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Incident Report

Incident Report No. 89

“ggrrrrrrr”, photograph by francois karm, CC-BY

Fuck Otto. I hate giving him any attention, but there he is. There he is. Gabino Iglesias said it best:

 He [Otto Penzler] has been in publishing for decades, which means his inability to see the need for diversity and his denial of the obvious biases that have shaped the publishing world for decades are things that stem from one of two things: pure stupidity or racism. I have time for neither.


The Exquisite Corpse wrapped up its second volume. The editors are looking for participants for the third.

Close to the Bone has released its first online magazine and it’s a good one featuring Holly Rae Garcia, Oliver Brennan, Paul Heatley, and the beginning of a serialized novel by Paul D. Brazill called “The Seatown Blues”. If you’ve never read Brazill before, here’s your chance to read wonderful lines like “Bryn immediately recognised Detective Inspector Slipper, a copper so bent you could use him as a pipe cleaner.”

https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/goldberg-slow-down/

Articles

Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, a celebrity book curator critiques celebrity bookshelves (Town & Country)

Michael J. Seidlinger interviewed by Tobias Carroll (Vol. 1 Brooklyn)

“A Day in the Life ~ Cassandra Raines” by Tracy Clark (dru’s book musings)

Interview with Art Taylor, author of “The Boy Detective & The Summer of 74 and Other Tales of Suspense” (Madam Mayo)

“Why P.I.s Are Cool” by D.P. Lyle (Kings River Life Magazine)

“AloneStarCon”, a funny piece by Michael Bracken (SleuthSayers)

“Do You Torture Your Metaphors? The Problem of Self-Conscious Writing” by Jessi Rita Hoffman (Jane Friedman)

Rob Pierce, author of “Tommy Shakes” (All Due Respect Books) interviewed (Col’s Criminal Library)

Interview with Bernard Schaffer (Writers Who Kill)

Interview with Laird Barron (Book & Film Globe)

K.A. Laity on some classic noir by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (Punk Noir)

Author Spotlight: Scott Adlerberg (Eight Million Books to Read)

“Maigret’s Room: The Home Life of Inspector Maigret” by John Lancaster (London Review of Books)

More about Otto (One Bite at a Time)


Short Stories

“Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues” by Michael Martin Garrett (Shotgun Honey)

“8 Thrilling Horror Stories You Can Read Online Right Now” (Chicago Review of Books)


Book Reviews

“Lockdown” edited by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle (Polis Books) (BOLO Books)

“Rock -N- Noirror: Horror and Noir from the Seedy Side of Rock -N- Roll” edited by Wolfgang Potterhouse and Todd Morr (10th Rule Books) (Eight Million Books)

“Lost Tomorrows” by Matt Coyle (Oceanview Publishing) (Sons of Spade)

“Cold Water” by Tom Pitts (Down & Out Books) (Col’s Criminal Library)

“Tropical Heat” by John Lutz (Open Road Media) (Kevin’s Corner)

“The Life and Times of Malcolm McLaren” by Paul Gorman (Little Brown) (Hyperallergic)

“Bonekeeper” by Luca Veste (The Tattooed Book Geek)

Flash Bang Mysteries: Spring 2020 Issue 19 (Kevin’s Corner)

“I Know Where You Sleep” by Alan Orloff (Down & Out Books) (Men Reading Books)

“Mystery Weekly Magazine” February 2020 (Kevin’s Corner)

“Gender Justice” by Nicky Charlish (Punk Noir)

“Clean Hands” by Patrick Hoffman (Col’s Criminal Library)

“The Lantern Man” by Jon Bassoff (Down & Out Books) (Black Guys Do Read)

“A Small Sacrifice” by Dana King (Messy Business)

“The Blues Don’t Care” by Paul D. Marks (Down & Out Books) (Lesa’s Book Critiques)

“Cutter’s Fall” by Julie Morrigan (Col’s Criminal Library)

“Evergreen” by Howard Owen (Kevin’s Corner)

