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Showing posts by: Scott Adlerberg click to see Scott Adlerberg's profile
Tue
Jul 18 2017 2:00pm

Review: The Student by Iain Ryan

The Student by Iain Ryan is high-paced, hardboiled regional noir: fresh, gritty, unnerving, with a stark and lonely beauty.

University campus novels involving crime date back to at least Dorothy L. Sayers’s Gaudy Night (1935), in which Lord Peter Wimsey and his mystery writer friend Harriet Vane investigate vandalism, poison-pen messages, and threats of murder at Oxford University, Harriet’s alma mater. More recently, there was Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which takes place at a fictional Vermont college called Hampden, modeled on Bennington College, where Tartt went. In The Secret History, a murder does occur, though the novel has the form of an inverted mystery—a whydunit—with its killing taking place at the novel’s outset.

Over the years, campus mystery novels have tended to use their settings much like classic era detective writers used ships, country houses, and trains as sites for murder: the campus serves as an isolated environment where a detective investigates a crime among a small group of people. The campus forms a world unto itself, with codes of behavior unique to it.

[Read Scott Adlerberg's review of The Student...]

Wed
Jun 28 2017 1:00pm

Review: American Static by Tom Pitts

American Static by Tom Pitts is a fast-paced crime thriller set against the backdrop of Northern California's wine country, Oakland's mean streets, and San Francisco's peaks and alleys, written by a man who knows the underbelly of the city like no one else.

In classic noir stories—fiction or film—it only takes one bad decision or one wrong turn on the highway or one chance encounter with the wrong person to completely upend a life. A life unruffled and mostly stress-free can turn into a nightmare real fast. Such is the case in Tom Pitts’s novel American Static, a book that starts with a mugging at a roadside bus station and never once slackens after that. 

The victim of that mugging, a teenager named Steven, accepts help on the spot from the man who offers it. And this one choice made by Steven—an understandable choice at that—leads him into a world brand new to him, where danger and betrayal and death are the norms.

[Read Scott Adlerberg's review of American Static...]

Tue
May 9 2017 1:00pm

Review: Proving Ground by Peter Blauner

 Proving Ground by Peter Blauner Proving Ground by Peter Blauner is a sweeping crime novel, an intricate story about the quest for redemption, and a vibrant portrait of contemporary New York City.

Proving Ground is Peter Blauner’s first novel in eleven years. Since his last, Slipping Into Darkness, he has been writing for television shows such as Law & Order: SVU and the CBS series Blue Bloods. If one can say nothing else about his script writing work, it’s this: it did nothing to diminish his skills as a novelist or to dull his sharpness as a social observer.

Proving Ground is a compelling read from start to finish, a masterful novel that speeds along telling its tale of crime, urban life, family, and war. Every major character in it has wounds and deals with a degree of corruption in their soul, but how each person responds to these stresses is what differentiates them. We are in a complicated, dangerous world where motives are ambiguous and victories temporary. Still, the only final defeat is death. Until that happens, you have to keep fighting.

[Read Scott Adlerberg's review of Proving Ground...]

Thu
Feb 16 2017 5:00pm

Page to Screen: The Birds: du Maurier & Hitchcock

Daphne du Maurier published her story “The Birds” in her 1952 collection called The Apple Tree. Several years later, Alfred Hitchcock bought the rights to the story, and in 1963 he released it as a film with a script by novelist Evan Hunter.

Hitchcock had already filmed two du Maurier works, Jamaica Inn in 1939 and Rebecca in 1940. Jamaica Inn—starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara—did not succeed as a film, turning a brooding, atmospheric historical tale into something comedic and silly. Hitchcock himself disliked it, and it’s now considered one of his worst films.

Daphne du Maurier (who did not work on the screen adaptions from her books and stories) had such antipathy for the Jamaica Inn, she thought about withholding the sale of the film rights to Rebecca. Of course, she did end up allowing Rebecca to be made into a film, and this Hitchcock production went well, turning a big profit and winning an Academy Award for Best Picture.

[And the award goes to...]

Mon
Feb 13 2017 6:30pm

First in Series: Homicide: Life on the Street

In January, 1993, right after airing Super Bowl XXVII, NBC premiered the series Homicide: Life on the Street. I remember watching the first episode then because I had seen the promo spots for it during the game, and it appeared to be an intriguing enough police show to give it a try.

