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.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Women are weak.

Powerless. Defenseless. Victims.

Right?

In fiction their only purpose is to act as a catalyst for our strong male protagonist to either save or avenge. They are props that get killed, raped and mutilated. Titillating pieces of  meat, flesh, that are vapid set decorations to high testosterone storytelling.

Right?

I’m co-editor of an online flash fiction magazine called Shotgun Honey. We specialize in short crime, hardboiled, noir fiction. Talking about gender roles or submissions in general puts me front stage, breaking the fourth wall. But, I think it needs to be done.

It is easy to make women the victims. Most atrocious crimes committed by men are against women, generally acts of passion, rarely pre-meditated. I am not opposed to reading or receiving  stories that harm, maim or kill women. What I find appalling are stories whose only purpose is to glorify the act(s) and make no attempt to tell a story. The act itself cannot be the story.

Horrific violence happens in real life. Yes. Crime fiction for the most part is violent volatile fiction. Often to an extreme. Good crime fiction takes the foibles and tells a story.

I can’t speak completely for my co-editors, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a story where the typical gender roles are reversed. Yes, at Shotgun Honey we’ve published stories with female protagonists in the past from Matt Funk’s Det. Jari Jurgis and Fiona Johnson’s undercover cop Gemma.

We’ve also published John Rector’s “Folded Blue.” The ultimate culmination of degradation and depravity towards a woman, so it sounds hypocritical to call out stories who parade such violence. Rector’s story stands alone, it tells a story of depression and rejection. It burns slow until the reveal. The story isn’t about the act, the murder or the post-mortem interaction. It’s about the character, not the victim.

The question as a writer that has to be asked: Is the violence for the sake of the story or the story for the sake of the violence?

I’m not asking for a spate of stories where women who dole out some desperately needed comeuppance. Variety is the name of the game. And on that note, as a writer considering to submit to Shotgun Honey or one of the other many venues, think about how broad crime fiction can be? Violence is easy, telling a good story is harder.

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?

What the Funk?

Last week I may have mentioned something about an essay contest — one that had an actual prize. It was a spur of the moment thing and now that I think about it it probably could have used a little planning. Just a smidge. Maybe.

Seth Harwood, a San Franciscan crime writer by way of Boston, released his second book, YOUNG JUNIUS, last Monday and called out to his friends to help him rush the Amazon charts. I consider Seth a friend and I’ve been helping him promote his endeavors whenever. Helping him push YOUNG JUNIUS would be no exception, only I already had a copy for myself. Easy solution, I’ll buy a release copy and give it away. Perfect.

Then the wheels started turning. Probably could have used a little grease. I could smell burning from the friction. But the wheels they turned.

I had seen another author give away a copy of his book by getting his fans to write an essay. Twist here is I’m not the writer. I’m just a friend and a fan. So the idea came together that I would get people from my circle of influence to submit an essay on why they deserved a copy of Seth’s new book. They had to post on their blog or publicly and include links to both Seth’s site an the site of the publisher, Tyrus Books.

Crazy thought was this contest would generate enough buzz for Seth and Tyrus Books, through the links from the dozen or so submissions, that maybe both could see a sale or two extra.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I had the bird, I was hoping to shake that bush.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a contest. However, there was a winner.

I’m not sure what I did wrong. Was it timing? Do I have absolutely no influence? Maybe I should get that book on influencing enemies? Maybe everyone would would have wanted the book already ordered it? (if so, I’ve got a happening set of friends)

Probably a little bit of everything. I’m a writer and a programmer, not a marketing genius.

Maybe I should have consulted Matthew Funk: a social media consultant, professional marketing copywriter and writing mentor. He’s all that and a bag of chips. Matthew has been around the block as genre editor for FictionDaily and contributor to Spinetingler Magazine, as well as having contributed to just about every crime fiction website.

So Matthew knows his stuff and more than likely knew that a copy of YOUNG JUNIUS is most definitely worth 300 words.

I deserve a copy of Young Junius because I am special, just like Young Junius is—at least Dr. Rubineck told me so, before what happened to him. Dr. Rubineck would know what special is, because he used to always tell me I could trust him. After what Dr. Rubineck did to me, I suspect he was probably a special person too.

Dr. Rubineck was put in charge of special people at my school, not because of how warm his hands were, but because he was a doctor. When I was first sent to him after I broke the globe over Mrs. Beaker’s head, Dr. Rubineck told me that he got into the business of helping special people because he could not stop himself from loving us. I wanted to fit in with someone who loved me, just like Young Junius does, right from the start of the book you should give me. I fit with Dr. Rubineck really good, or so I thought.

I thought a lot of bad things, and even had bad dreams, like Marlene in the book, except that they did not come true on their own—I had to make them come true. For instance, when I had the bad dream about DeShawn kicking me in the stomach, it did not come true until after I hit him in the face. That is why I ate those mice, too. Mr. Rubineck understood. He showed me he did when he made my bad dreams about him come true in those special sessions after school. Later, I made other, worse dreams about him come true.

