publishing is an industry that very much believes in paying one’s dues, and then once those dues have been paid, they expect you to turn around and uphold that same system.

Daniel Vlastay’s “Stay Ugly” (All Due Respect Books) was reviewed at This Desperate City.

If you didn’t get a chance to read Greg Levin’s essay, “Why We Read (and Write) Dark Fiction Even During Terrible Times“, please do so.

If you’re looking for some fun to read, there is, of course, “The Exquisite Corpse”, a multi-author novel at Do Some Damage. The ebook, edited by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle, is available for as a free download.

featured books

Never Go Back
by Jason Beech (Close to the Bone)

The Exquisite Corpse
edited by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle (Do Some Damage)

Some Awful Cunning
by Joe Ricker (Down & Out Books)

All Kinds of Ugly
by Ralph Dennis (Brash Books)

Southern Cross Crime
by Craig Sisterson (Old Castle Books)

The Last Scoop
by R.G. Belsky (Oceanview Publishing)

The Aosawa Murders
by Riku Onda,
translated by Alison Watts (Bitter Lemon Press)

  1. People don’t say “nary a thought”, but man do they write it. Is it one of those phrases that make the reader notice the writing too much?

Small Crimes: Tuesday Reads

A private investigator and mystery writer on the differences between being a real PI and writing a fictional one (Michael Pool)

New crime novels from Italy, S. Africa, France, and India by Donna Leon, Deon Meyer, Jean-Patrice Manchette, and Manu Joseph respectively (International Noir)

Paul D. Brazill has got the small town blues (All Due Respect)

Profile of Ottessa Moshfegh (The New York Times)

How libraries will reopen (American Libraries)

Short Story: “We Take Care of Our Own” by C.W. Blackwell (Shotgun Honey)

“The Aosawa Murders” by Riku Onda, translated by Alison Watts (Bitter Lemon Press)


Shoulder Wounds #4

There’s few stories more American and appealing than the myth of exceptionalism — the tale of a person who believes they are uniquely and solely qualified to take on a high-stakes challenge. (Recall that Donald Trump soared to presidential victory on the strength of his conviction that “I alone” can “make America great again.”)

What makes such stories work takes something exceptional as well — namely, the author’s ability to let their characters tell their story, and not give into the temptation to intrude and clear the way on their behalf by constantly telling us in narrative how good and wondrous and virtuous and strong and noble the POV characters are. (And what POV characters are not.)

In my reading experience, not many crime-fiction authors are able or willing to get out of the way of their point-of-view characters, choosing instead to color the narrative with bits of background detail meant to tilt the reader’s sympathies (a huge problem in cozies, especially, where ugly people are bad and pretty people are good). Smart authors let characters develop sympathy on their own, based on their words and actions, and let readers decide for themselves if that sympathy is earned rather than forced upon them.

Mindy Mejia is such a smart author. And Maya Stark, the antiheroic heroine of Mejia’s second novel, LEAVE NO TRACE, is such a character, and a convincing one. Because of her damaged background, which includes a long-missing mother and a murder (of sorts), Maya — a teenage mental patient who graduated to speech therapist at the same hospital in which she was confined — believes that she alone can unlock the mystery of current mental patient Lucas Blackthorn.

Lucas, who may or may not have murdered someone, was captured after spending a decade in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness Area with his survivalist father — who’s missing, and, according to Lucas, is sick and in danger of dying as winter closes in. And, speaking of exceptionalism, he’s convinced he’s the only one who can find his father.

Maya, whose geologist mother was least seen in the same area at about the time Lucas and his father disappeared, is an unreliable narrator. What makes this work — and not just as a gimmick to jerk around the reader with intrusive twistiness, a device that seems to be in vogue right now — is Maya’s awareness of her own unreliability. She knows she’s a hot mess, and is probably not deserving of the trust that’s been placed in her by her doctor-mentor.

While she’s doesn’t fully own up to her attraction to Lucas, just four years younger, she is able to go as far as admitting her attraction to his dark side, and to all dark sides, as she plots to “kidnap” Lucas from the hospital — flushing her future in the process — and help him find his father. “The truth is,” Maya says, “I’m not comfortable unless something’s on fire or someone’s having a meltdown. I don’t know what to do with things that aren’t broken.”

Mejia is the author of EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE, one of my favorite thrillers of 2017. Like LEAVE NO TRACE, that novel took the best aspects of high-stakes psychological suspense, usually found in slick, sleek urban settings, and transported them to appealing rural Midwest locales that are less aspirational but more relatable for most of us. LEAVE NO TRACE is more of a pure flyover-country story, where open space can be just as menacing as secure walls.

