Crime-On-Crime Review Series #23: Zero Avenue, by Dietrich Kalteis

Y’all… This book…

I’ve discussed Dietrich Kalteis’s writing before several times here on the blog. And I won’t bore you with the old cliché about writers getting better with every single book.

That’s not the case here at all.

But don’t take that the wrong way. What I mean to say is this.

Dietrich Kalteis’s latest crime novel, Zero Avenue, is another installment on the same fan-fucking-tastic level that his fans have come to expect from him over the course of his five novels.

I mean, shouldn’t a writer have a bad book every now and again?

Apparently not.

Which is my way of saying that I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It has the rare perfect blend of era, style and ambiance combined with dialog so spot on that you hear the voices in your head.

Zero Avenue centers on Frankie Del Rey, a 1970’s up-and-coming Vancouver punk rock singer who makes a little bread on the side by running drugs for local drug lord Marty Sayles.

It doesn’t take long before Frankie and her well-meaning stable of flunky friends get sideways of Sayles and his henchmen. The book’s pulsating plot involves stolen cornfield dope, shredding guitar licks, and one very bad-ass catapult.

Yes, you heard me correctly. There’s a fucking catapult in the book. That’s all I’m going to say about it.

The plot’s stakes rise with every page as Frankie tries to both work her way out of a jam and work her way into punk rock stardom with her band Waves of Nausea.

If that doesn’t sound awesome, then you might want to get your pulse checked.

But what’s truly great about this book is the sheer sense of immersion it provides. You will absolutely feel like you’re in 1979 Vancouver, known affectionately then as “No Fun City.” You’ll almost be able to smell the stale beer, cigarettes and burning hash.

The book provides excellent reference to that era’s punk rock scene throughout. Kalteis’s punchy style combines a perfect hodgepodge of aggressive song lyrics and pull-top cans of beer.

There’s also a random reference thrown in to a club promoter in California who sounds an awful lot like one of my favorite current crime fiction writers in his past life (You’ll have to unravel that one for yourself).

I keep saying that sooner or later American crime fiction readers are going to realize Vancouver has some of the very best working crime writers in the world.

Don’t believe me? Pick up this book. I bet you won’t put it down until you run out of pages.

For lack of better words, I’ll pay this book the highest compliment I can pay any novel.

I wish it was mine.

Pick up Zero Avenue here.

Find Dietrich Kalteis online here.


Crime-On-Crime Review Series #22: What We Reckon, by Eryk Pruitt

It should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of Eryk Pruitt’s writing. After all, he guest-edited Crime Syndicate’s third issue, and was a story contributor to the eighties-inspired anthology I edited, Fast Women and Neon Lights.

So when What We Reckon first hit shelves, a copy made it to the top of my TBR pile right away. Being born and raised behind the Pine Curtain myself, I reckoned the book’s subject matter would be right up my alley. Or rather, right down my red-dirt road.

Rest assured, it did not disappoint.

What We Reckon tells the tale of Jack and Summer, a couple of drug-addled con artists who’ve been lying so long that neither can remember their real name anymore.

In Pruitt’s own word’s they’ve “Snuck into Lufkin, Texas, in the dead of night with little more than a beat-up Honda, a hollowed-out King James Bible full of cocaine, and enough emotional baggage to sink a steam ship. ”

If your instincts are telling you that a beginning like that is sure to take some crazy turns as the plot plays out, well… you’ve got no idea. One thing I can guarantee you is this book will go places far beyond the unexpected, and will drag you kicking and screaming along for the ride.

And throughout, Pruitt’s knack for Texas dialog will impress you every bit as much as his ability to get into the self-aggrandizing, rationalizing mind of a sociopath will disturb you.

One of the things I found most interesting about the book’s protagonists was their ability to simultaneously have no idea what their own motivations are, while readily convincing themselves and each other that they know exactly what they want.

Jack and Summer, or whoever they really happen to be, are lost and blind not only to themselves, but also to each other.

That’s the problem with lying all the time—eventually you lose sight of the truth, and thus who you really are.

