Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2015 in Books

At the End of a Dull Day - Massimo Carlotto - The second part of the Giorgio Pellegrini story (this is the follow up to The Goodbye Kiss) finds our villain living the respectable life as the owner of a popular restaurant, currying power for and from his political connections while making most of his money as an international slave trader buying and selling women. He's married too. The detachment with which he describes his own cruelty is bracing, shudder-inducing and occasionally very funny. It's the voice that you'll either go hard for or be so repulsed by you'll hate the book. I belong to the former group. Imagine Scott Phillips' Wayne Ogden without so much mid-west warmth to him, crank his psychotic impulses and self-delusion up to eleven and you've got a thoroughly awful person and terrific narrator. If series characters are a drawback for you due to the repetitive nature of their exploits the Pellegrini books (only two) don't fall into that rut - distinctly different stories in the evolution(?) of a memorably despicable character. On to more Carlotto books for me.

Bad Penny Blues - Cathi Unsworth - A young policeman working a string of murders follows a trail into some pretty swanky and powerful shadows while a young woman's rise in the swinging '60s arts community has her elbows brushing against some unseemly types. Alternating plot lines like James Ellroy and Megan Abbott 
novels on a collision course had me reeling by the end. Gotta read more Unsworth.
Black Neon - Tony O'Neill - Sick City was such a blast, such an exciting, sick, horrific, hilarious, human mess that I couldn't imagine a sequel topping it. Thankfully, it didn't try to. As close to reserved as the author of something as crazy as Sick City could be capable of, but driven by the same desperation to fill the hole at the hearts of its characters, Black Neon is a helluva trip through skid row motels and Hollywood excess. Fuck, I love these books.

Black Cat Mojo - Adam Howe - Nothing but the most outrageous shit will make the cut here. A prodigiously endowed dwarf whose religiously-inclined mother dies after learning he's a porno legend, a messianic message in the asshole of a dog and more await in this collection of novelettes that start with the wheels off and then light the rockets. Howe's got a real heart that beats for his characters, but he puts them through his sick sense of humor's wringer. It's a fucking wild ride. Three actually.

Bust - Ken Bruen, Jason Starr - Blood is spilled, and tears are shed - though of a laughing sort - in this tale of a rich mark, a champion gold-digger, an IRA hitman and a disabled American vet meeting at the nexus of greed and avarice, a block down from the monuments to lust and vanity. Bruen and Starr kick off the Max and Angela series with style. Desperation was never so fucking hilarious. Or maybe that should read the other way around. However you take it, the pair of authors play to the other's strengths so generously a concoction not achievable solo by either is blended and served on ice with sides of grotesquerie and empathy enough for three books.

The Coldest Mile - Tom Piccirilli - Chase, the driver protagonist of a pair of Pic's crime novels (The Coldest Mile is the sequel to The Cold Spot) has been through a hell of a lot in his young life. After the events of The Cold Spot, he finds himself taking up with a third-rate mafia family he intends to rip off in pursuit of his new life's mission: find his toddler aunt and rescue her from a life with his grandfather Jonah - the coldest man alive. This pulp fiction at its most pure and potent. It's violent, propulsive, episodic entertainment encapsulated in real human tissue. Piccirilli was a fucking genre master incapable of writing an insincere sentence, who, even at his most commercially appealing, delivered heartache with the same blade he cut your throat. The Coldest Mile is an improvement on its predecessor, and one can see him working toward the Terrier Rand books The Last Kind Words and The Last Whisper in the Dark with each page. I prefer the Rand books, but I have nothing but love for the Chase saga. The Coldest Mile has a fantastic climax too. Fuck, I miss this guy already.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Days of Future Passed

Victoria -  d: Sebastian Schipper w: Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Sebastian Schipper, Eike Frederik Schulz

Lila & Eve - d: Charles Stone III w: Pat Gilfillan

The Revenant - d: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu w: Michael Punke, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mark L. Smith

The Legend of Barney Thomson - d: Robert Carlyle w: Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren

