Featuring a mind-boggling thirty-eight stories from a who’s who of the crime fiction community, Off the Record is structured around the clever premise of taking a classic song title and writing a story inspired by it. To avoid making this review ridiculously long, and to leave you plenty to discover fresh for yourselves, I will just mention a handful that stood out to me for one reason or another.
“Light My Fire” by AJ Hayes is an incredibly dark tale of a love triangle gone awry. What could have been a run of the mill story of revenge instead turns into a truly disturbing look at how one man’s journey out of the mouth of madness ends up being another’s entrance into it as they both seek answers to the murderous events of the past.
Ian Ayris’ “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” features a working stiff bloke in the London Underground on his way to the daily grind. In what turns out to be an interesting twist, however, the grind in question isn’t quite what you may be expecting.
Iain Rowan tackled a biggie when he chose the legendary “Purple Haze” as his track, and he more than lives up to the challenge in this story of three well-to-do college boys who head into the projects looking to score drugs only to discover a high they never anticipated.
Like author Chris La Tray, I happen to be a huge KISS fan so his “Detroit Rock City” offering immediately caught my eye. You don’t have to be a KISS fan, however, to appreciate this slick story of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde who meet their match during a heist gone wrong. And if you are a KISS fan, well, pay extra close attention to the prose.
I try not to have favorites, but if I’m being honest “Behind Blue Eyes” by Julie Morrigan may be it for this volume. An absolute gem of an old school mob tale, “Behind Blue Eyes” manages in just a few pages to convey the deep bond that formed between two mob guys over the course of nearly 40 years in the business together… then slams home a brutal, unsentimental reminder about just what kind of “business” the mob is.
Eric Beetner, who guest posted here yesterday and whose Dig Two Graves I will be reviewing later today, weighs in with what may be the most wicked story in Off the Record. It’s often joked that you can use duct tape to fix damn near anything, and in “California Dreamin'” a disgruntled husband gets creative with the sticky silver stuff when he discovers his young trophy wife has been cheating on him. Packing an uppercut of vengeance and a sucker punch of dark humor and irony, “California Dreamin'” delivers quite the punch.
Darren Sant serves up a nasty little number in “Karma Police,” which unfolds in a future where no crime goes unnoticed – nor unpunished – and society’s obsession with maintaining “balance” has morphed into a lethally popular virtual reality show that involves players fighting to the death. The story’s narrator, a participant in said reality show, knows dying is obviously not the route he wants to go, but soon discovers much to his dismay that winning isn’t exactly as advertised either.
That’s just seven stories, folks, and there are thirty-one more every bit as good nestled together waiting for you in Off the Record. And if the lure of thirty-eight amazing crime fiction shorts isn’t enough, try this on for size… the volume was compiled to benefit children’s literary, with all proceeds being split between UK based National Literacy Trust and US based Children’s Literacy Initiative. You get great stories, worthy charities get donations – that really is a win-win for everyone.