Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 in Crime Flicks: October

52 Pick-Up - John Frankenheimer - Harry, an L.A. businessman (Roy Scheider), is the target of a carefully calculated extortion plan. He's been stepping out on his wife (Ann-Margret) and there are pictures and such to prove it, but when Harry doesn't jump the direction his blackmailers expect him to, they step up their game, turning to kidnapping and murder to squeeze his philandering ass for everything he's got. Refreshing to go back to the pre-Get Shorty, very-serious take on Elmore Leonard material. Still there are the unusual angles genre beats are hit from, but gone are any self-aware smirky attitudes or irony-lacing to the dialogue. One of the chief pleasures of Leonard's thrillers is the non action-orientation of the climaxes (which appears to have frustrated the marketing department - check out that poster of Scheider with gun ready... that his character owns a gun is a pivotal plot point, but he never uses it and it's an itty bitty thing compared to that canon he's hoisting in the picture). Those climaxes, just as with every step on the way to them, they were tricky, slippy things that threw the reader off balance, surprising in turns by their directness or deft circumnavigation of genre expectations. The original score is, um... stuck in its time and does undercut some of the tension, but John Glover, Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor are great as the trio of pornographers turned extortionists and their world full of terrific details that steal the show. Best moment: Williams, Trebor and Glover making plans.

American Mary - Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska - Life is hard for medical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle). She may be brilliant but she's broke. Got a promising future as a surgeon if only she can lay off buying such fancy underwear and scale down the huge apartment she lives in. Her school money is evaporating. Looking for work in a sleazy mobbed-up strip club, her interview is interrupted by a flunkie with some nasty wounds and she's told if she can make the guy not die, they'll give her more money than she'd make in months. Repulsed, but flush with cash, Mary's life as an underground surgeon is off the ground. Soon she's the go-to artist for extreme body-modification and a murder suspect (things happen), but money is no longer a problem. Skating the crime/horror line, this one is stylishly icky and sleekly fun, just don't think about it too hard. Best moment: The reveal of her teacher's fate.

Cold in July - Jim Mickle - Michael C. Hall is Richard, a family man, in 1989 Texas, who shoots an intruder in his home in the middle of the night and feels good about defending his home and family for about fiiiive minutes before the father of the man he killed, (Sam Shepard) a baaad man just out of prison with nothing to lose, begins to terrorize Richard and his cozy little life falls apart. The fact that the film is based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale ought to give you some clue that the above plot description (and for once the trailer, thank God) do not ruin the myriad of surprises this one has in store and keep it from being a Tejas-set Cape Fear-exercise. For everything it's got going for it, including one of the best original scores I've heard in years (by Jeff Grace), low-key, but spot-on (and just the right amount of) period details for flavor and a very game cast, it's got a throwback sensibility to this vein of down and dirty thriller that skates the edges of exploitation, but retains enough real heart and brains (but mostly heart... or guts) to keep it out of the tough-guys with guns bargain bin rack quality-wise. The result is a lean, tough mystery thriller with a helluva climax. Strong contender for year's top honors around these parts. Best moment: father and son meet up.

Dom Hemingway - Richard Shepard - After a dozen years in prison safecracker Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is out and ready to reap the rewards of his silence from those he didn't rat out while inside. He's also got a score or two to settle, some family matters to see to and a little general catching up to do. Dom's a force of nature: unpredictable, volatile self-aggrandizing and self-destructive and his time inside certainly has not mellowed him. We follow Dom as he checks off his list of things to do and people to confront, never knowing what outcome is even desired never mind probable. And that is a big part of the appeal to this film. Yeah, like Dom, it's big and brash and outrageous, but it's also unclear where it's headed and that, in the hands of a solid film maker, is a huge thrill. This one goes toe to toe with the best of Shepard's other films The Matador and The Hunting Party and even punches outside its weight some. In fact, I think this one would make a terrific double feature with Sexy Beast. Tonally the two films are quite different, but it's not hard to imagine Law's Dom becoming Ben Kingsly's Don a few years down the line. Will that happen? Will Dom survive time, his enemies, his friends, himself? Will Dom's demise live up to the legend of his life that he creates and perpetuates seemingly more out of duty than desire, or will Dom take some serious critical inventory and set for himself new goals and new direction? Regardless, it's a helluvan entertaining film and one of the best performances of the year from Law, plus Richard Grant is, as always, fantastic. Best moment: the 'my cock' monologue that opens the film really sets the tone nicely.

