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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. . .

Monday, January 5, 2015

Chris Rhatigan is Holding Two Pair!

(Short stories by Chris Rhatigan)
  • 114 pages
  • (BEAT to a PULP; 1st edition,; Sept. 7, 2014)
  • eBook by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • ASIN: B00NEB74RE

(Novellas by Rhatigan and Ryan Sayles)
  • 80 pages
  • ISBN: 1503084337
  • (All Due Respect Books; Nov. 15, 2014)
  • eBook by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • ASIN: B00POLK05A

  • The more I read by Chris Rhatigan, the better I like him -- and the more I want to read. These two books are good examples of the reasons why.

Wake Up is an antho that contains a dozen of Chris's stories, many of which have been published elsewhere but are gathered together here for the first time. Each is a gem, well worth the cost of the entire book: sharp dialog, finely drawn characters and as many twists as a Slinky factory.

The anthology contains the stories of both incidental and accidental criminals: convenience store till tappers, small time thieves, even a wannabe hit man. None of them are the sort that Batman would waste his time on -- not even the hit man.

Some stories are classic Grand Guignol. In "Creator/Destroyer," for example, a paranoid masterpiece, a murderer who takes over his victim's life becomes so anxious about his neighbors doing the same thing to him that he accidentally destroys the new family he has adopted. 

The nightmarish "What is Your Emergency?" is the tale of a school teacher who finds herself trapped after hours with a corpse but can't reach a human operator when she calls Nine One One.

Rhatigan even manages to make a toy's murder spree seem bone-chilling and soaked with gore in one of the weirdest tales in the book, "Furby's Revenge."

The protagonist in every story seems to be out of touch with what is going on around him or her, like a person unable to hear clearly because of acute tinnitus. Consider the fuzzy grasp on reality his would-be contact killer demonstrates in "What I Need to be a Hitman:"

"It is time for a change," I say. I look around. Everyone remains in their cubicles. They must not have heard me. Or they do not care that I am making a change. Now I must select a new career. The first career I consider is super hero. I have never read an entire comic book, but those guys seem cool. They are all primary colors and kicking ass and saving generic people from certain death. . . 

"But, upon further review, I'm not the right person for the job. I don't have the pectorals or the biceps or the quadriceps or the abdominals. Also, to gain super powers, I would have to expose myself to radiation poisoning, chemical baths, bites from venomous creatures, experimental serums, dying only to be brought back to life to complete a hero's journey, or something. All those things sound dangerous."

Or the reluctant thief who drives the action in Rhatigan's tale, "In the Hard Nowhere:" as hopeless a figure as ever felt bad after mugging a man for a paltry $47.

"She was in the shower—what was her name? Sarah? Melissa? Joan?—and I was on her bed thinking about how her sheets were at least 300-thread count. She had a lot of nice shit. Laptop. Leather couch. Fancy watch. Cell phone capable of killing a man or fixing a Denver omelet. No style, but a lot of nice shit."

The thief steals Sarah-Melissa-Joan's stuff and then regrets it afterwards. Looking for another score, he decides on a mugging. Again, however, the crime fills him with regret.

If there is an underlying theme in these stories it is aimlessness -- what social psychologists call anomie. Rhatigan's characters don't seem to fit into their world. Worse yet, they all recognize this.  

Sometimes Rhatigan simply taps into the bizarre, as in the "Hit Man" yarn or his title piece, "Wake Up, Time to Die." In the latter, his protagonist is a newsman in a media organization populated by bizarre individuals, working on stories that are even stranger. 

"On my fourth cigarette, I chose what I would write about for the day. It would be a tale of a hometown girl done good, of old-fashioned class mobility, of hard work paying off. Her name was Spunky Talisman. She grew up in an aluminum foil hovel with a single mom, but through sheer perseverance, an ancient set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and an empty social life due to her cartoonishly hideous face, she gave herself a first-rate education and evolved into a premier plastic surgeon. She first shocked the world when she performed surgery on herself, molding a train wreck of jagged teeth, dusty crevices, and eyes that bled pus, into a prototype of teenage blonde celebrity wet dream. And all without a drop of anesthesia."

