The Chaos We Know by Keith Rawson

The Chaos We Know by Keith RawsonIf you’ve read author Keith Rawson’s work before – and if you haven’t, why the hell not? – you know that his is a guerrilla warfare, take no prisoners style of writing. I mean, there’s a reason the man’s blog is called Bloody Knuckles Callused Fingertips.

The Chaos We Know, Rawson’s recently released collection, features over twenty of his short stories and represents a mixture of new offerings and previously published work. A few of the standouts…

“The Anniversary Weekend” conclusively demonstrates that crank is never an appropriate anniversary gift. When two reformed tweakers find themselves without the kids and with $100 to burn on their anniversary weekend they decide to cook up a batch of meth. The collapse into paranoia and brutality that follows is nothing short of epic. Definitely should have stuck with a nice cake.

“Three Cops” proves to be one too many for a strung-out junkie on a delivery run when what starts as a routine traffic stop for littering ends with a hostage situation in a rest stop bathroom. What happens in between, well, you have to read to believe. Let’s just say there is apparently nothing a junkie won’t do to hide his stash… and gun.

“The Sons of Greatness Take It In The Ass” takes the reality show craze and combines it with the current economic climate to great effect in this stark, but darkly humorous, offering. Having recently lost his union job to a crony of one of the wise guys who control the union leaders, a young family man comes up with a unique way to get both revenge and some money.

Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski

Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski“This is your destiny. All your life you were preparing yourself to be here, with us.” – The Prisonmaster

Ever heard the expression “Out of the frying pan, into the fire”? Yeah, that pretty much sums up Charlie Hardie’s life.

When we last saw Charlie at the end of Fun & Games he was in bad shape, having just been through two hellacious days culminating in a shootout of epic proportions which left him battered, bleeding and on the brink of death.

Picking up right where Fun & Games left off, Hell & Gone opens with Charlie in the back of an ambulance being whisked off for life saving treatment. Unfortunately for Charlie his destination isn’t a legitimate hospital, but a facility where the “Accident People” – the shadow organization Charlie ran afoul of in Fun & Games – nurse Charlie back to health in order for him to serve their agenda.

Waking after an indeterminate amount of time, Charlie finds himself in a concrete bunker faced with an ultimatum: try to leave and die, or get in the elevator and ride it down to… well, Charlie’s not exactly sure where. Not wanting to die, obviously, he takes the elevator ride and ends up in a highly secrete, ultra secure prison facility far underground which he is informed holds the most dangerous prisoners in the world. Much to his amazement Charlie has not been sent there to join their ranks, but to become the facility’s warden.

Killers by Shaun Jeffrey

Killers by Shaun JeffreyHe hoped he was still on the righteous side, but in all honesty, he couldn’t be certain anymore. – Prosper Snow

That Prosper Snow would have such self doubt is perfectly understandable. After all, as an officer sworn to uphold the law it would naturally cause internal conflict to find yourself breaking it in the most extreme manner possible – murder.

Yet that’s precisely where Snow found himself in The Kult, the first book from author Shaun Jeffrey which featured the character. When Snow and his group of friends became the target of a serial killer after trying to frame him for a murder they committed – not the most brilliant idea in retrospect – it was all Snow could do just to save his life. That he was able to massage the facts in such a way as to cover up his involvement and keep his job was a bonus.

Except now there is a new string of horrific killings occurring on Snow’s patch. And this time not only is he unable to take charge of the investigation, but the leader of the under the radar government agency that takes over the case implies he knows about Snow’s past criminal activities. He uses that knowledge to force Snow to join their team, and that’s when things go from bad to bizarre.

Turns out the shadow agency has special reason to be interested in the string of killings. Much to Snow’s horror, he is informed that the group has been conducting psychological experiments trying to determine whether a person can be made into an über efficient, remorseless killing machine… and one of their test subjects has escaped.

West Coast Crime Wave by Brian Thornton, Editor

West Coast Crime WaveMichael Wolf founded digital publishing house BSTSLLR in order to provide authors with an “author-friendly, forward-thinking” outlet for their work, and BSTSLLR has come charging out of the gate with their first offering, West Coast Crime Wave.

Featuring both award-winning, best selling authors as well as some very talented newcomers, West Coast Crime Wave‘s eighteen stories take place from Alaska to L.A., and everywhere in between.

Though every story in the collection is well worth the price of admission, there were a few that particularly leapt off the page for me.