“Worse Angels” by Laird Barron (MysteryPeople)

“Into Bones Like Oil” by Kaaron Warren (Meerkat Press) (Just A Guy Who Likes to Read)


True Crime

“Murder in Old Barns” by Linsday Jones (The Walrus)

“What Do You Do With a Stolen van Gogh? This Thief Knows” (The New York Times)


Podcasts

Interview with Ivy Pochado (The Maris Review)

ECR Minipod 2.5 “Wally Steakhouse” by J.D. Graves (EconoClash Review)


Other Media

Big Lonely City #102 (Fragments of Noir)

New live album by Margo Price (Bandcamp)

Raymond Carver reading (YouTube)

Interview with Graeme Manson, creator of “Orphan Black” and the new “Snowpiercer” (LA Review of Books)

Big Lonely City #103 (Fragments of Noir)

How The Bryan/Brian Schism Worked For Roxy Music (Quietus)

“Grant the Mini-Series – A Popular Reassessment” (Scott D. Parker)

“How the Banjo Put Down Roots in North Carolina” by Kara Kundert (No Depression)


Featured Books

“Lake County Incidents” by Alec Cizak (ABC Group Documentation)


“Rigged” by D.P. Lyle (Oceanview Publishing)


“The Lantern Man” by Jon Bassoff (Down & Out Books)


“River Bottom Blues” by Ricky Bush (Fahrenheit Press)


“Mister Trot from Tin Street” by Pablo D’Stair (All Due Respect Books)


 “The Mark” by Simon Maltman (Close to the Bone, UKUS)


Thanks for stopping by to read Incident Report No. 89. If you’d like to read more posts like this, please click here.

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Crime, Lockdown, and Margo Price

Small Crimes: Monday Reads

“Crime, Lockdown, and Margo Price – Smal Crimes: Monday Reads” features a celebrity book curator criticizing Zoomed bookshelves and more.

Article: Incident Report No. 88 came out yesterday (Unlawful Acts)

Article: Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, a celebrity book curator critiques celebrity bookshelves (Town & Country)

Article: Michael J. Seidlinger interviewed by Tobias Carroll (Vol. 1 Brooklyn)

Article: The experiment continues (The Exquisite Corpse)

Article: “A Day in the Life ~ Cassandra Raines” by Tracy Clark (dru’s book musings)

https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/goldberg-slow-down/

Book Review: “Lockdown” edited by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle (Polis Books) (BOLO Books)

Book Review: “Rock -N- Noirror: Horror and Noir from the Seedy Side of Rock -N- Roll” edited by Wolfgang Potterhouse and Todd Morr (10th Rule Books) (Eight Million Books)

Photographs: Big Lonely City #102 (Fragments of Noir)

Music: New live album by Margo Price (Bandcamp)

Book: “Lake County Incidents” by Alec Cizak (ABC Group Documentation)

Thanks for stopping by Unlawful Acts and reading “Crime, Lockdown, and Margo Price”. For more Small Crimes, click here.

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Small Crimes: Friday Reads

Scott Bolohan’s “I Am Using My Free Time Not To Write A Novel (McSweeney’s)

Excerpt from Paul D. Brazill’s upcoming novel, “The Man Behind The Curtain” (All Due Respect) (Punk Noir)

Review of Hugo- and Nebula-nominated “Six Wakes” by Mur Lafferty (Writers Who Kill)

Asale Angel-Ajani & Nimmi Gowrinathan’s “Why Women Kill: On Gendered Violence and Our Inability to Understand Female Rage” (Literary Hub)

Interview with Gretchen McCulloch, author of “Because Internet” (Electric Literature)

A new anthology, “Both Sides” edited by Gabino Iglesias (Polis Books)

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The Short Con with Eryk Pruitt

I thought it might be a bit disingenuous for me to review Eryk Pruitt’s latest, “Townies: and Other Stories of Southern Mischief”. To give you a gauge of how much I liked the book, even with me in possession of the printed ARC, I ordered a copy that the great unwashed get to buy. But I also like drinking bourbon and eating barbecue with Eryk. Decisions had to be made. So instead of a review of a collection of short stories, Eryk was gracious enough to talk about short stories

David: Do you remember where the idea came from for “Knockout” or how you came to write the story? (Readers, you can read “Knockout” for free at Out of the Gutter.)

