Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

If you live long enough, you have the opportunity to reflect on your choices. If you are fortunate these choices are made deliberately, by conscious will, or not so by the shear movement of life — the propulsion of events that are beyond your control.

Patterson Wells is a man defined by a single event of which he had no choice — the death of his young son, Justin. Unable to cope, though he tries through a journal he keeps with touching, heartfelt letters to his son, he propels himself through the life with risk and recklessness.

Patterson works a dangerous job in disaster recovery, clearing away debris from fires, floods, tornadoes and all forms of natural disaster, and working along side men just as reckless and dangerous as the work he consumes. Long days, sleepless nights, allows Patterson to push away the pain, and what pain remains he dulls with booze, drugs, and the occasional bar fight.

While Cry Father primarily focuses on Patterson, Wells is not the only broken soul fighting against past sins and regrets. Through Patterson we meet Henry, a former rodeo rider in his twilight, and Henry’s son Junior, who runs drugs to Colorado for the Cartel and hates his father. Then there is Patterson’s ex-wife, Laney, who still love him and wants him to face Justin’s death, to mourn with her and live life again. Unwittingly, her well meaning attempts to help Patterson let go only pushes him away and into the company of Junior.

From the first chapter, Benjamin Whitmer establishes a teetering balance of violence and humanity that sets the mood and expectation for the rest of the novel. Cry Father, like Whitmer’s freshman novel Pike, is a brutal examination of man’s capability for self-destruction swaddled in the hope of redemption. Do men like Patterson Wells ever find hope? Do they deserve it?

This story of fathers — of choices, and of mistakes — connects deeply with me as a father and as a son. I’d like to believe there is hope for making up for past mistakes, but the reality is sometimes there isn’t ever time enough. We just move forward until we no longer do.

While I shamble into my future, I hope it is filled with more Benjamin Whitmer.

Review: A Wind of Knives by Ed Kurtz

A few months ago, I had the great thrill to be offered to blurb a novella from Snubnose Press and I responded enthusiastically to the request. But in true fashion I put off reading the book and things entered and exited my limited consciousness. Shiny baubles. And before I knew it, 2 months had passed and I hadn’t read or blurbed or anything. I’m a horrible person.

So I touched base with Snubnose Press to see if they still needed the blurb. Sure did. I read the story over the weekend and intended to put together my blurb early the next week. That’s when Murphy and Darwin conspired against me and through some stupidly heroic deeds, which I’ve sworn under oath to the Government not to disclose, I broke my right hand, and for those playing along it’s also my write hand. It has some other nicknames, but we don’t need to go into that.

Last Friday, A WIND OF KNIVES by Ed Kurtz was unleashed upon the word sans a blurb from me. A lifetime dedication to procrastination has served me well and bemused many a fellow dependent on my magnanimous promises.

Ed and Brian (and crew) at Snubnose Press, my sincere apologies.

I think I’ve castigated myself sufficiently, let us get on with my opinions.

Over the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure to read stories by Ed Kurtz, from his novel Bleed to his his Sci-Fi / Horror series about the down on his luck detective Sam Truman to stories I’ve had the pleasure to publish myself through Shotgun Honey. One thing I’ve learned to expect from Kurtz is that I shouldn’t have any expectations at all. Each story is an amorphous experience where the rules are unbound. So when I was told he had written a Western, something I had never seen from the Texas native, it was not unexpected.  Still, like with most of his work, it was full of its surprises.

windofknives_A Wind of Knives starts off and hits three major tropes of the Western: Love, Revenge, and Duty.

We find our protagonist, Daniel Hays, staring up along the hills into a falling dusk, a scene that should be a captivating canvas of Texas landscape only to be drawn towards Daniel’s true focus. A hanging man, his ranch hand and his lover Steven. This sets in motion a story, with gender and sexuality set aside, that makes for a riveting tale of revenge, and with elevates the story above a standard Western.