It’s amusing now to think which names I knew from among the creators and original cast and which I didn’t. NBC played up that filmmaker Barry Levinson was a driving force behind the show, and this did impress me. He’d made films I’d liked such as Diner, Tin Men, and The Natural, and as a Baltimore native who’d made good films set in the city, his involvement suggested that the Baltimore-set production might be something other than a conventional cop show.

[And for 7 seasons, that's exactly what it was...]

Thu
Dec 22 2016 6:00pm

Wintry Westerns

Last winter, the two films I was most eager to see were Westerns: The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. In the case of The Revenant, the trailer made the film look spectacular. Knowing that the director was Alejandro González Iñárritu—much of whose earlier work (in particular 21 Grams) I quite liked—excited me all the more. As for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, I’d been awaiting that, like many, for years. Though I found Tarantino’s previous film, Django Unchained, to be his weakest feature yet, I remained a huge Tarantino fan and could not wait to see what he would do with a second crack at the Western genre.

The late 2015 release of both films made clear that their studios considered them Oscar contenders. The Revenant, of course, did well by the awards, with Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning that elusive Oscar for Best Actor, Emmanuel Lubezki winning for Best Cinematography, and Iñárritu winning for Best Director. The Hateful Eight won one Oscar for Ennio Morricone’s score.

[See what other wintry Westerns top the list!]

Fri
Dec 16 2016 4:00pm

Review: Christmas in the Lone Star State by Jason Manning

Christmas in the Lone Star State by Jason Manning is a Western set in the rough-and-tumble Texas frontier.

Read Scott Adlerberg's review of Christmas in the Lone Star State by Jason Manning, and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of this wintry Western!

Set in Texas during the winter of 1876, Jason Manning’s Christmas in the Lone Star State is a western in the classic mold. It revolves around an aging Texas Ranger, Bill Sayles, and the assignment he receives to take a prisoner named Jake Eddings from the state prison in Huntsville to his distant hometown so that Eddings can be at the funeral of his recently deceased ten-year-old son. That Eddings—serving a fifteen-year sentence for his part in a murder—gets any leave at all from jail suggests that he has somebody in his corner. That somebody is his lawyer, who has made an appeal to the governor.

The governor, in turn, ordered he be allowed to attend his son’s funeral on the grounds of compassion. A man who had a wife, a child, and a farm, Eddings endured economic misfortune, and it was this hardship that drove him to take part in a stagecoach robbery in which the driver was killed. He didn’t pull the trigger during the crime, and his lawyer is convinced that Eddings is a decent man. The guilty verdict left his wife alone on the farm with their son, and now, due to illness, he has lost the child also.

[Read Scott Adlerberg's review of Christmas in the Lone Star State...]

Mon
Oct 31 2016 2:00pm

Page to Screen: Don’t Look Now: du Maurier & Roeg

Daphne du Maurier’s story “Don’t Look Now,” first published in the collection Not After Midnight (1971), is one of the great pieces of fiction set in Venice. For all its beauty and art and atmosphere, “The City of Water” has served like no other city as a backdrop for sinister tales of mystery and doom. From Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) through to Ian McEwen’s 1981 novel The Comfort of Strangers, Venice in fiction has especially been a place where visitors come to seek an escape from something unsettling in their ordinary life, only to find that the gorgeous city of canals and alleyways draws them into a situation more disturbing than whatever it was they sought to leave behind.

​In “Don’t Look Now,” English couple John and Laura have come to Venice after the death of their young daughter, Christine, from meningitis. They have a son named Johnnie who is in prep school back in England, but it’s clear that he does not mean quite as much to Laura as Christine did. Since their daughter died, Laura has been living in “numb despair,” and as John says: “The girl meant everything. She always did, right from the start, I don’t know why. I suppose it was the difference in age. A boy of school age, and a tough one at that, is someone in his own right.  Not a baby of five.  Laura literally adored her…”

[Read more about “Don't Look Now”...]

Tue
Sep 20 2016 2:00pm

Review: Gunshine State by Andrew Nette

Gunshine State by Andrew Nette is a heist thriller set in Queensland, Melbourne and Thailand. Think Richard Stark’s Parker, Garry Disher’s Wyatt, and Wallace Stroby's Crissa Stone. Add a touch of Surfers Paradise sleaze and a very dangerous stopover in Asia.

