Crime-On-Crime Review Series #16: Last Dance in Phoenix, by Kurt Reichenbaugh

514NciOBfQL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Given that I was headed down to Left Coast Crime in Phoenix this last weekend, I figured it was the perfect time to finally read a book that has come highly recommended to me by several other noir authors who I respect and enjoy. I’m talking about Kurt Reichenbaugh’s fast, dark novel, Last Dance in Phoenix. So I picked up a copy for the plane ride down and gave it a read en route. Trust me, it did not disappoint.

This book just has so much going for it in terms of knocking noir tropes out of the park. I mean, sure, the prose is lean, engaging, and excellent, and that’s all very important stuff. But what made it even better is the way the protagonist, Kent Starling, is absolutely the kind of guy that you know you shouldn’t be rooting for, though of course you do anyway. That’s one of my favorite aspects of noir — the ability it has to make the reader take the side of someone who is clearly a fucked up person, and to make that person strangely human or relatable in the process.

And Kent Starling is definitely both fucked up and relatable. The guy, who ought to be happily married to his beautiful wife Denise and living a stable life, is instead constantly looking for new women to bed on the side, and new ways to fuck up what he’s got. Every single time he seems to simultaneously regret it and justify it after. His inability to stop doing it borders on pathological, and even in the most dangerous situations he still falls into the trap of thinking with his member instead of his brain.

One of the things that really set this book apart from a lot of other noir books I’ve read recently is that it has some great flashback scenes, where we learn about the protagonist and what he was like when he was younger, back when he first  began to develop his me-first-gimmie-gimmie approach to relationships and sex, an approach that constantly lands him in hot water as the book plays out.

Kent’s adventure centers around a former temp secretary at work he’s been bedding on the side who turns up dead almost the moment he finally decides to break things off with her. And right away he slips into amateur hour in his attempts to cover his connection to her, attempts that often only serve to make him appear guilty, and even to inadvertently create false evidence leaning in that direction.

I just really love these types of “everyman” noir stories. Far from a professional criminal and also far from a saint, Kent is a mid-level accountant as accustomed to taking relentless shit from his superiors as he is chasing women who aren’t his wife Denise. And like many “everyman” noir stories, once Kent decides he’s had enough of everyone’s shit, WATCH OUT.

This book kept me guessing who the killer was until the final pages. It’s filled throughout with the themes of duplicity and self-deception noir fans love. And drinking, lots of drinking, too. I was as sad to see it end as I was happy to see everyone involved earn their comeuppance. And boy, did they earn it. It’s a freaking great read.

Pick up a copy of Last Dance in Phoenix here, and find Kurt Reichenbaugh online here. I’ll definitely be reading more of Kurt’s work in the future, and if you like noir, you should too!

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Crime-On-Crime Review Series #15: A Little More Free, by John McFetridge

51eqfHr9bRL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_(Editor’s note: This review was penned by Canadian crime fiction author Sam Wiebe)

John McFetridge is the unsung hero of Canadian crime fiction. His Toronto novels, including Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, offered smooth, Elmore Leonard-inspired prose, and characters with a workmanlike (and workwomanlike) approach to crime and crime fighting. The books in his newest Montreal series, Black Rock and A Little More Free, follow the career of Eddie Dougherty, a rookie officer working the divide between Anglo and French Montreal. The first in the series, Black Rock, takes place during the FLQ bombings. Dougherty has a street’s eye view of the panic and commotion of a city under terrorist siege.

A Little More Free finds Dougherty a few years removed from the bombings, his career stalled, struggling to understand both the protest culture and the government’s response to it. He’s first on the scene to the murder of a young American draft dodger, who has connections to protestors, to criminals, and to the city’s elite.

Since Dougherty is a beat cop, we not only follow the main case, but also witness other crimes, from art theft to arson. Some of these are based on real events, such as a nightclub fire that claimed thirty-seven lives. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Canada-USSR hockey exhibition, which goes much rougher than the Canadians expect, highlighting how little we know about the people we’re told are the enemy.

Dougherty becomes involved with student activist Judy McIntyre, and while there’s tension between Eddie’s straight-laced, working-class take on society, and Judy’s political crusade, the fundamental struggle is within them. As Judy says, “Democracy’s hard and it’s boring. And slow.” It’s a world where people are starting to substitute the self for the community, personal status and wealth for equality.

And this might be the point McFetridge is making—about how the civil rights movement dispersed into self-actualization and self-interest, how the protests stalled out, how a generation that fought for peace and the rights of African-Americans could fail to get behind other causes—gay rights, for instance.