The Drop - Michael R. Roskam - Bob and Marv run Cousin Marv's, a local mob drop-bar and are under an intense microscope after the place is robbed on collection night. Meanwhile Bob (Tom Hardy) rescues a pitbull with the help of Nadia a neighborhood girl (Noomi Rapace) and ends up the target of her psycho ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts).
With this project Dennis Lehane goes into full Road to Perdition universe Max Allan Collins mode writing a novelization of his screenplay based on his own short story (Animal Rescue), but no matter the true origin of the source material, the film is fully-realized and fleshy draped on the sturdy skeletal structure provided by Hardy and James Gandolfini as Marv's performances. The two big lugs mope and scowl and bitch and wryly observe between themselves with an interpersonal dynamic not fully defined for the audience until the end of the film and it's pretty great to observe. Add to their chemistry the fine supporting cast including John Ortiz, James Frecheville plus the stellar-again Ann Dowd and you've got an atmosphere I love kicking around inside (if you see it and dig it too, do yourself a favor and check out Gravesend by William Boyle). The plot is pretty standard fare, but it doesn't need to be any more flashy because the band is hitting the beats like they mean it and I'm sold. Best moment: Gandolfini buys Schoenaerts a beer.

Easy Money: Life Deluxe - Jens Jonsson - If you're not up on the plot at this point in the series (this is the third and climactic chapter in a trilogy) then I'm not going to spoil it for you. Instead let me just say, holy crap, these films are all great and of a piece (they should be - they're based on a trilogy of books by Jens Lapidus) and they are collectively one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the year. These are future classics, kids and I hope they spawn some more serious-minded epic treatments of international criminal underground for the big screen. Best moment: the heist. Fantastic tension delivered via sticking with the thieves inside for visuals while hearing constant updates from the getaway driver about developments outside simultaneously. Fucking lovely.

God's Pocket - John Slattery - Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a semi-legit businessman and a low-level criminal whose stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is a royal fuckup. When Leon provokes an elderly and seemingly feeble black coworker to fight and ends up dead, nobody at the job site is too upset by the loss and they all follow the foreman's lead by sticking with the accident on the job story he comes up with in order to spare the poor, old-timer unnecessary grief from the white cops. Leon's mother (Christina Hendricks) however is convinced that there's a cover up of some kind and goads her husband and a local celebrity newsman (Richard Jenkins) to investigate the incident leading to tragi-comic results on every front. Can't for the life of me figure out why this one didn't get more play what with the great posthumous performance from Hoffman, the rest of the cast which includes Eddie Marsan, John Turturro, Domenick Lombardozzi and Glenn Fleshler, the feature directorial debut of Slattery and the revered source material by Pete Dexter. In a very strong year, it's one of my favorite films and should pick up the following it deserves in years to come. After The Paperboy, it's nice to see so much of the feel of Dexter's voice and tone come through in an adaptation. Best moment: the mob muscles the foreman.

Noise - Matthew Saville - An Australian community is rocked by tragedy in the form of a massacre on a commuter train, and tensions remain high while citizens search for the gunman who presumably resides among them. In the midst of the mess, local constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) is denied disability leave for his tinnitus and instead given light duty manning a temporary substation set up in a trailer outside a local bar. There he encounters locals - some with paranoid theories, some are drunks and some are community characters that alternately amuse him and try his patience with their peculiar behavior and/or obtuseness. As days pass without resolution, the tension in town escalates and Constable McGahan's tinnitus pushes his sanity further toward the brink. Noise was a recommendation out of left field - I'd never heard of it or Saville, - but after very much enjoying it, I'm anticipating his follow up Felony. Noise is a tense, measured and very human character study that deserves your attention. Best moment: Graham finds his hat.