Kurtz tells a story of a man who has loved and lost, not once, but twice in his lifetime. The first his wife Elizabeth who died from sickness and then again with Steven who died, as the story would unwind, from hate. It is from his understanding of Love, removed from the boundaries of gender, that Daniel searches out his lover’s killers despite being no where near suited for the job. His sense of duty would bring him to peril and near death, into the arms of unsuspecting tenderness and ultimately unmask the face of hate.

Knives is more than a Western, and from a writer who comfortably writes terrifying mechanization of  Horror, Kurtz isn’t too far away from his wheelhouse with a story ignited by hate and extinguished with love.

Kudos to Ed Kurtz and Snubnose Press for publishing A Wind of Knives.

Review: The Drifter Detective by Garnett Elliott

1One of the impetuses of creating The Big Adios were the western tales of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles by pulp fictioneer and provocateur David Cranmer. Which have spawn from the short stories he wrote as Edward A. Grainger, who by the way launched TBA with the story “Missing,” to a series of novellas and novelettes. So when I saw a new Laramie story yesterday, I was all in. Only…

Only, this wasn’t Cash Laramie. No this was Jack Laramie the grandson of the famous Outlaw Marshal. Armed with a colt, his granddad’s lucky arrow head and a beat up DeSoto, Jack travels the back roads of Texas looking for snoop work, hoping to save up enough scratch to open his own detective agency and put down roots.

While I got roped into this story with the Laramie name, Jack Laramie stands on his own as a veteran with a hell of an uppercut who’s not afraid to buck system or change the rules as given him. Clocking in at 9,000 words (give or take), The Drifter Detective is a lean, deftly crafted story by a writer I’ve had the good fortune to publish myself, Garnett Elliott. While I’m sold on the series, I’d definitely be fully invested in future Jack Laramie stories by Mr. Elliott.

Go get yourself a copy of The Drifter Detective. Less than a buck, you can’t go wrong with one-two punch of Jack Laramie and Garnett Elliott.

Frank Bill giveaway

donnybrookA week ago, I did a write up of Frank Bill’s debut novel DONNYBROOK and having a couple extra copies on my hand I offered someone in the audience a chance to win one of those copies. What was entry fee for such a reward? Simply give me other books to read while I’m cooling my heals for the next Frank Bill novel. Given I’m not the fastest of readers, that would still be a considerable void to fill if we’re lucky enough to get another book within 18 months. The wheels of publishing are a slow and bitter beast.

I reached out as best I could and got the following suggestions to keep the tide of anxiety away.

Ryan Sayles offered up his own novel from Snubnose Press, THE SUBTLE ART OF BRUTALITY. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. You should know I support my own and I’ve already read it. The title really does say all that needs to be said to sell the book.

Erik Arneson recommended, and I give a strong second, THE LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING by Peter Farris. Alas, I already own Pete’s book and equally look forward to his next release.

The towering Seth Harwood throws me a fresh author, Russell Banks and his short story collection TRAILER PARK. I will be adding that to my to read list. Thanks Seth, and for those who are looking for a good action series go and read his Jack Palms series, JACK WAKES UP and THIS IS LIFE, as well as his new thriller IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.

The mondo bearded and plaid clad Brian Beatty recommends Barry Hannah’s YOUNDER STANDS YOUR ORPHAN saying that this Faulknerian tome is bleak and bolder than Hannah’s earlier works.

Paul von Stoetzel offers up WINTER’S BONE by Daniel Woodrell, as well snuck in Scalped comic series and Jed Ayres’ FIERCE BITCHES. All which are in my possession (or soon will be as Jed’s book is ferrying itself from Australia at this very moment.)

So the bottom line here is I need to figure out which of you deserves to win. I’m sorry, but I have to mark off Ryan, Erik and Paul since their recommendations are already in my library. I know, you’re not psychic or have access to my bookshelves. Thanks for playing.

So that leaves Brian and Seth who suggest not only works I haven’t read, but authors I was unfamiliar. I suppose I’ll flip a coin. Heads for Seth and tails for Brian. *flipping*

TAILS!

Sorry Seth. I will be looking into Russell Banks.

