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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pick A Target Between the Eyes

Maybe I Should Just Shoot 

You in the Face

By Paul Brazill (editor), Brian Panowich, et. al.

  • 84 pages
  • Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
(Zelmer Pulp Press, Oct. 9, 2014)

This fine collection of stories should provide the reader with a couple of hours of pleasure but a wise aficionado will ration the tales and stretch the book out as long as possible.

The slim book was edited by Paul Brazill, author of Guns of Brixton, Roman Dalton, Werewolf P.I. and A Case of Noir. Brazill writes an introductory essay that neatly summarizes noir in a few deft phrases:

"Noir, for me, is all about mood," Brazill writes. "And a dark mood at that because, as Otto Penzler once said, 'Noir is about losers.' ”

If you're looking for losers, you'll find them in these pages. And if it's dark you're after, this is your popcorn shack, friend.

Featured here are some of the top writers working in the neo-noir genre today, folks like Chris Leek, Benoît Lelièvre, Brian Panowich and Ryan Sayles. 

The tales they tell are dark, even when the protagonist emerges victorious. But victory is alien to these characters and most of them are skirting the edge of the world, ready to tumble off and whirl away into the void.

In "Last Exit," Leek, an editor at the Zelmer Pulp implant, writes about a cop looking for revenge against the man who killed his lover. His search is brutal and the justice he extracts when he finds the villain is cold and ruthless.

Chris Leek
The story could simply be dismissed as a dark revenger, but the writing in it is so fine that it is much, much more than that. For example, when a tipster suggests a place where the killer might be found, Leek's protagonist greets the information with a policeman's equivocal attitude:  "A direction wasn't a destination but it was a start."

Later his search leads him to a seedy 24-hour laundromat. "The yellowing sign on the door said: We Never Close. In this town, that worked just as well for old wounds as it did for fresh laundry."

In "Once Upon a Time in the Woods," his first-rate story about a kidnapping gone sour, Brian Panowich writes a mash-up: a crime story with an eerie undercurrent of the supernatural.

Brian Panowich
I've written this type of story myself -- a tale in which the bizarre and inexplicable takes place against a backdrop of the normal -- and these kinds of yarns are not easy to pull off. Panowich does an exceptional job, hinting at the inconceivable that is going to eventually overtake the story without ever giving it away completely. 

When the story rumbles to its eventual grotesque conclusion, the reader is left in stunned silence, still uncertain about what has actually happened; or why; or even how. If the purpose of short form fiction is to make the reader want more, this piece works perfectly.

Or consider Chuck Regan's excellent "Taking Flesh," a story about a photographer who is always looking for the perfect shot, the reputation maker, the photo that will lead to fame and fortune.

It is the plainest and most direct of all the neo-noir stories in this volume; it is also one of the most haunting.

Chuck Regan 
"I've had the same dream for twenty years: I am 14 years old, snapping photos of a carousel. Gold, cream, and blue antique horses waltz around a gaudy calliope as it brays vaudevillian dirges. When I stop to load another roll of film, I drop my lens cap and it rolls under the ride.  I duck down under the guard rail to retrieve the cap but I am pulled back by rough hands. The skull-tattoo carny from the photo breathes a rotted-teeth-and-cigarette breath onto my face and says, “You don't belong here.”

When he finally takes the perfect shot, he doesn't even notice it -- until sales soar for the book that contain the picture  and his agent calls him to let him know several magazines have contacted her to reproduce the photo for their covers.

When he mentions the uptick in sales, a friend says ""Maybe it's because of that kid who died."

" 'What kid?' " I asked. A teenage boy had died on a carnival ride in Maryland. I had to dig out the model-release form to confirm his name. It was the boy I had photographed at the ring toss. He was the cover photo to my book. My thesis had proven itself true. The carnival was an active ritual space, and every ritual needs some kind of sacrifice. That boy on the cover became a sacrifice to the carnival, and my sales spiked because of it."

In other words, the perfect photograph was one of death.

This is that rarest of all literary accomplishments -- a story that you find yourself thinking about just before you fall asleep for the night.

If "Taking Flesh" serves as an example of the quiet side of noir, Ryan Sayles yarn, "The Roach Motel Reputation" gives you the savage side -- a tale so hard-boiled it would bounce off a cement floor. 

Ryan Sayles
It involves child rapists, a pederast bar, underground raves, drug dealing and an ex-cop turned beat-up-artist for hire who's been retained to find a man who committed murder. The following passage makes the nature of the storytelling genre clear:

"Thomas looks at his supposed friends, back to me, back to them and then me. He realizes in a microsecond he is without quarter now. A naked fool in a house of razors. Vulnerable."

Thomas, in case you didn't notice, is in deep shit. He will enter a new world soon after this encounter: a world of excruciating hurt.

There are seven stories in this collection and each of them is a peach. I can't recommend Maybe I Should Just Shoot You in the Face highly enough.

1 comment:

  1. Great job, William. Enjoyed the review. Anonymous-9