Tag Archives: Noir

Fish Bites Cop

Do you like being punched in the face? How about being kicked in the shins? Maybe someone holding you at knife point and making you lay your hand on a table so they can smash it with a hammer sounds like bliss? All of those brutal and violent scenarios have a lot in common with David James Keaton’s collection, Fish Bites Cop!: Stories to Bash Authorities.

Oh, I don’t mean it’s a painful read or anything; I mean that at any given juncture, in any story, the unexpected veering violence could take hold and you could lose and eye—or even bladder control. Fish Bites Cop is a collection of 30 short tales. The only thread that tethers them thematically would be that there is usually at least one cop, fireman, or EMT in each story. There is also a lot of death, anger, and, for some odd reason, hand deformities.

I won’t go into every story but I will touch on the ones that left scratches. “Trophies” is the opener and a wonderfully bizarro intro it is. Through seemingly strange circumstances we get to see what lies beneath. In “Schrodinger’s Rat,” we are introduced to a group of prison inmates and witness their odd dealings and shenanigans. Brutal and witty while never losing its edge, this ain’t no Shawshank fo’ sho’!

“Greenhorns” is a tale of a group of fisherman with a much more sinister agenda. “Three Ways Without Water (Or the Day Roadkill, Drunk Driving, and the Electric Chair Were Invented)” is my favorite of the bunch. What a delirious kick in the pants it is. Part weird western, part bizarro, it’s like Cormac McCarthy’s drunken cousin after he raided the medicine chest. I mean, it has everything: vampirism, zombie horses, gun slinging, shape-shifting, and did I mention zombie horses? Glorious!

“Castrating Fireman” is a darkly comic romp that is and isn’t what its title implies. “Three Minutes” is one of the few tales that feature “Jack,” an EMT with some serious issues. In “Clam Digger,” a younger sibling must come to grips with the events that ended with his older brother’s demise. “The Ball Pit (Or Children Under 5 Eat Free!)” is a troubling tale that hints at post-apocalyptic fringes but never reveals what’s behind that dark curtain. And for the grand finale, he smacks us over the head with “Nine Cops Killed for a Goldfish Cracker,” a gonzo bloodbath of law enforcement and craziness that should be the punch line to its own joke: What’s blue and white an red all over and goes a hundred miles an hour?

So, is it a good book? You bet. I dug it. But I must be honest and inform you that it is not for everyone. If you like gritty noir-ish bizarro stories and people, with authority figures who are as flawed and warped as all get out, this is your Easter egg. If that isn’t your thing, then you may want to sit this one out. There’s a bench over there, right beside the nice policeman.

Fish Bites Cop is available through Comet Press.

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Back Roads & Frontal Lobes

Nothing thrills me more than discovering new authors. New to me, to be precise.

Brady Allen intrigues me with his unapologetic attitude and willingness to stand tall and stalwart while brandishing his opinions with honest intellect. This is a trait one sees very little these days, when it is all too fashionable to lay with the herd and suckle at the teat of popular opinion. This made me wonder about his literary output, so I reached out and got a copy of his collection.

Back Roads & Frontal Lobes is as amazing a collection as it is puzzling. Not a single tale here is what it appears to be. Most flirt with horror but are more about the human condition and attitudes of characters. There are shades of noir and bizarro, but the stories are most often darkly surreal and more terrifyingly realistic than should be allowed. This collection is a unique stampede of unease, stamping and snorting discomfort. I mean that complimentary, of course.

Opening with “Slow Mary,” Allen gives us a strange tale of road kill and revenge. But it was actually the second tale, “Not Over Easy,” that won my dark heart. That story follows its bizarre protagonist through a series of troubling and odd scenarios to a conclusion that is just as puzzling as the opening. “Devil and Dairy Cow” is a hallucinatory tale of a girl, a teacher, and a rainy recess where the shit hit the diabolical fan.

In the title story, a man on the lam makes a stop in Death City and finds he likes it. “The Last Mystical Vendor” has exactly what you need even if everything you know tells you otherwise. And in “The Taste of a Heart,” a motel room is the stage for an exceedingly sinister game between a man and a woman.

“Six Miles to Earth” is a highway roadshow; Tarantino by way of Russ Meyer. “Burger” is a nasty side-road monster mash. “Ballad of Mac Johnstone” concerns the courtship between an aging bluesman and death. “Road Kill (A Love Story)” brings us to a man who feels compelled to remove dead animals from the roadside and the chain of unfortunate events that come about because of it. And “Praying” exposes the insectile ways we have.

Of all of the stories, however, “Rounding Third” was the one that smacked me in the face and then continued to do so. A tragic and all-too-real slice of reality. If it doesn’t make you cry—God help you.