It’s the strongest notion I took away from this book. Who we are is far less malleable than we’d like to believe, and straying too far from our core can untether us from reality  and lead to some very disturbing outcomes.

I highly recommend What We Reckon, both for its complexity and its sheer entertainment value. It’s the kind of book you won’t be able to put down, and when you finally do it will leave you not only a little suspicious of other people, but maybe a little suspicious of yourself, too.

Pick up a copy HERE.

Find Eryk online at

The Case for Short Crime Fiction?

I’ve always loved writing short stories. Like a lot of authors, I find the shorter form makes it more challenging to capture a full story arc, and the economy of language required develops strong habits at the sentence level, meaning it improves my writing and editing skills.

Short stories also give me freedom to try out new ideas or concepts before committing to a long-term story arc. Sometimes I even find that my favorite story ideas are ones that can only be told well in the short form.

I enjoy reading short stories, too, as do other writers I know. Good short stories serve as windows into moments of chaos, the kind that leave characters forever altered after. There’s an art and skill to writing them that is totally separate from writing novels or novellas.

But readers on the whole seem reluctant to read short stories, whether in magazines or anthologies. Why? No one seems to know for sure, though I have a few ideas which I’d like to explore.


The prevailing market wisdom is that only writers read short stories. Journals and magazines are seen more as curative venues where writers cut their teeth than entertainment products with their own intrinsic value.

Anthologies are seen as fun for the writers, but problematic for readers because of the varying styles contained within, and no carryover characters from story to story.

Readers, and mystery readers in particular, seem to prefer to stretch out with a protagonist they like. Across multiple books, if possible.

I assume this is because mystery stories have long been as much about the detective as the mystery itself. A good mystery novel is a character study almost by default. Even better if that study takes place across an entire series of books.

Mystery readers seem reluctant to accept a compelling protagonist’s confinement to a few thousand words when that character could be studied with more depth in a book-length work.

It makes perfect sense from a publishing standpoint, too. If a reader loves a protagonist, why settle for one product when you can have five, ten, or even fifty of them, each a potential sales funnel into all the others? It’s more profitable for both publisher and writer.

A Market for Short-Form Storytelling?

So will there ever be a day that the crime fiction market develops a love for the shorter form?

It’s hard to say, but doubtful. It’s tempting to assume that in a world of increasingly short attention spans, readers would eventually discover short stories and begin consuming them in greater numbers.

But short attention span doesn’t necessarily mean short narrative.  Readers can always put the book down and come back to it in spurts. In doing so they can still come back to a character who feels like a familiar friend instead of a whole new story with new problems and unfamiliar characters to contend with.

Readers simply may not ever come around to shorter narratives when there are so many great series out there waiting to be consumed.

Related: Great Jones Street closes up shop

Magazines and Anthologies: Entertainment or Development?

Which begs the question: What is short fiction’s place in the current crime fiction market and community?  Will it ever undergo a renaissance of the pulp glory days, where pulp crime magazines not only curated the next generation of great crime authors, but were also read by the general public?

My instincts say no. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.

Short story magazines (including Crime Syndicate) are mostly read by writers these days, and the lack of market value has been slowly suffocating even fantastic publications for years (Anybody else miss Thuglit?).

If magazines serve as a platform for young writers to hone their talents, that alone seems worth ensuring their ongoing success for.  But what steps would help magazines thrive in that mission? Submission fees generally don’t go over well with writers, nor does requiring the purchase of a back issue in order to submit.

And yet magazines’ inboxes are often brimming with submissions from writers who (rightfully) expect a piece of the pie in return for their work. A piece of a pie that never quite gets made, most of the time.

Related: 7 Crime Fiction Editors on the Current State of the Short Story Market

Should magazines serve as more than a notch on writers’ belts, or a stepping stone to a career writing novels? Are anthologies, which often have their own notorious sales deficits, the answer? We’ve tried it before, and the experience wasn’t all that different, though it was a lot of fun.

I wish I knew. Because I love short fiction. This magazine exists solely because of that love of short fiction. As far as I know that’s true of all the other magazines hanging around, too.

