By Alec Cizak
(All Due Respect Books; May 12, 2015)
eBook Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Readers of hard-boiled crime are probably familiar with Alec Cizak from the short stories he has written for cyber-pulp publications like Grift, Beat to a Pulp, and Dark Corners Pulp.
Now, courtesy of All Due Respect books, a publisher of noir and hard-boiled fiction that issued its first titles last year and is already gaining a no-nonsense rep among small press operations, fifteen of Cizak’s tough crime yarns are available in a single volume, Crooked Roads.
Atmosphere, violence, amorality: these are the bricks Cizak uses to construct his tales of scammers on the make, petty thieves on the slide, lovers with little in common but their lust and losers of every conceivable stripe.
Some of Cizak’s stories offer a straightforward dose of gore. “Columbus Day,” a short tale about a man called Bump who falls in with bad companions, is in this category.
Throughout the yarn, Bump seems on the verge of doing the right thing, but the yarn climaxes in a shotgun blast that lets you know he has decided – without deciding – to follow his crime partners’ lead:
Nothing worse than someone assuming you were the same, just so you wouldn’t hurt them.
“You think you’re smart?” Bump said. He stretched his hand out for the gun.
Kristos stepped back. “Oh, shit.” He gave him the Benelli.
It looked like an antique, like something Bump’s great-great-great granddaddy might have used in the Indian Wars. “Sympathize with this,” he said. He jammed the barrel into the sock in the woman’s mouth and pulled the trigger. The backsplash soaked him.
“Goddamn,” said Kristos.
For some of Cizak’s characters, what seem to be good ideas go bad. That’s the case with his unnamed protagonist in “No Hard Feelings.” He and his well-to-do girlfriend, Missy Vaughn, decide to steal a winning lottery ticket from a cranky old man who lives in a big house across town. The plan goes sour when the old man’s ticket turns out to be a loser two different ways.
And in some cases, even when a character tries to do the right thing it ends up wrong. Consider the homeless guy whose attempt to stop a mugging ends up earning him a whupping in “American Chivalry,” or the other homeless guy in “The Riots on Third and Vermont” who gets burned by his good intentions – and a can of gasoline in the hands of some yuppie pricks from U.S.C.
Cizak foregoes graphic brutality in a number of stories, offering instead a dose of atmosphere that is as menacing as a tire iron aimed at the reader’s skull.
Consider “The Space Between,” a one-page wonder in which the protagonist, a loner living life on the road, checks out Susan, a waitress in a diner. After a bloodless encounter in which the waitress seems to look right through our lead character, Cizak lets the man’s grim thoughts take center stage:
As you turn the ignition and wait for the heater to fire up, watching the fog of your breath splatter against the windshield and shrink, over and over again, you listen to the voice of reason on the radio (“This country ain’t what it used to be!”) and remember how you will spend the night in a motel with nothing but a television, mini bottles of shampoo, small towels, and a Gideon’s Bible that can do nothing to correct mistakes you’ve made your entire life. Mistakes other people tricked you into making—
Your mother, dressing you in clothes from Second Time Around.
Your father, refusing to look at you after you said you had no interest in baseball …
Would Susan be any different? She doesn’t care about you, chump. Look at her now—can’t you hear the smacking of her bubblegum? She’s in uniform, on the clock, and yet she has her cellphone pasted to her ear. Remember the way she spoke to you, thinking you wouldn’t catch the disregard her cliché revealed?
The car’s warm.
There’s a tire iron in the trunk.
Haven’t you reached that point where you could just drive?
If you’re looking for a collection of one-bite pulp tales you can bang through in a single sitting or consume one at a time at leisure, Crooked Roads won’t steer you wrong.