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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, March 7, 2016

The Heat is on in Oaktown; Vern -- Rob Pierce's Latest Badass -- is the One Bringing It!

By Rob Pierce
113 pages
(All Due Respect Books; February 28, 2016)
Ebook: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Forget your exotic locales and high-maintenance bad guys. Rob Pierce's Vern in the Heat is set in Oakland, California -- San Francisco's tougher, grittier sister on the other side of the Bay Bridge.
Score it another fence-clearing dinger from All Due Respect, the new publisher that specializes in crime fiction so hard-boiled that it bounces when you fumble taking it out of the sauce pan.
Rob Pierce -- Vern is another wall-clearing
dinger for All Due Respect Books
 The novella – at 113 pages, it’s short enough to consume in one setting, but good enough to re-read immediately afterward -- is as dark as anything All Due Respect has published.
It’s a helluva good read. Each character is sharp-edged enough to jump off the page and slap your face until it bleeds. There are no good guys, just professional criminals who look, act and sound like they should be leering out of a poster on a post office wall.
Vern is a sort of glorified delivery man for an organized crime figure in Oakland, California. A bartender girlfriend, Deria, unknowingly sets him up to take the blame for a drug money rip-off engineered by a faction of a rival gang. Vern figures out the scam and finds a way to turn it against his rivals.
In the process he kills several people, beats the hell out of at least one and ends up in a pool hall shootout in which Deria plays a critical role.

If there is a weakness in this tight little yarn, it lies in the fact that we never learn more about Vern’s partner, a guy named Turman. He plays a pivotal role in the story, but by the time we finish the tale, all we really know about him is his name.

I, for one, would like a little more back story on this character – how he came to work with Vern, his relationship with Vern’s boss, Keene, pretty much anything.

But that’s a minor quibble and Vern in the Heat works fine even without the additional details.
Oakland has rarely been grittier than it is portrayed in this lean, tersely written tale.
In the opening section of the book, Vern is going to face down a Chinese gang-banger in Possum's, a tough pool room run by a former biker.
“Vern figured Chen was a loner if he liked to shoot pool in a white man’s bar," Pierce writes. "There were plenty of Chinese bars to choose from. Of course, Possum’s might have been a little more comfortable for a badass, but it wasn’t like Oakland didn’t have badass Chinese bars. Oakland had badass everything.”
In another section, Pierce tautly explains how East Bay residential areas deteriorate as you move toward Oaktown.
"They weren't really in Deria's neighborhood anymore, but it was close enough that Joey Lee and Keene would still look for them here. The businesses were about the same but the people were different. This neighborhood was worse than Deria's, as each neighborhood would be from here until they reached Oakland. Once in Oakland, it wasn't neighborhoods anymore: each block was judged by who was on it that night."
At a critical juncture, Vern and his unwilling companions are driving a rental to a rendezvous:
"The term deathly quiet had never seemed so apt. The car rolled smoothly down Oakland streets as though they'd been repaved by a city with a real budget."
And Vern, the lead character, is just as tough as Uncle Dust, the central figure in Pierce's eponymously named debut novel.
Stopping in a trendy bar for a beer while making a drug money drop, Vern looks around the place with distaste.
"[Vern] supposed everyone in a place like this thought kicking back was a lifestyle," Pierce writes.
"That pissed him off. He also supposed they would be scared if he showed his .38. That made him smile. Not that Vern would rob a joint like this or shoot anyone during a robbery. A murder rap could take up all of a man's time."
Vern uses violence like a carpenter uses a crosscut saw: as a tool no well-equipped craftsman should be without. Embellishing a story about a past caper by stretching the facts, he explains to Deria the importance of responding immediately to the first sign of danger:
"There's a lesson in that story," Vern tells her.
"What lesson?"
"Don't hesitate," Vern said. "Don't hesitate, don't get shot."

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