Crime-On-Crime Review Series #9: A Negro and an Ofay, by Danny Gardner

Danny Gardner A Negro and an OfayOne of the great things about independent presses is that they are often the first to bring new or emerging voices to market. Craig T. McNeely’s Double Life Press is one such indy press, fairly new to the game, and already putting out established authors who I love, such as Will Viharo. Double Life’s newest release, A Negro and an Ofay, by debut author Danny Gardner, is sure to impress with its heavy cultural subtext.

Set in the post-WWII 1950’s midwest, A Negro and an Ofay is, as the tagline reads, “The Tales of Elliot Caprice.” A veteran war hero and ex-cop, Caprice is on the run from his former co-officers after being forced to kill two crooked cops. When Caprice lands himself in a St. Louis jailhouse under an alias,  he’s forced to turn for help to the one place all people turn when there’s nowhere left to run: home.

Thus, the book sets off on a winding tale with a cast of characters in Elliot’s hometown of Southville, IL, where Elliot formerly worked as a collector for a local gangster, and quickly finds himself working for the man’s social justice-minded lawyer son instead.

I should probably mention here that Elliot Caprice is mixed-race, African-American and white. Characterized in the book as anything from mulatto to “high yella,” this book is as much about the struggles of a man caught in a world where half black is all black to most whites, and half white is all white to most blacks, as it is a book about solving a set of mysteries.

That’s what I really liked about it.It finds a way to address issues of race and class without getting sidetracked, and, in fact, builds these issues seamlessly into the plot instead. What results is a totally unique detective in Elliot Caprice, who struggles with issues that feel both familiar and totally alien to the genre, not to mention the reader. It’s one of those books that reminds you of how many unheard perspectives there really are on our admittedly racist past (and present, for that matter), and even manages to point racism out in many less obvious ways simply because Elliot’s mixed race status gives him a unique experience with it.

A Negro and an Ofay is not only a fine debut, but a totally new, and important, take on the genre, lest we forget crime fiction’s roots in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, where our view of African-Americans in crime fiction came almost exclusively from the white perspective, and was often derogatory.

Caprice’s mixed race means that he’s able not just to give us an alternate perspective of racism in our history through crime fiction, but three alternating perspectives: black, white, and mixed.  Caprice is at various points in the book taken or identified as each and chooses to blend as each as well. This provides a distinct feeling of how color alters experience throughout, and it gives Elliot a unique ability to let people see what they want to, which he uses to the fullest to navigate his tasks and cases to get the job done.

A Negro and an Ofay is a fine debut by a promising author in Danny Gardner. Plus it has one of the best covers I’ve seen this year, designed by Dyer Wilk. Pick it up, check it out, and go find Danny Gardner online at www.dannygardner.me.

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Crime-on-Crime Review Series #8: Rumrunners, by Eric Beetner

51pXeCbh4EL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_Eric Beetner is the Guest Editor for our first issue for a reason. Considered by many to be a rising star in the noir fiction market, he’s released five books this calendar year alone. His writing is quirky and filled with loserish, everyman protagonists who are always in way over their heads, whether they realize it or not. Most of the time they do, and it provides a humor that’s very enjoyable on the page.

I’ve had the opportunity to read several of Eric’s releases this year, but it was his novel from 280 Steps, Rumrunners, that really stood out to me.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for rural noir. In Rumrunners, Beetner’s protagonist, Tucker McGraw, is the classic everyman in over his head, though it didn’t have to be that way. In fact, Tucker comes from a long line of bootlegging criminal drivers, sometimes referred to as Rumrunners. Tucker’s father Webb and grandfather Calvin have worked for a criminal family called the Stanleys for decades, driving countless elicit packages across the state of Iowa and the rest of the Midwest.

But Tucker himself has always stuck to the straight and narrow, though all it ever got him was an ex-wife who hates his guts, and a son in need of male guidance. That is, until his father Webb disappears one day with an expensive load of Stanley meth cooking materials.

