Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Down on the Street by Alec Cizak

In Down on the Street, Alec Cizak tells a truly noir story of a guy living too close to the edge, falling for the wrong woman and winding up in more danger than he ever dreamed.

How does an average Joe – his name is actually Lester – get himself into so much trouble? As Mickey Spillane might answer, “It was easy.”

Getting himself out of trouble becomes nearly impossible in this tense, gritty novel.

Lester is a city cab driver barely making it. He resides in the meanest, crummiest apartment house where there is only one bright spot – at least it is bright to him – Chelsea, a young woman living across the hall. Chelsea is a nasty sexpot who gives Lester a tumble one night, but rejects him the next day. He eats his heart out for her as he witnesses a nightly parade of men tramping in and out of her place.

Neither Lester nor Chelsea can make a go of life until Lester gets the bright idea to go into partnership with her. Their business is the oldest profession, with the ineffectual Lester as her pimp and protector.

Hey, what could go wrong?

Only everything.

Cizak’s novel will raise a reader’s anxiety level into the red zone. His writing makes it impossible to stop reading.

The story of these two people reminded me in many ways of Charles Willeford’s 1955 noir novel, Pick-Up (reviewed here), with a touch of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”

Down on the Street, which came out in 2017, is a frightening, nerve jangling tale.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Skull Meat by Tom Leins

Last summer, I read Tom Leins’ astonishing novella, Skull Meat, and found myself at a loss for words. This short book has a driving pace and vivid descriptions. It also has some revolting, even horrifying passages.

So the question is: How do I recommend this?

With high praise.

And with a yellow and black hazmat sign slapped on it, warning readers they better have strong stomachs before opening this one.

Skull Meat is the story of Joe Rey, who might charitably be called a private investigator, but who is really just a guy who takes money to do dirty work. Joe is hired by a gangster to mess with a rival called “Swollen” Roland. And, as usually happens in noir novels, nothing goes according to plan.

The story is over-the-top harsh, brutal, violent, ugly, and yet amazingly readable.

Leins’ writing is magnetic, you cannot tear your eyes away from it no matter how awful the scene. And all of his scenes are an assault.

He told David Nemeth, “I wanted it to be a raw, nasty blast of dirty noir.” Skull Meat is raw. It is nasty. And he more than achieved his goal.

This is a new kind of noir.

In the old noir, readers went down mean streets under the safe guidance of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and even Mike Hammer.

But in the noir of Skull Meat, there is no safety. Joe Rey will not protect you. Follow him at your own risk. But once you step into his world, Leins will have you following him right to the end.

I bought the Kindle version, and when it landed on the device I took a quick look. I did not set it aside until I finished the story. Others around the Web had similar reactions. Read the reviews by Colman Keane, Paul D. Brazill, Marietta Miles, and the Grim Reader.

Tom Leins set the story in the English seaside city of Paignton, which is also his hometown. After his seedy, sleazy, scary description of the place, it is a wonder the good folks of Paignton did not tar and feather him, and run him out of town a fence rail.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Lie Catchers by Paul Bishop

The reason I got so little done around the house last weekend was the fault of Paul Bishop. I started reading his recent crime novel, Lie Catchers, and could not put it down.

The book is more than just a crime novel, it is a behind the scenes look at how witness interviews and suspect interrogations work, how the police read the body language and subtle tics that tip them to whether a person is lying or telling the truth.

Lie Catchers is the story of Detective Jane Randall, a 12-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, whose career may be over due to a severe bullet wound to the leg. Her captain gives her a second chance, if she will agree to work with Detective Ray Pagan, a man great at getting the truth out of people, and great at pissing off just about everyone.

Jane, who wants to keep working, becomes partners with Ray and learns he wanted her as his partner. Ray noticed Jane’s special gift for detecting lies. He also has a gift for sensing the emotions of others and using those feelings to get to the truth.

The first case Randall and Pagan catch is actually two cases which may or may not be related. The six-year-old daughter of a tough, rap-record producer is kidnapped from his mansion leaving no clues behind. The same night as the kidnapping, miles away, a six-year-old boy disappears from the home of a well-to-do, straight-laced family. The people involved could not be more different, and yet the circumstances are way too similar to be a coincidence.

Lie Catchers is a fast read thanks to Bishop’s skill as a wordsmith. The cases are a puzzle, the action is quick and packs a punch, and the characters, situations, and work of detectives rings true, thanks to Bishop’s many years on the force. Paul Bishop is a retired LAPD detective.