Ocean's Eleven - Steven Soderbergh - Smooth criminal Daniel Ocean (George Clooney not Frank Sinatra) is paroled and goes to work immediately on his revenge/recovery of his lost love. He recruits a crack team of colorful crime tropes to help him pull off the heist of the century and has a hell of a good time doing it. Basically it's two hours of mugging. But honestly, the muggers are hella good at it. You probably already hate them. Or you love them before they're even introduced. No one will have their pre-loaded opinions changed by this film, but I'm behind Soderbergh and while it's no Out of Sight, I couldn't begrudge he and Clooney the chance to play again and make a whole lotta money. Best moment: it's all one moment.

Peaky Blinders Season 1 - Steven Knight - Soldiers from the frontlines of The Great War return to Birmingham, England and their titular criminal gang (named for the razorblades they keep in the brims of their soft caps for quick, dirty, street fighting) to re-establish their roles and set sights on new goals. The Peaky Blinders happen to be a family-based gang led by middle son Thomas (Cillian Murphy) of the gypsy Shelby clan and in the business of illegal off-track betting and has grand ambitions of achieving the goldest-ring of rackets, 'legit'. Over the course of six episodes the Blinders tackle rival gangs and dodge a brutal special investigator (Sam Neill) fresh from stand-out work crushing Irish dissidents and recruited by Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman) himself. Plot is chewed through at a good pace and attitude is game including the soundtrack which features Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand as the theme song, but doesn't stop there (as say Boardwalk Empire with the Brian Jonestown Massacre opening theme that gives way to period-appropriate music for the rest of the show). No, throughout each episode, we're treated to more modern songs (including several more from Cave) that add to the atmosphere and inform the context for the audience in audacious fashion that's... ballsy. It's a stylistic choice, and a bold one, 'cause you've got to be on your game all the time to keep folks in the scene with anachronistic music choices. But it worked really well for me. Bully for Knight and crew. And let's mention Knight 'cause he's the original attraction for me here. I love his London underground stuff (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Redemption) and Peaky Blinders seems the perfect vehicle for him to get his social history rocks off alongside some pretty stylish and badass genre shit. Sooo happy for this new addition to my must-watch TV especially as Boardwalk Empire takes its leave. Best moment: surprise wedding.

The Untouchables - Brian DePalma - In prohibition-era Chicago Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) rules the city by pleasing everybody who can be and killing everybody who can't. Y'know who can't be pleased? Fuckin' Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) that's who. Guy's a boy scout, incorruptible, unrealistic and dangerously naive. He's going to get a lot of people killed to enforce a silly law. Great historical atmosphere with about zero interest in telling what actually happened. Guess what? I don't fuckin care. It's tits. It's flashy. It's super glossy, ultra violence punctuated by dialogue self-consciously made to adorn iconic posters. So what sets it apart from similar smart-looking, violent junk food like Gangster Squad? For starters, David Mamet. For another, Ennio Morricone. Add conviction and commitment on the part of all involved and yeah, I'm gonna sit down and watch it every time I come across it. Best moment: Battleship Potemkin.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful For

Season's Greetings from HBW... Here're a few things I'm thankful for

New books like Angels of the North by Ray Banks!

and Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon by Cameron Pierce

plus reissues like Ted Lewis' Carter trilogy from Syndicate Books

and this here Malcolm Braly omnibus from Stark House Press

New seasons of Peaky Blinders 

and Lillyhammer on Netflix

New movies on the horizon like Son of a Gun

and Bad Turn Worse 

Old movies to re-discover such as Uptight 

and Hickey & Boggs.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Say You?