When the Stanleys show up at Tucker’s door informing him they intend to hold him responsible for his daddy’s apparent theft, Tucker is forced to enlist the help of his beer-chugging outlaw grandfather Calvin, fresh from the old folks home down in Omaha, Nebraska, to help him work off the debt to the Stanleys by taking on driving jobs.

What follows is pure muscle car mania as Calvin and Tucker traverse the countryside committing odd criminal acts and searching for answers about what happened to Webb. There’s lots of choppy, funny dialog throughout (especially from the classic old coot Calvin), and a pulpy storyline that keeps the laughs coming.

It’s a great ride through the cornfields and around the lakes of the Midwest, and definitely one you’ll want to read. Plus I love the aesthetic of these 280 Steps paperbacks, there’s just something about them that makes me want to pick them all up and read them. They’re  sharp. Pick up a copy of Rumrunners here, and find Eric Beetner online at www.ericbeetner.com.

Also, send us your best stories between now and December 5th for Eric to select from toward Crime Syndicate’s debut issue. Now crush that beer can and put the pedal to the metal to your local bookstore to pick up a copy of Rumrunners!

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Crime-On-Crime Review Series #7: Bull Mountain, by Brian Panowich

51IfdhGygIL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Occasionally in the writing world a debut author’s book comes along and immediately starts making waves. There’s no exact science to which books will do it, or why.  But such books do tend to  have one specific aspect in common: They’re almost always dripping with talent and authenticity in a way that makes even experienced authors pine for that level of accomplishment.

Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain is just this kind of book. Almost from the first page I was struck by the sheer authenticity of the book’s voice, from dialog to narration. Maybe it’s because I love rural noir, or maybe it’s because the native Texan in me holds a secret nostalgia for all things southern. But as I dug into Bull Mountain I had a real feeling that I was experiencing something special, something totally unique. Something as filled with authentic talent as it is with authentic setting and character. This book made me self-conscious as someone who also writes southern rural noir.

Bull Mountain is the saga of the Burroughs clan, a long line of Georgia outlaws stretching back into the days before prohibition, having spent all those years protected by the sanctity of their backwoods home turf, a place called Bull Mountain. The narrative bounces back and forth throughout the Burroughs family’s storied criminal history, revealing deep divisions between hard men and women as it moves, and tracking the family’s business progression from the sale of moonshine into marijuana and eventually methamphetamine.

Only a lone Burroughs has ever turned away from the family business, the book’s main protagonist, Clayton Burroughs. Clayton has instead chosen to become sheriff of a neighboring community to Bull Mountain, and ostracized himself from his kin in the process. As the plot moves back and forth through history, from moments in Clayton’s childhood to moments in his own father’s childhood, Panowich waves a deft brush in showing the reader how things came to be where they are.

And where they are is not good. When a federal agent shows up on Clayton’s doorstep with a grim forecast for the Burroughs clan’s future, Clayton is forced to attempt to reconnect with his estranged brother, who is now head of the family business, and who hates Clayton’s guts.

What unfurls is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and very engaging tale of deep family ties, even deeper family scars, and violence so dark it will make your hair stand straight up. Panowich’s writing is absolutely stellar throughout, and perhaps that’s why this book has already made a huge splash, and has even been optioned for a television series.

Expect awards to follow, because trust me when I tell you that Bull Mountain is one of the best pieces of southern rural noir to land from a debut author in a long, long time. My suspicion is that we will all be hearing a lot more of the name Brian Panowich in the future, so do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy of Bull Mountain. That way when it becomes a big, successful television series you can tell your friends you read it before it was “cool.”  Find Brian Panowich online at www.brianpanowich.com. 

Crime-On-Crime Review Series #6: The Deadbeat Club, by Dietrich Kalteis

51c8jMhWv1L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Beware the man in the Canadian tuxedo, because he can write like hell. That man is Dietrich Kalteis, and his name should rightfully be changed to Vancouver Dutch the way he carries on Elmore Leonard’s spirit and legacy with his recently released sophomore novel from ECW Press, The Deadbeat Club. I’m super excited to review this book for Crime Syndicate, because as far as I’m concerned it’s a breakout effort from a rising star in Canadian crime fiction, and one of the best books I read this year. Seriously.