I have a lot of respect for writers who do heist thrillers. For one thing, it seems to me that anyone who writes non-comical ones labors under the long shadow of Richard Stark and his Parker novels. In 24 pitiless books about his professional thief, Stark brought the hardboiled heist novel form pretty close to the peak of perfection, and any author who sets out to tell a tale even remotely like a Stark novel knows that savvy crime fiction readers will be making comparisons between their work and the series from the master.

Of course, in the world of crime fiction, this kind of comparison making is not unique to heist thrillers. A person who writes a certain kind of private eye novel likely will start hearing the words “Hammett” and “Chandler” bandied about. But private eye novels, despite the recurrence of basic patterns, leave space for much variation. The pleasure for the reader lies in discovering how the writer uses this space to tweak, revel in, and expand familiar tropes.

[Read Scott Adlerberg's review of Gunshine State...]

Wed
May 4 2016 1:00pm

Investigation of a Citizen

An attractive young woman smiles at a man through her apartment window. Once he’s in her apartment, she embraces him.

“How are you going to kill me this time?” she asks.

“I’m going to slash your throat,” he answers. 

Soon afterwards, we see them in bed, the man out of frame, the woman atop the man, shot from behind so we see her bare back, and when she emits a little gasp, for a second, we don’t know what it means.

Is she feeling genuine pleasure from their sexual act, or is she pretending to be hurt, killed, from what must be their regular erotic ritual?

Already, a minute or two into the story, the viewer is in unsettling, ambiguous territory, and as things proceed, the viewer will come to find that this is a film that keeps you off balance for its entire two-hour running time.

[Read Scott Adlerberg's review of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion...]

Mon
Jan 4 2016 3:00pm

The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn

In the late 1960s, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, the most popular science fiction writers in Russia, decided to write a mystery novel. The Dead Mountaineer's Inn was published in 1970, and its creation may have been motivated in part by the weariness they felt struggling with the Soviet authorities. Once writers of optimistic science fiction that the authorities backed, they had changed with time, and so had their relation to the authorities.

Their work over the years turned more dystopian and satiric, obliquely critical of a system that, in the wake of the post Stalin era thaw, had not delivered on its promises. The brothers liked the mystery genre, and Arkady in particular, who spoke English well, had read such writers as Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner, John LeCarre, and Dashiell Hammett. None of these writers were well-known to the Russian public at the time; since the 1930s, the government had all but banished detective fiction. As Boris wrote in his 1999 memoir, Comments on the Way Left Behind, they meant to write a lighthearted, commercial novel that would be fun to write and raise no alarm bells with the censors.

[Keywords: meant to...]

Mon
Oct 5 2015 5:00pm

Investigate Thyself: Missing Person by France’s Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano’s Missing Person focuses on a private detective, introduced as Guy Roland, who investigates himself. The location is Paris; the time period, the mid-1960s. I say “introduced as Guy Roland,” because from page one of this novel, we comprehend that we are dealing with a detective narrator with little sense of his own identity. “I am nothing,” is how the book starts. “Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop…”

The head of the Agency he works for, a man named Hutte, is retiring. The Agency is closing. But Hutte is keeping the lease on the apartment where the Agency operates, which means that all the “street-and-trade directories and year books of all kinds going back fifty years” will remain there. Hutte, who brought Roland into the Agency eight years ago, who taught him how to be a private investigator, has described these volumes as “the essential tools of the trade”, objects he’d never discard. Roland asks about them, and when Hutte asks Roland what he intends to do with himself, Roland says that he’s following something up. You think that he’s talking about a case that needs closing and that he wants access to the volumes for his work, but then he tells Hutte what he’s really talking about: “My past.” Hutte understands – “I always thought that one day you’d try to find your past again.” – and gives him a key for free use of the premises while’s he off to retire in Nice. Though Hutte asks him whether finding his past will be worth it, he does nothing to dissuade Roland from beginning his stated quest; he, too, it seems, suffers from a strange amnesia.

[Careful what you wish for...]

Tue
Jun 30 2015 11:00am

Fresh Meat: Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec

Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec marks the debut of the internationally best-selling procuedural series featuring the coffee-loving Commissaire Georges Dupin who's just relocated from Paris to a quaint coastal town (available June 30, 2015).