Not to be overlooked is Mejia’s standout instinct for characterization, for creating characters that are more relatable than likable. As a result, I found myself thoroughly infuriated by the end of LEAVE NO TRACE — and thoroughly satisfied. That means my emotions were as fully engaged as my intellect all the way through, and I can think of no higher praise for a novel.

A cool, cold heart beats slowly and steadily through the heat and heart of the night in Ronald Colby’s NIGHT DRIVER. This dark tone poem to 1970s Los Angeles is full of hustlers and whores and drugs and cigarettes and cauterized pain. And the kind of leering, thumping music that can—and often does—drive men on the make to murder.

In NIGHT DRIVER, it’s 1976, and once darkness falls, Nick Cullen prowls the freeways and streets of LA from behind the wheel of his taxi cab. He picks up despondent people and druggies and disco habitues and dark passengers with dead eyes. But his real work is trying to get a line, however thin and frayed, on the three men who murdered his wife and baby in a home-invasion robbery that turned into a horror movie.

Night after night, Nick smokes, drinks, takes drugs, takes propositions, deals with death dealers and his own demons, driving, driving, driving under blue lights and buzzing neon signs. He stops only for a few hours of fitful sleep and to get in the face of the police detective who shares his frustrations but isn’t willing to go as far as Nick is to find the killers.

The killers themselves? They don’t even think about it. They’ve moved on, to other towns, other scores, other hustles. But LA always pulls them back. That’s their salvation, or so they think. All it takes is one break. One tiny break. And when it comes, everybody involved senses that their world is going to break wide open.

It’s no wonder that Colby first tried to make it in film before shifting to fiction, as NIGHT DRIVER is shot through with cinematic sensibilities. Imagine TAXI DRIVER meets NIGHT MOVES meets AMERICAN GIGOLO meets THE DRIVER meets THIEF, a story full of sinister shadows and searing heat and smoke curling around sweaty bodies. Sweaty from sex, from guilt, from insensate need. Imagine if Paul Schrader and Michael Mann and Monte Hellman and Charles Bukowski had collaborated on a coherent, cold-as-switchblade-steel, super-cool screenplay. Then you’d get the dark, pulsing vein of NIGHT DRIVER.

Michael Pool

I was not an admirer of Michael Pool’s novella DEBT CRUSHER, primarily for one reason: nearly nonexistent characterization. The antihero had no interests, no opinions, no past, no personality quirks, and seemed almost chemically leached of color. He was nobody to which a reader could form any kind of emotional attachment.

I’m pleased to say that characterization is a particular strength of Pool’s first novel, TEXAS TWO-STEP, which is flat-out terrific — a frothy, finely plotted blend of heart and hardboiled fuckstickery.

Cooper and Davis are a couple of Colorado-by-way-of-Texas hippies pushing thirty, and pushing up against the limits of growing and selling stellar but illegal weed in the legal-cannabis era. When Cooper’s girlfriend turns up pregnant, he promises her he’ll cash out of the life and go legit after he gets rid of his current supply.

The only buyer they can find, however, is a coked-up Texas cowboy named Sancho, who partners up with Bobby Burnell, a Heisman Trophy winner turned drugged-out burnout and bottom-feeding crew member of a murderous crime family. But Sancho is in the crosshairs of a vengeful Texas state senator who is using Texas Ranger Russ Kirkpatrick as his one-man army against the dealer who sold his grandson a lethal dose.

Throw all of then in a blender, hit a random button, and watch the wackiness splatter the walls.

While the plotting has the crisp pearl-button-snap of plausible perfection, it’s the rich character notes that really lift TEXAS TWO-STEP above the merely pretty good. Cooper and Davis care about each other, and care about being better than they are. Sancho has no real menace in him, and Bobby doesn’t want to see anyone hurt either (except maybe his rageaholic crime-boss uncle). Kirkpatrick’s heart is elsewhere as well. All he wants at first is a Caribbean vacation. Then he meets the female deputy of a corrupt sheriff, who goes after his sexist assumptions, then goes after his ass in the happiest possible way.

TEXAS TWO-STEP holds up well alongside other bawdy-with-a-body-count books, like Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard stories, Johnny Shaw’s Jimmy Veeder Fiascos, Jeffery Hess’s Scotland Ross tales, and virtually anything by Steve Brewer, Eric Beetner and Elmore Leonard. This is the first of a series, and Michael Pool is one to watch.