Brian, I’ll contact you on Facebook to get your address.

Review: Donnybrook by Frank Bill

frankbillI know I’ve mentioned this a time or two, but my first introduction to Frank Bill was an excerpt of DONNYBROOK that appeared on Do Some Damage almost three years ago. I had just filtered my way into the crime fiction community, discovered flash fiction, and DSD was my gateway to enumerable sites and authors. It was that excerpt that sent me on hunt for more Frank Bill, and the discovery of many stories that appeared in his debut short story collection, CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA.

For my entertainment value Frank has done good by me, DONNYBROOK was no exception.

“I don’t make threats. I offer moments to reconcile one’s shitty choices”

donnybrook-ukTowards the end of Frank Bill’s novel, Chainsaw Angus, a retired bare-knuckle brawler turned meth user/dealer, utters the quote above and it stuck out. It just buzzed in my ear and to my reading encapsulated the entire book’s tone. DONNYBROOK is a series of interwoven characters, each who come from troubling circumstances, leading them to make shitty choice after shitty choice. The only reconciliation for these characters is to keep punching forward through the consequence of those choices, to beat and batter their way towards their rightful reward. And for Chainsaw Angus, the bombastic Liz, the double-crossing Ned and the morally skewed Jarhead Earl that leads them to the three-day fight festival known as Bellmont McGill’s Donnybrook. And not far behind are Deputy Sheriff Whalen looking for revenge and the exotic Fu Xi seeking to collect a debt.

DONNYBROOK is all at once a high octane juggernaut of violence and destruction, while also being a reflective commentary on the disintegration of Southern Indiana wrought from meth addiction and economic poverty. A moral decay blights a lost Orange County, and our protagonists—if there are any, because there are no heroes here, only survivors—choose to forge their way with busted knuckles and spent bullets to each their deserved reward.

For a book I’ve waited nearly three years to read, Frank Bill served up the social canvas he laid down with CRIMES and then gave it an unhealthy bump of meth-fueled adventure. Like I’ve said before Frank Bill doesn’t disappoint, and I wouldn’t pass on my thoughts just to build him up. I enjoyed DONNYBROOK from cover to cover, and look forward to what Frank cooks up next because I’ve already got the itch.

donnybrookSo while I’m miserable for the next Frank Bill, I thought I might make you miserable as well. I’ve found myself with two copies of DONNYBROOK, one red and one blue. I don’t need both, even though they look mighty pretty on my bookshelf, so I’m going to give one away. The winner can choose the color. So what do you have to do?

It’s going to be a wait until the next Frank Bill release, so here’s what I want. I want you to fill up the comments with recommendations of new, old and not released novels and collections to keep pangs away, to feed and fill me up with comparable material. So drop me one title by whoever and sell me on the plot. Recommend as many as you like, each in their own comment. I’ll pick my favorite and send the winner a copy of Frank Bill’s DONNYBROOK.

Tom Piccirilli and a Pack of Thieves

I’ve never had the pleasure, as they say, to meet Tom Piccirilli. At least not in the traditional sense. We’ve bumped virtual shoulders through Brian Keene’s forums and on Twitter, I’ve followed him on Facebook. He and his work have always come in high regard. Tom is a working class writer who seems easy to admire. Because of that I’ve always intended on reading his work, to make that call for myself, and like several writers I intend on reading time always seems to stand in the way. I often imagine myself like Burgess Meredith in that episode of The Twilight Zone where all he wished for was time to read, and what happens when time is no longer a factor? He breaks his glasses. And with twenty odd years of eye strain from working too close to monitors, I need those glasses now to read.

When Tom’s The Last Kind Words was released in June to solid reviews and internet buzz, at least in my circle of influence, I wanted to run out and get the book. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t in a position to drop $18-$25 on a book, any book. So it was shoved off to my to my TBR list and I would be able to pick it up who knows when? Then the unfortunate happened.