“The Last Ship” by Bill Cameron starts the collection of with a bang when a retired police officer checks into a remote B&B in Oregon to recharge his batteries following a run-in with the business end of a biker’s gun. He gets more than he bargained for, finding himself caught up in the conflicts of the eccentric owner and the B&B’s few full-time residents. Drugs, nefarious wrangling for power of attorney, and a local legend involving a faerie ship – yes, you read that correctly – combine to make this atmospheric entry both very entertaining and very creepy.

Playlist From HELL by Duane Swierczynski

Today I am pleased to welcome Duane Swierczynski back for another guest post. His first was during Swierczynski Week here on the blog. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing his latest release, Hell & Gone, but today Duane has been kind enough to share the book’s (imaginary) soundtrack.

Duane SwierczynskiPLAYLIST FROM HELL: A guided tour through my imaginary soundtrack to Hell & Gone

Twenty years ago, when I picked up John Skipp and Craig Spector’s eco-horror novel The Bridge, I was thrilled to discover they included a playlist. “The following albums, by the following artists,” they wrote, “provided big chunks of sonic background during the writing of this mind-movie.” My 19-year-old self was thrilled that I was listening to a lot of the same bands—Nine Inch Nails, Public Image LTD., Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers—as my splatterpunk heroes. Of course, Skipp and Spector (going for brownie points, no doubt) also recorded an actual soundtrack for the novel, which you could mail-order for $14.95 (CD) or $9.95 (cassette). See, the Boys were also longtime rock musicians, and could do that sort of thing.

I’m a musician, too, having toiled in bar and wedding bands during my teenage years. And while music remains a huge part of my creative life, I’m not about to stop writing to go off and record an original soundtrack. Though if I did, I would totally make it available on CD and cassette.

Instead, here’s the next best (read: lazy) thing: a tour through the songs that were my “sonic background” while writing Hell & Gone—the second in the Charlie Hardie series, and my twisted version of a prison novel. Some of these songs put me in a certain mood; some others reminded me of particular characters. And I’ll admit it; some of these are included simply to amuse myself. It gets awful lonely in the basement office…

Crime Factory: The First Shift by Rawson, Ashley & Callaway, Editors

Crime Factory: The First ShiftI was locked up for a while. Full of the empty darkness, if that makes sense to you. The sort of nothing that fills up everything. – Roy Alison, “The Ravine”

The amazing team at Crime Factory Magazine – Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Jimmy Callaway – have put together an anthology of twenty-seven stories featuring an almost embarrassingly rich bounty of talent.

Of course it would be unwieldy for me to review all twenty-seven stories, not to mention take the fun out of you discovering some of them on your own, so here are just a few of the ones that were highlights for me…

“Glory B.” by Josh Converse – Ever wondered how robbery crews get together? I mean, do you have to be friends for life, or do you just answer an ad on Craigslist or something? Converse’s taut tale takes a snapshot look at the process through which potential getaway driver Quinn auditions for a robbery crew’s boss. Quinn has three attempts to impress with his driving skills and get a mock getaway right. Screw any one of them up and Quinn not only won’t be driving the getaway, he won’t be driving anymore period.

“Microprimus Volatitus” by Greg Bardsley – You will either find this to be wickedly funny or bizarrely offensive. The story involves a love triangle. Randy begins dating Razelle, at first not aware that she’s been living with Helmut for four years. And though she thinks of Helmut as just a roommate, Helmut is passionately in love with Razelle, which of course causes an intense conflict when Randy hits the scene. Oh, did I mention Helmut is a tiny little monkey the size of a canary? Yeah. And he’s determined to do whatever it takes to get Randy out of the picture, including going to war. I found the story wickedly funny; I’m just weird that way.

EndRoad

At The End Of The Road by Grant Jerkins

He learned that it was possible to be scared and carry a burden of fear and worry and guilt, and still behave normally. – Kyle Edwards

In the summer of 1976 ten-year-old Kyle Edwards was one of millions of Americans who celebrated a landmark birthday for our nation. Looking back, however, Kyle realizes that summer also held a landmark death for him, that of his innocence.

A typical boy in rural Georgia, Kyle’s daily activities include helping harvest peanuts and sweet potatoes, playing in the corn fields, and riding his bike with abandon up and down the dirt road in front of his house. While out riding his bike one afternoon Kyle causes an accident when he speeds around a blind curve right into the path of an oncoming car. Veering sharply to avoid hitting him, the car flips repeatedly, coming to rest on its side. Kyle watches in horror as a bloody young woman emerges from the vehicle, stumbling toward him.