I first met Dietrich at Bouchercon, where I ended up hanging out with him and a few other Canadian crime fiction writers for most of the weekend. The stereotype about Canadians proved true, as they were all some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Dietrich is a soft-spoken, friendly guy. And yes, he was properly attired in denim top and bottom all weekend long, which is just plain badass. He’s also one hell of a crime writer, as I soon discovered.

In The Deadbeat Club, generational Whistler BC primo dope grower Grey Stevens finds himself caught smack in the middle of a turf war between rival gangs that both have their eyes on his coveted Eight Miles High cannabis strain. Stevens and his cast of hippish, outcast characters move from shenanigan to shenanigan as the plot unfolds, trying throughout to both cover their asses, and preserve their small street distribution ring, including Grey’s own off-the-grid grow houses.

On their trail are a couple of head-busting detectives up from Vancouver, a sexually-obsessed sociopath named Travis Rainey with his crime boss Bumpy Rosco’s idiot meathead son Nick Rosco in tow, and the entire Indo Army, who are as interested in stomping out Bumpy Rosco’s syndicate as they are in locking down Grey’s supply.

Lot’s of campy mayhem ensues, with spiked drinks, busted heads, flash mobs (yes, flash mobs), and explosions. The narrative arc takes a curb-stomping pace, yet never feels like it’s in a rush. To me, that speaks to Kalteis’s great sense of plotting and pace, not to mention his grasp of setting and character. At times funny, at other times thrilling and sexy, The Deadbeat Club has everything you could want in a crime book.

One of the most original aspects of Kalteis’s book is that it seems to reinterpret aspects of American rural noir into something both familiar and unique, which I would call Canadian rural noir. I’ll admit I’m not as up-to-date on my Canadian crime writers as I should be, but the approach felt both familiar and fresh, what my graduate school instructors would have called “uniquely familiar.”

I can think of no higher praise, so I’ll leave it at that. Trust me when I tell you that you’re going to want to pick up and read this book, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to put it down until it’s spent, because that’s exactly what happened to me. Pick up a copy of The Deadbeat Club here, and find Dietrich online at http://dietrichkalteis.blogspot.com/.

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Crime-On-Crime Review Series #5: What Happens In Reno, by Mike Monson

whryellowbiggerjpegEDITOR’S NOTE: The Crime-On-Crime Review Series originated on Crime Syndicate founder Michael Pool’s personal blog. We’ve taken over the series here at our site, and have been re-releasing the reviews one per day leading up to a brand new review tomorrow, 11/10/15. This review was originally published on 10/12/15.

Oh dear. Oh good god. Oh my-my. That Mike Monson is one sick puppy, and I mean that in the best possible way. I’ve had the privilege to read several other of Mike Monson’s books, including his novella The Scent of New Death, his novel Tussinland, and his short fiction collection, Criminal Love and Other Stories. Though I really enjoyed the others, What Happens in Reno became my favorite of Monson’s books almost from the first page.

This book is pulp noir at its absolute darkest, lowest, and most hilarious point. One of the things Mike Monson does better than almost any other pulp noir author I’ve ever read is to write books that have absolutely no redeemable characters, yet compel you to keep reading anyway. In graduate school, they tell you that’s supposed to be impossible, but clearly they haven’t met Mike Monson, because with Monson manning the keyboard it works just fine.

In What Happens in Reno, Monson’s protagonist Matt Hodges is no exception. I mean, the book opens with him puking up his Grand Slam Breakfast all over the side of his car before sleeping it off in the Denny’s parking lot. Hodges is a man whose closest thing to an ally is a cheating wife that hates his guts, though perhaps not as bad as he hates himself. Those are his redeemable qualities, if you can believe that.

What follows Matt Hodges’ puke sesh is a dark tale of adultery, betrayal, gambling addiction, and murder that is as funny as it is disturbing. Seriously, there’s not a single character in this book with so much as an ounce of integrity, and yet I found myself rooting for Matt Hodges even as I suspected that things weren’t going to work out, could never work out.  I damn near had tears of laughter streaming down my face at certain points in the story, and had to put it down to get the laughs out more than once before I could continue reading.

