Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

cryfather-by-benjamin-whitmerIf 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: 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.

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.

Crimes In Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

From the day we are brought into the world until the day we are unceremoniously kicked out, we are marked by each passing moment. We are carved like soapstone into our ever growing imperfection by intrinsic, personal events. A map of personal history. We are but the lives we live.

As a toddler, my family lived outside Covington, KY on a horse farm. My memories of that time are most likely manifest from stories told and pictures seen, though some seem so crystal clear when I think upon them.  Too clear not to be my own. I don’t know, I wasn’t much taller than a knot on a log.

What does this have to do with CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA? Nothing and everything.

My folks split when I was three and through out my childhood, bolstered by mom’s venomous hate towards my absent father, it marked me more than it should have. It grew from a scratch to gash to near abscessed pain and anger. By the time I was 15, I didn’t much like either of my parents.

Frank Bill‘s book CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA is chock full of wonderful stories about people marred by experience, circumstance and isolation. Most have little vindication or happy resolve, but each carves a dark image of life in southern Indiana.

I was 25 when I met my father again for the first time. At the insistence of my young bride, I called him from a hotel room just outside of Cincinnati. I half expected him to have horns and a tail or eyes pitch coal black and filled with evil. I was awash of emotions, all including hate, disgust and anger. That all but melted away when I opened the hotel room door. He was my blood.

I had gotten about halfway through CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA when I read “The Old Mechanic” which depicted a young Frank meeting his estranged grandfather for the first time. It immediately pulled at those old scars. The memories of a fatherless youth and reconnecting with a past I never really had. It reminded me that we are very much the definition of our past, but our past doesn’t have to define our future.

CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA is rich with local experience and setting, but the characters’ lives are very much the stitches of an unraveling patchwork Americana. For better or worse we are the lives we live.

Book’d: Witness to Death by Dave White

Do you dream?

That’s rhetorical, we all do. Not many remember their dreams or their nocturnal journeys to the center of their Id. I do and it’s been a wonderful source for my writing. And not uncommon my dreams are sculpted, made malleable by the events of the day. Influenced. Hijacked.

This is generally because the mind is unwilling to let go.

I read before I sleep. So if ever you read something of mine that is familiar, I apologize. It was subconscious.

The other night I dreamed of New Jersey. Of fleeing for my life on unfamiliar trains, slow boating ferries and in unfamiliar territory. I was on the run. Wanted for murder. I didn’t do it. I was the fall guy. How would I survive, clear myself? How?

I’ve never been to Jersey. Or on a subway train. And I was only wanted for murder that one time — you know how that is. Before going to bed, I had started reading Dave White’s WITNESS TO DEATH.

Not to give Dave a swelled head. Have you seen his mugshot? He doesn’t need it. But I don’t always have this reaction to reading a book. But there I was in my dream state living the life of John Brighton, White’s protagonist, and on the run. And generally, this means what I’ve read had an impact and I was only a few bytes into the book.

Yes, I said bytes. WITNESS TO DEATH is an ebook, available on the Kindle and the Nook for a mere 99 cents. And that folks is a steal. It would be a steal at $2.99, and probably $4.99. You could say it’s worth every byte.

Since that first dream invading night, I’ve nickle and dimed my way through WITNESS TO DEATH. Oh, I would have loved to read it all in a sitting, but time is tight right now, and by the time I got to the end, I was glad to take it slow.

This is Dave White’s 3rd novel, first stand alone. His first two books WHEN ONE MAN DIES and THE EVIL THAT MEN DO featuring Jackson Donne are likewise available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I’m remiss to admit I haven’t read them yet, but after finishing WITNESS TO DEATH, I think it’s about time.

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?

52Books: The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

Last year saw the debut of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series with the outstanding techno-thriller Patient Zero. This was one of my favorite books of 2009 as Maberry introduced readers to a mash-up of fast action thriller, hard science hooks and global terrorism all culminating in Joe Ledger kicking some serious zombie terrorist butt.

The Dragon Factory throws Joe Ledger and Department of Military Sciences (DMS) back into fray again, and this time the trouble isn’t only external. In a coerced move the Vice President, President Pro Tem, sends the NSA after DMS to lock them down and gain access to their super computer MindReader.

