The Eradication Dilemma by William Wilkerson

The Eradication Dilemma by William WilkersonImagine a genetically altered plant disease exists that could wipe out the production of cocaine worldwide virtually overnight by specifically targeting and destroying coca plants. Now imagine you are in the position of making the call whether to unleash that virus.

The decision whether to do so or not isn’t as easy as it may initially seem, as DEA Agent Jake MacQuilkin learns when he’s thrust into that position in William Wilkerson’s The Eradication Dilemma.

After serving for years as the DEA’s point man in Latin America, MacQuilkin leaves the department after a bust gone wrong causes the death of a fellow agent… who also happened to be his fiancée.

MacQuilkin’s called back into action when the genetically altered virus starts wiping out coca crops in Bolivia despite the program having officially been shut down by the US Government. Now, instead of destroying the cocaine industry, the agency actually wants MacQuilkin to use his expertise and experience in Latin America to find and stop whoever is behind the rogue unleashing of the virus.

The Writing on the Wall by Julie Morrigan

The Writing on the Wall by Julie MorriganHaving previously read Julie Morrigan’s short stories various places online, I was quite pleased when she offered her first collection, the outstanding Gone Bad, earlier this year. So imagine my excitement when a mere months later – with a novel, Convictions in the interim – Morrigan released yet another collection, The Writing on the Wall.

Featuring six short stories and a novelette, The Writing on the Wall proves that Morrigan is both a talented and versatile author, one who inhabits her short stories as comfortably as a second skin.

“Shadow Man” takes an already terrifying experience, sleep paralysis, and pushes the concept even farther. Those who experience sleep paralysis vividly experience as waking hallucinations things people normally only encounter in their dreams. But what if what you were encountering was neither a hallucination nor dream, but real?

“The Black Dog” demonstrates that while reading may be both fundamental and fun, some books are more powerful than others. Far more.

In “Chocolate Button Eyes” a man out on a date gets a bit more than he was expecting when he’s invited back around to his date’s place for an after dinner drink. “Lust makes men stupid and I’m thankful for the fact.” Guys, this one will make you reconsider just who’s about to get lucky when you go home with a woman you barely know.

Skating Over The Line by Joelle Charbonneau

Skating Over The Line by Joelle CharbonneauI should have learned by this point that being impulsive always got me into trouble. – Rebecca Robbins

Considering the misadventure Rebecca found herself caught up in upon her return to Indian Falls in series debut Skating Around The Law, you really would think the concept that impulsive = bad would have sunk in a little deeper. Fortunately for readers it did not, as Rebecca returns for another rollicking adventure in author Joelle Charbonneau’s second Rebecca Robbins mystery, Skating Over the Line.

Still stuck in tiny Indian Falls trying to unload the roller rink she inherited from her mother, things seem to be looking up for Rebecca when her realtor informs her a buyer has finally been located. Rebecca’s escape back to Chicago is interrupted, however, when her grandfather, Pop, and the folks down at the Senior Center implore Rebecca to help locate a car which has been stolen.

Despite having run afoul of Deputy Sean Holmes for her unwanted “assistance” investigating the town’s last crime wave, Rebecca just can’t say no to Pop, the man who helped raise Rebecca after her father walked out when she was twelve. Unfortunately, things get complicated quickly when the missing car turns up ablaze in a cornfield, Rebecca’s deadbeat father blows back into town – and promptly goes missing, along with his car – and a group of menacing men start lurking around the roller rink leaving poorly penned threatening notes… in Spanish.

Throw in a sexually frustrated best friend who’s trying to snag the local Lutheran Pastor, a new rink manager who’s more obsessed with directing his film than doing his job, Rebecca’s gorgeous but slightly patronizing boyfriend, Pop’s wildly popular at the Senior Center Elvis impersonator act, and Rebecca is in for another off-the-wall adventure.

Pulp Modern by Alec Cizak, Editor

Pulp ModernOver the past nine days I’ve reviewed four short story collections (Crime Factory: The First Shift, West Coast Crime Wave, The Chaos We Know, and Noir at the Bar), am serving up Pulp Modern today, and have at least two more on the immediate horizon. Clearly the crime fiction/pulp/noir short story is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

And you know what? It’s good stuff. I mean really good stuff. In fact, there are so many talented authors out there it can sometimes seem overwhelming figuring out where to jump in, which is why these collections are so great; they’re one stop shopping for a smorgasbord of talent.

Pulp Modern is such a collection, and editor Alec Cizak has distinguished Pulp Modern by expanding the spectrum of its roster to include not only crime fiction, but stories with Western and fantasy themes as well. It makes for a pleasant change of pace, and exposed me to a couple of authors I may otherwise not have come across in the wild. A few standouts…

“Legacy of Brutality” by Thomas Pluck features man-mountain Denny, previously seen in the short “Rain Dog” (Crimespree Magazine, Issue #43). Having come up hard – If there was a God, I’d beat his ass for making this hateful world. – Denny learned early it’s better to listen than talk, and that you have to set things right yourself if you want justice in this life. Brutally good stuff.

Noir at the Bar by Ayres and Phillips, Editors

Noir at the BarBirthed in the mean streets of Philly, escaped to the back alleys of St. Louis, recently spread to the dark side of the City of Angels, there’s a disturbing phenomenon that threatens to expand to even more unwitting cities in the future. It is… Noir at the Bar.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Noir at the Bar ceremony consists of a tribe of crime fiction aficionados, writers and readers alike, gathering together to partake of booze and listen to sensual and sinister original works read aloud by their creators. It is, from all accounts, an exhilarating and surreal experience one is lucky to escape without a trip to the local hoosegow.

Previously reserved only for those fortunate enough to live nearby, or crazy enough to make the pilgrimage, the demented minds behind the St. Louis chapter of Noir at the Bar have come up with a way for everyone to get a taste of the debauchery. Editors Jedidiah Ayres and Scott Phillips present to you, Noir at the Bar, the anthology.

Featuring stories from eighteen top-notch writers currently working in crime fiction, Noir at the Bar is a hide the women and children collection of some of the most creative and deliciously disturbed short fiction ever rounded up in one volume.

As always it’s like Sophie’s Choice picking only a few to highlight, but here ya go…

Motor City Shakedown by D.E. Johnson

Note: Details of the first book in this series, The Detroit Electric Scheme, are discussed in both Motor City Shakedown and, to an extent, this review of it.

D.E. JohnsonI had my life back. This time I wouldn’t waste it. – Will Anderson

Detroit, 1911. When we last saw Will Anderson, heir apparent to the Detroit Electric car company, he and his then fiancée, Elizabeth Hume, had barely survived a nasty encounter with crime boss Vito Adamo.

Will’s best friend did not survive, and the guilt Will feels over his friend’s murder, as well as the terrible pain he suffers as a result of his mangled right hand, have driven Will to morphine addiction to dull his demons.

Determined to set things right and avenge his friend, Will begins with Adamo’s driver, intending to work his way up the criminal ladder to the boss. Unfortunately for Will someone beats him to the punch, and it’s a nearly decapitated body he finds upon entering the driver’s apartment.

Now Will’s a suspect in a murder he didn’t commit, and his quest to find the real killer starts him down a path that ends smack dab in the middle of an all-out mob war.

Will unexpectedly gets helped out of his police jam by the Gianolla crime family, who promptly turn around and use that leverage to squeeze Will into being their point man for the Teamsters’ entry into Detroit Electric. With the lives of Elizabeth and his family at stake, Will finds that hard times make for strange bedfellows as he begins to wonder if the enemy of his enemy – Vito Adamo – may actually be, well, if not his friend then at least a potential ally.

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.


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.)