Young Junius is really a story about a special person making special things come true, just like me, and that is why I deserve a copy. They have me locked up in a place where they make us all wear the same jumpsuit and eat the same thing, so we forget we are special. People need to read stories like Young Junius so they will never forget how special we all are—especially me.

Good stuff Matthew. You are special and you helped me find a home for YOUNG JUNIUS.

Enjoy! And if you have any tips for future contests and challenges, shoot them my way.

52Books: Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski

Mickey Wade is an out of work journalist, formerly of the alt-weekly Philadelphia City Press, who is forced by economic times to move into his grandfather’s, who he wants little to do with, apartment in Frankfort, his old childhood neighborhood and now a seedier and dilapidated part of town. Mickey, named after Jagger, not the Mouse, literally only has dollars to his name and no prospects of work. The only bright spot in his life is Meghan, whom he likes but thinks only hangs around him because he’s a charity case.

It can’t get any worse? Right?

If you’ve ever read anything by Philly crime writer Duane Swierczynski, bad isn’t bad enough, there’s always room for worse. And fortunately for the reader Mickey hasn’t hit the bottom yet.

Expiration Date, Swierczynski’s latest, is in my opinion the writer’s best work in a limited bibliography. Unlike his prior books, Expiration Date focuses less on the gritty front story of crime and hard knocks, and slips the reader into an intriguing story where down and out Mickey Wade has a chance to change the worst event in his life. The murder of his father.

The catalyst for Expiration Date is a bottle of old, seemingly safe, Tylenol that Mickey finds in a locked bathroom cabinet. Locked for good reason. When he takes a handful he is transported back to the year he’s born. There are caveats, dangers, and Mickey must figure them out or he could die in the present. Through the discovery we learn more about Mickey and the perils of playing with time. Can Mickey change the one life altering event of his life and come out alive in the end?

Expiration Date, like Swierczynski’s previous books, is a thrill ride, racing all the way to the end. Yet somehow it slows down just enough to enjoy the little things.

Since I’m 20 books into my 52 Books and only 10 or so books behind on reading, this review and future one’s aren’t going to fall in order. I read Expiration Date in the second week of April, my 15th book of the year.

To learn more about Duane Swierczynski, check out his Secret Dead Blog. I hear he write some mean comics too.

No Good Deed – Flash Fiction

Caught mention from Steve Weddle of a contest today being held by Chad Rohrbacher to win Victor Gischler’s THE DEPUTY plus some of his Deadpool work for Marvel Comics. In usual fashion, I didn’t find out about the contest until entry’s were closed. The contest required work less than 1500 words and either had to have a crime angle or superhero angle. So that got the wheels rolling and thought I’d throw together something quick during lunch.

Continue reading “No Good Deed – Flash Fiction”

52Books: Sleepless by Charlie Huston

Read this book. Get a copy of Charlie Huston’s Sleepless and just read it.

I don’t have a long history with Charlie Huston. Before six month ago, I didn’t even know he was a writer. Had I still been an avid $200 a month comic junkie, I’m sure I would have come across the name well before now. But those days are gone.

How I discovered him isn’t important. I just know what I like. I like Charlie Huston. The man’s name even has a swagger that elicits thoughts of his preferred genre, Crime. Almost as if he’s a man in the know.

Read this book.

Sleepless is set in the now, a world so much like our own, I fear Huston might have a thumb on our future. Alter the timelines and choices made ever so slightly, I can believe the present as depicted in Sleepless, as lived by rookie LAPD officer Parker Haas.

In Parker’s world, one in ten are dying from prion based disease called Sleepless (SLP). Similar to Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI), SLP prevents the infected from restorative REM sleep and the disease is 100% fatal. No cure exists, but there is a limited and government regulated drug called Dreamer that alleviates the symptoms reducing the suffering as SLP progresses to it’s final conclusion.

Parker, aside from being a rookie cop, is also a young husband and father, who’s wife suffers with SLP and suspects his daughter might as well. It is Parker’s job to work undercover as a drug dealer and ferret out a potential Dreamer black market. Because Parker is dedicated to the ideals of his job, when he finds a tangible link to what appears to be a gang slaying and is told to back down, proceeds with diligence regardless of the consequences.

Read the book.

Sleepless is told from multiple POV using Parker’s perspective told in first (a journal) and third person, as well as that of an aging hitman, Jasper, who becomes intertwined with Parker’s story.

This stand out novel by Charlie Huston is an engaging police procedural within a terrifying plausible science-fiction wrapper.

If you haven’t already made plans, go get the book and read it.

I’ve fallen behind my book a week target, so sometime this month I’ll double up a week with my 52 Reviews.

Currently reading Horns by Joe Hill. After that will either be Jonathan Maberry’s Dragon Factory or another Charlie Huston, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.

Learn more about Charlie Huston at his website: http://www.pulpnoir.com

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)