Montreal is a fascinating city. The seventies are a fascinating time. John McFetridge’s Dougherty series are the best Montreal crime novels since Trevanian’s The Main, offering engrossing crime stories with social commentary–about today, about Canada, about us. A Little More Free is a captivating read, and the Dougherty series might be the best work of McFetridge’s career. Pick up a copy of A Little More Free here, and find John online here.

 

12688377_10153916253469938_9108421837371858231_nSAM WIEBE’s debut novel, Last of the Independents, won an Arthur Ellis Award and the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, and was nominated for a Shamus award. His stories have appeared in Thuglit, subTerrain and Spinetingler, among others. He lives in Vancouver.

 

Crime-On-Crime Review Series #14: Route 12, by Marietta Miles

12687946_753264761473553_8220250163429465165_n(Editor’s note: This review was penned by crime fiction author and guest reviewer Greg Barth as part of our ongoing Crime-On-Crime Review Series)

Marietta Miles is a refreshing and bold new voice in crime fiction. Her latest work, Route 12, contains two novellas deeply rooted in the crime/noir genre. The first, the titular Route 12, takes place in 1970’s Belle Gap, Virginia. Route 12 is in equal parts about a young woman, Theresa, and a young man, Percy. Both have been rendered motherless and left either dealing with either the inadequacies of the system or in the hands of incapable relatives. It is this absence of maternal love and its consequences that establishes the circumstances of both characters. When Theresa crosses paths with Percy, what ensues feels so genuine, so real, and so horrifying, you are left hoping that nothing resembling this happens outside of fiction—but you know the truth is otherwise.

The book’s second novella, Blood and Sin, takes place in small-town North Carolina in 1964—a time and place still somewhat removed from the third wave of feminism and concepts such as reproductive rights and racial equality that we take for granted today. This was an era when reputation meant everything. The young protagonist, Naomi, finds herself in a bad situation. Pastor Friend, by both name and title, should be there to help her. The problem is, he just may have her worst interests in mind.

What can I say about the writing? Marietta Miles’ prose is a pure joy to read. Take Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates, put them in a cage match to the death, and what emerges at the end comes close. Once you have the best of Flannery O’Connor (perhaps minus the “moment of grace” found in her stories), and Joyce Carol Oates (where she shines—her short stories), combine those with the harsh realism of Pelecanos (think The Turnaround and The Way Home), distill them down, cut away the fat, mix in the lean, sparse prose of Hemingway, and you get a feel for how Miles comes across on the page. Not quite nihilistic—there are glimmers of hope—but most definitely noir; and, like the best of contemporary noir, complete with bittersweet, almost tragic conclusions. If there is no moment of grace, each of these novellas contains a sacrifice. While utterly satisfying in the end, you are left with something that transcends the “Hollywood finale” scene.

While both Route 12 and Blood and Sin are lean pieces of work, none of the good stuff is missing—characterization, plotting, pacing, a sense of setting. What isn’t there? The bloated, boring parts. Once started, good luck finding a place to pause where you are not compelled to try one page more—just one. These novellas are just perfect—lean, sharp, and hard-hitting.

Would I hang heavy labels on it like “Feminist Noir?” I would, but only as an afterthought. Route 12 magnifies the importance of current, progressive strides made (feeble and incomplete as they are) by contrasting them with the harsh realities of the past. These novellas feel real. The characters and events feel real. These stories are tragic, each in their own way; but more than that, they are haunted. They are haunted by a sense of repressed and restrained femininity. They speak of a time before concepts such as date rape. They share the inequality, the stigma of slut shaming, the lack of feminine caring, the sense of female victimhood to male superiority, and the sheer discriminatory wrongness that existed in the 1970’s that I grew up in. They are haunted by the voices of a generation or more of women that quietly experienced this. Whether it is meant to be or not, Route 12 is poignantly, compellingly important.

But don’t let my talk of “importance” steer you away from Route 12. It is first and foremost one hell of an addition to the canon of crime fiction. And damned entertaining. I just can’t say it enough. If you read only one crime noir novel this year from a newer writer, you have to make it Marietta Miles. Don’t miss this one.

14e527a5-07a6-4f89-b718-ff40cf41852dGreg Barth (the author of this review) is the author of Selena, Diesel Therapy, and the forthcoming Suicide Lounge. He lives and writes in Bowling Green, KY.