Tom Piccirilli was diagnosed with a near tennis ball sized tumor in his brain, and he would have to have surgery and follow up treatment. If you’re in my circle of influence, you probably know all this and have been following updates from his wife, Michelle, on Facebook. If you haven’t, even if you have, you should read Tom’s guest post on writer and friend Brian Keene‘s website. It encapsulates the unique experience of facing death, fear, hope and love. Go read “Meeting the Black” and I’ll be right here when you come back.

Powerful stuff, wasn’t it?

Since the announcement there has been an outpouring of support from the community, and any doubt that Tom is loved, respected, has been overshadowed many times over. From notes of well wishes, offers of publishers to donate proceeds, to a rise in sales, and the many donations Tom and his wife have received.

Being in a little better place, I purchased The Last Kind Words and contributed a small token to the Indie Go Go campaign set up in his name. What better way to show your support for a writer than to buy his books?

I don’t know if the The Last Kind Words is the perfect introduction to Tom Piccirilli, to his his catalog of work, but as a first time reader I am sold on Tom the writer. I am hopeful that my stockings will be filled with several of his past novels this year, and that I’ll have years more of new material to read once Tom has put Cancer under his thumb.

The Last Kind Words is the story of Terrier “Terry” Rand a rehabilitated thief who is drawn back to his family, a family of thieves, when his brother Collie asks to see him weeks before he is to be executed for a killing spree he committed five years earlier. The same time Terry decided he was done with the life and with his family, putting his past behind him and heading out west to live a quiet life of anonymity. Despite his resentment of his past, of his brother, he is drawn back hoping to answer questions and to have a glimpse of a life he left behind.

Piccirilli deftly tells a story of family, fractured by unexplained and unforgiving murders committed Collie the eldest son. Then he presents us with a mystery when Collie recants to one of the murders, a mystery that would weave its way through the family story to either stitch them back together or unravel them completely.

The story is multifaceted, creating as many questions as there are answers. And I will admit that by the end I wanted more. There are stories yet to be told about Terry and the remaining family in this pack of thieves, so perhaps wanting more is exactly what Piccirilli was going for and I suppose time will tell.

This won’t be the last book I read by Tom Piccirilli, I look forward to reading more and letting him know in person one day just how much I enjoy his work. Maybe next time I’m out in Colorado visiting the in-laws I’ll take an afternoon and drive up for a sit down.

Writing About Wrongs

If ever there was a perfect slogan, short phrase that told you everything you needed to know in a soundbite, it would be Thuglit’s “Writing About Wrongs.”

The other day in my interview with Joe Clifford I mentioned I was remiss about not stumbling onto this community crime sooner. I missed the first round/generation of Thuglit who published the likes of Frank Bill (Crimes in Southern Indiana) and Hilary Davidson (The Damage Done) within its pages. I could list names upon names of the talented writers that have graced its pages, established and rising stars. Alas there is only so much time, so I recommend you go out and discover them on your own.

When I was coming onto the scene Thuglit was just about to an end, and then the world went a little (a lot) sideways for me. So I missed the last hoorah. But you know what, just like in comic books, death isn’t the final chapter. Big Daddy Thug, Todd Robinson (Hard Bounce) resurrected Thuglit in a new format fit for the Kindle and a POD print companion.

Because dimes have been hard to put together of late, I opted for the Kindle version. Even money hard, I would happy to scrounge around two bucks for a digital copy of Thuglit, at 99 cents it’s a steal. Either way, worth every penny.

The first issue brought in some ringers; Hilary Davidson, Matthew C. Funk, Jordan Harper, Jason Duke, Johnny Shaw, along with Terrence P. McCauley, Mike Wilkerson and Court Merrigan. Then topped it off with a preview of Hard Bounce, Robinson’s new novel being released from my favorite crime imprint, Tyrus Books.

8 stories and preview.

Second issue followed the same format, 8+1. It was a smash, with stories from Shotgun Honey contributors Nik Korpon, Jen Conley and Katherine Tomlinson. Mike MacLean was the only other name I was familiar with. It introduced me to the fine words of Marc Fitch, Justin Porter, Patrick Lambe and Buster Willoughby. I don’t know if these are new voices, or ones I have yet to discover. I find I discover new voices all the time due to fantastic outlets like Thuglit, Needle and Plots with Guns. Not to mention the flashzines that have become my daily diet.