This is externally motivated by a pair celebrity geneticist, the nearly perfect Jakoby Twins. Their goal is to mine genetic research from competing companies and labs to fill in gaps in their own research, developing designer creatures.

The attack on Joe Ledger and DMS and the attempted acquisition of information by the Jakoby Twins become confluent to the larger plot dealing with Cyrus Jakoby, father of the famed Jakoby Twins, who in bent on continuing the work of the Nazi scientist Josef Mengele and the purification of the human race.

Cloning, genetic manipulation, genocide, para-military hit squads and all the Joe Ledger you can handle culminate in the final confrontation at the Jakoby Twin’s The Dragon Factory.

The Dragon Factory is a solid follow up to Patient Zero, with great adrenaline pumped action and a reminder that Science is scary but no match for Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Science.

Fans of the book may have something to be excited about. ABC has put a fast track development on Department Zero based on Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. Read more about it over at Deadline.

Learn more about Jonathan Maberry and his work over at his Big, Scary Blog.

For the jumbled masses keeping track. I read The Dragon Factory the week of March 8, 2010 and started writing this review (at least a version of it) March 15, 2010.  As an aside, not taking away from the well written book, I wasn’t happy at the end. With a certain event.

52Books: Needle: A Magazine Of Noir – Spring Edition 2010

I’ve got a backlog of reviews, I know. I’m current on top my weekly reading but that sure hasn’t translated over to reviews. Though I’ve got other books in the queue to review I thought I’d start back with a review of what I had read this last week, Needle: A Magazine of Noir edited by Steven Weddle.

Whoa there! I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m cheating because this is a magazine? In name, technically it is. But it reads and feels like an anthology. An anthology of the best short crime fiction I’ve read. Granted there aren’t a lot of venues dedicated to crime, especially the gritty kind. At least not ones that show case the stories alone. Most are set along side more magazine like elements such as reviews, articles and inteviews. Needle is unencumbered by such. No ads either.

See why I’m treating it like a book? You know the duck analogy, right? Well, there you go.

Continue reading “52Books: Needle: A Magazine Of Noir – Spring Edition 2010”

52Books: Symptoms of a Broken Heart by Cory Cramer

I received an email a couple weeks ago from writer Cory Cramer asking if I’d be interested in reviewing his novella Symptoms of a Broken Heart. He asked nicely, so how could I say no?

Cory gave me a brief overview, but I really didn’t know what to expect when I got it in the mail a few days later. It was a thin book, a mere 45 pages of story. Definitely skirting the line between short story and novella, though to tell you the truth I’m not sure what those criteria are. Despite being a short read, I set it to the side as I was reading SLEEPLESS at the time.

I found myself a few mornings later picking it up and flipping through the short book. I had a half an hour before taking off to work, so I began Symptoms of a Broken Heart.

Because Symptoms is so short, I can’t really give you much more than the overview that Cory gave me.

The story is about two sisters, Lisa and Susan, who attend a Werewolf Party down in Louisiana. Lisa is the wild child, buxom and beautiful, and Susan is lankier and conservative. Susan is getting married and wants to have one last hoorah before finishing college and settling down into married life. The next morning, however, Susan is mysteriously dead.

Symptoms is all about the twist ending which Cramer starts seeding on the very first page. The twist is one of two things I can really appreciate in Symptoms. The second is the handling of the lycanthropy via dermal transmogrification or totem tattoos that is revealed during the Werewolf Party. I hadn’t seen that before, at least in the way depicted by Cramer.

It was a good read with a satisfying twist.

I will warn that those a little shy of overt sexual acts might be turned off by two key scenes in Symptoms. While utilizing sex as a plot device isn’t really part of my bag of tricks the use of it in Cory Cramer’s story is essential not only in building the character of Lisa but to play out the final twist.

Learn more about Cory Cramer at his website: http://www.corycramer.com

I just finished Jonathan Maberry’s The Dragon Factory, the follow up to Patient Zero. Review will be coming soon.

In the midst of reading Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein.

Look for an audio review of Joe Hill’s Horns later this week on James Melzer’s Unleashed Podcast.