When it comes to crime, I read noir stuff primarily. Speaking broadly, I read a lot of crime fiction from the criminal’s point of view. But every now and then, I get the craving for a procedural, and at the same time, I wonder what locale to explore through the story. Procedurals often make for great armchair traveling, as every mystery devotee knows: what is more fun than diving into a mystery set in a place you’ve always wanted to visit but never have? Besides the pleasure of the puzzle, you submerge yourself in an environment, a culture. This is what I was looking for when I picked up Jean-Luc Bannalec’s Death in Brittany, and overall, reading the book gave me what I wanted.

[Off we go!]

Mon
May 11 2015 5:30pm

Familiar Yet Foreign Noir: The Late Show

The opening of Robert Benton’s private eye film The Late Show is chock-full of deception. We first see the Warner Brothers logo, but it’s not the Warner logo of 1977, the year the film was released. It’s a sepia colored 1940’s era Warner logo, and right away we hear soft 40’s style piano music playing and a woman’s voice that starts a song. It’s a melancholic, romantic song that a singer in the background of a 40’s film noir lounge scene might have crooned. The logo fades to give us a shot of an old manual typewriter, an Underwood, with a sheet of paper in the carriage. “Naked Girls and Machine Guns,” the title on that page says. “Memoirs of a real private investigator, by Ira Wells.” As the camera pans, it passes a small framed photo of Martha Vickers, who played Carmen Sternwood in Howard Hawks’ adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. It shows us a somewhat shabby room that has an unmade bed and a little bit of mess and a black and white wall picture of two younger men in natty suits and fedora hats. The movie’s coloring is subdued – everything from the wallpaper to the furniture seems to be done in some shade of brown – and by the time we get to a beefy, older man, Art Carney, seated in a recliner chair as he studies a racing form, his back to an old-fashioned black and white television set, we’d be forgiven for thinking we’re going to see a film that is either a film noir parody, an exercise in noir style nostalgia, or perhaps a straight-on pastiche, imitative in the extreme. But surprise, surprise. The Late Show is none of these. Benton’s film adheres to the classic structure of private eye film and literature, but within that structure, it mixes its components in a way not quite like anything else. The film is a reflective character study with a first-rate plot, continual tension, and comedy worthy laughs. Its dialogue crackles, at times fast and furious, but underneath the banter there's a melancholy mood. The pace seems unhurried, but at 93 minutes long, the movie is air tight. In a decade that saw a revival of private eye films, some more revisionist in intent than others – Chinatown, Night Moves, The Long Goodbye, Farewell My Lovely, to name a few – The Late Show remains one of the very best.

[That's no small praise...]

Fri
Mar 13 2015 2:00pm

The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal

It’s 1968, the height of the Cold War, and we are in Mexico City. Filiberto Garcia is a sixty year old Mexican policeman. Over the course of his life he has killed people: men, women, a priest. As a young man, he fought in the Mexican Revolution, serving under Pancho Villa, his killing backed by a just cause. But what he once did to help his country transform itself into something better, he now does strictly as a job. By 1968, the Mexican politicians have long since betrayed the Revolution. Real men like Villa and Zapata no longer call the shots. Cold, duplicitous figures who occupy offices in their suits now pull the strings. They of course kill also, but they never do the dirty work themselves.   They need others to do it for them, and that’s where Garcia, the central character in The Mongolian Conspiracy, comes in. When the novel opens, he is working as a pistolero – effectively, a police hitman – and any ideals he once had seemed to have died inside him.

Rafael Bernal’s 1969 novel appeared at a critical moment in Mexican history. In October 1968, military and police under the command of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had massacred perhaps as many as 400 peacefully protesting students in the country’s capital. The PRI had grown out of the socialist-leaning revolution that ended some forty odd years earlier, and it had dominated Mexican politics since that time. The brutal repression of the leftist students just before Mexico was to host the Summer Olympic games made absolutely clear the extent to which Mexico’s political class had become authoritarian, in betrayal of the revolution’s ideals. The event remains a seminal one in Mexican history, and you have to assume that a bunch of the men who fired on the university students were men precisely like Filiberto Garcia – hired guns, men doing a murderous job to collect their pay, political subtleties be damned. That Rafael Bernal, on the heels of this national trauma, would make his protagonist this kind of gunslinger took guts. As author Francisco Goldman notes in the book's introduction, this was not a character likely to appeal to most Mexican readers. And in fact, the book did not do all that well when it was first published. In Mexico, after falling out of print, it became very difficult to find. But a reissue appeared, and with the passing of time, its reputation has grown. It was translated into English in 2013. The Mongolian Conspiracy is part noir, part detective story, part pulp fantasia, part Cold War thriller satire. As well, it’s a novel about a city, or a certain strata of a particular huge metropolis; in Goldman's words, The Mongolian Conspiracy is “The best fucking novel ever written about Mexico City.”