Fargo Season 2 - c: Noah Hawley

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks

All Good Things - Andrew Jarecki - Poor little rich boy David Marks (Ryan Gosling) just wants to be a New Jersey hippie running a quaint little health food store with his wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst) but his father Sanford, as played by Frank Langella, is one of those old-money types who's not gonna be satisfied until his son is as successful and unhappy beneath the burden of his semi-legitimate wealth as he is (has anybody reasonable and good-natured ever been named Sanford? - If you're a reasonable and good-natured person named Sanford, please let me know of your existence). Back in the big city David works for dad and makes big money, but grows increasingly emotionally unhinged and violent. One day Katie disappears and all eyes look to David as a probable wife-killer. Nobody can ever make a solid case of it and David starts a new and even stranger life until the sins of the former catch up. Director Jarecki's fictional take on the story of Robert Durst - whose story he recently procured from the mouth of said horse, who was a fan of the dramatized version, as the documentary series The Jinx on HBO - is an odd duck of a film. An unwieldy narrative that's often obtuse is punctuated by compelling moments that I don't want to spoil and a cast that includes Philip Baker Hall, Lily Rabe, Nick Offerman and Kristen Wiig. Not really satisfying on its own, it does serve as an intriguing advertisement for The Jinx. I now want to see that thing. Best moment: Malvern and David go shooting.

Better Call Saul Season 1 - Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould - The story of how Slipping Jimmy McGill went from small time scam artist to big time sheister Saul Goodman has as an emotionally complex and surprisingly big-hearted opening chapter. As a spin-off prequel to Breaking Bad it shouldn't work as well as it does, but as an original title and character it's more than solid. The large cast and knotty non-linear narrative are never difficult to keep up with and the hints at what's to come are handled with a light touch and sustained dramedic tone that carries the viewer around blind corners and big reveals so smooth you'd swear you always knew where it was heading. Great cast too. Of course Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks are good, but holy shit Michael McKean, Mel Rodriguez, Rhea Seehorn and Julie Ann Emory are top notch and even Patrick Fabian's corporate shark Howard Hamlin is given more dimensions to exist in and is used for more than the one-note designated hitter he'd be on 99% of televised storytelling. Each character brings out unexpected layers to the central storyline - the battle for Jimmy's soul and the emergence of his life's call - and justifies their own existence admirably every time out. Dunno how many seasons they're hoping for, but this... this is an incredibly good (and self-contained) first story. Best moment: Mike's episode was a particularly strong one and damn, when he shows emotion... maybe I cried.

Bloodline Season 1 - Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman - The Rayburns are a family of big fish in their respective small ponds of Florida Keys law enforcement, hospitality, law and petty crime. When prodigal fuck up Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) returns home the family struggles with their identity and for their future. A family drama soaked in crime with mixed results. The cast drew me in and promises from trusted sources kept me plugging away, and I'm glad that I did stick with it, but the 13 episode structure felt pretty arbitrarily adhered to. Felt a little inflated, like book with a hundred extra pages - probably would've made a kick ass 9 or 10 episode season. Still, I'm interested in where it will go from the season's end. Ridiculously good cast including Kyle Chandler in a role that feels right for him - those blandly handsome features beginning to look a little interesting with age, Linda Cardellini, Sissy Spacek and Jacinda Barrett are solid, if underused, and only Sam Shepard feels truly wasted. Standouts include Jamie McShane, Chloe Sevigny, Norbert Leo Butz and Enrique Murciano - all of whom I hope get a chance to step to the fore in subsequent seasons. Best moment: Danny and Daddy put their cards on the table.

Cut Bank - Matt Shakman - When two teenaged lovers (Teresa Palmer and Liam Hemsworth) accidentally catch the murder of a postman (Bruce Dern) on video they find themselves at the nexus of dumb luck and worse decisions. Turns out there's a substantial reward for giving evidence to the murder of a federal employee that they're going to be seeing just as soon as the old boy's body is found. Oh yeah, the body - not there any longer. And neither are the packages he was delivering. One of those is of particular interest to an unbalanced individual (Michael Stuhlbarg) who begins to exponentially increase the body count in the search for his package... all contributing to a massive headache for Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich). Recipe for a terrific little small-town, small-time noir. A tad underbaked, though. Clearly modeled on fare like Blood Simple and Red Rock West, it's not as funny or as intense as either, but it's a measure better than most of the Mayberry on Meth with a side of murderous mayhem mowing down the middle of the road and most of the credit goes to Malkovich who carries the horrors and indignities of the day with a hard-won combination of world weariness and grace not many could pull off. Throwing in supporting roles for Billy Bob Thornton and Oliver Platt is usually a good idea too. Best moment: fit hits the shan in the trailer.