The Pull of Gravity by Brett Battles

The Pull of Gravity by Brett BattlesIt’s hard for someone who has little faith in himself to ask someone else to have it in him. – Jay Bradley

Following a career in the Navy, expat Jay Bradley finds himself in the Philippines working as a papasan at The Lounge, a go-go club in Angeles City. He takes his job to watch over the girls in the club seriously, but gets especially close to young Isabel, who reminds him of the step-daughter from his failed marriage.

Like most of the girls working the clubs of Angeles City, Isabel dreams of meeting a man who will sweep her off her feet and take her away from the life of a club dancer – and “escort” – on infamous Fields Avenue. When businessman Larry Adams comes into their lives, suddenly both Jay and Isabel are complete. The three of them form a bond – Larry and Jay as friends, Isabel and Larry as lovers – that seems too good to be true.

And of course it is. Told primarily in flashbacks, the book opens and sets the scene with an older Jay returning to the Philippines to sell his part-ownership in The Lounge, as well as to track down Isabel to find closure about the events that ripped their lives apart, and cost Larry his. (That is not a spoiler.)

Bad Boy by Grant Jerkins

Grant Jerkins’ debut novel, A Very Simple Crime, was released to critical praise from places such as Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Library Journal, and was also one of my top reads of 2010. Tomorrow I will be reviewing Grant’s follow up, At the End of the Road, but today I’m turning over the blog to Grant. I’ll just let him take it from here…

Grant JerkinsPeople are always telling me they want to write. But they don’t know what to write about. And what do I think they should write about? And I usually think to myself, well how the fuck should I know what you ought to write about? I never say that, though. No, my stock response is, “Why don’t you write a story about a dog told from the dog’s point of view?”

I always thought that was cute.

When Elizabeth White invited me to guest post on her site, I said I was honored. Then I asked her what did she think I should write about? I have a pretty good idea what she was thinking, but what she said was, “Why don’t you write a story about a dog told from the dog’s point of view?”

Probably thought she was being cute.

It’s only 625 words. When you get right down to it, most dogs don’t have that large of a vocabulary anyway. – GJ

Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith

Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith “You aren’t going to be satisfied until you’ve uncovered whatever it is they are hiding, are you?” – Pastor “Hutch” Hutchinson

Hutch knows his wife, Deputy Tempe Crabtree, all too well because she absolutely will not stop until she finds out everything she needs to know to keep the people of Bear Creek safe. And this is a good thing for readers of author Marilyn Meredith’s charming series, as Tempe makes her return for an action-packed eleventh outing in the series’ newest entry, Bears With Us.

Located in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada, the small community of Bear Creek finds itself dealing with a handful of its namesake, as hungry bears preparing for hibernation begin showing up in apple orchards, garbage bins and, startlingly, snout-deep in a carton of Rocky Road ice cream in one unfortunate family’s kitchen. Unable by law to shoot the bears unless they present an immediate threat to life, Tempe finds herself coming up with creative ways to run the hungry critters off.

Even if bears were the only thing Tempe had to deal with she’d still have her hands full, but Meredith has provided Tempe with a plate overflowing with situations all requiring her immediate attention: the decline of a former town pillar into dementia, necessitating tracking her down repeatedly when she keeps wandering off; an amazingly self-important and obnoxious mother who expects Tempe to intervene and keep the “wrong sort” of boy away from her teenage daughter, and who threatens to make formal complaints of misconduct against her if she doesn’t; the suicide of a teenager and his family’s strangely cold reaction to it… yes, Tempe more than has her hands full.

My Aries Secrets by Claudia Hoag McGarry

Spoiler Alert: Key details from My Scorpio Soul are revealed in My Aries Secret.

My Aries Secrets by Claudia Hoag McGarry It takes a lot of energy to save a soul. – Tempest McTierney

My Aries Secrets, the second book in author Claudia Hoag McGarry’s astrology themed thrillers, finds Tempest McTierney, the protagonist from My Scorpio Soul, released from prison and in the unlikely position of a reluctant “Dear Abby.”

Having herself dealt with a situation where another woman was threatening to destroy her family – in Tempest’s case a stalker infatuated with Tempest’s husband – and taken the matter into her own hands out of desperation, her stint in prison has turned her into something of a cult hero to desperate women with lost souls.

