Posts Tagged ‘neo-noir’

stone work edit

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Mirror Matter Press

Length: 120 Pages

Release Date: June 15, 2016

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour for Stone Work

In Roid Rage, readers are introduced to Stone, a mercenary for hire who works for anyone that pays, regardless of how messy or violent the job may be and consequences be damned. This time he is working for a sleazy drug lord named Greg Warden. Greg is a notorious in his own right for his ability to escape jail time despite his various shady dealings around The City. Greg doesn’t need Stone’s help personally, but hires him to help out his son, Bobby. Bobby seemed to lack the drive and knowledge to take on a big role in the family business despite his father’s best efforts. However, Bobby has recently shown more promise and launched his own little enterprise to take advantage of the gym next store. Problem is, a thief has been stealing Bobby’s supply and despite their best efforts, they can’t seem to catch the culprit. So, Greg decides to step in and he hires Stone to take care of the problem for his son behind his back. Despite his newfound entrepreneurial spirit, Greg simply doesn’t trust his son to get the job done.

Stone enlists the help of Megan, his partner in crime, to help guide him through the logistics of the operation. Megan is in her mid-twenties and is a super intelligent hacker that has a bit more of an idealistic world view than Stone, but is still tough as nails. She helps Stone do all of the recon and handles the tech aspects of the Warden job that Stone has no idea how to do. After a brief recap of the mission, Megan gives Stone the all-clear to enter the store.

Once Stone is inside, he realizes his mission is shot to hell before it has even started. Something has happened to Bobby Warden and as Stone’s mind races to think of a way to salvage this job, he stumbles across an unimaginable horror and learns the real reason why Bobby’s vials of steroids were going missing.

I don’t want to spoil too much about the contents of the story, but Stabile does a great job of mashing up neo-noir elements with some awesome, classic science-fiction aspects. There are some fantastic transformation scenes throughout the entire second half of the story and I had a blast reading about all of the bizarre antagonists Stabile came up with for this story. There is also some truly gruesome moments in here that have an awesome B-movie quality, and I mean that in the best way possible! Stabile creates a tense scenario where it seems like Stone and his companions are completely screwed and keeps the action going until the bitter end. This was a perfect introduction into Stone and Megan’s world!

Plumb, Inc.

Stone is hurting for money and is offered a difficult job from a man named James Kidwell with the ominous warning, “You’re not the first man I’ve sent in there.” Stone isn’t scared of death – a fact that we learn earlier in Stone Work – and the warning sails over his head when he thinks about the two hundred grand pay-day promised to him upon completion. When Stone inquires about what happened to the others, Kidwell is honest with him and explains that the other P.I.s that were sent into do the job vanish without a trace. Despite months of recon work, Kidwell is unable to learn just what it is Plumb, Inc. actually does. Kidwell turns to Stone for help because he fears he is next on the company’s hit list after investigating the company for months following allegations they were responsible for the death of his niece.

He hires Stone to infiltrate the building in an attempt to destroy all of their records and give him time to disappear before they catch him. Stone meets up with Megan later in the evening at a local diner to discuss the job and he learns is also the only place that really gives Megan any problems from a hacking perspective. She tries to hack into their servers remotely and finds it is completely guarded, so Stone has to download the virus directly to their server. The change in plan sets Stone on edge and he gets a bad feeling about the job. After laying out their plan, Stone heads to the building and meets a hysterical man outside the building who offers him one final hair-chilling warning before he enters the building – “Don’t go in there. No one goes in there at night. Don’t you know that?”

Stone enters the building and the job sees way to easy at first for the large payday he was promised, but that quickly changes as he navigates the seemingly desolate building. He begins seeing things that defy earthly explanation and as he ventures further into depths of Plumb, Inc. headquarters, he learns the horrifying truth behind the building and the people who run it.