There are no easy answers. Maybe short stories will always exist as they do now, teetering on the edge of obscurity, moving from folding magazine to folding magazine,  none of them catching on for more than a few minutes. Short fiction’s glory days seem to be behind it, if such days ever existed in the first place.

Related: The return of Black Mask Magazine

Conclusions and Discussions

In the meantime, some good news. There are easy ways writers can do our part to preserve markets. We can support publications  by purchasing their products, reading them, and reviewing them whenever possible. Many of us already do.

But we can also support them by developing our own individual love for short stories.

At a minimum, short story magazines and anthologies are our trade journals. They provide insight into the  market, a place to discover new talented writers, and opportunities for writers to experiment without making the long-term commitment to a novel. They also provide GREAT entertainment, provided readers can develop a taste for shorter narratives.

I’d love to have an open discussion here on the topic, so please chime in with your thoughts.

This post is not at all a complaint, but rather an acknowledgment of the difficulties facing short story magazines, and an attempt to explore that reality. Here are a few questions I’d love to discuss (though feel free to comment however you’d like):

What are magazines and anthologies doing that you appreciate?

Where can they improve their systems and approach?

What do you love or hate about short stories in general?

What place will short stories have in crime fiction’s future?

And, by the way,  The Short Mystery Fiction Society has a great list of current short crime fiction markets you can support, read, and submit to, so be sure to click over and check them out.

And submissions for Crime Syndicate Issue Four are now OPEN, so send us your best work!


Announcing Crime Syndicate Issue Three’s Guest Editor: Eryk Pruitt

14938236_10154107639196347_5412112759200758799_nHello everyone, happy 2017! As you’ve noticed, we’ve been on a bit of a hiatus while your’s truly worked out some kinks in his personal life, as well as while we launched our first-ever themed anthology, Fast Women and Neon Lights (if you haven’t picked up a copy, please do so, not only has it received rave reviews, but your support is crucial to the magazine’s continued existence).

SUBMISSIONS ARE OFFICIALLY OPEN FOR ISSUE THREE! And we are proud to announce our Guest Editor for the issue, the one, the only, a true southern gentlemen, Eryk Pruitt! As a fellow East Texas boy, Eryk’s work has always entertained me and given me a sense of kinship with him. His story in Fast Women and Neon Lights has been called out specifically by multiple reviewers for its excellence, and I felt it was high time we did an issue that focused on rural noir anyway, which is Eryk’s specialty. That’s not to say that this issue is limited solely to rural noir, just that writers who know their markets would be advised to take it under consideration that rural noir might be a great fit for this one.

I’ll leave Eryk’s bio and accomplishments to his website for explanation, but suffice to say, we’re thrilled to have him on board, I can’t wait to see which stories resonate with him, and frankly, I can’t wait to read all the excellent work that is submitted myself. If you want to improve your chances of landing a story in the issue, and also if you just want to be really, really fucking entertained, go pick up one of Eryk’s books HERE.

Send us your best, we’re looking forward to it!   SUBMIT HERE!!!

Crime-On-Crime (Pre)view Series #21: Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties-Inspired Neon Noir

A preview of the new Short Stack Books themed anthology, “Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties-Inspired Neon Noir

Adobe Photoshop PDFHey there crime fiction fans, Michael Pool here, back after a long break here on the Crime Syndicate blog due to some things going on in my personal and professional life that have kept me pretty busy. That said, expect more reviews in the coming months. But for today we are doing something a little different, in that what follows here is a preview of our publisher Short Stack Books‘ coming anthology, Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties-Inspired Neon Noir, which comes out November 1, 2016 in print and ebook editions (and is one of the projects that has kept me personally so tied up).

I could go off on a tangent here about how excellent I think this book is, how great the stories are, how much I think it deserves to win every award ever given to human beings, etc., but I think you’d all know how biased I am, as the editor of the project. So instead, I thought it would be fun to simply offer you one-sentence blurbs of each of the stories contained. I have no doubt these descriptions alone should be enough to have you, like, totally foaming at the mouth to read these bitchin’ eighties crime stories, like, you know?

