By Craig Douglas, Darren Sant, Ryan Bracha, editors
(Gritfiction (England); May 29, 2015)
By now it probably comes as no surprise that I am inordinately fond of stories about criminals that are chronic underachievers.
I suppose it has something to do with the true-life crime magazines that were stacked around our 8 by 35 foot trailer house by my parents when I was growing up. You know the kind of periodical I’m talking about: the sort in which every detective is intrepid and insightful and each female victim is described as a gorgeous babe, regardless of how butt-ugly she seems to be in the photographs accompanying her story.
It also may be related to the real criminals I wrote about during the 30-odd years that I worked for daily, weekly and fortnightly magazines and newspapers, including Saga, Argosy, The Berkeley Barb and The San Francisco Chronicle. There’s no question those mokes were the stars of their own screenplays, but the scripts they followed were so thin they wouldn’t have even made a decent YouTube video, let alone a 90-minute “B” feature or a half hour television drama.
Whatever the reason may be, I am attracted to the cheap and sensational criminality that occurs in rural redoubts like back-country Arkansas, Texas and Indiana. I like my criminals to be members of the broken chromosome brigade, sort of the way the guys from Dumb and Dumber would be if they had the aptitude to get their photos stapled up on post office walls.
So take this as gospel: if you are anything like me, Rogue, the first-rate antho that is being released this week by the editors of Near to the Knuckle, the on-line pulp magazine, will give you enough brain-dead criminals and hapless capers to keep you busy for many hours.
|Darren Sant and friend|
In his foreword to the collection, Mark Wilson, the author of Head Boy (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), deftly sums up the operating principals of the Near to the Knuckle crew: “Producing quality literature without constraints, or middle-management foibles, or decisions based on what will appeal to this demographic of best reflect that group.”
It is, as he says, a middle finger aimed squarely at the nervous Nellies who run today’s focus-group driven, largely gutless publishing industry. Wilson is right on the money when he calls Rogue “raw, uncompromising stories . . . by a group of writers, writing in a spectacularly diverse myriad of styles at the very top of their game.”
Rogue contains 22 exceptional stories. Most of them have English settings and characters, though a few, like “Old Times” by Benedict J. Jones, track through the darker parts of the American wasteland.
Some of these yarns, like “Route 66 and All That” by Paul Brazill, are lightweights aimed at drawing a graveyard chuckle from readers like me who enjoy tales about the misadventures of petty felons so inept that if called upon to get out of their own way, they would probably end up in hospital.
|Paul D. Brazill|
Others – like the aforementioned “Old Times” are as dark and grim as the Winter Solstice in Helsinki. Still others, including “The Brat Snatcher,” Craig Furchtenicht’s novel spin on O. Henry’s classic, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” serve violence up with a side order of laughs – or vice versa, depending on how you look at them.
In it’s own way, each tale is as hard-boiled as one of the pickled eggs Howie White “would murder” in Brazill’s hilarious tale. All are a treat to read, filled with gritty dialogue, raw descriptions and an ear for the spoken word.
Consider Tess Makoveski’s “Singing from the Same Song Sheet,” a story about a man who believes the adage, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,” but readily lends the Almighty a helping hand when the need arises. At one point in the tale, Makoveski’s protagonist tracks down a gangster whose relationship with the Lord requires ministration:
He doesn’t have a front door on the street like the rest of us. He has gates, and a long winding drive through conifer– dotted grounds. Never believe that crime doesn’t pay. It pays all right, just not in ways I like or understand.
I loved Makoveski’s story; it is splendidly crafted to mislead readers about who the protagonist is and what he does for a living before kicking them in the gut with the truth at the end.
Or ponder this snippet from “The Wedge” by Keith Nixon, in which two hard boys show up in a seaside resort looking for the woman who botched a robbery at a neighboring community’s bookmaking parlor:
To his left, white-capped waves rolled out a seaweed strewn beach beneath a lead grey sky, the sun levering itself over the horizon as if a drunk were getting out of bed. To his right was the multi-colored flicker of the amusement arcades. They were like a faded tattoo on an aged prostitute’s arm, marking far better days long gone.
A nice noirish touch there – one that fits perfectly with the tone of the rest of the story.
In another terse passage, here’s Brazill introducing one of his low-watt low-lifes from “Route 66:”
Mikey Mike Calloway was so far up his own arse he could give himself an enema.
Or how about this passage, in which Brazill describes the location where a caper is being planned?
The pub looked even gloomier and more wan during the daytime than it did at night. Even though the smoking ban had been enforced for years, the King John’s Tavern still had a nicotine sheen and the beige carpet was more than somewhat frayed; as were most of the customers, who seemed to be old school friends of Methuselah.
One of my favorite stories is Godwin’s “Doing Prince,” in which Mandy, a lesbian who formerly danced at a strip club, runs into a series of complications after she is hired to steal a lascivious painting from a yegg’s living room wall. At one point, her employer attempts to force sex on her, only to be interrupted by his bisexual wife, Lucy. After he retreats, Lucy hits on Mandy, herself:
“Did he threaten you?” Lucy inquires.
“He wants to screw me.”
“Well, that’s cause he ain’t getting much out of me. He has hookers round while I’m out, you see, mutual convenient arrangement.”
“Thanks for coming when you did.”
“I haven’t tonight, that’s why I couldn’t sleep," adding, slyly, "Think you could help me out?”
Later Lucy tells Mandy, “I used to swing both ways.”
“And now?” Mandy replies.
“I think my door’s jammed when it comes to men.”
That's the kind of writing I find myself thinking about hours or even days later. Grab a copy. It’s $7.99 in softcover – and worth a good deal more.