I loved the creation of Plumb, Inc. and the air of mystery surrounding it is what drives this story for me. There are also various rumors that swirl around the complex with conspiracy theories ranging from you standard shadowy, government weapons lab all the way to the building serving as a gateway to Hell. The truth behind Plumb, Inc. is definitely something I didn’t expect! At first I thought it was going to be a little too similar to ‘Roid Rage, but there is a whole host of weird stuff going on inside the walls of the Plumb, Inc. building that helps it stand out. This story kind of reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone crossed with Cabin in the Woods and was probably my favorite of the stories from a content perspective.

I also liked that this story took part largely in the contained setting of the Plumb, Inc. building. When you consider all of the crazy rumors around the building and how they get your brain working overtime on what the truth is, it really ratchets up the suspense and makes the big reveal that much more shocking. I mean seriously, who would expect all of that to be housed in one nondescript office building?

Godless City opens with a conversation between Megan and Stone about why Stone recently turned down a job despite the fact that his money was low. If there is one thing I have learned about Stone and his past exploits, is that this job must have been pretty crazy for Stone to say no! As Megan tries to get Stone to open up, a mysterious small man named Keagan knocks furiously on the door and storms into Stone’s apartment with a book that he claims will change the world. The book is supposedly definitive proof regarding an aspect of civilization in The City and could shatter the society built up after the Final War.

Despite his best judgement and the fact that the book was stolen from Mayor Nelson himself, Stone finds himself listening to Keagan’s pleas for help and is starting to succumb to the allure of another large payday. Stone finally agrees to take on the job of delivering the book to one of Keagan’s contacts in the newspaper business. After agreeing to the job, Stone and Megan quickly find themselves the new target for Mayor Nelson’s sadistic killers known as the Devil Dogs. To make matters worse, they must also navigate the seedy darkness of The Alleys and keep the book out of the hands of a deadly religious cult.

I think Godless City is the strongest story in Stone Work when it comes to the world-building that goes into The City and its belief systems. This is also the story where Stabile sort of pokes at the weird alternate history that is used as a central building block of Stone Work. We also learn a bit more about Stone’s history and his involvement with shady gang leaders and other black market operators as they navigate The Alleys. There is also some really cool scenes that delve into the futuristic aspects of the book.  People have chips that give away their location and then there is the pretty cool weapon known as the “blunder ball”. The blunder ball is essentially the nastiest weapon available in The City and vaporizes a person and all of the energy that makes up their bodies, preventing them from reaching the afterlife.

I loved the relationship between Stone and Megan throughout the course of Stone Work. They seem like two polar opposites and yet they work oddly well together. Megan is a bit of an idealist, bursting with personality and Stone is a bit more pragmatic and nihilistic. Megan hates when Stone tries to relay details about his job that involve violence whereas Stone has a complete detachment about it. They also banter back and forth quite a bit and Megan is able to trade barbs with Stone just as well as he throws them.

I also loved Stone’s back story. Stones face is ruined from his past on the Wall and he frequently lurks in the shadows, especially around Megan. He says he doesn’t care about his appearance, but his tendency is to stay in the shadows and that may have to do with the subtle romantic tension between the two. Stone’s history is so horrific that even in the condensed form of the story Stone recounts in ‘Roid Rage, it is no wonder how he got his nickname. There is also mentions of how he has accepted death seemingly multiple times a week. When Stone is in between jobs, he is sleeping in alleys and eating out of dumpsters, which may explain why he is susceptible to a lot of these jobs that are crazy even by futuristic hit-man standards.

I really loved the format Stabile utilizes throughout Stone Work. Rather than have this serve as a traditional novel or novella, Stone Work is a novel of stories that serve almost like case files to the various cases Stone has taken on throughout the years. This may seem like a fairly simple structural choice, but I feel it helps make the book stand out and adds more enjoyment to the story overall. It also provides a slew of opportunities for future stories featuring Stone and Megan and possibly further looks into the history of The City. While I was reading I couldn’t help but think of a ton of scenarios that would continue Stone and Megan’s adventures. These are just a few of them that I thought about – What caused the catastrophic last war?  What happened to Stone’s family? What kind of man was Stone before he got sentenced to the Wall? How did the religion of The City rise to prominence? What are the abberations that live on the other side of The Wall? 