This issue was no different, like a Siren calling a chorus of crime.

I really do hate to pick favorites in this last issue, between 8 so varied stories, but Tomlinson’s “Participatory Democracy” about a woman on an economic down slide really hit on all cylinders for me. Perhaps it was the political heat of the day? “Just Like Maria” burned really bright as well, and I need to talk MacLean into contributing to some version of Shotgun Honey in the future. Porter’s “The Carriage Thieves” was a funny turn.

I’m glad that Thuglit is back and the brass knuckles are packing the punch once again. Look forward to issue 3 in January. I expect to see a lot of writers bring the boom in the months to come.

The game show, or what you won today.

So you want to be a millionaire? Me too. But it’s not going to happen, sorry.

A couple days ago I gave people a chance on Facebook and Twitter, and the crazy people who follow my site in the glimmer of hope I’ll post something new and interesting, and I did, to win a copy of Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels.

I wanted you to post a weird comment, and well they weren’t really weird, except the one from my Father-in-Law who suggested I divorce his daughter. Boy after 19 years, that joke never gets old. Leon, you know you’ll get one, you’re family. (Just be warned, I didn’t write anything for the anthology)

Weird or not, it was more successful than my last book give away. So I need to chose from one of you lucky 7. Well actually, just one of you is lucky.

So hand in hat, fingers wiggle around, and the lucky bastard is…

Mystery Dawg!

I’ll be contacting you soon, Aldo.

So unfortunately you other 6 aren’t winners, but to make it up to you and the multitude of followers, that’d be … oh, just the 6 of you. Anyway, today is the launch day for my buddy and co-editor Chad Rohrbacher’s Karma Backlash from those good people at Snubnose Press. And you can buy it now on Amazon for just $4.99. A steal. Want some more incentive, read the virtual dust jacket.

His name is Derby Ballard and he’s a worn-down blue-collar gangster in a white-collar world. While studying the worn picture of his ex-girlfriend his best friend Reece tells him to move on, get over it, quit whining; he’s the smart one and always has good advice. Derby’s on the verge of taking Reece’s recommendation and shoving his hefty nest egg in a suitcase and flying out to a place with warm sun and soft sand. He thinks he’ll drink beers with lime wedges while listening to waves.

And then Reece’s head explodes in front of him.

It’s amazing what a murdered friend can do to a directionless man, the passion and anger it can stoke, the sadness it fires into a body, the need for good old revenge it nurtures.

Searching for his best friend’s killer, Derby uncovers the beginning of a complicated mob war that threatens to bring down the whole city.

Even as the cops lean on him to stop the impending violence, rumors swirl that his own boss killed Reece for being a traitor to the family.

Of course, being attracted to his boss’s daughter doesn’t simplify matters.

To find the answers he needs, Derby tries to stay focused: Find the killer. Clear his friend’s name. Stop a war. Don’t fall in love.

He traverses Toledo, a city that grows old with him, unearths secrets his boss and his boss’s daughter don’t want exposed, and hopes to find that man he used to be before his mid-life crisis becomes the last crisis he ever experiences.

KARMA BACKLASH is literary crime thriller in the vein of Victor Gischler’s GUN MONKEYS jammed with fast action, dark humor, and intrigue.

So, give Chad’s book a chance. He promises that Jamie Farr hasn’t been injured in any way within the pages of Karma Backlash. I can’t say the same for Derby.

The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark

My reading back list is notoriously long, only accounting for the books I have bought, so finally reading a book I’ve known about for nearly a year is a small feat. I hadn’t even bought The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark until the week before Christmas, so it should have sat in my stacks for another 2-3 months, depending on my life as I know it. The purchase, however, was spurned by an Op-Ed take over of Heath Lowrance’s Psycho-Noir blog where Clark discusses the erosion of Hollywood, LA, creative markets, et al. It wasn’t so much the context, which thoughts I was inline with, but the cadence of the voice. The harmonics of language. If Clark wrote this lush one off commentary, I could only imagine what his novel, which has garnered notable praise, would be like. I bought Clark’s The Science of Paul that day.