I’ve previously voiced my disdain for frontloaded characters — characters who are introduced to us as sympathetic based on past sufferings, and as such rarely bother to earn sympathy by what they actually do once the story gets going.

And I’ll be honest — I thought that’s where LAND OF SHADOWS, the first of four Elouise “Lou” Norton police procedurals from Rachel Howzell Hall — was headed when I learned in the first few pages that Lou a) grew up poor in the projects; b) lost her older sister when she was a child; and c) is being cheated upon by her ridiculously rich video-game-designer husband. (And, d) of course, all the fellas lust after her.)

But practically in the same breath, I learned that Lou allowed her husband to buy off her anger and pain with a $90,000 Porsche, and I thought: Whoa. Suddenly she’s not so sympathetic after all. She’s something more complicated, more real. And came to see that the contradiction Lou embodies — good instincts as an L.A. homicide detective, bad instincts in her personal life — is the hot oil that makes the gears of her story go.

That, and she’s got one of the best narrative voices I’ve ever come across. LAND OF SHADOWS is almost insanely quotable, and it’s hard to pick just one line. But this is one that strikes me as the ultimate Lou Norton thesis statement:

“I’m sassy, but not Florence-the-Jeffersons’-maid sassy. Nor am I ultrareligious. I’m sure as hell not an earth mother, so there’s that to remember, too. Actually, you’d be better off seeking comfort from that palm tree across the street before coming to me. Also, I hate watermelon but I love chicken. I can say ‘nigga’ but I will break every bone in your face if I hear you say it.”

I could listen to Lou Norton bust my chops all day long.

The story: When Monique Darson, a teen girl, is found murdered in southwest L.A., Lou sees uncomfortable parallels to the 25-year-old disappearance of her big sister, Tori. And soon she can’t ignore the very real possibility that the person who took her sister and the person who killed Monie are one and the same.

Beyond incredibly witty writing full of drop-the-mic social truths, Howzell Hall shows herself to be a rock star with plot. She does a masterful job of keeping the reader deliciously off-balance by setting up no fewer than half a dozen characters as plausible suspects, always circling back to each, never completely ruling them out or committing to them as suspects until the very end. Lou has the gift of committing to the Holmesian method of investigation, following the clues where they go, while letting herself her lesser self fantasize about short-cutting, and crushing each suspect based on her easily triggered but well-earned personal dislikes.

I sometimes fantasize about spending a few years in prison just so I can catch up on all the great crime fiction out. LAND OF SHADOWS is a case in point. It came out in 2014, and I got to it only four years later, and now I want to squeeze in the next three novels right away with time I don’t have. But somehow I suspect I’ll manage, because I like having Lou’s voice inside my head. And that’s a must for any successful series.

Jim Thomsen is a writer and editor who divides his time between Florida and his hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington. Learn more at

Thanks for stopping by Unlawful Acts and reading Jim Thomsen’s Shoulder Wounds.


Texas Two-Step by Michael Pool

Michael PoolWhen Down & Out Books announced they’d be releasing Michael Pool’s Texas Two-Step, crime fiction friends of mine were quite excited as they loved his 2015 release Debt Crusher on All Due Respect Books. Even though I hadn’t read Debt Crusher, I am a fanboy of All Due Respect Books, so I began to get excited about Texas Two-Step.

Michael Pool’s Texas Two-Step is about Coop and Davis, two aging pot dealers, – and aging is a misnomer here as they might be in their early 30s – trying to make that one last deal before getting out the business. I had trouble getting into Texas Two-Step especially with the relationship between one of the dealers and his girlfriend. Also, I haven’t been much of a fan of police procedurals, so I had to readjust my view as Pool alternates chapters of Texas Two-Step between the criminals and a Texas Ranger who is chasing them. No worries, Texas Two-Step is NOT a police procedural; it’s dark and grimy just the way I like it.

With Texas Two-Step, Michael Pool has written a smash and grab bleak novel that has the reader oddly rooting for both the cop and the crooks. The wildcard in Texas Two-Step is Sancho, a white party boy and drug dealer in Texas. Sancho is a trip and worthy of his own book. Follow Coop and Davis as they try to work with the unpredictable Sancho and drift towards the inevitable problems of having a dumbass as a friend and drug dealer. Texas Two-Step might not be the perfect novel, but damn it is better than most.

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