While I loved this approach of quick, standalone stories and how they allowed me to sort of construct all of these scenarios in my imagination to keep the story going, some of the endings/transitions between stories seemed to fall kind of flat after all of the chaos Stone and Megan go through. I must admit though, Stone and Megan have to be complete badasses to  be able to survive the seemingly impossible situations they find themselves in!

Overall, I absolutely loved Stone Work and had a blast reading it! Once I got started and immersed myself into the world of The City, I was hooked and tore through the book over the course of an afternoon. I am a big fan of Stabile’s writing and look forward to checking out what he has planned for the future. I think it goes without saying that I hope there are more adventures featuring Stone and Megan in the future!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Dominic Stabile’s Official Website

Mirror Matter Press’ Official Website

Purchase Stone Work: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

Stone Work tour graphic

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Stone Work!- #StoneWork #finalwar #wasteland

Stone Work Synopsis

City stands in the irradiated dunes of America, nearly two centuries after the Final War. The wall surrounding it is a buffer for the wasteland inhabitants who covet entrance, and a trap for the citizens smothering in its polluted air and drowning in its blood-filled streets.

Stone is a criminal for hire. Robbed of his loved ones and scarred almost beyond recognition, he navigates City’s darkest corners, doing some of its darkest deeds. In this collection, he’ll pursue an elusive thief, bent on raising an army of juiced up mutants. He’ll break into the office building of a mysterious corporation, only to find the executives are less into sending faxes and more into performing hexes.

In the final chapter, he’ll track a man through the Alleys of South City with the help of his tech savvy partner, Megan, and together they’ll face the sentient darkness of City’s deepest underbelly, and confront the violent potential of City’s most dangerous cults.

Part Blade Runner. Part Sin City. Stone Work is an action-packed ride through the rain-slicked streets of a dark, unforgiving urban landscape, rife with sadistic criminals, inter-dimensional abominations, and a creeping darkness that seeks to erase the last, now almost mythical traces of human goodness left in a world always teetering over the edge of its own extinction.

Praise for Dominic Stabile

“With Whiskey for Breakfast, Dominic Stabile provides a page turning mystery that kept me guessing as to who the real killers might be.” – Brenda Casto, Readersfavorite.com

Dominic Stabile Biography

Dominic_Stabile

Dominic Stabile’s short fiction has appeared in Fossil Lake III: Unicornado!, Sanitarium Magazine, The Horror Zine, Atticus Review, Far Horizons, and has been adapted as a radio play by Manor House Productions. He has held jobs as a warehouse worker, cashier, bookstore associate, textbook manager, and carpenter. He’s a born southerner, transplanted to Penobscot, Maine by a desperate desire to escape retail work. When not writing or reading, he enjoys horror, sci-fi, and noir films, westerns, and bourbon.

Read his blogs on all things horror at dominicstabile.com.

Want to Feature Dominic Stabile?

If you would like a copy of the book for review or to conduct an interview with Dominic Stabile, please contact Erin Al-Mehairi, Marketing and Publicity at Mirror Matter Press and Hook of a Book Media: hookofabook@hotmail.com.

adam howe cover

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Comet Press

Length: 250 Pages

Release Date: November 2, 2015

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour for Die Dog or Eat The Hatchet

Adam Howe is an author that has been on my radar since the end of 2015. I remember reading a copy of his novella Gator Bait and being instantly drawn in by his totally unique brand of storytelling and placing it in my top 5 novellas of the year. Howe has an early writing credit that I am sure many authors would kill to have – his story “Jumper” won the On Writing contest judged by Stephen King and appears in the paperback and ebook edition. How cool is that? After reading Gator Bait, I was excited to read more of Howe’s work so I jumped at the chance to be a part of his blog tour for Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, a collection of three novellas!