Son of a Gun - d: Julius Avery w: Julius Avery, John Collee

Captive - d: Atom Egoyan, w: Atom Egoyan, David Fraser

A Most Violent Year - w/d: J.C. Chandor

The Gambler - d: Rupert Wyatt w: William Monahan

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Swollen, Red Peckerwood Does Not Grow Back

Where is the place to be Thusday, November 20? The Maplewood Public Library (7550 Lohmeyer Ave, Maplewood, Missouri 63143) at 6pm. I'll be there with Matthew McBride and Fred Venturini to come clean about dirty words. Expect red faces, blue content and purple nurples as well as false starts, awkward pauses and completely reactionary fuddled beef.
And speaking of non-sequiturs: Books! Three of the most... um, two of the best books of the last year will be at the event for defacing by the scribes and you can get copies. They make great passive aggressive gifts for your frenemies. What better way to say 'hey, you strike me as barely literate' than with books of this caliber? So, be there, huh?

What's that? You can't get out of Chicago for the event? Sit tight then, and let me suggest that you show up for N@B-Chicago's event at Quenchers on Tuesday, December 9. You can check out N@B favorites Kent Gowran, Kevin Lynn Helmick, Jake Hinkson, Frank Wheeler Jr. plus Sam Reaves beginning at 6pm. Skip your commute home and unwind with these degenerates. Rumor has it the Livius and the Robb from the Booked podcast will be onhand to make offhand remarks and pimp their shit... which deserves to be pimped. Have you been keeping up with the Booked? Here's a quick rundown of 'recent' highlights:

Guest and N@B irregular David James Keaton helps review his own book, The Last Projector.

The guys discuss what might've happened if Biggus Dickus' empire reached the new world in a rousing review of N@B's official horror scribe John Hornor Jacobs' The Incorruptibles.

The Rain King, a wild 'n wolly western of N@B cowboy Kevin Lynn Helmick gets an unruly lasso about it's slim waist and guess who gets the better of that situation. Here's a hint: the horse.

Methland, Missouri loves company and the guys hang out amongst the grim gangsters of Gasconade in A Swollen, Red Sun, alongside N@B's very own Virgil, Matthew McBride.

And N@B's man on fire, Richard Thomas has his co-edited collection Burnt Tongues given the Booked anthology treatment (they cherry pick stories and review them individually). N@B favorite son Fred Venturini also has a story in this collection and his novel The Heart Does Not Grow Back is the subject of the next episode of Booked, so stay the fuck tuned.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


NoirCon has come and gone and I hardly left any skin behind this time. Maybe I'm all growed up. Did have a swell time in Philly, though. Especially enjoyed hanging with folks like Anthony Neil Smith, Christa Faust, Scott Adlerberg, Tom Wickersham, Vicki Hendricks, Andrew Nette, David James Keaton, Amy Leuck, Nik Korpon, Rob Hart, Adam Cesare and Eric Campbell. I only got to see Kieran Shea for about five minutes, but I'd have made the trip just for that chance.

Also had quick run-ins with Dennis Tafoya, Ed Pettit, Eddie Muller, Wallace Stroby, Megan Abbott, Jen Conley, Jon McGoran, Joe Samuel Starnes, Erik Arneson, Chuck Barksdale, Lou Boxer, Jonathan Woods, Paul Oliver, Juliet Grames, Bronwen Hruska, Kenneth Wishnia and Stuart Neville, plus a chance to apologize to Sean O'Kane for past harassments and press flesh with Gonzalo Baeza, Kevin Catalano and Fuminori Nakamura. Plus, y'know what? I got to say 'Fuck Peter Rozovsky' right to the man's face.

And I can't tell you how warm it made my heart substitute to hear he'd kicked off the NoirCon N@B edition with 'Fuck Jedidiah Ayres'. Fuck you forever, Pete.

