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.


Trigger Warnings, Nightmares, and Writing

Small Crimes: Friday Reads

Nightmare Asylum and Other Deadly Delights by Sonia Kilvington | trigger warnings nightmares writing

Article: “Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings” by Max Booth III (LitReactor)

Article: “One Approach To Writing Short Stories” by Chris Rhatigan (Do Some Damage)

Article: “Publisher Profile: How Three Rooms Press Operates” (Forbes)

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

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

Videos: “Celebrating Saul Bass’s centenary: 10 essential title sequences” (BFI)

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

Thanks for stopping by and reading


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.


Small Crimes: Weekend Edition

New Releases: Romanian crime fiction (Crime Fiction Lover)

Excerpt: “Pushing Water” by Dana King (Down & Out Books) (One Bite at a Time)

Interview: The @PublishrsWeakly Twitter Account Is Calling Publishing to Task (Electric Literature)

Article: Michael Seidlinger, author of “Dreams of Being”, asked about falling in and out of reading (The Believer)

Review: “The Creek on the Stairs” by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir (Orenda Books) (BOLO Books)

Review: “Unidentified” by Michael McBride (Black Guys Do Read)

Photographs: George Zimbel (Fragments of Noir)

Book: “All Kinds of Ugly” by Ralph Dennis (Brash Books)


Snare by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

Snare-by-Lilja-SigurdardottirI’ve stayed away from Nordic Noir over the last year because, from Henning Mankell to Jo Nesbø and hundreds of more, there seems to be no escape from its cold white death-like grip. But even in my fifties, I succumbed to peer pressure. First I reviewed Anthony Neil Smith’s Castle Danger: Woman on Ice, blurbed as “Nordic crime – American style”. Then there’s Orenda Books run by Karen Sullivan. Orenda is not only a great supporter of new writers like Steph Broadribb but also a big proponent of world crime fiction. Finally, there is the cover of Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare. I do not know who designed the cover of the book, but good lord is it beautiful. Now here I am, caught in my own Nordic Noir snare.

So I bought a copy, started reading, and was immediately blown away by Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare (Orenda Books). Sigurdardóttir effortlessly moves the reader from multiple perspectives throughout the book: a drug smuggler, a customs agent, and a bankster.

Set in the aftermath of the 2008 collapse and Iceland’s wonderful investigations and convictions of the bankers who caused the crash, we meet Sonja, the drug smuggler, switching bags with an unsuspecting family in the Copenhagen airport. Sonja is trapped into smuggling drugs into Iceland using an oh-so-real threat to her son’s life who lives with her ex-husband. A drug mule with no choice, Sonja dreams of getting out, but the gangsters keep her reeled in.

We also meet Bragi, a 69-year-old customs inspector, who enjoys his job but lonely as his wife is cared for in a government-run nursing home. He then discovers a bruise on his wife which he duly reports and then is brushed aside by the manager. Needing to get his wife out of there and somewhere better, Bragi begins to feel desperate.

The most interesting character in Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare is Agla. In an alcoholic downward spiral, Agla is a bankster who is the subject of the government’s investigation.  A few years prior, Agla hooked up with Sonja. Agla is more comfortable at stealing peoples money than she is being a lesbian. Not only is alcohol her coping mechanism for all the shit she is about to face, it is the primer that helps her knock on Sonja’s door late at night.

As Sonja pulled up outside the shabby block where she rented an apartment after her long round-about journey home, she saw Agla’s car was already there. She really had a knack for turning up at the wrong time. Sonja parked as Agla was getting out of her car and they met on the steps of the block.

‘I’ve missed you,’ Agla said, kissing her.

Sonja could smell the booze on her breath. It was no surprise. Agla never showed up unless she’d had a drink or two.

‘You drove here drunk?’ Sonja asked as they climbed the stairs to her apartment.

‘I had a drink after work, and then I started to miss you.’

‘Drinks, you mean, judging by the smell,’ Sonja said, putting her key in the lock.

Agla followed her in, shrugged off her coat and dropped it on the hall floor.

‘Come here.’ She pulled Sonja to her and her hands slipped inside Sonja’s clothes.

‘I need to sort stuff out after the trip…’ Sonja protested, but Agla interrupted.

‘Don’t talk shit,’ she ordered. ‘Kiss me.’

I greatly enjoyed Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare as Lilja Sigurdardóttir deftly moved all the stories along to the book’s denouement. I felt the book wrapped up a little too neatly, but I’m willing to give it a pass for two reasons. First, Sigurdardóttir’s characters seemed as real as they were messed-up and, second, because Snare is the first book of a trilogy, so things might not be exactly “wrapped up”.