Damn Dirty Apes

Synopsis: Washed-up prizefighter Reggie Levine is eking a living as a strip club bouncer when he’s offered an unlikely shot at redemption. The Bigelow Skunk Ape – a mythical creature said to haunt the local woods – has kidnapped the high school football mascot, Boogaloo Baboon. Now it’s up to Reggie to lead a misfit posse including a plucky stripper, the town drunk, and legend-in-his-own-mind skunk ape hunter Jameson T. Salisbury. Their mission: Slay the beast and rescue their friend. But not everything is as it seems, and as our heroes venture deeper into the heart of darkness, they will discover worse things waiting in the woods than just the Bigelow Skunk Ape. The story the Society for the Preservation of the North American Skunk Ape tried to ban; Damn Dirty Apes mixes Roadhouse with Jaws with Sons of Anarchy, to create a rollicking romp of 80s-style action/adventure, creature horror and pitch-black comedy.

Reggie Levine is the head bouncer (make that the only bouncer) of a backwoods strip club called The Henhouse. Reggie’s claim to fame (if you can really call it that) was his one and only prize-fight against “Boar Hog” Brannon. His boss Walt proudly displays a news cutting that says “BIGELOW BOY BRUTALIZED IN PRIZE FIGHT”, which says all you really need to know about the outcome of that match. After the fight, Levine took a job at The Henhouse and his penchant for brawling make him the perfect bouncer.

I have to admit out of all of the stories that make up Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, I think Damn Dirty Apes is my clear-cut favorite.As I read, I have a tendency to scribble down notes and highlight passages I liked so that when I go back to write my reviews, I can revisit my favorite passages. As I was reading, I noticed how much I was highlighting. Hell, I might as well have highlighted the whole book! Howe’s writing crackles with energy and the crisp dialogue, humorous observations, and action-packed scenes had me glued to the pages. I can’t remember the last time I had this much pure fun reading a story.

I also loved the twists that Howe was able to weave throughout this story. Let’s face it any story where Swamp Apes are going to play a prevalent role is going to be pretty original and full of surprises, but even with taking that into consideration, this story still had plenty of twists that kept me hooked.

Reggie Levine is also one of my favorite characters of any book I have read lately. He is not exactly what you would picture when you are thinking of a leading action hero. Sure, he was a professional fighter at one point, but his physique and training has gone downhill since losing to “Boar Hog” Brannon. That being said, Reggie’s personality is entertaining as hell and you can’t help but root for him throughout the course of this novella. Sure, he is able to dish out some punishment, but what makes you respect him is his ability to keep getting back up after taking one hell of a beating. While that loss to “Boar Hog” Brannon seems to hang over him like a specter, Reggie Levine finally gets a shot at redemption in one of the oddest fights I have ever come across and definitely didn’t see coming when I started reading Damn Dirty Apes. I know Howe is writing another story featuring Reggie  and I hope it is the first of many new adventures!

Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet

Synopsis: Escaped mental patient Terrence Hingle, the butcher of five sorority sisters at the Kappa Pi Massacre, kidnaps timid diner waitress Tilly Mulvehill and bolts for the border. Forcing his hostage to drive him out of town, it’s just a question of time before Tilly becomes the next victim in Hingle’s latest killing spree. But when they stop for gas at a rural filling station operated by deranged twin brothers, Dwayne and Dwight Ritter, the tables are turned on Hingle, and for Tilly the night becomes a hellish cat-and-mouse ordeal of terror and depravity. The meat in a maniac sandwich, Tilly is forced against her nature to make a stand and fight for survival. Because sometimes the only choice you have is to do or die…to Die Dog Or Eat The Hatchet.