So, without further ado, here’s what to expect, as well as all the information you need to pick yourself up a copy. Our first year at Crime Syndicate and Short Stack Books has been a great one, and we can’t think of a better way to cap it off than this anthology. Next year is going to be even better, so stay tuned!

What: Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties-Inspired Neon Noir

ISBN: Ebook: 978-0-9968552-6-6 / Trade Paperback: 978-0-9968552-7-3

Who: Kat Richardson, Patrick Cooper, S.W. Lauden, Dietrich Kalteis, Sam Wiebe, Sarah M. Chen, Eryk Pruitt, Matthew J. Hockey, Linda L. Richards, Will Viharo, Nina Mansfield, C.S. DeWildt, Jen Conley, Greg Barth, Brian Leopold, Preston Lang, S.A. Cosby, Michael Pool. Edited by Michael Pool with a Foreword by Will Viharo.

When: Out November 1, 2016, in Trade Paperback and Ebook

Where: Amazon, Publisher’s website, select independent bookstores.


An out-of-control valley girl gets her sweet, sweet revenge via a can of Aqua Net in Kat Richardson’s “Valley Girl.”

A heroin-addicted, store-robbing punk rock band manager finally gets his shot at the bigtime in S.W. Lauden’s “Big Shots.”

Bumbling, Air Jordan-obsessed burglars brush up on their one-track Tiffany mixtape in Patrick Cooper’s “Alone Now.”

A private investigator get’s in a little too deep with his target in Dietrich Kalteis’s “The Deep End.”

A battered, career wrestling “opponent” finally gets his big-time shot at Madison Square Garden in Sam Wiebe’s “Parts Unknown.”

Oingo-Boingo-obsessed spoiled Cali girls reconnect over enough cocaine to  choke out Danny Elfman and pretty much everyone else too in Sarah M. Chen’s “Besties and Blow.”

Everyone’s got their own view of why Jessie Spangler ended up in a hole, but most of Lake Castor knows who put her there, and why, in Eryk Pruitt’s “It’s Morning Again in Lake Castor.”

In 1980s Tokyo, Aki is the styled-out widow of a Yakuza gangster whose Widowman (the man responsible for delivering tribute payments to her) just inadvertently revealed that her late husband had a mistress, setting a chain of events into motion that will definitely spill blood in Matthew J. Hockey’s “Widowman.”

A Canadian couple decides what to do with a huge mistaken windfall that just came by mail from the energy company in Linda L. Richards’s “The Envelope.”

Miami Vice meets Scarface meets To Live and Die in L.A. on a muggy Miami night of surveillance in Will Viharo’s “Meantime.”

A scrunchied-out teenager takes a shot at becoming professional wrestling’s next Leilani Kai with violent results in Nina Mansfield’s “Big Hair, Banana Clips, and the Figure-Four Leglock.”

An ex-Cobra Kai Karate badass turned petty criminal attempts to win possession of his prostitute girlfriend in C.S. DeWildt’s “Dutch.”

A handsy, creepazoid tangles with a group of fed up local kids at the neighborhood swimming pool in Jen Conley’s “In the Swimming Pool.”

Bobby’s violent history with Brittany has him wanting seconds when he see’s her damaged performance on the Phil Donahue show, but Brittany  would prefer to fix things instead in Greg Barth’s “Getting Seconds.”

A small appliance repairman with a penchant for broken video cameras and a nice little side business dealing the tapes they often contain gets caught up in more than he bargained for in Brian Leopold’s “Caught On Camera.” 

A woman with a suspended medical license and an inside track on NFL gambling gets in over her head gambling with a little help from a new friend with a bad haircut in Preston Lang’s “Fleckman’s Fix.”

Local DJ and small time dealer Chaz and his bartending clandestine lover Lydia have one last dance together in a corrupted drug deal with Lydia’s mobbed-up and coked out boyfriend Tommy in S.A. Cosby’s “Last Dance at the Glimmer Lounge.”

A career car thief preparing to go straight steals a trunk full of trouble on his last night on the job in Michael Pool’s “Night Thief.”