Haven Rodriguez, the latest lost soul to reach out to Tempest, finds her previously idyllic life shattered when her husband, Jerod, goes missing. Making matters worse, his disappearance occurred on the heels of Haven learning that he had been having an affair, and that the company he worked for was being criminally investigated for possibly running a Ponzi scheme.

Now, Haven is torn between the fear of never finding out what happened to him, and anger at the thought he may have run away with his mistress and/or the company’s money. She seeks guidance from Tempest to help her control the homicidal feelings she has toward a female neighbor she’s convinced knows where Jerod is – or actually had something to do with his disappearance.

The Nameless Dead by Paul Johnston

The Nameless Dead by Paul JohnstonI was pretty good at scheming myself. If that was the way he wanted to play the game, I would be happy to take him on.
– Matt Wells

There’s more than a little scheming going on in The Nameless Dead, the fourth, and last, book in author Paul Johnston’s Matt Wells series. In his guest post yesterday, Paul gave a much better summary of The Nameless Dead (and series as a whole) than I possibly could, so do check that out for a more detailed setup. The short version…

Following their involuntary assassination attempt on the President of the United States, British crime novelist Matt Wells and his pregnant girlfriend, London Metropolitan Detective Chief Superintendent Karen Oaten, are being held by the FBI. As their activities were the result of a mind control experiment performed by a Neo-Nazi group, the FBI is working on deprogramming Wells and Oaten.

Of course things wouldn’t be any fun if it was that simple. So when bodies begin turning up killed in a gruesome ritualistic manner reminiscent of that Neo-Nazi group, the FBI gets the bright idea to use Wells’ programming to their advantage and turn him loose to hunt down the group’s leader, Heinz Rothmann, the man responsible for Wells and Oaten’s predicament. As you’d expect, things don’t quite go as planned.

At the End of a Series, the Author Comes Clean by Paul Johnston

Today I am pleased to welcome Paul Johnston back for another guest post (read his first, here). Paul is the accomplished author of three different series: the Matt Wells series (featuring investigative crime reporter Wells), Quint Dalrymple series (crime-SF crossover novels set in a futuristic Edinburgh), and the Greece-set Alex Mavros series. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing The Nameless Dead from the Matt Wells series, but today Paul’s going to share a secret about what fuels his writing.

Paul JohnstonOstensibly I’m here to talk about The Nameless Dead, the fourth and last in my series featuring crime writer turned investigator Matt Wells. So, before the knife cuts to the bone, as the Greeks say, let me do that.

At the beginning of The Nameless Dead, Wells and his heavily pregnant lover Karen are being held prisoner in a joint FBI/US Army camp in Illinois, following their involvement in an attempt to assassinate the President (see book 3, Maps of Hell). They had been brainwashed and are undergoing treatment to reverse the process. Meanwhile, a series of violent murders leads the FBI to suspect that the mastermind behind the attack on POTUS is still at large. Wells is trained up and sent to find the criminal who messed with his mind, soon finding himself up against hired killers, a neo-Nazi conspiracy linked to a Satanic cult, and a fundamentalist Christian private military contractor. Oh, and his former lover Sara Robbins – now the deadly hit woman known as the Soul Collector (the title of book 2 in the series) – is back on his trail. To make things even worse (you know what thrillers do – multiply the hero’s jeopardy ad infinitum), Matt suffers the most appalling personal loss, one that drives him to a real underworld, set design courtesy of John Milton and Hieronymus Bosch. You can never have too much eschatology.

Me Again by Keith Cronin

Me Again by Keith Cronin“At some point we’ve got to stop trying to restore our lives, and start actually living them.” – Jonathan Hooper

When thirty four year old Jonathan Hooper wakes up after six years in a coma following a stroke the world is a blank slate to him. He doesn’t remember who he is or how he ended up in the hospital, he can’t talk, his muscles have atrophied, and he has no concept of numbers or time.

Not having expected him to ever recover, his family and girlfriend have moved on with their lives, a situation which may bother Jonathan more if he actually remembered any of them. The fact is, however, there’s very little Jonathan does remember. And so begins the arduous task of relearning how to live.

During the course of physical therapy Jonathan meets Rebecca Chase, who’s also in the process of recovering from a stroke suffered at an unusually young age. Unlike Jonathan, Rebecca didn’t lose her memory after her stroke. Not her memory of people and events anyway, she just doesn’t remember why she ever found any of it appealing…including her husband.

Together the two of them help each other rediscover who they were, and who they want to be.

Okay, I know. On the surface it sounds like Lifetime Movie of the Week material, but there’s more to it than that.