[Sounds clear enough to me...]

Fri
Dec 19 2014 1:00pm

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Broadly speaking, there are two types of mystery stories: whodunnits and whydunnits. We read a mystery story to find out who committed the crime (with the why, the motive, often serving to help the investigator find the culprit), or we read knowing from early on who the guilty party is as the story lays out the reasons, psychological and otherwise, that prompted the crime. An intriguing subclass of the whodunit is the inverted detective story. In this type, the howcatchem, the crime, and usually the perpetrator are shown at the story’s beginning. The main thrust of the drama here becomes how the detective goes about solving the crime and catching, or killing, the perpetrator. Nearly every episode of Columbo follows this format and, more recently, Luther. But what about a mystery story where, from the first pages, the reader knows who did the crime, why they did it, who they killed and how the person was killed – yet no detective solves anything? In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the setting is a small village in Colombia, South America, and to add to the excess of information known, not only does the reader know all the crime’s particulars, but the characters in the story, the village residents, know before the fatal act occurs who will be killed, by whom, and why. Everyone even remotely connected to the killing knows the pertinent facts, with the possible exception of the victim. When all the typical questions that a mystery story answers are answered from the get-go, what kind of mystery is left? What does the narrative’s investigator need to investigate? It’s precisely these enigmatic areas that are explored in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel.

[To South America we go...]

Fri
Aug 15 2014 11:00am
Excerpt

Jungle Horses: Exclusive Excerpt

Scott Adlerberg

Jungle Horses by Scott Adlerberg focuses on a London man, who after falling into debt with the wrong people, is forced on a trip to a Caribbean island to study a mysterious breed of horses (available August 19, 2014).

 
Arthur lives a quiet life in London, wandering from the bar to the racetrack and back again. When his pension check dries up, Arthur decides to win it all back with one last big bet at the bookie. When that falls through, Arthur borrows money and repeats the process, until he's in too deep with a vicious gang of leg-breakers.
 
The plan to save his skin will take him far from his home, to a place where a very different breed of horse will change his life forever.

 

Chapter 1

The horses that Arthur saw in his dreams were always running through tropical terrain.  The land was green and the sky deep blue, but this was not the African farm where he'd once bred racing horses.  These were not those sleek thoroughbreds nor were they tame farm horses burdened by saddle, stirrup, and bit.  The horses ran through a lush place, and despite the denseness of the terrain they seemed to run with complete abandon, never stumbling as they tore through bush.  They were jungle horses, immense yet graceful, and somehow he knew as one knows in dreams that none of these majestic creatures had ever been mounted by a man.  How different they were from the horses he'd ridden in his life, and how different too from the London ponies he would bet day after day.  They were unique, he would think in his dreams, and the vision of their bright green jungle would fade, the beautiful horses would disappear, and he would awaken in the hard double bed with the grayness of the ceiling above him.

[Continue reading Jungle Horses by Scott Adlerberg...]

Fri
Jun 27 2014 12:00pm

Gangster Cinema, British Style: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover is not the first film you're likely to come up with when thinking about British gangster movies. Filmmaker Peter Greenaway, who began his artistic endeavors as a painter, has made a name for himself as a creator of provocative and sometimes experimental works of greater or lesser accessibility (The Draughtsman's Contract, Prospero's Books, The Tulse Lipper Suitcases), and no one would call him a genre filmmaker of any sort. And yet, in The Cook, the Thief, released in 1989, Greenaway wrote and directed a film that has a gangster, Albert Spica, as its central character. The film is not a conventional gangster picture, but it has at its core the ingredients that make up many a basic crime drama: violence, betrayal, romance, revenge. How these ingredients fit together is what makes the film unusual—a film no one but Greenaway, with his distinctive approach to visuals and narrative, could have made.