Crime-On-Crime Review Series #13: Diesel Therapy, by Greg Barth

(Editor’s note: This review was penned by crime fiction author Sarah M. Chen, and is the first in many guest reviews we plan to bring you here on Crime Syndicate’s site)

12197461_438214143042364_776900480_o-472x748I don’t know how he does it, but Greg Barth writes the vilest, most twisted scenes, where I almost want to read with my hands covering my eyes, but instead I keep reading because I can’t stop. It’s like this force is compelling me to read about all the horrid, awful things that are happening to Selena, the protagonist in Barth’s series published by All Due Respect Books. I cringe at every single word, but at the same time I’m lapping it up. It’s like crack. Reading about Selena is like crack. I’m not kidding.

If you haven’t read it, I won’t get into the details of the first book in the trilogy, Selena, because this review is about the second installment, Diesel Therapy. But I’m telling you, if you start with Diesel Therapy, you’ll want to immediately go out and grab the first in the series anyway. So do yourself a favor now and start in order, because it’s better that way. I believe all series are better that way, but this series especially.

Okay, so here’s what you need to know about Diesel Therapy. It’s not as brutally violent as Selena, but that means nothing. There are still plenty of cringe-inducing and shocking scenes that left me wondering how she’s going to get out of the shitstorm she’s in. But we’re talking about Selena here. She’s one badass babe from backwoods Kentucky who people continually mess with only to discover that they made a grave mistake.

Selena isn’t so tough in the beginning because she’s in prison and doesn’t have much to do other than read and get sober. We get to know her on a deeper level and come to an understanding of why she’s the way she is. Despite her many vices, she has a strong moral center, which I know sounds weird considering all the screwed-up things she’s done and is about to do. After enduring the most horrific torture that powerful higher-ups can think of for a federal prisoner, Selena is on a mission for revenge. But it’s not exactly the revenge you would think. I don’t want to spoil anything but the second half of the story is like Pulp Fiction meets Deliverance. And I know you won’t believe me, but there’s even a love story weaved in there. It’s a fucked up love story, but it’s still a love story.

Barth has a knack for creating characters that challenge the reader. Almost like he’s daring us to root for them. He knows how to juxtapose fragility with brutality, sensitivity with depravity. It’s unusual for me to detest a character only to find myself rooting for them down the road. This attests to Barth’s skill at creating complex characters who encompass both sides of the morality coin. Then he makes them totally likable. I don’t know how he does it, but it just makes me want more. I’m jonesing for the third installment.

Crack, I’m telling you. This series is pure crack.

7022203Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Spelk, and the Sisters in Crime/LA anthology, Ladies Night. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com

Announcing the Guest Editor for Issue Two: Canadian crime fiction dynamo Dietrich Kalteis

images-1Hey there again crime fiction people. I’m back again, that makes twice this week. And finally, I’ve got the big announcement you may have been waiting for, the announcement of our Guest Editor for Crime Syndicate Issue Two, which will feature ten, rather than eight, short crime stories. I’m talking, of course (as you garnered by this post’s title), about the man, the myth, the Man From Vansterdam himself, Dietrich Kalteis.

About Dietrich (lifted from the jacket to his new novel, Triggerfish): Triggerfish is Dietrich Kalteis’s third novel. His debut novel, Ride the Lightning, won the bronze medal in the 2015 Independent Publisher Awards for Canada West Regional Fiction and was hailed as one of the best Vancouver crime novels. More than 40 of his short stories have been published internationally, and his screenplay Between Jobs was a finalist in the Los Angeles Screenplay Festival. He resides with his family in West Vancouver, and is currently working on his next novel.

51Maajc3caL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Dietrich’s highly addictive writing is his own unique brand of “West Coast Noir” set in and around Vancouver and greater British Columbia. I got the opportunity recently to check out an ARC of his latest book, Triggerfish (which drops June 1st from ECW Press), and to say it’s highly entertaining is an understatement. It’s badass. Straight up.

As you probably noticed with Crime Syndicate Issue One, a lot of our preference in terms of style and subject matter depends on the Guest Editor’s personal taste (in addition to our own). Thus, I can think of no better way to give yourself an idea of what kind of stories Dietrich is likely to select for Issue Two than to go out and pick up one of his books.

51c8jMhWv1L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_I recommend The Deadbeat Club, which I previously reviewed for Crime Syndicate here. It has a unique humor woven into Dietrich’s patented writing style, which favors sharp, direct bursts of prose intermingled with quirky characters taking unconventional routes to achieving their goals. Trust me, you’ll be a Dietrich Kalteis fan afterward, too.

A big thank you to Dietrich for agreeing to be a part of Issue Two, I think I speak for everyone when I say I can’t wait to see what stories he ultimately selects. I certainly can’t wait to see what stories the writers submit.

Crime Syndicate Issue Two drops May 1, 2016.

Oh, and one last thing: SUBMISSIONS ARE OPEN, so send us your best. Peace!