As Sid Hudgens, the blackmailing tabloid publisher in L.A. Confidential would say, "Seriously Strange-O!" Check it out.


Chris Rhatigan: random anomie 
in a twisted, alienated world.

Two Bullets Solve Everything is a bit different. For one thing, Wake Up is a solo venture, twelve stories from one pen. Two Bullets contains a first-rate novella by Rhatigan, "A Pack of Lies," but it is paired with a solid, no-bullshit tale by Ryan Sayles, "Disco Rumble Fish."

The Rhatigan half of the package is a story about a crooked newsman who unsuccessfully tries to shake down a developer for a favorable story about his project. The alternative, says reporter Lionel Kasper, is to have Kasper's newspaper stir up NIMBYs in the development's backyard, complicating the project, making it more expensive and possibly pulling the pin on it entirely.

Kasper is a nasty piece of work. We learn that he has made a regular business of extorting news subjects, to the point where he has local superintendent of schools in his pocket for a $500 a month payoff and has attracted the attention of his superiors at the newspaper.

Like Lou Bloom, the TV news stringer in the movie, Nightcrawler, Kasper is a sociopath with little regard for his fellow humans. He manufactures a story about the new development that is aimed at punishing the project's builder for blowing off his extortion bid. As the developer is moving toward filing a defamation lawsuit, another of Kasper's blackmail victims, a coach at the local high school, is busted for diddling one of his students. Kasper finds out about it from the superintendent, who has been covering up for the coach.

Up to his neck in trouble, Kasper begins piling one bad decision on top of another until he both out of his depth and over his head. 

Kasper is a great character, one who conceals his fear under a facade of cynicism.  We first run into him at a local city council meeting:

"I was the only person in the city council meeting audience. Concerned citizen and all-around old crank Joe Prisco went up to the podium for his weekly screaming session, also known as the 'public hearing' portion of the meeting. Prisco’s spit graced the microphone as he garbled on about twenty years of tax hikes and school construction and how come we can put a man on the moon but we can’t pave Sherman Street. 

"Yeah, ’cause the city council funded the moon expedition."

The newsman smart mouths and annoys everyone he meets, alienating those around him to the point where he doesn't have a single friend. This is bad, because he finally puts himself into a situation that won't just result in him being sacked or sued, but spending hard time behind bars. A friend would be a handy thing to have.

It's noir and a half, perfect for those who have a bleak view of human nature.

As I said earlier, Two Bullets Solve Everything is a two-fer that contains Rhatigan's slick yarn and "Disco Rumble Fish," a splendid shoot-'em-up by Ryan Sayles, author of The Subtle Art of Brutality (Snubnose Press, 2012). 

Ryan Sayles: "Disco Rumble Fish" is a splendid shoot-'em-up!

In "Disco," a squad of SWAT officers go to war when a gangster awaiting trial kills a cop while escaping from the county courthouse. 

The novella reads shorter than it actually is: the action is pulp-perfect, with developments banging out like a Buddy Rich solo and tension as tight as the  first string on a Les Paul model Gibson.

It's tight and tough, with the language and feel of a bunch of veteran cops spinning tales around coffee and donuts.

In a brief bit of back story, for example, Sayles lets the reader know the captain in charge of the SWAT unit is a nincompoop: "Once you get to captain, the brass can see your mistakes," he writes. "(Captain) Vandross has spent his time digging himself a hole and is lucky to still have a job with daylight hours. Once the brass get real tired of him, he’ll get transferred to midnights at the stolen auto bureau and he’ll pass quietly into the grave from there."

In this passage, he describes the hot-sheets hotel where the SWAT shooters follow the bad guy:

"Whore rendezvous," Sayles writes. "The best setting for a good cop raid. They must all shop from the same supply catalog because they’ve all got the same door to kick in. I know right where to hit it, just how it’s going to splinter, all that. 

"And this door, it don’t splinter. It doesn’t do any of that. Must be a different catalog."

Sayles' yarn, like Rhatigan's "A Pack of Lies," is easily worth the two dollar asking price all by itself. When you get a pair of stories as fine as this for two bucks, you are in Fat City, my friend. 

See you there!

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