If early Joe R. Lansdale left you gobsmacked, then you MUST read this cat! Allen is versatile and fearless. He doesn’t give much of a damn if you get what he’s doing or not. He’s writing to get it out and if it happens to bring enjoyment to someone, cool. If not, oh well, he’s doing it anyway. And I’m glad for that!

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Tales of Jack the Ripper

I was eager to get my hands on editor Ross E. Lockhart’s newest anthology, Tales of Jack the Ripper, and I was not disappointed when I did.

There is a definite “weird tale” edge to many of the stories (and poems) in the anthology, which in this reader’s opinion is a GREAT thing. It might even be expected from Lockhart, who also brought you The Book of Cthulhu and its follow-up, The Book of Cthulhu 2. This doesn’t mean you can pigeonhole Tales of Jack the Ripper.

When I cyberstalked Ross Lockhart, he had this to say (before slapping a restraining order on me): “With Tales of Jack the Ripper, I’m not only paying tribute to the 125-year tradition of Ripper literature, I’m also showcasing authors who bring a unique sense of voice and place to their craft. And who offer something new to the Ripper legend.”

You needn’t worry about reheated or threadbare Ripper tropes. Each writer took a fresh look at Saucy Jacky for the anniversary of the terror and fascination he wrought in London in 1888.

Though numinous dread is a thread throughout, there are plenty of “straight (razor)” thriller tales in shades of gothic or gritty noir, and don’t forget transgressive tales of psychopathery (my new word, you’re welcome). There were few spots where I felt certain authors fell into too much telling and bald exposition, but the good in this collection far outshines any such fumbles.

I had my particular favorites, and I know you will too. “Abandon All Flesh,” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, stands out with its knife-sharp writing voice, accentuated by a deft twining of Aztec symbolism with Ripper legend to deliver a masterful story.

In “Jack’s Little Friend,” Ramsey Campbell crafted a dizzying psychological downward spiral and showed us all how creepy second-person POV should be done.

Shock Totem’s very own Mercedes M. Yardley actually gave me toes-to-top chills with “A Pretty for Polly.” I won’t tell you any more about her haunting story, read it yerself.

In fact, you need to get up off your lazy duff and buy this collection. Pick your favorite story and come back to argue with me via the “comment” feature below. Go on, I’ll wait here while you click over to the publisher or Amazon and press BUY.

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Pretty Little Dead Bad Things

I would like to start and say I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of “series” novels. I have too short of an attention span to commit to that sort of thing, usually. I would now like to thank—and damn—Gary McMahon for making me eat those words.

I have recently read the two books comprising his Thomas Usher series, and can only hope for more. With a series, character is key, and Gary gives us some incredible examples.

In the first of the pair, Pretty Little Dead Things, we meet Thomas Usher, a broken man reeling from the loss of his wife and daughter. He survives the accident that claimed his family with a gift—or a curse depending on your perception. He can see the recently deceased, and it ain’t pretty. Trying to remain on the periphery of society, he does odd psychic investigative work and crosses paths with some seedy and unpleasant people. He wears a uniform of tattoos: a list of names of the dead he feels he has failed.

When he lands a job trying to find the culprit behind the strange murder of a gangster’s daughter, it changes him forever.

His gift proves to be his strongest weapon and weakest link, as he walks the blurred line between our world and a much darker fringe dimension. Where evils, both human and cosmic, are on his tail and where things are decidedly not as they seem.

Dead Bad Things picks up months after the Pretty Little Dead Things’s conclusion, and cleverly features sideline characters from that first novel and brings them forward for deeper scrutiny.

Our reluctant hero begins this chapter of the series in a London slum, waking up to the ringing of the telephone in a haunted house. A robotic voice directs him and starts him on a sloping path of horrific crimes and disturbing visions. Someone is killing children, drilling holes in their heads. People are not as they seem. Usher will discover many things along the way, nasty vile things.

Now, I gave away very little, because to do so would be a blasphemy. You must read McMahon’s engaging words, his descriptive flair for painting dreary and haunting visions behind our eyes. His rundown neighborhoods and scumbag dives are so repulsive, I felt the fleas crawling on my skin. The baddies are really bad and the good guys are sometimes bad as well. Nothing is ever really what you seem to think it is, and when you think you’ve got it sussed, you’re wrong. I love that.

I was at work, on lunch break, when I was finishing this book. A kid asked me what it was about, and as I started explaining his eyes began to glaze. I knew I was losing him, so I said, “It’s like an unholy cocktail of The Sixth Sense, Memento and Wire in the Blood…with an ounce of Hellraiser.” I got the impression that was lost on him as well. Sigh…

Both of these titles are available from Angry Robot Books.

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