Eryk: In 2014, I took a trip which involved stops in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. Before leaving, I caught wind of the Knockout Game, which involved folks in these Rust Belt inner-cities who recorded themselves punching unsuspecting victims in the face, and the lives this damaged. When I write a story, I usually look for the opportunity to learn about something that I can’t fully comprehend, then effectively “teach” that lesson in a fictive sense. This game fit that bill.

David: “Knockout” is told in the second person. Several of your stories in short story collection, “Townies and Other Tales of Southern Mischief” are told in the second person. And even if they aren’t told in the second person, there is a style of the author unmistakably telling the reader a story. Can you talk a bit about this style of the writer being ever present in the story telling?

Eryk: A majority of my later fiction was written to be read aloud at Noir at the Bar events. I’ve always felt that a successful public reading makes great use of the intimate relationship between the reader and his/her audience. The use of second person is a helpful device to facilitate that intimacy.
Also, nearly everything I’ve written in one tense was probably written in a different tense in an earlier draft. I’ll try out a few different things until I feel it’s got the sound I’m looking for.

David: Let’s chat about the importance of first lines. There are jarring ones in “Townies” like “The blood puddled beneath her husband, then slithered between the kitchen floor tiles she had only last week re-grouted.” (The Joe Flacco Defense) and “Horace Moncrief had mown clear up one end of his yard and down the other, then was ready to go after the patch on the side when he saw the dog get hit by the car.” (Town and Gown). But then you have these other first lines that deceptively plain like “Some things you can’t never get used to.” (Knacker) and “You always loved her arms.” (Sixteenths). These are similar to the first line of “Knockout” which is this: “A person’s phone tells you a lot about them.” Let’s talk a moment about the difficulty of the first line. The first lines I mention above grab the readers in different ways and set different moods. Thoughts about the importance of first lines and the work to get them just right?

Eryk: I wish I had magic powers like Donald Ray Pollock and could nail an exciting first line every time out. That guy has sick skills.
However, a lot of the times, the function of my first line is to set up the second line, and then the third and so on and so forth. In the instances you list above, I tried to add an extra relevance to the “deceptively plain” first lines which becomes more apparent once the reader finishes the story.
However, I distinctly remember that with “Knacker,” I cut about 5000 words that preceded “Some things you can’t never get used to.” I didn’t realize until I’d been writing that story for two weeks that everything I’d done to that point was mere backstory notes.
The action didn’t kickstart until that line.

David: Flash fiction in crime fiction usually has a twist that other flash fiction tends to shy away from. Throughout the “Knockout” the reader is expecting they’re traveling down one path and then you say, “Fuck that, this is what’s going on.” This almost goes back to the first question, but how have you seen your stories change from inception to their final draft as you try to get the true gotcha moment?

Eryk: I am a huge fan of the way Stanley Kubrick told stories. Look back over his varied career and you’ll find a very simple, but elegant, structure. Almost all his stories begin on one track, and then the second half of the movie turns the story on its head and sends the characters he’s established into a different direction. It’s a brilliant way to tell two stories at once and maneuver an established cast of characters through a landmine of plot and I don’t mind stealing the technique from him.

David: “Townies” is not all flash fiction; you have stories from less than 700 words to one that checks I at over 22, 000 and everywhere in between. Can you talk about the sweet spot of matching the story to the appropriate story length?

Eryk: A lot of time, the story will dictate the length. I have a tendency to overwrite, so in the editing process I can come back and reframe the narrative to fit a particular word count. Most markets I found go for that 3000-5000 word range, and, when left to my own devices, my short fiction tends to adapt to those restrictions. Flash fiction (less than 1000 words) is very hard, but no crime writer’s career is complete until they’ve been accepted into Out of the Gutter or Shotgun Honey, so I accepted the challenge.