Die Dog or Eat The Hatchet is probably the closest thing to straightforward horror in this collection, offering an original take on the serial killer genre. Howe’s portrayal of the serial killer Terrence Hingle is excellent and he is by far one of the most deranged villains I have read about in a while. Well, maybe until the introduction of the Ritter siblings at least! Howe introduces readers to Hingle’s depravity with a chilling opening where we see his penchant for violence and his utterly warped worldview. What makes him so terrifying is that he appears harmless from a physical standpoint. That outward appearance of normalcy coupled with his intelligence and patience that he honed from a very young age make him an unstoppable monster. However, Hingle has definitely met his match with the Ritter siblings. Even though Hingle’s childhood was rough, he is sort of the epitome of a more sophisticated villain that can hide in plain sight. The Ritter siblings on the other hand are the polar opposite, they are much more crude in the way they commit their crimes. I thought it was awesome to see two very different forms of serial killers pitted against each other and the results of their chance encounter were definitely a surprise.

 

While the idea of a serial killer grudge match is what initially interested me in this novella, I ended up being more invested in Tilly’s evolution as a character. She is portrayed as a total pushover with little to no confidence when she is introduced. As the story progresses, Howe throws her right into one hellish nightmare after another that would break even the most hardened people. Without giving too much away about this story, Tilly responds in a way that definitely shocked me and marks a transformation of her as a character.

There are quite a few scenes in here that are truly horrific and definitely not meant for those with weak stomachs!

Gator Bait

Synopsis: Prohibition-era 1930s… After an affair with the wrong man’s wife, seedy piano player Smitty Three Fingers flees the city and finds himself tinkling the ivories at a Louisiana honky-tonk owned by vicious bootlegger Horace Croker and his trophy wife, Grace. Folks come to The Grinnin’ Gator for the liquor and burlesque girls, but they keep coming back for Big George, the giant alligator Croker keeps in the pond out back. Croker is rumored to have fed ex-wives and enemies to his pet, so when Smitty and Grace embark on a torrid affair…what could possibly go wrong? Inspired by true events, Gator Bait mixes hardboiled crime (James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice) with creature horror (Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive) to create a riveting tale of suspense.

I have always been a fan of both noir and neo-noir stories and films, but almost everything I have been exposed to in the two genres was exclusively urban. So it was a blast of fresh air to read a story that had everything I loved about the genre but set in the humid swamps of Louisiana instead of the traditional bustling city.  Then there is the presence of Big George, an enormous alligator that has a taste for human flesh. He has a legendary history and strikes fear in the hearts of those who are brave (or dumb) enough to cross Croker.  I don’t know why, but there is just something badass about a guy who has his own killing machine at his disposal.

While reading Gator Bait, it’s no secret what the future holds for a guy like Smitty Three Fingers. That being said watching him blunder through the same situations that got him in trouble in the big city is all part of the fun that makes up this novella. Howe is also unflinchingly honest with his portrayal of his characters and mixes racial tensions throughout the course of the novella. This isn’t purely for shock value, but rather adds authenticity to the story and his characters.

Thoughts on the collection 

While I gave my thoughts for each individual novella, there are traits in each one that make this an absolute must-own collection. One of the things I am drawn too in most books I read is the author’s characterization and the way they utilize details to bring their stories to life. Howe is a master at these components of writing and there were so many times I would just shake my head in awe at his ability to paint a portrait of a character or a scene. In Damn Dirty Apes, Howe nails the images of the biker gang with accurate and hilarious nicknames. You have Blubberguts, Smiley, Shitface and Baby Doll.  Blubberguts alone is an accurate name that conjures up a vivid description. My favorite description is that of the leader Chains who “…wore a Confederate flag do-rag, and a hoop toss of rusted iron chains around his neck, like a skid row Mr. T”.

Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet has elements of horror throughout, but it is not strictly a horror collection. Howe crams in bits and pieces of various genres to create stories that are wonderfully weird, highly addictive, and that defy easy classification. What impressed me the most while reading Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet is the originality and confidence that is evident on the pages. Howe has a unique voice and in my opinion, that is the greatest tool in his arsenal. I am sure Howe spends a lot of time working on his craft, but his writing appears effortless and it is like the stories just flow straight from his imagination with ease. My stack of books to review is reaching mythical proportions, but I am definitely going to grab a copy of Howe’s other collection Black Cat Mojo and any other future releases he puts out, regardless of genre. He is that good. I am a fan for life and would recommend Howe’s work to any reader who is feeling a bit adventurous. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Adam Howe’s Comet Press page

Comet Press’ Official Website

Purchase Die Dog or Eat The Hatchet: Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

Die Dog or Eat The Hatchet tour graphic

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Die Dog or Eat The Hatchet!- #DieDogorEattheHatchet #DieDog #AdamHowe #OnWriting #HookofaBook

Praise for Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet

“It’s an explicit, hard-hitting, twisted funhouse ride into pulpish horror wrapped loosely in a tattered skein of irreverent, jet black humor. In short, it’s a freakin’ blast.” – Walt Hicks, author of Dirge of the Forgotten

“With Die Dog Or Eat the Hatchet, Adam Howe hasn’t written one of my favorite books of the year, he’s actually written three of my favorites. Stories that are tight, toned, and genre-confounding. Horror fans and crime fans are going to come to blows over who gets to claim Howe as one of their own, but they’re both going to be wrong because Howe’s his own thing.” – Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen and Mercy House

“The recipe for Adam Howe’s DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET is: Two parts Joe Lansdale, One part Justified, and a heavy dose of WTF. The result is a swampy cocktail darker than any backwoods hayride, stronger than the meanest Sasquatch, and crazier than anything you’ll find chicken-fried at your local state fair.”—Eryk Pruitt, author of Hashtag and Dirtbags

“Adam Howe proves with the three stories in this book that he can basically write anything. And write it very well indeed. To summarise: A three novella collection that you absolutely must have in your collection. I give this one the highest possible recommendation that I can.” – Nev, Confessions of a Reviewer

“Adam Howe’s “Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet,” is equal parts terror and fun, his dark comedic voice dances through each of the works in this collection to create engaging stories filled with bars, dames, rabid dogs, and an ape with one hell of a right hook.” – Nathan Crazybear/Splatterpunk Zine

“Once again this author has sucked me into the darkness of his stories and unleashed the twisted, disgusting and stomach churning madness that I come to expect. In fact, I would have been very disappointed if this book was not even more mind-blowing than Black Cat Mojo. And he did not disappoint. Hats off to Mr. Howe for creating this magnificent novella of pure horror. I would definitely recommend this to readers of horror and make sure you buckle up as you will be in for the most twisted ride of your life!” – Crime Book Junkie 

“I’m pretty certain that whatever genre you like to read, be it pulp, noir, horror, anything really, you will find something to enjoy here. It’s fast paced, action packed and brilliantly written. Comet Press has got a diamond on their hands! 5 stars” – Adrian Shotbolt

About Adam Howe

adamhowe.jpg

Adam Howe writes the twisted fiction your mother warned you about. A British writer of fiction and screenplays, he lives in Greater London with his partner and their hellhound, Gino. Writing as Garrett Addams, his short story Jumper was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of the On Writing contest, and published in the paperback/Kindle editions of SK’s book; he was also granted an audience with The King, where they mostly discussed slow vs. fast zombies. His fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Thuglit, The Horror Library, Mythic Delirium, Plan B Magazine, and One Buck Horror. He is the author of two collections, Black Cat Mojo and Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, plus the eBook single, Gator Bait. Future works include Tijuana Donkey ShowdownOne Tough Bastard, and a crime/horror collaboration with Adam Tribesmen Cesare.