Throughout the narrative arc Monson doesn’t ever, even once, provide the reader with so much as an ounce of hope, and yet he arranges words in a way so as to put on a spectacle that is nearly impossible to look away from.

I’m not going to say anything else, lest I spoil some of the laughs and thrills for you. So if you want to find out what does, indeed, happen in Reno, you’ll either have to read the book, or head on out to “The Biggest Little City in the World” to flush yourself down the toilet first-hand. If I were you I’d select option one and pick up a copy of Monson’s book, particularly since it’s just been re-released by badass crime fiction indy-publisher All Due Respect Books, where Monson also works as Co-Publisher.

Speaking of All Due Respect Books, I may as well take a second here to plug my own novella, Debt Crusher, which they will be releasing on February 15, 2016.

Pick up a copy of What Happens in Reno here, and find Mike Monson online atwww.mikemonson.org.

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Crime-On-Crime Review Series #4: Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, by Will Viharo

519moxadnhl-_sx326_bo1204203200_A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: The Crime-On-Crime Review Series originated on Crime Syndicate founder Michael Pool’s personal blog. We’ve decided to take over the series here on our website, and as part of that process we’re publishing the first five entries in the series, one per day the rest of this week, leading up to a brand new review on Monday, November 9, 2015. The review below was originally published on October 4, 2015.  FULL POST BELOW:

Hey hey, it’s October already? Time for another review. On deck this time around is a fantastic pulp fiction book that found its way back into print last year after nearly two decades off the shelf: Will “The Thrill” Viharo’s dynamic, touching, and wacky first installment in the Vic Valentine, Private Eye series, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me. 

Love Stories has an interesting, cult-underground mystique to it completely independent of the tale it tells, having once been championed  by none other than one Christian Slater, who fell in love with the book (pun intended, for reasons that will be clear in a moment) after discovering it on the shelf at a used books store in Los Angeles. In his own words, Slater “…totally related to the main character and thought, ‘this would make a great movie.’” In fact, the actor and producer liked it so much that he optioned the script (and keeps re-upping the option year after year), which I don’t have to tell you is any pulp or crime fiction author’s dream.

Unfortunately, like many optioned scripts, the movie has yet to ever go into production (there’s the violent part of the love story). But thank God Gutter Books decided to re-release the novel because it would be an absolute tragedy to lose this incredibly moving story to the mechanisms of the writing and publishing business.

Viharo’s protagonist, Vic Valentine, is as hapless as he is authentic. Vic is a hopeless romantic looking for love in all the wrong places, still reeling from a lost love in his past. Love Stories picks up in San Francisco, California, when Vic Valentine is haphazardly hired on to search for a brutish, alcohol-soaked professional baseball player’s estranged wife, a woman who shares many qualities with Valentine’s own lost love, thus piquing his interest. The case sets Valentine off on a drunken, sexy, and occasionally violent adventure to track down the estranged woman while attempting to hold his own tattered life together in the process.

The book has an original voice and this familiar tone that made it feel more like the fourth book in a series than the first. Valentine holds nothing back about his thought processes and emotional state throughout, giving the reader an incredibly intimate view of the world through his eyes. The story reads lightning fast and is full of ridiculous and hilarious moments that made me see right away why Slater wanted to make it into a film.

Love Stories has a style all its own. When I finished it I wanted to order and read the rest of the Vic Valentine book saga on the spot, which is good since Double Life Press is in the process of re-releasing all four of the follow-up Vic Valentine books from the 1990s early next year, titled as The Vic Valentine Classic Case Files.

But perhaps even more thrilling is Gutter Books’ forthcoming release this December of a totally new volume in the Vic Valentine series, Hard Boiled Heartthe first new Vic Valentine story written in over twenty years. I’m absolutely foaming at the mouth to get my hands on all of the above, and I have no doubt that after you read Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, you’ll feel the same. Pick up a copy now from Gutter Books, but fair warning: it goes fast, and once it’s gone you’ll be stuck waiting a few months to find out more about what happens to the enigmatic Vic Valentine, Private Eye. 