The title story, “Townies,” was a new piece, written specifically for the collection. There have been a couple of times that I’ve let a story air out and ended up with something in the 12-20K word range which, in this industry, can be a death knell. Nobody wants something that size. However, I was fortunate to have the guiding hand of Jason Pinter at Polis Books to help me shape Townies. I had a couple of disastrous ideas for how I wanted my first short story collection to look and he took the time to help steer me through these rocky waters. One of his many valued suggestions was to create something with weight that could anchor the collection, regardless of word count. Not only was I super grateful for his publishing expertise, but I jumped at the chance to operate without a leash.

David: You read at quite a few Noir at the Bars and I noticed several of the stories collected in “Townies” were ones that I heard you read. Are you planning on writing some new stories?

Eryk: For the past decade, I’ve kept scraps of paper with unused story ideas in my desk’s “Later Drawer.” I could write every day until I’m called home to Glory and not use all the paper in that drawer. I count myself lucky.
So yes, I’ll write more stories for Noir at the Bar and I have a couple stories recently published that aren’t collected in Townies. I pay homage to a Dallas wrestling dynasty with my short story “The Last of the High Flying Van Alstynes” in Adam Howe’s “Wrestle Maniacs”. I also wrote for two memorial collections, each benefitting charities on behalf of two fallen comrades in the crime fiction community. I wrote “I’ll Be Your Mirror” for the Lou Reed inspired fiction antho “Dirty Boulevard”, which honored Jonathan Ashley. You’ll also find my tribute to early life in Durham, North Carolina, titled “Pin Hooked” in “Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace”.


Thanks for stopping by and reading Unlawful Acts.

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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.

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I Bring Sorrow And Other Stories of Transgression by Patricia Abbott

i-bring-sorrow-by-patricia-abbottHaving not read Patricia Abbott before, I had no idea what to expect from her short story collection, I Bring Sorrow And Other Stories of Transgression, other than its beautiful title. Many of these stories were published by websites and editors that I was familiar with, so I thought I had a good grasp of what to expect. I was delightfully mistaken.

Abbott’s stories easily move between time and setting uncannily capturing the dissatisfaction of a people. From the title of Abbott’s book, the sadness and the word choice of transgression instead of, say, crime sets the mood of the stories.

When I wrote my review of Scott Adlerberg’s Jack Waters, I shied away from comparisons to the great writers his book reminded me of, Paul Bowles and Jorge Luis Borges. I regret that decision and I won’t make it again. Reading Abbott’s I Bring Sorrow gave me the feeling of living and breathing again in an Anne Tyler novel. Like many of Tyler’s books, I Bring Sorrow is quintessentially a American book: filled with misguided expectations, failed experiences, and empty successes.

I’ve begun to up a chronicle of sorts–a record-detailing my wife’s principle deficits–which have become glaringly clear over the past month. It’s given me an unexpected thrill–laying it all out. Nothing is in plain sight though. I’m no fool. Ten things I hate about her. That sounds a little harsh, doesn’t it? So many, then why are we married? Out of habit, commitment, financial reasons, ennui? Perhaps getting it off my chest will serve as balm.

So basically begins “Ten Things I Hate About My Wife”. The mood of the Abbott’s characters is of a people not so much separated not from their feelings – feelings are found abundantly throughout – they are removed from their own lives as if there existence was of no matter to those around them. In I Bring Sorrow, Abbott’s stories grasp that Melania Trump look, the one when she is standing next to her husband, but Abbott’s voice is far more beautiful and more alive than that current picture you have in your head. Patricia Abbott’s I Bring Sorrow, besides being well-written, captures the ether-like disenchantment and weariness of a people lost.