Find him on Twitter at @Adam_G_Howe.

disintegration

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Random House Alibi

Length: 223 Pages

Release Date: May 26, 2015

eARC provided by Random House Alibi and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

While straight up horror will probably always be my first love, I have come to enjoy neo-noir in large part thanks to the stellar anthology Richard Thomas put together for Dark House Press, The New Black. So, when I was offered a chance to review Thomas’ latest novel Disintegration, I jumped at the opportunity.

Disintegration tells the story of an unnamed narrator whose life is in shambles. He lives in a spartan apartment, unsure of what day it is and dependent on a steady diet of pills and booze to help try to erase the despair that consumes him. His sole mission in life, the only thing that gets him outside of his apartment, is the jobs he receives from a mysterious Russian gangster known only as Vlad. He gives him jobs by simply sliding an envelope under his door. Before meeting Vlad, the narrator was living on the streets or in shelters like a nomad, stealing when he has to and left with barely 20 bucks in his pocket. This desperation is what makes him the perfect employee for Vlad, someone who is hardened by the crummy hand life has dealt them and willing to do things that no sane person would ever dream of.

For the purpose of this review, I will give the narrator the name of “Everyman”, a name he himself uses when describing his occupation. Everyman is a hit-man of sorts, though not all of his targets end up dead necessarily. He dresses in an inconspicuous way, blending into any social situation, the sort of person you wouldn’t be able to notice if you tried. And yet, he bears markings that instantly tell his life story and seem to serve as a total disregard to his own rule. He is covered in tattoos – black letters on his knuckles, wings on his back and a variety of other seemingly random pictures. The tattoos aren’t means of self-expression or individuality, they serve as a reminder of the things he has done and the lives he has taken.

As we follow Everyman, we witness him taking on a slew of “clients” – a pedophile, a man beating his dog in public, a drunk driver responsible for killing kids. These jobs offer him an escape from the trauma that haunts his life and the chance to deal out a form of justice that was denied to him. He is content living out this life, simply getting from one day to the next until a series of unsettling events occur that make him question everything. What is real and what isn’t? Is he being double crossed? As he begins to piece together the truth about his former life and his employer, he finds himself racing against time for answers before he ends up dead.

The one thing I loved most about this novel is the complex characterization of the narrator. At first glance, he seems like a nihilistic robot, hellbent on carrying out retribution and justice. But he is more complex than that. Thomas uses brief scenes to show that Everyman was not always a hardened badass who cracks skulls for a living; he was an average Joe, someone who could have been your neighbor or relative or friend. Flashes of a suburban life, memories of tender moments with his children that he barely remembers or is actively trying to forget show he is something more than a mindless lackey taking jobs for a man he hardly knows. It is these brief snapshots of his past that get the reader to care about Everyman and his journey for the truth despite the mistakes he has made in his past.

Disintegration falls a little outside of my typical reading habits, but Thomas’ action-packed journey through the seedy underbelly of Chicago held me captivated from the first page. Thomas’ writing is lean and possesses a gritty yet poetic quality and while the novel is full of darkness, despair and violence, you can’t help but be entranced by the dark beauty of it. Disintegration’s combination of interesting characters, a mind-bending mystery and breakneck pacing make this an essential read for mystery fans. This novel will definitely stick with me for a long time and I am eagerly awaiting The Breaker, the second installment in the Windy City Dark Mystery series!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Richard Thomas’ Official Website

Random House Alibi’s Official Website

Purchase Disintegration on Amazon

The New Black

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Dark House Press

Length: 344 Pages

Review copy provided by editor in exchange for an honest review

The New Black is an anthology of 20 neo-noir stories edited by author Richard Thomas, who is the editor for Dark House Press and a columnist for Litreactor. I will be totally honest and admit that prior to reading Laird Barron’s stellar foreword “Eye of The Raven”, I had no idea what the neo-noir genre was all about. I had a general idea, but I didn’t have any prior experience with this genre of literature. After reading Barron’s forward and Richard Thomas’ introduction, I was eager to explore the darkness contained within the pages of The New Black.