88 - April Mullen - A couple of minutes before she shoots the waitress, Gwen wakes up at a diner suffering some bodily damage and no memory of who she is or why she might be carrying a loaded gun. A couple of minutes after shooting the waitress she's on the run from cops, killers and her own conscience, piecing together the events of the last several days and continually returning mentally and physically to the titular number. Take the no-memory -every scene a new mystery- conceit of Memento, subtract everything that made that exciting and fresh, add an overbearing soundtrack and you've got a drippy piece of pulp fiction that not event the considerable presence of Katharine Isabelle can redeem. Not that it's a complete waste. Isabelle, who almost has her very own genre by now, makes a few moments work great, Christopher Lloyd is nutty fun and Michael Ironside is welcome anytime, but generally you've got better things to do. Hoping director Mullen has got a better picture in her - flashes of high octane energy here and a handful of stylish compositions just can't save the ship. Best moment: Gwen steals a car.

Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson - When his former girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up out of the blue to enlist his help, hippie detective Doc Sportellow (Joaquin Phoenix) puts every ounce of his will and cunning into the case. Unfortunately Doc's will and cunning are both measured in ounces and keep him running smooth and aloof and slightly untethered from reality. The purple haze that envelops Doc blows him around 1970 L.A. into all the best bits of paranoid conspiracy tales - sex, drugs, celebrity and smuggling. The sooner you ditch the plot the more you'll enjoy the ride. It's so ridiculously Byzantine and looped through its own asshole, you'll get whiplash if you hold on too tight. Deconstruction or parody? Easy target or easy viewing? Not sure I understand its place in Anderson's ouevre and pretty sure I don't care. The cast is so damn much fun I look forward to many subsequent viewings. Phoenix plays off each insanity embodied by a character actor like he's the silver sphere in a pinball machine and never worse for the ware. Course you can't escape comparisons to The Big Lebowski and I'd throw Cold Weather in there as well, but Vice is more ethereal and less weighty than either and evaporates off your brainpan super quick. Best moment: Doc and Bigfoot bullshit. Special consideration goes to Josh Brolin for standing out this far in such a stellar cast. He is the funny.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Once More Into Debauch

Back in 2009 Scott Phillips and I finally got off our asses and put together the event we'd been talking about for a year. Since it didn't look like anybody else was going to do it for us we went ahead and ripped off the idea for Noir at the Bar from the ever-effable Peter Rozovsky. We put an on-the-road crime writer we admired (Anthony Neil Smith) together with a regional up and comer (Frank Bill) and hitched a ride ourselves for what turned out to be a winning formula for losers (of whom 'noir' is about - that's what Neil says, anyhow - seriously - go ask him to define the genre).

After a couple of years at The Delmar Lounge we picked up and moved a couple blocks to Meshuggah Cafe (they serve beer and wine, so yeah, "bar") and we've been happy there ever since.

Have you noticed it's become a thing? Since the prodigal St. Louis sons first set out to blow their Philadelphia inheritance on cheap thrills a whole damn bastard tribe has emerged to ravage the country. I've personally visited outposts in New York, Denver, Austin, Chicago, Indianapolis, Oxford, the Twin Cities, Corydon and Fayetteville.  And I know of Los Angeles, Portland, Boston, Baltimore, Durham, Milwaukee, Iowa Ciy, San Francisco, San Diego, New Orleans, New New Brunswick, Norman and Washington D.C. Hell, we've spilled across our northern border to Toronto and Europe has thrown its hat in the ring to be  the new dark continent with N@B-Glasgow having kicked off in 2015. (For more about our sordid history read these pieces by the likes of Keith Rawson at LitReactor, Jen Conley at The Los Angeles Review of Books)

Tomorrow begins a new chapter for Meshuggah - after 18 years in the capable hands of Patrick Liberto it's changing ownership. So tonight we debauch one last time at Meshuggah. Come join us for readings from Scott, Joseph Hirsch, John F.D. Taff and Liam Cassidy. We'll sell some books and hoist a couple in memory of our fallen comrade, Tom Piccirilli too. You should be there, for who knows what the future holds for N@B-STL.

Other than a motherfucker of a hangover.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Donald

After recently introducing the progeny to Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break before they could be exposed to this year's remake, my thoughts turned, as they inevitably will, to the work of Kem Nunn (whose 1984 seminal surf noir novel Tapping the Source is widely un-acknowledged as being the er source material for the 1991 movie) and I'm enjoying the hell out of his 2005 book Tijuana Straits right now. It's a world I have zero first hand knowledge of, but feels familiar from his previous books as well as fare like Newton Thornburg's Cutter and BoneJohnny Shaw's Mexicali books, the oft-lamented short-lived Terriers and of course don Winslow.