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Culprits by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips

culprits-the-heist-was-just-the-beginning-edited-by-richard-brewer-ande2808e-gary-phillipsI was unsure when I picked up Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning with nine different writers trying to write one novel, it scared me, it seemed an invitation to chaos. Collaborative fiction with multiples authors is nothing new especially in the mystery genre as there are The Floating Admiral (1931), Naked Came the Manatee (1996), Natural Suspect (2001), and No Rest for the Dead (2010). Heck, the folks over at Down & Out Books and The Thrill Begins are releasing a collaborative novel next week called The Night of the Flood edited by E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen. And then there’s my natural fear of anthologies: I find them to be usually weak, jarring when finishing one story and more to the next, and, sadly, in many anthologies we aren’t seeing a writer’s best work.

When I opened Culprits my concerns disappeared. I had forgotten about the cinematic rush of nostalgia that I get from reading a heist novel, my childhood years spent watching movies like Hot Rock, Thief, Goldfinger, the Pink Panther films, and the Mission Impossible tv show. I would even include The Sting and Day of the Jackal but it might provoke some arguments. As the 70s fell into the background and I moved on to other interests, the heist film was still there, attractive and enjoyable.

Brewer and Phillips have put together a book with nine distinct voices that moves along at the required rapid pace and, more importantly, well-written. I don’t think I can stress this enough, the writers participating in this heist gone wrong book (Brett Battles, Gar Anthony Haywood, Zoë Sharp, Manuel Ramos, Jessica Kaye, Joe Clifford and David Corbett) know their craft. The writers are like a heist crew, each capable at what they do and executing flawlessly at it. I liked how Sharp bent time in “The Wife”, how Manuel Ramos took on the ghost of Jim Thompson in “Snake Farm”, and the darkness of Joe Clifford’s “Eel Estevez”.

Brewer and Phillips’ Culprits is quite a lot of fun: the heist goes bad, the crew scatters, we root for them and hope they get out if it safely and when they don’t, you shrug your shoulders, “Yup, that’s what happens when a heist goes bad.” If you are looking for a smart, entertaining book then Brewer and Phillips’ Culprits is it. Culprits is not the next great crime novel and I don’t think that was its intention, but it’s far better than that TV show you are binging or that comic book movie you want to go see.

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Walk in the Fire by Steph Post

walk-in-the-fire-by-steph-postOne of the interesting things about Steph Post, to me, is that she’s gone through much of her growth as a writer in public. Her debut novel, A Tree Born Crooked, established her gift for place and for scraping its grit onto the page, but I felt it suffered from having an undercooked, largely offstage antagonist.

Lightwood represented a monster leap forward-definitely no problem with all manner of colorful antagonists and antagonism there-and was even more rich in the blood-and-booze-soaked red clay of north-central Florida. My only quibble with it was that the central character, Judah Cannon, prodigal son of a small-time crime clan, was a soft-focus cipher in comparison to the sharply drawn cast of crazies and crackers cuffing him around in all directions.

Walk in the Fire, Post’s third novel and the second in the Cannon saga, arrives as a fully formed story full of fully realized characters, Judah included. With his domineering father and older brother out of the picture, Judah must act rather than react, must plan and execute for the long haul. The central conflict for Judah is quickly established: Will he step up and seize the reins of the Cannon’s second-rate shakedown empire as everyone expects? Or will he honor his promise to the love of his life, Ramey, and leave their hometown and its malignant pull behind?

You know the answer as well I do. But, oh, how that answer spools out, as suspensefully as a man trying to reel in a game fish that might have more fight in it that anyone reckons. Judah’s best intentions get him pulled into a power struggle that involves not just Sister Tulah, the power behind the Pentecostal-on-PCP church that fronts for a criminal empire even more ambitious than that of the Cannon family, but a host of holy-shit others.

There’s Everett Weaver, a force of gun-crazed nature that abhors a criminal vacuum, who has a personal grudge against the Cannons. There’s Benji, the little Cannon brother whose injuries suffered during the events of Lightwood have left him bitter, impulsive and dangerous. There’s Shelia, the not-as-dumb-as-she-sounds knockaround girl whose conscience won’t quite leave her be. And there’s Brother Felton, who’s taken some baby steps back from his Aunt Tulah but can’t quite break away from the dominant figure in his passive existence.