A quick shoutout to Quentin Bates, whose translation reads as though it was originally written in English.

Amazon: AU CA UK US


Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

It has taken me a year of reading crime fiction, but I have come to realize that I am not a fan of the psychological thriller. My reviews of Megan Abbott’s End of Everything and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train are examples of my distaste for these types of books. The final marker for me in this genre comes with Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories (Orenda Books). I know I am in a minority here with my view of psychological thrillers, but I prefer crime fiction focusing on the people on the fringes of society.

Wesolowski’s premise for Six Stories is splendid — the murder mystery is told mainly through a six-part podcast à la Serial. The novel discusses the disappearance and subsequent death of a 15-year-old boy who was camping in a dangerous wood called Scarclaw Fell. The police ruled the young man’s death accidental, but the podcast narrator’s wants to explore what really happen and maybe even discover if the death was actually murder.

There are brief interludes between the podcast interview chapeters where the owner of the land walks about and tells his story. These peices really show the strength and beauty of Wesolowski’s writing

I stop in the clearing and pour tea into the cup of my flask. Everything is damp and I don’t want to sit down. It’s a cliché I know, but you never really stop and listen to silence, do you? I have started to listen when I’m here, beneath the branches. When I first started coming out, I used to wear headphones, one ear-bud in my right, my left empty.

The woods aren’t silent, not really; if you stand and listen there’s all sorts going on: rustlings and chattering; when it rains, the sound of the leaves is a cacophony of wagging green tongues; in the mornings the indignant back-and-forth clamour of the birds is almost comical.

I’ve not come out into these woods at night. Not for a long time, anyway.

The last time I walked here in darkness was nearly twenty years ago – it was me and Jus and Tomo. That was the night we found him. That boy. It was where the woods begin to thin, where they turn upward towards the bare back of the fell; where the path turns to marsh.

The conversations between the podcast host and the various people attached to the disappearance of the teenager are equally as well written, maybe even better than they should be, but that would be a minor complaint.

One of the tropes of a psychological thriller is the twist. I picked the twist out about a third of the way through the book which probably didn’t help in the enjoyment of the book for me. But if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, Wesolowski has done a bang-up job and presented the story in a new and vibrant way. And as I said earlier, Wesolowski’s writing in Six Stories is brilliant.

Amazon: AU CA UK US




Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

Steph Broadribb is probably best known for her blog, Crime Thriller Girl, but that is going to change soon as more read her debut novel Deep Down Dead on Orenda Books. The excellent crime novel begins Lori handcuffed in what appears to be a police station of some kind. Lori is just trying to keep it together as she tries to get something for the story they are asking her to tell, a story she knows she has to tell the cops.

The story is a simple one. Lori has to drive from Florida to West Virginia, pick up a potential bond jumper and get back in three days time. Okay, at this point we know this is not going to turn out to be that simple — if it was then we wouldn’t be reading the book. I don’t want to give too much away with the plot other than Lori has to bring her nine-year-old daughter along for the ride. The action in Deep Down Dead rips along, not only do the characters barely have a chance to catch their breathe, the readers have the same problem. Broadribb’s grasp of writing fast-paced action is first-rate and nimble.

The way those men stared made me feel real naked. Straight-up predators they were. Bailey must have gotten his information wrong. There was no way this house was inhabited by an elderly widow; it was a loveless place with bare-bulb lighting and cracked plaster walls, and Merv’s boys didn’t seem inclined to give JT up that easy. I figured there were two ways things could go. With Dakota waiting in the car out front I had to make sure both ended in my favour.

Gunner looked past me, towards the pup, and nodded.

What happened next flowed real fast. Overeager to obey his master and get started on me, the pup closed his grimy fingers tight around my shoulders and pulled me back towards him. Well, manhandling a girl from behind without invitation is just plain rude.

I thrust my weight rearwards, accelerating fast, using the momentum to throw him off balance. He staggered back. Advantage: me. Whipping round, I slammed the side of my clenched left fist into his temple and followed it real quick with a right-handed punch to the throat.

One-two, the pup hit the floor before he’d barely registered the blows. The semi-automatic fell from his grip. I guessed he was weaker than he’d acted. From his wide-eyed expression and the wheezy gasps he was making at my feet, I reckoned he’d just realised that too.

I kicked his weapon out of reach and spun to face the others.

If you happen to pick up Deep Down Dead, you will see a plethora of blurbs singing out praises for Broadribb’s novel and they are not lying. Deep Down Dead will be one of the better crime fiction books you’ll read in 2017. Broadribb has written a great road trip thriller as Lori, her prisoner and her daughter flee both the cops and criminals chasing them.