For more information, hop on over to Thrillville and check out Will’s virtual pulp fiction universe!

Crime Syndicate Issue One to be guest edited by Eric Beetner!

11311761_10206010022223145_360487022_nHey hey crime fiction fans! We’ve got some great news to announce. Crime Syndicate’s first issue has a guest editor, and we didn’t even have to resort to petty extortion to make it happen.

Crime Syndicate Issue One will be edited by the incredibly prolific and uber-talented Mr. Eric Beetner. Eric has had a monstrous 2015, which saw him publish five books, including the most recent just a few days ago, a novella from All due Respect Books called Nine Toes in the Grave. That’s right, FIVE BOOKS (Check out his Amazon Author Page for his full catalog). If you’re feeling lazy and or like you squandered your year right now, you’re not alone. That’s an insane output.

From Eric’s website:

I write hardboiled crime fiction. A lot of it, with more to come. People like Owen Laukkanen, John Rector, Megan Abbott, Kelli Stanley, Scott Phillips, Sean Doolittle, Rebecca Cantrell and more have said nice things about my books. I’ve won a few awards like the 2012 Stalker award for Most Criminally Underrated Author. I seem to end up on a lot of lists about the best writers you’ve never heard of.

My books include Rumrunners, Over Their Heads (with JB Kohl), The Backlist (With Frank Zafiro), The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, Dig Two Graves, White Hot Pistol, The Year I Died Seven Times, Stripper Pole At The End Of The World & the story collection, A Bouquet Of Bullets. I’ve co-authored (with JB Kohl) the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. I’ve also written two novellas in the popular Fightcard series, Split Decision and A Mouth Full Of Blood. I live in Los Angeles where, among other things, I co-host the Noir At The Bar reading series.

I’ve toured as a musician, painted, written screenplays, acted in short films, been to China twice, fished in the Mississippi, once met Barry Manilow, directed films and music videos, my name’s been on TV over a hundred times, I own a real human skull and my kids think I embarrass them. A life well lived, I’d say.

I also design book covers. For samples of my 50+ covers visit crimecovers.blogspot.com

41Q1m7zH05L._UY250_Eric has a unique throwback pulp style to his writing. He’s been referred to as a “crime writer’s crime writer,” and that’s right on. His humor is so understated that sometimes you find yourself laughing at things in his books without being sure what specifically you’re laughing at (HINT: that’s an Issue One submission guideline if I ever heard one). I get jealous every time it happens, actually.

My first in-person experience with Eric was watching him moderate a panel at this year’s Bouchercon in Raleigh, NC, where he introduced the panel’s authors in “the order in which they could kick my ass the fastest.” He kept everyone, including the panelists, laughing throughout with the same brand of self-deprecating humor that’s prevalent in his writing as well. He’s funny, he’s talented, he’s prolific (I know I already said that), and he’s nice enough to help us launch this project right. Cheers, Eric,  we appreciate the support.

Reading Crime Syndicate’s submission guidelines is only a partial way to determine what we are likely to publish in a given issue. It will always depend on the guest editor’s tastes, too. So if you’re wondering what to submit for Issue One, my suggestion is that you head out and pick up one or two of Eric Beetner’s books to see what he writes.

510IR7nx3oL._UY250_Also, if you find yourself rejected this first time around (believe me it happens to all of us, no shame there), purchasing the issue when it comes out is a great way to see what we like.Though each issue will have a tone that reflects that guest editor’s tastes, there are specific things we at the magazine like, and that affects the semi-final cut of stories that ever make their way to the guest editor in the first place (the guest editor then reads blind).

[Also, a quick head’s up, since our approach is a bit new: Please don’t resubmit stories that we decline for consideration toward future issues. If we declined, it’s final for that story regarding all issues, though we are very thankful for you sending it to us to consider.]

We’re so glad to have Eric on board. If you want more information on Eric there will be an interview with him inside Crime Syndicate Issue One, so stay tuned!