My personal favorite is ATF Special Agent Clive Grant, a collection of colorful complications that only begin with being a black man with a badge in Crackerville USA. Post does an amazing job of making him into a man whose righteous obsessions run neck-and-neck with his remarkable ability to come up just short of justifying his presence, let alone establishing himself as an intimidating one.

Imagine a federal agent with high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome, someone who lacks guile but also lacks an innate sense of how career games are played and how career cases are made. Rarely do federal agents get portrayed with such nuance; usually their “complexities” are rolled out as tropes: a violent past, an agitated relationship, a private sense of victimization by cardboard antagonists, etc. Grant, by comparison, is a stunning original.

But besides Judah, who finally makes some hard decisions independent of Ramey, Walk in the Fire is largely Sister Tulah’s show, and her show is a stunner. Another of Post’s great gifts is for filling pages with entertainingly over-the-edge ersatz evangelism that’s so distant from any form of Christianity we’d recognize as to create doubt over whether what Tulah believes in is even a Christian deity at all.

At a weekend getaway for her and her fellow nutjobs, we’re treated to pages of this:

Tulah looked at each of the Angels in turn. Like the Watchers, they wore long robes, though theirs looked as though they had been dipped in blood, and copper masks crowned with seven horns. Whereas the visages of the Watchers’ masks were featureless, the Angels’ each bore the likeness of the Spirit that had descended upon them. The radiant faces of an Ox, a Lion, an Eagle and a Man all beamed at Tulah and each Angel nodded to her in turn. She stepped to the Throne and held the sickle over the fire. The flames popped and spit, licking her wrist, but she couldn’t feel her flesh burning. Tulah dropped the sickle into the bowl and bowed her head.

I imagine Post cackling with mad glee as she created this perverted Pentecostalism. As much as I was cackling with mad glee as I read it.

Walk in the Fire is full of similarly inspired moments, and sumptuously crafted plot threads wrapping themselves around her sumptuously crafted characters like kudzu vines until they, and we, can scarcely breathe. Everything makes sense, and everyone surprises. It represents the intersection of Steph Post’s abundant talent with her growing command of story and character craft. It’s damned close to a perfect novel, and closes by dropping a damned-close-to-perfect cliffhanger in the next chapter in the Sister Tulah-Cannon saga. I, for one, cannot wait.

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What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt

what-we-reckon-by-eryk-pruittIn the Drive-By Trucker’s seminal album Decoration Day there’s a song called “Outift” where a father gives some advice to his son with lines like “Don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit” or “Don’t ever say your car is broke”. But one of the lines that stuck with me is, “Don’t worry about losing your accent, a Southern Man tells better jokes.” I’ve had the pleasure to listen to Eryk Pruitt read at a Noir at the Bar, I can vouch that Pruitt tells much better jokes than most. I tell you this because when reading What We Reckon the words drip Pruitt’s voice.

Pruitt’s What We Reckon (Polis Books) begins with Jack and Summer held up in a hotel waiting for fake Texas IDs. They are hunkered down because Jack has stolen a kilo of cocaine and they are on their way to a new life in East Texas. Jack had reached out to an old friend for the IDs, but Jack as always wants more, Jack wants to see what else he can get for himself.

Craig threw up a hand. “You’ve got a way of dragging people down with you and, if it’s all the same, I want to be left out of it. One day or another, someone’s going to get a hold of you. The law or worse, and I can’t have it leading back to me.” He slipped the truck into gear, then didn’t so much as nod as he backed out of the motel lot and, in a spray of gravel and rock, got himself onto the freeway.

Jack stood there a spell. First, he felt awful. Craig’s words, like ricochet, pierced him and knocked him senseless. Then, up came the fury. He’d become quite skilled at starting anew and wasn’t accustomed to someone popping in from his past to throw fast a finger in judgment. It was all he could do to keep from climbing into the shitty Honda they’d just bought and chase down his old friend to run him off the road, give him the what-for he’d probably had coming since they were little.