The anthology kicks off with a bang with Stephen Graham Jones’ haunting “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit”. The story focuses on a young boy and his father as they struggle for survival in the wild during a harsh winter. The boy keeps telling him about a rabbit named Slaney, a seemingly immortal rabbit that has been feeding the boy and his father throughout their stay in the woods. It is a bleak story with an ending that will stick with you long after you finish reading.

“It’s Against The Law To Feed The Ducks” by Paul Tremblay is a portrait of a family as they spend a summer vacation together when an apocalyptic event breaks out. Everyone in the town surrounding Lake Winnipesauke seems to have disappeared without explanation. However, that is what made this story so enjoyable. Tremblay’s story is less about discovering the truth behind the apocalypse, but rather the strain the events puts on the family in what used to be an idyllic setting. As the events begin to unfold and the family shifts into survival mode, you begin to see a subtle change in the parents’ personalities. However, despite the bleak situation they find themselves in, they still manage to cling to their humanity and provide for their children and protect them from the harsh realities of their new world.

The stories in The New Black span many genres, but some of the stories do share a lot of DNA with traditional horror. There is Micaela Morrissette’s “The Familiars”, a story about a little boy and his imaginary friend. However, this imaginary friend is not like the ones you may remember from your childhood. He lives under the boy’s bed and he seems to grow from the shadows that lurk there. The boy and his friend create shadow puppets and play make-believe in the boy’s treehouse, which makes their relationship seem like a harmless childhood friendship. However, the imaginary friend seems to harbor an edge of darkness and possibly even evil.

“Dollhouse” by Craig Wallwork is a creepy tale of a girl named Darcy, who feels little fear due to her father telling her everything can be explained. Which is why none of the noises that reverberate through the family’s cottage bother her, particularly the loud bang that led her to discover the replica of her home in the attic. Despite the additions to the dollhouse every time she sneaks up to the attic to look at it and the shadow she sees moving in the attic, Darcy still clings to the idea that there is a rational explanation for everything. However, it quickly becomes clear that not everything can be explained and something sinister is lurking in Darcy’s attic.

Brian Evenson’s “Windeye” closes out The New Black and is one of my favorite stories of the collection. It focuses on a brother and sister and the closeness they shared as kids which began fading away when the brother discovers a mysterious window on the outside of their home. His sister was more detail oriented and never really notices that there is something off about the house as a whole until he leads her towards the discovery. There is one more window visible on the outside of their home than there is from the inside. This seemingly mundane discovery leads to an earth shattering revelation that impacts the pair forever. This story sort of reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, particularly the sections that focused on The Navidson Record. There is something deeply unsettling about the discovery of a mysterious addition to your home that you can’t explain. A home is supposed to be a place that is safe and familiar and Evenson’s decision to warp that sense of security makes for a creepy read.

There is a lot of diversity to be found in The New Black, which mixes in neo-noir elements with many other genres. While I obviously enjoyed the stories that had a horror bent, a few of my favorite stories would fall into other genres. Craig Davidson’s “Rust and Bone” is a powerful story about a boxer who brawls in underground boxing matches with no rules while recounting his life story and the role boxing has played in it. The story jumps around from his current match against a hulking man named Nicodemus and his past as an up-and-coming boxer whose dreams shatter in an instant. Roy Kesey’s “Instituto” follows a man who enters a program developed for him by a mysterious group of people known only as “perfeccionadores”, who slowly begin to improve his physical appearance and possessions. However, even with all the improvements in his life, the man quickly learns that some things are more important than having flawless skin and a perfect house.

The New Black is an excellent collection and features stories from authors I am familiar with – Stephen Graham Jones, Craig Clevenger and Craig Davidson to name a few – as well as a slew of new voices I eagerly look forward to reading in the future. Some of the stories may not appeal to everyone, but the talent and diversity displayed in this collection make it a worthy addition to any dark fiction fan’s bookshelf.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Dark House Press Official Website 

Purchase The New Black on Amazon