The Cartel the latest from Don Winslow is a sequel to his magnum opus The Power of the Dog and a more anticipated new book is hard to imagine. Between the two (large) books he's created/ing a fictional parallel history of the War On Drugs akin to say James Ellroy's Underground USA trilogy's treatment of the national turbulence of the 1960s. Both writers are heroes for crafting high-velocity unputdownable 'genre works' that land hard and burrow deep the way you want works of capital-A art to do. The following is a piece I published previously, on another site that no longer exists, on the release of Winslow's The Kings of Cool.


In the future some poor blogger who shares my interests and sensibilities is going to haaaate Don Winslow. Future Me-But-Not-Me is going to blame the rash of lazy writers - trying to inject sweet-shots, ingest chill-pills or smoke up big fat rolls-o-rose-prose to mimic the authors they envy and produce something that resembles the inspiring and influential books of their time, in only the most superficial of ways, that’s spreading across the reading public’s (er) awareness like bad acne - on him. Future Me-But-Not-Me is going to bemoan the crop of self-consciously ‘stylish’ hacks aping the greats, for their soul-numbing Xeroxercises (yes, in the future, the hip retro-kids will know what a Xerox machine once did and Xeroxercising will be ‘a thing,’ I’m calling it now), and Future Me-But-Not-Me will resolve to remove them, like the weeds they will be – crowding the natural resources and choking out what is precious and useful. Future Me-But-Not-Me will become a zealot – pulling, hacking, spraying, napalming them from his bookshelves (Future Me-But-Not-Me will probably still have those) – and in his zeal will probably go so far as to chop at roots of the sacred tree, beneath whose mighty limbs the saplings and the weeds alike shelter and grow.

Please forgive Future Me-But-Not-Me. He knoweth not…

How stale things got for a while there. How impoverished popular crime fiction was before Winslow broke through to the main stream. And what a breath of fresh air, what a cool breeze on the underground the Don’s arrival was. The spines of his books cracked like pull-tabs on pop, and if you finished one at bed-time, you woke and had some hair of the power of the dog that bit you, first thing in the morning. Cause –

That’s how vital it was. That’s what a rush you got when you first read Savages.

Winslow’s breakout novel may’ve come out in 2010, but 2012 will be the year everybody caught on after the one-two combination of a high-profile movie adaptation by Oliver Stone (have you not saved the date? July 6, kids) and the prequel novel The Kings of Cool.

When I heard The Kings of Cool was coming and that it was going to be a prequel to Savages, I had mixed reactions: New Winslow? Awesome. The previous exploits of Ben & Chon & O? Do we need them? But The Kings of Cool is far more than a movie tie-in or an unnecessary sequel to the author’s most popular book, it’s the lynch-pin that holds together Winslow’s whole alternate So-Cal universe.

Yeah, Ben, Chon, O, Pacqu, Lado and more get their origins examined further in a 2005-set story-line, but We Were Hot Young Drug Lords: The Greatest Generation’s story is at least equally compelling – tying each of the leads in Savages to their spiritual and biological roots and even inviting second cousins like Bobby Z and Frankie Machine to the party.

The Kings of Cool, like Savages, reads like Elmore Leonard with ADD. It’s groovy, and nasty. Smooth, but also jumpy. It’s dangerous and very playful. It’s of its time, but it’s of many times (Are you at the bookstore? Pick it up and read chapter 243, yeah, there are over 300 chapters, for the Reader’s Digest condensed version of a generation’s forty-year journey from idealism to just-trying-to-deal-ism). The chapters cut-off in the middle of sentences, the format sometimes switches to a stripped-down screenplay, heightening the cinematic feel of story-telling, while the rest of it reads like a Benzedrine-jacked prose poem laced with

The Four Keys of Winslowism

The Off-Key: The familiar, but not quite, Big-Sur-Real World atmosphere and setting

The Metric Key: Which most of his books revolve around the sale, acquiring, transportation and cultivation of in various controlled substances.

The Low-Key: A trait shared by many of his best characters like Ben in Savages and The Kings of Cool, Boone in The Dawn Patrol and The Gentlemen's Hour, or Jack in California Fire and Life.

