TNT—Anthony Nicholas Twin—is a Scottish reporter who, after being exposed to a nuclear blast, has superpowers, such as eyes that can see in the dark, a body that can heal itself, super-sonic hearing, and an inexhaustible erection. In Ritual of Blood, he is on his way to a dinner party when all the guests, including the children, are slaughtered. Meanwhile, the richest men in world have been disappearing shortly after marriage, along with their money. It is believed that a secret female organization, Matrix, is behind the disappearances. TNT teams up with his arch-nemesis, Arnold Benedict, to go undercover as billionaire “John Wayne,” to marry into the organization and get to the bottom of it.
Monday, May 10, 2021
Sunday, May 9, 2021
“Ross was no longer vitally interested in Gill. He had his father’s killer, his confessed killer. But Gill could clear up who was lying, and why.
“On the heels of that thought came a terrible doubt, streaking across his brain like a yellow comet. It had all happened so long ago. Maybe it was he—Ben Ross—who was lying.”
Originally released in 1957 under the pseudonym “Matthew Gant” and recently released by Stark House Press (paired with Slade), Manhunter is emblematic of Hano’s strikingly original approach to the western genre. Revenge and closure don't drive his protagonist forward, it’s something darker and all-consuming. These sorts of qualities separate Arnold Hano’s westerns from many of his peers, and what gives them the distinction of being labeled retroactively as “western noir.”
Saturday, May 8, 2021
Slade was originally published in 1956 under the name “Ad Gordon” by Lion Books, where Hano was also the editor. Hano doesn’t handle his characters with kid gloves—he puts them through hell, over and over again. Slade begins with him knocking the titular character off his high horse, and what a fall he takes. Like Icarus before him, Slade flew too close to the sun and paid for his hubris. Here, the gambler bet everything he had—including his saloon—and lost it. With only his horse, his hat, and a sock with $500 he tries to leave town, but after he’s jumped and beaten unconscious he loses even the sock. “Dilt drove both his fists to the back of Slade’s neck and kicked himself loose. Yet somehow he got up again. Finally, the wild red washed through him and turned gray and the last thing he remembered was Dilt saying hoarsely, ‘Fall, you son of a bitch, fall.’”
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
I've been a big fan of Beat to a Pulp since I discovered them a little over a decade ago, around the same time I started this blog. Since then, it's been a dream of mine to have a short story included on their website. That dream has finally come true, and I'm thrilled that they've given a home to my story, "Death Drives By Night." It's about a rural veterinarian with a sideline patching up criminals who gets caught in the middle of a drug war when violence follows the trail back to his home. Zakariah Johnson described it as "Gritty, gravel-road-noir."
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
In Golds’s hard-hitting collection of noir-influenced poetry and prose, Love Like Bleeding Out With An Empty Gun In Your Hand, there’s a lot of past, not much present, and even less future. Characters look back and see what’s better left behind; they look around and don’t like what they see; and they look ahead but don’t see much of anything. Yet somehow, Golds manages to be both a romantic and a nihilist at the same time—and that’s as good as definition of noir as I can think of.
Monday, April 26, 2021
I've long been a fan of Wallace Stroby's crime novels, especially his Crissa Stone series, but his latest is my new favorite. In design, Heaven's a Lie reads like something straight out of Gold Medal from the 1950s, but in feeling and tone it is completely modern, and deeply tied to the present moment. The main character is Joette, a woman who was laid off from her bank teller job when the bank downsized. Now she works a day-shift at a decaying motel during the off-season in order to pay for her trailer and support her dying mother. But that's all backstory you learn later. Stroby kick-starts the action with the first sentence of the book. A car turns over in front of the motel. Joette rushes to help rescue the driver. Inside the open trunk, she sees a bag of cash. She takes it. And, of course, the rightful owner quickly figures out she has it and wants it back. Trouble is, Joette's got nothing left to lose and is determined to keep the cash.
One of Stroby's strongest abilities is character development. He eschews archetype for realistic people made of flesh-and-blood, with urgent and relatable motivations, and who—when pushed—surprise not only those around them, but also themselves. And Heaven's a Lie is a book in which characters frequently surprise themselves. Whether it is Joette recognizing her boldness and recklessness, or Travis—the sadistic drug dealer—acknowledging his limitations and powerlessness, the cast of Heaven's a Lie face life-altering and disturbing self-realizations.
I loved Heaven's a Lie—a tightly-knit chamber noir filled with melancholy and heartache set against a backdrop of America's struggling economy and the destructive wake of gentrification.
On the occasion of the book's release, Stroby was kind enough to speak with me about the writing process.