 Last week's book haul was pretty high quality too. Among others, I picked up the Stark House Malcom Braly omnibus featuring Shake Him Till He Rattles and It's Cold Out There, Ron Hansen's Desperadoes, Jay Stringer's Old Gold, Garry Disher's Hell to Pay, Massimo Carlotto's The Goodbye Kiss and signed copies of Tribesmen by Adam Cesare and Jungle Horses by Scott Adlerberg. Also happy to have received copies of a couple swell books featuring blurbs from me -

Flash Blood by Joseph Hirsch: Flash Blood, much like its main character, is competent, methodical and dogged in pursuing its goal. Unfortunately, that goal is to freak you the hell out. Fortunately it's a lot of fun getting there. The Arklow books rank alongside Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt series as the best weirdest thing going in PI fiction today. Joseph Hirsch is scary good.


The Last Projector by David James Keaton: That thing called 'voice' authors are said to have? Keaton's are legion. That 'Tap, tap, tap' you may hear issuing from this book? I wouldn't open it up without a quick 'Klaatu barada nikto' for good measure.

Very pleased to publicly endorse both of these books and both of these writers represent the best of post-genre fiction's future. Particularly honored to have been there for The Last Projector's release party which consisted of me and Keaton in twin beds trying to sync up our simultaneous Netflix streams of John Badham's The Hard Way on our laptops... which is perhaps the most perfectly Keatonian experience I've ever had.

During my travel time I enjoyed knocking Adam Cesare's The First One You Expect, Steve Lowe's King of the Perverts and Ray Banks's Matador off of my TBR pile. Of course when you're surrounded by so much talent and knowledge for even a short time that TBR pile is gonna get outta hand. 

I think my most pressing concern from the weekend is gonna be one of many film recommendations I picked up from Nette: Jules Dassin's Uptight. How the hell had I never heard of this one? I love Dassin - maybe the most palpably angry of the black-list era directors - and the idea of him coming back to the states for a remake(?) of John Ford's The Informers (this time the IRA are black revolutionaries) is just toooooo great to pass up. Of course I can't find it. Of course. Anybody with a connection for this flick, please hit me up. 

So... that's my week. How've you been?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Can't Stop Thinking Big: CriMemoir - Trey R. Barker

Spent some time lately with the good crew at Down & Out Books - a St. Louis visits with Rob Brunet and Sandi Loper (whom it was great to catch up with again at N@B at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville, Arkansas) and then over the weekend caught up with Keith Gilman and Eric Campbell. (Not to mention they just published The Genuine Imitation Plastic Kidnapping by N@B alum Les Edgerton.) Sandi and Eric keep dropping the name Trey R. Barker on me, so I reached out to the man and hit him up for a guest piece. Immediately he shot me a half dozen ideas for the CriMemoir series. He selected one to write about and damned if it ain't a corker. I'm sure you'll want to check up on Trey after reading it, and you can do so right here, but first...

Can’t Stop Thinking Big by Trey R. Barker


It was tall – at least relative to that moment – and it looked impossibly heavy.

“…what are you doing?”

The place was, I thought at the time, a motel. There was an open reception area with a wraparound desk, dingy walls, and dirty light, all surrounded by rooms that emptied into the reception area. I know now it was a lawyer’s office. In fact, the cops called him Lawyer Jones with both a good bit of west Texas racism and dismissiveness; after all, he obviously wasn’t important enough for the cops to learn his real name.

He was the attorney for a man named James Oliver Green.

“…no.  Can we just go?”

James Oliver Green was, on that warm evening in the middle of May, 1976, employed at Global Wholesale Pottery. He was a warehouse grunt who spent his days cleaning the warehouse, unpacking pottery, making deliveries. I’d been at the warehouse that day because Mom was the bookkeeper and often brought me along. I dug the place which meant there were no babysitting charges for any day I hung out at the warehouse.

For reasons lost to the vagaries of memory, James gave me a ride home that day. Maybe Mom was working late, or I was anxious to get home, or I was being a pain in the ass. Regardless, James and I were in a car together when we first saw her walking along the railroad tracks.

“…no, I don’t want to….”

She was beautiful…at least to this young boy’s eyes. Dark hair, dark eyes. Jeans tight around curvy hips, breasts shyly asking for notice. She seemed much older than me and had an air of sophistication. I assumed she was a world traveler who had been everywhere and seen everything. I was smitten, as much as a 9-year old boy can be, and when James stopped and asked if she needed a ride, when she said yes, when she came to our car, I couldn’t breathe as I happily gave up my shotgun seat and climbed in the back.

