Crime-On-Crime Review Series #11: Safe Inside the Violence, by Christopher Irvin

safe-inside-the-violenceI love short stories. That may be obvious given that I run a magazine dedicated to short fiction, but it’s worth mentioning as a lead-in to this week’s review. In fact, the only thing I like better than a good short story is a good collection of them.

Christopher Irvin’s Safe Inside the Violence is a great collection. The book does what any good short fiction collection ought to do: It captures and carries a tone throughout. In this case, that tone is a sense of darkness and brooding. Not midnight, pitch-black darkness, but more of a grey skies for weeks and weeks kind of darkness (the kind we’re all familiar with here in Seattle where Crime Syndicate is based).

Safe Inside the Violence features thirteen stories that each ring true with their own sense of emotional urgency, loss, and conviction. The stories feature battered men and women still trying to make a go of things, often with unclear or unfavorable results, but occasionally with satisfactory or even satisfying success.

Various stories in the collection appeared in magazines such as Needle: A Magazine of Noir (“Union Man”), Noir Nation (“Bringing in the Dead”), Flash Fiction Offensive (“Vacation Package”), Beat to a Pulp (“Beyond the Sea”), Plots With Guns (“Napoleon of the North End”), All Due Respect (“Blind Spot” [full disclosure: My own story “Tote the Note” was in the same issue]), Crime Factory (“Bitter Work”), The Winter Animals Anthology (“Nor’easter”), and Noir Carnival (“The Things We Leave Behind”), as well as a few other unpublished works.

There’s a raw humanity to these stories, a sense in each that important things are happening, even if at times the person they’re happening to can’t quite seem to put a finger on them. Often raw, at times emotional, and at times violent, each story brings with it a sense of loss and regret, tinged with a sense that things could not possibly have gone any other way.

Throughout, Irvin provides his characters with dignity and humanity. His narrative eye may be unflinching, but it’s obvious on the page that he cares. These are everyday people caught dead-center in life’s daily struggle, doing what has to be done, and coming out both changed at the end, and also with a sense that some things never have and never will change.

The whole collection is as heartfelt as it is moving, and I don’t often read collections that carry tone the way this one does. It’s a fine work from an excellent writer, and the type of book that makes me wonder why people aren’t obsessed with short stories.

Pick up a Copy of Safe Inside the Violence here, and find Chris Irvin online at www.christopherirvin.net

 

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Crime-On-Crime Review Series #10: No Tomorrow, by Jake Hinkson

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(Editors Note: This review was written by guest reviewer Eric Beetner. Eric is the Guest Editor for our first issue, out in January. He was nice enough to drop by the Crime Syndicate blog today and share this  guest book review with our audience.)

Looking over my list of this year’s reads, it included some really great books. But while perusing the top-tier of my favorite reads for the year, I realized one in particular hadn’t gotten the attention I felt it deserved.

Many of my favorites of the year – Bull Mountain, Where All Light Tends To Go, Sympathy For The Devil – had gotten their share of love, but I realized that No Tomorrow by Jake Hinkson wasn’t getting much ink spilled in its direction. Maybe it’s because we’ve come to expect greatness from Hinkson, and when No Tomorrow delivered, it wasn’t news.

It should be. No Tomorrow is Hinkson’s strongest work since Hell On Church Street, which to me was a modern classic. Hinkson writes from a place of the past. Sometimes it feels like his writing desk must be inside a time machine. What makes No Tomorrow so sublime is how it takes the feel and patina of a classic 1940s or 50s pulp paperback and makes it fresh and modern.

You know how certain Coen Brother’s films have that perfect mix of classic and cutting edge? That’s what No Tomorrow is. It’s Hinkson’s Miller’s Crossing. A throwback that could only have been crafted today.

At its core, No Tomorrow is a story of lust, jealousy, repression, and self-discovery. Wrap those aspects in a pitch-black noir story and you get Hinkson’s unique take on the subject matter. But he goes you one better. He flips the gender of the classic noir set-up, the basic adultery story and murder tale, and comes out with something totally fresh.

Billie Dixon is the kind of character no one would have written back in the time period the novel is set – 1947. She holds her secrets close to her chest, but when she shares those secrets with a woman she meets in the deep, bible belt south, things get steamy, then turn deadly.

Hinkson writes about religious fundamentalism better than nearly anyone, and while the corrupt nature of the backwoods church folk in this story isn’t as front and center as in some of his other works, it infuses No Tomorrow with a fatalism that only deepens the shadows at the noir heart of the story.

When things turn deadly, Billie is forced to confront the “Capital B” big question all noir protagonists must face: what do I do when I’m out of options? What kind of person am I when the chips are down?

But Hinkson isn’t satisfied with only a single crucial life decision for Billie. Each choice she makes leads to another crisis, and soon her life is more complicated than she could ever have imagined, even when she seemed on the cusp of true happiness.

No Tomorrow dives deep into the whirlpool. Nobody is safe, nobody is innocent, and nobody is getting away clean. What I liked most about it that I see less and less of these days is that the story always keeps moving forward. Billie is a woman of action. Ill-advised and doomed action most times, but still, she keeps moving forward. It could have turned into a brooding Douglas Sirk-esque take of unrequited love and repression, but Hinkson keeps the pulp pages turning as the road before Bille keeps twisting.

So Hinkson’s works has become routinely brilliant. That’s no excuse not to celebrate every one of his fresh new takes on a classic style. No Tomorrow works equally well as an introduction to Hinkson’s bleak but satisfying world of hopeful but doomed noir losers, or as further evidence of his complete lock on the genre among contemporary writers. Either way, get your hands on this book and be grateful that pitch-perfect noir writing has a future as long as Jake Hinkson is at the keyboard.

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