Sunday, November 4, 2012

Neo-noir(?)* books

I recently took a break from my steady diet of horror fiction to read a couple of noir-ish works. Admittedly, I am a complete novice when it comes to crime/noir/thriller books. I haven't read any of the classics, and I haven't even seen any of the classic movies. I'm a little hesitant to explore further, as I already buy more horror and speculative fiction than I can read. With a whole other genre to obsess over, I'm afraid I would never get anything done, nor save any money for my impending old age. Still, these two books - one a novella and the other a full-length novel - were so enjoyable that I may have to venture out into that wide, dark world after all.

Also interesting, and somewhat new for me, is that both of these books are only available in Kindle format - no print versions. (Although one looks to be heading that way, see below.) I am a steadfast physical book fan; I think e-books have their place, and I do indeed own a Kindle, but I can't see myself ever preferring an e-version over good old wood pulp. Yes, you can argue for the democratization of publishing and the convenience of a lightweight device that holds dozens of titles. To an extent, I'll agree with you. But as a print production person by day and book lover by night, my loyalties lie with the increasingly archaic world of media that exist in hard reality instead of electrons stored on a high-tech device. And get off my lawn, dammit.

Anyway, on to the stories...

(Jason S. Ridler, 2012)

Punk rock, pro wrestling, and mystery… Yes! This was a ridiculously fun book to read. Fast-moving, and a real page-turner. Many interesting plot twists, leading up to a truly bizarre climax that had my jaw literally dropping. (That does not happen very often.) Nicely played, Jason S. Ridler.

In DEATH MATCH, former punk musician and current local newspaper journalist Spar Battersea, newly sober, is barely scraping by in his hometown of Dismas, living with a local indie wrestler and trying to drag his own cranky ass into adulthood. When his roommate is killed in the ring, Spar sets off on a twisted journey through the gutters and back alleys of Dismas, searching for the truth while getting deeper and deeper into the city's sex- and drugs-fueled underworld.

I finished this book a while ago, and a number of the characters are still tumbling around in my brain. Recovering alcoholic Spar Battersea is fleshed out nicely, and is flawed enough to be a real person. Past-his-prime wrestler The Bullet is slightly reminiscent of Mickey Rourke's Randy the Ram, although even lower down and harder up. Human freak show Johnny Silent (aka Mime Boy) makes a deep impression without any dialogue, and is one of the creepier characters I've come across recently.

Lots of recognizable archetypes from punk rock and related scenes, including a straight-edge drug dealer (!) and psychobillies who are truly psycho. Also a couple of prostitutes with a surprising connection, a nasty biker gang, a crooked promoter, print journalists, and other assorted rough trade. (I kid, I kid.)

I really got a kick (so to speak) from all the wrestling terms and indie-league stories. I watched a lot of Ring of Honor and ECW back in the day, paid for membership to a great wrestling news site (, and I occasionally drop in on WWE to see what is happening. (Spoiler: it is still 95% crap.) Still, you don't have to be a wrestling fan to like this book, or even understand the lingo; Ridler explains a few terms, and the rest can be picked up easily from context.

There are two other Spar Battersea books (CON JOB and DICE ROLL); I bought CON JOB before I was halfway done with DEATH MATCH, and I plan to read DICE ROLL too.

(Ed Kurtz, Abbatoir Press, 2012)

Abattoir Press launched a new novella series in April with "Catch My Killer! The First Sam Truman Mystery." Each Sam Truman book will be written by a different author, and first up is Abattoir main man himself, Ed Kurtz. Hard-boiled noir meets sardonic horror, with wildly entertaining results.

Hard-luck gumshoe Sam Truman has lost his PI license and is one small step above outright homelessness. While stopping a robbery at his buddy Clu's diner, he plugs the perpetrating punk; this is enough of a problem for Sam to begin with, especially given his particular relationship with the local cops (and the fact is not allowed to have a gun), but it gets worse when the corpse shows up at his door and asks for help… The corpse, of course, is actually possessed by the spirit of a murdered woman, not the hood Sam shot. She makes the titular request, and we are off to the races.

Very real concerns, such as having enough money to pay for a meal or an extremely limited number of bullets for your gun, are just as important as the reanimated corpses and black magic rituals. Kurtz does not skimp on the little details that ground the story in almost-reality, nor does he hold back on the blood-soaked undead action when it's clobberin' time.

As mentioned, this is currently available as an e-book only, but rumor has it that an omnibus edition of the first three Sam Truman books - "Catch My Killer!" (Ed Kurtz); "The Last Invasion" (Brandon Zuern); and "Soft Kiss, Hard Death" (Tobin Elliott) - will be published next year on real paper. Even though I have the Kindle edition of the first two books, I will undoubtedly pick up the physical book when it is available. These stories are too much fun, and nothing beats the experience of reading an actual physical book. The fourth book, "Bound By Jade" (Adam Cesare) was released for Kindle a couple of weeks ago.

*I may be using this term wrong, not sure. Please correct me if necessary.

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