Eventually, all of that settled and left him standing alone with only the fluorescent hum of the street lamps and the faraway din of traffic. It was easy to hate, thought Jack. It was easy to fly off the handle and take your eyes off the prize.

More difficult was to keep focus.

To learn from one’s mistakes.

Perhaps Craig had a point. Perhaps things had run somewhat off the rails. Perhaps time for a change beckoned. Perhaps it was time he shed himself of Summer or Jasmine or whatever her name was, lest she drag him down.

But he had many things to do before that day came. For one, he had a stolen kilo of cocaine to unload. For another, he had to carefully map the quickest backwoods route into East Texas. And, more pressing, he had about three-quarters of corn liquor left in that bottle back in the room.

He slapped his palms against his thighs, as if brushing them clean, then headed back inside to see if maybe Summer would snap out of it long enough to help him finish it.

What We Reckon is filled with love, drugs, jealousy, more drugs, rage, and then more drugs. Jack and Summer make it to East Texas and that’s where Summer comes to life. In a brief afternoon, her years of experience following Phish and other jam bands, move her from one group of stoners to their dealers and so forth. Jack, on the other hand, is a bit older than the college kids that Summer deals with so he stews in his own thoughts, paranoia, and wild-ass dreams. Though Jack and Summer might have a plan, their history of plans end up going to shit through all the faults of their own. Not all criminals are drug addicts, but drug addicts do make the shittiest criminals.

The dynamic between Jack and Summer is the most interesting part of this book. These characters consistently fail to connect with one another and even when they do come close, it’s always askew. Not only destroying themselves, their toxicity infects those around them. Theirs is a slow-moving clusterfuck. Watching Jack and Summer is not like watching a car crash, no, it’s more like watching an obliterated couple, one totally fucked up and the other trying to care for them until something new drug or bottle comes along and they disappear. What We Reckon is a great read and as fun as that time when Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue decided to cut loose.

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Dark Chapter by Winnie Li

Winnie Li's "Dark Chapter"Rape as a crime is rarely examined in crime fiction. If rape is considered it is usually part of a bigger crime, murder or serial murders. This changes with Winnie Li’s Dark Chapter (Polis Books). Based on her own rape while hiking in Belfast, Winnie Li not only writes from the point of view of the victim, she also takes on the point of view of the rapist.

Then he remembers: just a few hours earlier, swaying in the dark street with Gerry and Donal, drinking a mouthful of cheap whiskey and then another. There’d been pills that night. And dope. He remembers wandering into a pub with the lads, getting chased out by the owner. Then hunkering down at Gerry’s and watching porn.

Not only does Winnie Li’s novel move from each perspective but it hovers between times whether present, the extreme past, the day of the crime, and the days and months after the crime. With all of these pieces, it would be easy to get lost — we don’t —, but I believe Winnie Li chooses to use all of these slices of time and persons to emphasize the jarring and violent nature of rape. There is nothing smooth and easy here.Li also captures the differences between Vivian’s personalities pre- and post-rape and we journey with her as she tries to come to terms with the crimes against her. At times there is numbness and other times a calculated detail. As a male reader of

Winnie Li also captures the differences between Vivian’s personalities pre- and post-rape she tries to come to terms with the crimes against her. At times the writing depicts a numbness, other times a calculated detail, and other times a naivete.  As a male reader of Dark Chapter, I worked hard to empathize with Vivian’s experiences and, hopefully, I succeeded in doing so, but it was Winnie Li’s delving into the mind of her rapist, Johnny, that I felt was an extraordinary feat: a victim telling the story from the rapist’s point of view.

As crime fiction reviewers begin to think about their Top 10 lists for 2017, the only reason that Winnie Li’s Dark Chapter would not appear on someone’s list is that the reviewer did not have the time to read the book. Don’t let that person be you. There is no doubt that Dark Chapter is a difficult book to read, but it is also a great book to read.

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