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.

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.

PIKE by Benjamin Whitmer

I’m not a drink the Kool-Aid type of guy, but sometimes you can’t ignore the buzz that falls off the lips of friends and colleagues. This past holiday season one book made a very loud buzz and so I imbibed.

And it was good.

pike-whitmerBenjamin Whitmer‘s PIKE is a barn burner. Once you crack open the book you won’t stop until the bitter end. PIKE is a hard book, wrapped in shards of reality the casual reader may object. This book won’t find itself on any Cozy List anytime soon.

The book’s protagonist, if he can be called that, Pike, is an irredeemable man who spent a hard violent life on the wrong side of the law. Pike has regrets, as do we all, but they only manifest when he is presented with his grand daughter, Wendy, and told his daughter who he barely knew was dead.

The death of a bad man’s daughter is usually where the story turns to one of redemption, but this is Pike and Pike knows what side of the Angels he stands. No, Pike is fueled by needing to know the whys and wherefores. A vengeful path that will ride him headlong into the book’s antagonist, if he can be called that.

Pike isn’t the first character we are introduced to in the book, Derrick Kreiger, a bent Cincinnati cop, is unveiled as the catalyst that starts a race riot after he shoots an unarmed black kid. A violent start to a violent unpredictable book.

On this path, Pike is joined by Rory a bar room brawler from West Virginia with dreams boxing professionally. Addicted to painkillers and holding an easy lit fuse, Rory represents a younger Pike, one that  Pike doesn’t want to see become that man he is.

While Pike is the center note of the book, it becomes clear that this book isn’t about good versus bad, protagonist versus antagonist. PIKE is about the characters’ points of view and the paths those points of view take. Ultimately colliding the book’s cast violently together.

Is Pike redeemable by the end? Would you like some Kool-Aid?

Monster by A. Lee Martinez (review)

monster-almartinez

This isn’t my first jump into the mind of A. Lee Martinez and most certainly won’t be the last. He’s a wonderful mix between Robert Asprin, Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. The latter being reflected more in his latest book, MONSTER.

Monster has been peddling through life. His job is going no where, his girlfriend is a loveless but sex hungry succubus, and his assistant is a constantly correcting paper gnome from another dimension. Oh, and Monster is also cursed. Every time he wakes up he’s a different color which imparts some physical power whether useful or not.

Monster works the late shift as a cryptobiological control agent who contracts with local Animal Control to take care of situations that are a little stranger than a cat in the tree, or a snake in the drain. Despite most humans not recognizing creatures and things that go bump in the night, or wanting to believe in them, they do exist and it’s Monster’s job to capture and contain them before the human world is too inconvenienced.

Sure capturing monsters for a living might sound one big adventure after another, however, things have been slowing down and it really isn’t much different than rescuing a stranded cat or a stuck snake. It’s just the JOB. That is until Monster meets Judy who seems to have a bizarre knack for attracting cryptoparanormals.

Judy is somewhat in the same situation as Monster. Things aren’t going her way. She’s stuck in a dead end job as a late night clerk at a grocery, she doesn’t seem to have any motivation, doesn’t have a boyfriend so to speak, and has a judgmental older sister. She’s also a light cog. Judy is able to cognitively recognize monsters and magic when she sees them, but unable to retain the memory of the events or creatures. Unlucky for her most humans aren’t able to perceive these things and live their lives in blissful ignorance.

The meeting of Monster and Judy is the pretext that takes the reader down the road to an end of the world adventure as old as time itself. They just have to capture a few monsters along the way, and try not to kill each other.

Like with many of Martinez’s books, there isn’t much dwelling of the past, the story is about the here and now and the reader is carried through by the actions and interactions of the characters. Having read all of Martinez’s books this is one of his bests, it brings us back to the buddy book GIL’S ALL FRIGHT DINER which is still my favorite. I’d recommend this as a great summer read. It’s fun and doesn’t take itself too serious.

Beat the Reaper (review)

3173125It was by chance that I found Josh Bazell’s debut novel, Beat the Reaper. My local stores have a poor track record of picking up first time novelists’ books, so unfortunately a lot of my book buying is online. Fortunately while purchasing another novel Beat the Reaper was recommended. So I took a look at the description and the plot grabbed me.

Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at NYC’s worst hospital, Manhattan Catholic. He’s also a man hiding from his past under the protection of the Witness Security Program (WitSec). That past, a former mob hitman turned informant, catches up to him one evening while making rounds as he runs into a familiar face, a mobster dying from an aggressive stomach cancer. From there we are taken on a roller coaster ride of violence, love, loss and redemption through the eyes of Peter Brown aka Pietro Brnwa aka “The Bearclaw”.

Josh Bazell is a unique voice, mashing up a blood soaked crime thriller with a detailed medical procedural, that pushes you from cover to cover causing both awe and revulsion. I could not put the book down despite some questionable scenes that were both probable or improbable. My favorite bits were the footnotes through out the book that filled in the reader on medical knowledge. I will never forget ‘degloving’.

Beat the Reaper is a great novel debut from Bazell and I can only imagine how he will follow it up. This books is not for everyone with it’s violence and profanity, but with flavors of Chuck Palahniuk, Charlie Huston with a touch of Mickey Spillane it might have an appeal to those readers.

Related Links:
Visit JoshBazell.com
Buy the Book (hard bound)
Buy the Book (Kindle)