“…damnit, stop.   Just let me go, okay?”

I’d never heard a voice sound like that and even now I remember the splash of fear that landed hard in my gut, which now suddenly hurt, and spread in angry concentric rings throughout my body. My head pounded, my breath came fast and hard. My skin was alive with heat, my head with panic.

What the fuck was I supposed to do? Standing in that room, where James had dropped me while he and the woman – the girl – went elsewhere, with that bed and television on a rickety TV cart, the sunlight cantering sideways through what I remember as tattered curtains and spilling weakly on the floor like an old man spilling tired seed, what in the holy hell was I supposed to do?

“…stop it, goddamnit.  Let go of me, asshole.”


James didn’t answer me.

What I didn’t know in that moment, but at the same time absolutely knew in that moment, was that he was trying to rape her. He was trying to get into this girl and it scared me as completely and thoroughly as any moment in my life up until the night in 2014 when I faced a drunk, angry cop larger and by far stronger than me who told me, in a stone dead affect, that he could get my gun and put bullets in my head before I blinked.


I was utterly helpless. Defenseless and helpless. To the point that I wanted to cry because there was simply nothing else I could do.

That was when I saw it.

It was tall, at least relative to a 9-year old. It was heavy when I tried to pick it up. A pitted and rusty double barrel, two triggers, the wooden stock old and stained. But for all that, it was something that was going to help, this thing I’d never even held, much less fired. It was going to make me less defenseless.  If I could lift it….  If I could fire it….  If it was even loaded and I didn’t manage to kill myself first.

But James took the choice out of my hands.

For whatever reason, he stopped. God knows why, but he listened to her pleading and begging.  Somewhere down the road, he gave her a few dollars, let her out, and took me home.

I told no one until the two detectives, one of them the father of a school chum, came to see me at school a few days later. Then I lied. Then I told them everything.

But regardless of the words that spilled outta my mouth, I still felt defenseless.


When I was growing up, Mom’s boyfriend was a cop. A hulking mountain of a man, both scary and comforting.  He was there for huge swaths of my childhood. When I ran away, he was there. When I began to notice girls in a more serious way than the 9-year old boy had, he was there.

And when I heard Mom getting beaten up, he was there.

It was all familiar: the taste of fear in the back of my throat, the burning heat on my skin, the ache in my guts, the hyper awareness that I could do absolutely nothing for her.

The man was huge.  He was drunk.  He was violent.

That entire night, with two exceptions, are gone from my memory. The first is that I remember Mom calling someone, a lady I believe, and saying, “He’s already beat me up twice.”

The second exception is the heater. We had a wall unit that stuck out about six inches from the wall. It was dark gray and old and directly across a very narrow hallway from the bathroom. The next day, when the violence was over and he was sleeping it off, I stared at that huge dent in the panel. That was where Mom’s shoulder had gone.

As with James and his attempting to rape what turned out to be a 15-year old girl, I was defenseless.
But also humiliated because I couldn’t even find the balls to call out to Mom, to at least try to put the brakes on the violence.

I laid there in bed, listening to her crying, listening to him bitch about whatever had crawled beneath his angry skin, and couldn’t do anything.  I’m sure I cried, though I don’t remember it.  I’m sure I cussed him, though I don’t remember that, either.

But I know I questioned all of it. Why had she let this happen? Why couldn’t she do anything to stop it?  Why had he chosen her to do this to? Why was someone this monstrous even in our lives?

What the fuck did I know? I was a scared kid hearing his mommy get hurt. I had no idea about the dynamics of relationships. I had no idea about the dynamics of violence or his cowardice. I had no idea that later in that relationship, Mom would toe right up to him and dare him to hit her again. I had no idea that the violence and drinking was a symptom of something else.