Read the full interview, "Wallace Stroby on Life, Death, and Noir on the Jersey Shore," at CrimeReads.
Monday, March 29, 2021
Joe Kenney describes, the writing is “almost puritan in its descriptions: cursing is kept to a minimum, [and] there’s not much gore.”
Saturday, March 27, 2021
Friday, March 26, 2021
Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
Friday, March 19, 2021
The hallmark of Gorman's style is the utter simplicity and clarity of his language. He doesn't go in for hardboiled-isms, procedural jargon, expletive overload, or any other attention-grabbing affectation. Straightforward prose is more than just a stylistic decision; it's the foundation of Gorman's moral universe. His protagonists shun pretensions of any kind—artistic, social, or political. In both style and substance, Gorman's work radiates a profound sense of honesty. His characters can see the worst qualities in others because they've first recognized them in themselves. Among my favorites of his books is the Sam McCain series. First introduced in 1999's The Day the Music Died, McCain is a lawyer and licensed PI in the small town of Black River Falls, Iowa, and one of Gorman's most compassionate and endearing characters.
Sunday, March 14, 2021
It all begins when a young female corpse is discovered mutilated in the streets of San Miguel de Allende. Leading the investigation is police inspector Hector Diaz, a man prone to indigestion, ill-timed erections, and hallucinations of Aztec gods. After the corpse is identified as Amanda Smallwood, a young model from Texas, the trail leads Diaz to a local community of expatriate American artists that includes a charming convicted child molester, a Canadian diplomat’s wife, and scores of jilted lovers and wannabe artists living Bohemian fantasies with total abandon—any of whom seem desperate, envious, inebriated, or crazy enough to have committed the murder.
Friday, March 12, 2021
"The (Original Adventures) of Ford Fairlane: The Long Lost Rock ’n’ Roll Detective Stories" by Rex Weiner (2018) - FFB
Into this fray rode Rex Weiner’s Ford Fairlane, an ex-bouncer-turned-punk-rock-PI who made the New York and L.A. scenes in two serialized stories in the New York Rocker and the L.A. Weekly in 1980. Long out of print, both are now collected in The (Original Adventures) of Ford Fairlane: The Long Lost Rock ’n’ Roll Detective Stories (2018), which also includes an insightful “Backstory” by Weiner, as well as contextual interviews with the stories’ original editors, Andy Schwartz of the Rocker and Jay Levin of the Weekly, and with filmmaker Floyd Mutrux, who first tried to bring Fairlane to the screen (he is not at all responsible for the obnoxious Andrew Dice Clay–fronted adaptation from 1990, that dishonor belongs to Renny Harlin). The reappearance and reappraisal of the Fairlane stories is overdue, as these should-be classics of the genre strike a perfect tonal balance between tradition and innovation.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
While Keene's pulps often focused on innocent everyman protagonists who were framed or detective-proxies (be they private eye, cop, or a stand-in), some of his funnest—and darkest—yarns were about criminals. The one in this collection is among my favorite of Keene stories. "I'll Be Seeing You" is about a racketeer who plots to get rid of the newly-elected D.A. when he meets her sister one night, unaware that she has a plan of her own underway. The ending has a delightful and dark sense of poetic justice. Keene's criminal-centered stories are often shorter than his detective-based narratives, which gives them an extra sense of bit—and "I'll Be Seeing You" shows Keene's teeth at their sharpest.
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
The Rock Hudson Collection: "Seminole" (1953), "The Golden Blade" (1953), and "Bengal Brigade" (1954)
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’s Rock Hudson Collection highlights three of the actor’s early adventure pictures: the frontier epic Seminole (1953); a Middle Eastern swashbuckler, The Golden Blade (1953); and Bengal Brigade (1954), set during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Sunday, March 7, 2021
Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, I have a piece on Day Keene focused on his working-class upbringing, early years as an itinerant actor, and his radio career, and how these experiences influenced and are reflected in his later pulp stories and paperback novels.
Struggle is rampant in Keene’s world, and nothing ever comes easy. “It burns me up when I think of it. I get all sick inside,” admits a police lieutenant in Wake Up to Murder, lamenting about how he’s only an $80-per-week cop raising a family instead of the rich man he thought he’d be. “I guess all we little men of the world have the same problem. We’re all riding a blind horse. And despite our best efforts, most of the time it plods on where it will. And all we really can do is hang on and keep our heads.” This working-class ethos stems from Keene’s own upbringing and his pre-pulp careers as an itinerant actor in the 1920s, specializing in vaudeville and stock theater, and as a radio writer in the 1930s.
I am deeply grateful to the LARB for publishing this piece, and my fabulous editor Boris Dralyuk for his patience, support, and enthusiasm.