Just under 11 months ago horror writer and publisher, Ed Kurtz, released the first in a series of novellas featuring a downtrodden and disgraced PI named Sam Truman, who attempts to meek out an existence in an LA-esque city where his only friend is an unfriendly hash slinger named Clu. The framework for any number of stories filled with PI tropes, and in Sam’s case a beeline for the bizarre. You wouldn’t expect a horror writer to present us a straight PI case, would you?
Kurtz kicked off the chaos with CATCH MY KILLER. Penned by Kurtz himself, the first book sets the tone for the series and introduces us to Sam Truman and Clu the begrudging friend and owner of the hash house, Ralph’s. We learn quickly that Sam is in dept up to his eyeballs and out of cash, and he can’t find a straight gig because of his tarnished name and lost license. His only saving grace is service served with a frown along with a cup putrid coffee and overdone hash compliments of Clu. So when Clu gets held up, Sam tries the make the most of the situation, maybe gain favor of Clu, and save the day. Of course it goes sideways turning into a tale dead women and body snatchers. While things get their worse for Sam and Clu, Sam manages to get by on his wit, a generous portion of luck and a relentlessness to get the job done. And he does.
CATCH MY KILLER is quickly followed up by THE LAST INVASION by Brandon Zuern and SOFT KISS, HARD DEATH by Tobin Elliott. THE LAST INVASION has Sam looking for a lost girl, chasing a serial killer and finding aliens, and not the kind that come from south of the border. Elliott’s SOFT KISS, HARD DEATH Sam suddenly finds himself flush with money only to find himself destined for a deadly date with a creature who’s just trying to figure herself out. Sam has her number and does the figuring himself.
The first three are very compatible, Sam cracks wise and manages to get by, even though he rarely has any control he seems confident enough that he can manipulate the situation to his benefit. The fourth novella in the series is somewhat of a departure.
BOUND BY JADE written by Adam Cesare takes Sam out of his comfort zone. Instead of heading into danger of his own choice, he wakes up right in the middle and as the story goes you get a sense he’s been dragged along for the ride just like the reader. Of course there is a purpose to this change in direction as it relates directly towards the mystery at hand, Sam is bound not only by his natural white knight fatalistic tendencies but bound to the artifact he has been asked to protect.
The Sam Truman series evolves and never takes the same turn. That is the strength of a novella series like this, where each is written by a different writer who add both to the mythos and piece of themselves while staying true to what came before it. And with each chapter this series gets stronger.
To be honest, forthright, I have worked with Ed Kurtz in the past, publishing his stories on Shotgun Honey. I’ve enjoyed much of his work and despite knowing him and reading his work, I hadn’t read any of the Sam Truman stories until just over a week ago when I discovered CATCH MY KILLER on my Kindle when I was looking for something different to read. So I did, which prompted me to buy, download and machine gun through the next three books, over two days, roughly 8 hours. I don’t do that. Not anymore, with the reading load I have editing and managing multiple short fiction sites. So if you want to know honest opinion on how I felt about the series? I read one and then I read them all.
I also read THE PALE MAN by Nate Southard, a talented horror writer I first discovered through Brian Keene. Ed was kind enough to send me a copy in advance. I suppose I may have begged for it, maybe? I read it over a lunch and a break, with just a little to finish off while I made dinner.
Southard’s installment in the Sam Truman Mystery series for me is my favorite. Building on the prior stories, Southard brings back the confident, wisecracking Sam, at least for a little bit. Sam is looking for a missing person who has stolen a family heirloom, and the heirloom must be found at all cost. And all cost, apparently, includes Sam’s sanity and anyone who succumb to power of THE PALE MAN. While the previous stories touched upon the bizarre and paranormal, with a dash of horror, Southard’s THE PALE MAN kicks it up a notch leaning a little more towards horror taking Sam from a confident to a horrified, albeit persistent, man.
From hard-boiled to sci-fi to horror, along with Sam’s deftly delivered wisecracks, any genre fan will read this novella series and find something to enjoy. I like a little mix-mash and trust me, the Goulash is good. I look forward to the next Sam Truman Mystery and wonder which genre and adversary will he defy?
To give you a little more 411, I asked Ed a quick trio of questions. This is what he had to say.
1 – What was the inspiration for Sam Truman and the series?
I’m a longtime fan of “men’s adventure serials” in fiction, the sort of thing wherein a generally macho antihero leaps from adventure to adventure in each volume with nary a scratch on him, and as a horror and crime writer, I wanted to create something that combined all of these elements. Sam Truman is a classic mid-20th century P.I. existing in a supernatural underworld most people don’t know about. Ebooks have made serial fiction something people can really enjoy again, so it’s definitely time for a revival, as we’ve seen with other series like Lee Goldberg’s The Dead Man.
2 – Sam manages to get by on persistence and very little luck, what keeps him going when the world is against him?
Sam is terribly fatalistic and doesn’t give much time to thinking about how the things he sees and investigates could happen, much less why they happen to him. He’s a man of action, always pushing forward to the next thing, barely hanging on by a thread but the thread is enough. It’s possible he might give up if he ever had a chance to catch his breath, but there’s always something else about to menace him right around the corner.
3 – With 5 books in, what do you take away from doing a novella series? And I know this is a cheat, but would you consider doing future series?
It’s been tremendous fun working with so many terrific authors and watching how they take this character and make him their own. Though there aren’t any plans in motion right now for another series apart from Sam Truman, it is certainly a possibility…