Crime-On-Crime Review Series #20: December Boys, by Joe Clifford

27131011(Editor’s Note: This review was penned by crime fiction author C.S. DeWildt)

December Boys by Joe Clifford is the follow-up to last year’s Anthony Award-nominated Lamentation. And while December Boys is technically a sequel in the Jay Porter series, it reads much like a standalone novel as Clifford once again takes readers, and protagonist Jay Porter, on a dangerous trip through the small New England haunts that lay in the shadows of Lamentation Mountain.

December Boys picks up a year after the events of Lamentation. Jay Porter is now more or less domesticated: again married to his high school sweetheart, in a steady job, house, etc., but still reeling from the events of Lamentation. Jay does his best to move forward, but his new career as an insurance investigator takes a dire turn when the teenage son of a client is incarcerated indefinitely for a petty offense. The situation dredges up Jay’s demons as his self-destructive compulsion to find answers begins to shatter the small amount of normalcy he’s built for himself. As the past and present collide, Jay soon finds himself in a fight for his life against brutal cops, crooked politicians, and an old nemesis.

December Boys is a wonderful book. The writing is crisp and the dialogue shows off Clifford’s ear for conversation. He does a great job of not only telling a compelling story full of the kind of violence, laughs, suspense, and emotional turns his readers have come to expect, but paints an incredibly rich portrait of Jay’s psychological struggle, revealing a flawed man compelled by an inherent goodness and desire to “do the right thing” despite the personal costs and risks. December Boys is this reviewer’s favorite of the year so far and is highly recommended.


CS DeWildt lives in Tucson, Arizona. His stories have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. Kill Em with Kindness, his latest rural noir novel, is available now on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

Crime-On-Crime Review Series #19: Kill Em With Kindness, by C. S. DeWildt

Kill-em-V7-1I’m a big fan of rural noir. Though it’s certainly not all that I read, it does comprise a huge chunk of my reading material in a given year. There’s just something so intriguing about the potential for darkness along the back roads and forgotten places where the former rural working class has been abandoned to wallow in drug addiction, crime, and poverty. Maybe it’s the Texan in me. Maybe I’m depraved. Either way,  C.S. DeWildt’s newest book, Kill Em With Kindness (out today from All Due Respect Books) is just the kind of rural noir that I like.

Nick Gillis is a small-time dope grower, a loaner accustomed to minding his own business as he wallows in the long-past suicide of his wife. That is, until the night he breaks his habit and intervenes in a fight at a local bar, stopping a girl named Kimmie Flynn, practically in traction herself, from cratering a couple girls’ faces in with a cue ball for fucking with her about her appearance. He drives her home and all would be well, if not for two problems. The first is that no good deed goes unpunished in the Upper Penninsula town where Nick lives. The second is that Kimmie  belongs to local sociopath crime boss Chad Toll, a man who keeps his two vicious Caucasian Mountain Dogs with him 24/7, waiting to sic them on anyone or anything that gets in his way.

What follows is an alcohol-fueled, dark tale of rabid dogs, trained crows, domestic violence, outright violence, and sadistic criminal acts, as Nick finds that he himself now belongs to Chad, or at least that’s the way Chad sees it. To untangle from the mess he’s stumbled into  Nick will have to figure out a way to bite the hand that feeds him, without getting fed to the dogs in the process.

Kill Em With Kindness is an engaging, fast-paced read that takes the reader down the rabbit hole of  Nick’s depressive mind, providing insight throughout the freefall as to how a man can come to  simply give up on life, even if he cannot quite manage to give up on himself just yet. It has all the best elements of a hardcore rural noir, with all of the pacing and brevity readers have come to expect from All Due Respect titles.

Just don’t come up on it looking for anything resembling redemption, if you know what’s good for you.  I blew through Kill Em With Kindness in a single plane ride, and I’d imagine you’ll blow through it just as quick. Pick up a copy of Kill Em With Kindness here, and find C.S. DeWildt online here.

**If you want more rural noir stories in your life, consider picking up a copy of Crime Syndicate Issue Two, which is chock full of rural noir goodness!**