Aaron Philip Clark doesn’t disappoint as he slips the reader into the life of the eponymous protagonist, Paul Little, slowly unraveling the truth about Paul, an ex-con walking the precarious edge of freedom with his parole winding to an end on the streets of Philadelphia. Paul’s story starts out bleak, in true noir fashion, at the bottom of the proverbial barrel with nowhere to go but up, to freedom and to a new life, but Philadelphia like Paul’s past doesn’t want to let go. All Paul wants to do is escape his present life, to head down to his Grandfather’s farm in North Carolina and live a simple life again. Unfortunately, it feels as though the city, Philadelphia, conspires against his every actions, met with violence and consequence.

Had this been written by a less deft writer, The Science of Paul, would have been a fast paced, high action Saturday popcorn flick type of book. Paul has moments of intensity, but Clark doesn’t make a dance of the violence, a spectacle to entertain the masses. The conflicts are moments of action and reaction, preceded and followed by contemplation and characterization. Carried through the thoughts and actions of Paul, Clark creates an effortless dialog with the reader to which by the end imbues the regrets, self-doubt and the want to relinquish to the fate Philadelphia holds for men like Paul.

Lyrical, emotive, abrupt, and defiant, The Science of Paul is definitely one of my favorite books from 2011. I wish I had read it sooner.

You can learn more about The Science of Paul and where to buy from the publisher, New Pulp Press.

Run Away Home with Frank and Donald

Have I mentioned I got a chance to read Frank Bill‘s debut book, CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA? I wasn’t sure if I had?

Might as well get used to it. I’m going to be talking about it all month and I plan on it being a busy month down here on the blog.

I’ve been re-reading CRIMES this last week because I want to do a slam dunk review of it next week to post around. I don’t do reviews much. I give them a shot, but I tend to be so damn casual about it. All my structured English education just flies out the door. That’s alright though, because I never believe anything that reads scripted or not from the heart. And if I didn’t like CRIMES I’d kindly thank Frank for the opportunity and move on to the next book. I don’t believe in negative reviews.

But I did like CRIMES so there will be a review in a weeks time.

As reviews go, I recently read a lot of good things about Donald Ray Pollock — some bad too, but those read of personal opinion and not capable review — so he hit my radar. Last week Amazon had a ridiculously good deal on his first novel, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME. I couldn’t pass up the discount on top of my free shipping. Only a chapter into it and I ordered KNOCKEMSTIFF — Pollock’s first book, a short story collection — for my Kindle.

I don’t have a vast library of crime fiction. Only what I’ve engulfed myself in over the last couple years. So I’m not deeply familiar with  Harry Crews or Larry Brown, though I have a book or two of each to read, but I understand that in their time they were the voice of southern noir. Neither Pollock or Bill are what I’d call southern, rather two country boys living in the mid-west. One in Ohio and the other in, well, Southern Indiana.

They both have a similar voice developed from what they know, where they grew up, and the lessons life have taught them. Reading their bios about and interviews with them, and of course the words they’ve both written, though their styles may differ I connect with the heart of what they write about, as well as some odd parallels.

Growing up a West Virginia boy, I so desperately wanted to be gone from country. As soon as I could stand I swore I’d run the first chance I got and never look back. I made it to Colorado, but rough times and bad decisions had me tail tucking it home with a new wife and baby on the way. Back to family, back to home.

It’s strange that it’s taken me nearly two decades of struggling with work, with writing, with life, to realize it’s not about where you live. And realize the experience of those two decades if honed with my natural predilections could tell stories people want to read.

So to writers, who I now admire, like Frank Bill and Donald Ray Pollock, thank you for showing me my stories don’t have to go far. They only need to run away home.

Don’t forget the deadline for the Frank Bill and Write Where You’re At challenge ends August 25th. 2000 word story about where you grew up.