But let's start with the plot: somewhere in England, a gangster named Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) has bought Le Hollandais Restaurant, run by the French chef Richard (Richard Bohringer). Every night Spica turns up at the restaurant with his entourage of goons, and this boorish group proceed to offend the restaurant staff and customers. Spica himself is violent and crude, and he holds court from the center of his table. He's a self-proclaimed authority on everything, a person intolerant of dissent. Besides his thugs, he's accompanied each night by his wife Georgina (Helen Mirren), a woman who somehow manages to conduct herself with class and tact while enduring the bellowing onslaughts of her husband. Right under his nose, she takes up with a man who always dines alone while reading a book (Alan Howard), and this affair continues with the help of the restaurant staff. Everyone knows the explosion that will happen if Albert discovers the affair, and sure enough when he does, the cruelty he enacts on his wife and her lover (and a child who helped them) is monumental. His wife's sense of loss is deep. Her lover was everything Albert is not: kind, quiet, thoughtful. Above all, like her, he enjoyed books.  He lived for something other than power, money, and eating—the things Albert values. Emboldened by her grief, Georgina talks revenge, and she convinces the restaurant chef to help her.  Richard, Georgina, and all the many people Albert has hurt band together.  Restaurant staff are among the avengers; so are former members of Albert's crew.  The vengeance they take out on him is horrific, as cruel as anything he did to others, but it's exactly what he deserves.

[It gets even crazier...]

Wed
Apr 23 2014 1:00pm

Fresh Meat: The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

The Poor Boy's Game by Dennis Tafoya is a standalone thriller about Frannie, a U.S. Marshal whose violent childhood memories come rushing back when her father escapes from prison (available April 29, 2014).

If you've read Dennis Tafoya, you know that he's a writer who embeds family drama, with its complex emotional turmoil, inside hardboiled crime fiction. The Poor Boy's Game, his third novel, is no exception. It centers around Marshal Frannie Mullen, from Philadelphia, and the consequences that result from two events. The first, in Philly, is a botched attempt by Frannie and her colleagues to catch a felon who has jumped bail. The second is the escape from a Louisiana prison of her father Patrick. He has his own business to take care of in Philadelphia, and the news that he has returned to his old stomping grounds adds stress to Frannie's life. Patrick is a former boxer who was an enforcer for a local roofer's union. He has a violent history. He was also a terrifying husband and father, a man whose brutality traumatized Frannie, her sister, and their mother. While dealing with the fallout from the failed apprehension, Frannie is engulfed by the chaos and danger set off by her father's return, and how these two plot strands develop and come together is at the core of The Poor Boy's Game.

[This story is as much about Frannie as it is about Philadelphia...]

Mon
Mar 31 2014 4:00pm

Fresh Meat: Hustle by Tom Pitts

Hustle by Tom Pitts is a gritty, harsh story of two male prostitutes from San Francisco who attempt to blackmail a wealthy lawyer in order to get off the streets and out of the business (available April 1, 2014).

 

Despite all the good authors working in the field today, most noir is not exactly what you'd call mainstream. In noir's stubborn allegiance to darkness and loss, fuck-ups and crackpots, it may never be.  From a fan's perspective, this is exciting.  It means noir remains an area not entirely sullied by commercial concerns, and the result is books that can take risks.  Tom Pitts' Hustle is that sort of book, a fearless exploration of a bleak, harsh slice of the world.  In its frank portrayal of drug-addicted male hustlers angling and scrambling to survive, it's a novel with a transgressive edge, and you don't have to read very far into it to sense it will take you where it needs to go, not where it thinks the reader may want to travel.     

We're in San Francisco, present day.  Donny and his friend Big Rich are two addicts with no jobs who make whatever money they can as street prostitutes.  Donny seems to be in his late teens; Big Rich is a little older.  They are best friends who look out for each other, and Rich serves as a mentor to Donny.  They are part of a group of boys who hustle, and from page one, Pitts gives us a clear-eyed view of their tight community:

...Down on that corner, everybody knew each other.  Everybody was into each other's business.  The boys depended on each other for information.  Information was survival.  They all knew the regulars, the older men who would cruise the corner in their luxury cars.  They got to know who was married, who liked to party, who liked it freaky, and who was HIV-positive.  Some of the tricks didn't care who knew, but some liked to keep it a secret.

[Taking it to the streets...]