The Loki: The Norse god of mischief, tricks or trouble who the rest of his characters seem to be channeling. They're the always-lit fuse fizzing and sparking beneath the placid surface of a Winslow book who you can count on to sooner or later jump off.

Don’s work has got heart. And guts. And vision. I beg you, Future Me-But-Not-Me, to invest in the classics and dismiss the classless. It's the alluring flash of that singular style that a lesser artist will not be able to wield that Future Me-But-Not-Me and other discerning readers of crime fiction are going to grow tired of seeing trotted out like Geronimo in drag for countless lesser battles and matinee performances by the smack-talkin word-slingers of tomorrow.

The kind of punks who think that war paint a Savage makes.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independents Day

For July 4 a few recent acquisitions from independent presses...

After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones - Dark House Press

Black Cat Mojo by Adam Howe - Comet Press

Deepening Shade by Jake Hinkson - All Due Respect

Death Don't Have No Mercy by William Boyle - Broken River Books

Dove and the Crow by Joseph Hirsch - Paragraph Line

No Brass, No Ammo by John Sheppard - Moonshine Cove

Pig Iron by David James Keaton - Burnt Bridge Books

Radium Girls by Amanda Gowin - Thunderdome Press

Skull Fragments by Tim L. Williams - New Pulp Press

Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson - Lazy Fascist Press

A Tree Born Crooked by Steph Post - Pandamoon Publishing

Worm by Anthony Neil Smith - Down & Out Books (also Blasted Heath)

Plus a few burning up my radar...

Bitter Water Blues by Patrick Shawn Bagley - Snubnose Press

The Fury of Blacky Jaguar by Angel Luis Colon - One Eye Press

Hashtag by Eryk Pruitt - 280 Steps

Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal - Ladybox Books

Love You to a Pulp by CS DeWildtAll Due Respect

Rumrunners by Eric Beetner - 280 Steps

The Subtle Art of Brutality by Ryan Sayles - Down & Out Books

Words to Die For by Lynn Kostoff - New Pulp Press

Aaaand - some terrific Independent book stores you can and I have bought (these and other) books from...

Subterranean Books - the only place you can buy Noir at the Bar Vol. 2

Nightbird Books - last time I was in they had autographed copies of books by N@B alum John Hornor Jacobs, Scott Phillips, Jake Hinkson, William Boyle and myself. Also Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men.

I'm sure you have your own favorite Independent authors, publishers and bookstores to support. Go fourth and do so.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

For Whom the Bell LOLs

N@B on July 17 is gonna be a shin dig. As in you'll be digging splinters out of your shin for weeks afterward. It's the last N@B event at Meshuggah and the last night of an era of Meshuggah as the place changes hands (owners) the next day. So come prepared to for old memories and grateful for the blackouts that swallow up these events.

Happy as hell to be welcoming John F.D. Taff to the N@B fold. His shit's been smelling sweet for years and you'll be glad the sharp objects are currently in bubble wrap. Known mostly as a horror writer (The Bell Witch, The End in All Beginnings), he's dabbled in crime as well (The Kill/Off) and whatever he brings to the event you can bet it's gonna be unwelcome at any polite and proper reading event you've been to. Check him out here.

N@B has been trying to make it work for both Taff and Joseph Hirsch for a couple years now. Both are fucking ferocious and bloodthirsty writers (as in they want the blood of readers on their hands) and terribly talented. Hirsch too has a yen for blending crime and horror with his Arklow series (fucking Rolling Country split my skull and Flash Blood licked it up). His latest is the weird western The Dove and the Crow from Paragraph Line who previously published his Kentucky Bestiary.

Also reading will be long-time pal of N@B and jackoff all trades/masturbater of none Liam Cassidy. Liam's been leaned on by N@B for artwork, bouncing and bartending. You might know him from VLAD! the Vladimir Putin fanzine he illustrates and publishes. He's also the host of Cheap Fun the short story podcast. Few months back he had a story about something seriously unsavory in the trunk of a car that caught our ears. Fuck. Check out his graphic work here and y'know hire him for your book cover. He's the shit.

For the Meshuggah finale Scott Phillips will be painting the town a bright reddish-yellow. His contribution to the evening will doubtless be finger-licking smut from the Pan of his own flute. As the Pater-unfamiliar of our bastard tribe he holds the yuks-to-yucks balance firmly in his hairy palm.

So join us for one more "Fuck, Peter Rozovsky" at Meshuggah on July 17 and stay tuned for the future of N@B-STL.