And if I had known? Fuck it. I wouldn’t have given a shit. I wasn’t interested in interpersonal relationship dynamics. I wanted to stop her hurt. In that moment, she was as defenseless as me and I wanted to stop the hurt.

But more to the point…I wanted to hurt him back.


Later, I don’t know when exactly, she wasn’t defenseless.

Later, she was the defender.

I don’t know the woman’s name. I don’t know how Mom knew her. All I knew for sure was that one Sunday morning, a lady was at our house. She was crying. She was hurt. She’d been beaten.

She was where my mother had been.

But Mom was not.

Mom was in the living room, almost daring her asswipe of a husband to come in, toeing up to him as she had her boyfriend.

Mom was also carrying a steak knife.

I got up and went to her side, finding just enough balls.  I saw the knife and said, “That won’t do anything.”

She looked at me, her eyes full of determination rather than anger, though I suspect she was quite angry, and said, “Sure as hell will if I stick it in his gut.”

I’ll remember that as long as I live.

What I understood at that moment was that the defenseless are not always defenseless.  Sometimes, the defenseless are just as capable of defending themselves as are the biggest and meanest amongst us.

Both of those things, the defenseless and the momentarily defenseless, have worked their way through my life and literature in surprising ways.  I discovered, when I became a deputy sheriff late in life, that part of what drove me was to protect the defenseless, however that might be defined: the young, the elderly, those who suffered mental disorders, those who fought emotional disorders, the politically disconnected, the socially disaffected.

In law enforcement, that usually means someone is getting over on someone else, either by force or force of will. Be it battery or fraud, it leaves victims in its wake, as angry and humiliated as it did the kid version of me.

In my writing, this drive comes through a fractal lens and ends up in all kinds of places to one degree or another. It’s most obvious in my short story Accomplice, originally published in Blue Murder and later in my collection Remembrance and Regrets.

In that story, a defenseless child saves his own life by killing the one person who had, repeatedly, gotten over on him; who had used him as a tool for her own ends. The story was as simple and complicated as that. At the end, I dedicated the story to ‘Batman,’ aka Andrew Vachss. A dear friend of mine, writer Ed Bryant, had once wondered to me if Vachss ever thought of himself as Batman, a superhero for children. Everything of Vachss, his law practice that represents exclusively children, his writing, his speeches and presentations, his very essence, has gone into protecting children and I am, and always will be, in awe of what he’s done.

To ‘Batman,’ because sometimes the children are their own best protectors.

In Hostage, a brand new short novel, I allow the grown up child to protect herself from her own past.  In doing so, she gets over on the man against whom she felt defenseless…and as an added, nasty bonus, takes along two other children the same man has molested, and allows them to get over on him, too.

What I’m doing, I think, is rewriting how it worked out with James and Mom. Maybe trying to create better endings to those incidents so that I don’t feel humiliated or defenseless or that something bigger is running me down. And just maybe I’m trying to emulate my mother on the day of the knife. There’s a great line in a recent Rush song, “In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big.” In the song, thinking big is about a boy’s dreams of the outside world. In my fiction, it’s about dreaming that you are bigger than whoever is hurting you.

Yeah, all that sounds pompous as hell, but I do realize I can only change my tiny part of the world, both in reality and in fiction. That’s good enough.  If I can change that tiny part, then I can slip outta my mortal coil, in another twenty or thirty years, and be perfectly happy.

Well, mostly perfectly happy because, after all…this is me we’re talking about and have I ever been perfectly happy?

Hah! Hell, no.

Trey R. Barker's newest novel, Slow Bleed, has just been published by Five Star and begins the journey of Jace Salome, a female deputy at the beginning of her career. Barker is also the author of 2,000 Miles To Open Road, Exit Blood, Remembrance and Regrets, The Cancer Chronicles, as well as hundreds of short stories and thousands of non-fiction pieces. The third book in his Barefield series, Death Is Not Forever, will be published this winter. He is a deputy sheriff in Illinois and a member of the Illinois Attorney General's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, as well as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal assigned to the Quad Cities Cyber Crimes Federal Working Group.