David is a hard man in a savage line of work. When his boss, Anthony Benedetti – the kingpin who controls the north side of Chicago – asks him to pick up a briefcase containing half a million dollars from a local bar owner, David is happy to oblige. It’s a simple task for a man of David’s disposition, but the job quickly goes boss-eyed, and the case is snatched after a violent altercation. Understandably, Benedetti, a surrogate father figure to David, is distinctly unimpressed with this turn of events, and David is given 24 hours to find the money – if he wants to stay among the living.
Sometimes I get stuck in a reading rut and need to blow away the cobwebs with something short and nasty. Cut from the same cloth as 2020’s visceral Stay Ugly, A New and Different Kind of Pain definitely had the desired effect! While the more expansive Stay Ugly would come out on top if the two books went toe-to-toe, this one impresses with its sheer brevity. Put simply: this book does not fuck around.
A brisk tale of troubled beginnings, poor choices and brutal resolutions, A New and Different Kind of Pain is an underworld thriller that has been stripped down to the bone. There are no good guys, only bad people and worse ones, and the book plays out in enjoyably fatalistic fashion. If you are in the market for a quick, vicious book that doesn’t waste any words or pull any punches, then this should hit the spot.
Gareth Spark previously featured on this site with Marwick’s Reckoning, his 2016 Spanish crime caper, which told the story of a principled thug-for-hire who found himself caught up in a murderous criminal conspiracy. His latest book, The Dark Earth of Albion, unfolds closer to home. To quote the blurb: “There’s something in the soil, down deep in The Dark Earth of Albion; storytelling that haunts the landscape, teasing the reader through the fires of folklore, along the decks of Viking boats, to the plastic chairs of seaside greasy spoons.” Intrigued? You should be!
I remember reading a handful of these short stories online in years gone by – often published by crime fiction sites – and it is only when I re-read them, collected in one place, that I realised that many of them are not crime stories at all. The Dark Earth of Albion is a genre-trampling collection that exists at the murky crossroads of Northern gothic, rural noir and folk horror.
That said, fans of contemporary crime fiction will find much to enjoy in these pages, particularly the stark stories of retribution such as ‘The English Dark’ and ‘This Notion of a Fire’. However, it’s the sense of place that looms largest in these grisly fables – Whitby and its environs – rather than any kind of genre straitjacket or overarching theme. (It should be noted that the London-set ‘Warpath’ feels distinctly out of place given the overall topography of the collection!)
Minor quibbles aside, this is a cracking collection that deserves to be re-read. As with the author’s other works, the sheer quality of his prose elevates the bleak, hard-edged stories to another level. The supernatural rubs shoulders with the mundane throughout, but even the most grounded pieces have the sombre, ominous tone of ghost stories. Impressive stuff.
Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Trevor Mark Thomas to discuss his book, The Bothy(Salt Publishing).
I had the pleasure of reading The Bothy recently and I thought it was fantastic! How would you pitch the book to potential readers?
The Bothy involves a man on the run who finds refuge with a gang in a pub located in the middle of nowhere. At first, he thinks he’s safe there, but begins to realise his hosts are as dangerous as the people pursuing him.
How did your association with Salt come about, and what are they like to work with?
My editor Nick Royle suggested that The Bothy would be a good fit with the Salt list.
Salt are great to work with. Very supportive, and they tried their best to push what could be seen as a difficult book. I was amazed at the number of reviews it got – all down to their tireless work. They also gave me some super advice after the book came out.
During the creative process, what came first: Tom’s predicament, or the queasy location where he seeks refuge?
The location came first. It’s partially based on this pub called The Ponderosa (no, really!) in Northern Ireland. It’s in the middle of nowhere and – years ago – was rumoured to be a meeting place for Republican terrorists. The pub’s been renovated now, but when I saw it was boarded up and looked terrifying. When we drove past it, I closed my eyes and could imagine wandering in there … but couldn’t imagine myself leaving again. (And not in a good way.)
I’m not Northern Irish, and I don’t have the right to set a story during the Troubles. So, I tried to think where a place like that would exist in the North of England. Once I had my ‘Ponderosa’, all the characters and situations began to fall into place.
You mentioned that spending two years inhabiting the titular pub during the writing process was a horrible experience. I have to ask: was it inspired by a real location?
Sort of. The location of the pub certainly is inspired by a real location, as I mentioned above. But the interior? It’s probably an amalgam of real pubs I’ve stumbled into. The Bothy was my idea of what a really horrid pub would be like. It’s also my attempt at Gormenghast castle. (The Gormenghast sequence of books had a huge influence on my writing.)
He may be a grotesque, but I quite liked the benevolent gangster Frank – and his long-suffering barman Ken! Frank is undeniably sinister, but never lapses into cliché. Were you inclined to dial down or ramp up his character?
I had a pretty good handle on Frank, I think. He might have said a bit too much in earlier drafts, but I knew he had to be inscrutable. Partly because of power games, partly because he didn’t know how to articulate his own thoughts.
Ken was a real treat to write though. At first, I thought he was going to be an absolute monster but I realised early on that he was wearing an apron. And I went with that because it made me smile. And it brought him to life. I knew everything about him. I always felt that a scene featuring Ken would be a good one.
The book has its fair share of grisly, violent, scenes, yet I found the idea of Tom walking around this mouldy, dilapidated building barefoot (in the dark) strangely hard to stomach. Did anything make you feel nauseous to write?
Oh, man. It was a horrible book to write. The filth, the squalor was everywhere. Quite suffocating. But I knew I was on the right track with it because I could picture it exactly when I closed my eyes. I could smell it and (brrr) taste it. It did seem a bit mean conveying my revulsion to the reader though. Sorry about that.
But I had to go for walks with my dog after writing the really grim scenes.
I always like it when writers display their Englishness in their work. Who are your favourite English writers, and why?
I love David Peace. His Red Riding books were huge influences on me. These poetic, raging examinations of corruption and evil. How mundane evil can be, how far-reaching. How difficult it is to be good in an evil world.
I’m also a big fan of Mervyn Peake – everyone should be reading his books as well as Tolkien and that Game of Thrones chap. Peake is brilliant. The descriptions, the atmosphere, are unbelievably good. Grim and funny. Everything I aspire to be as a writer.
In a similar vein, Barbara Comyns is a favourite. Sad and wonderful and packed with a gallery of grotesques. Try Sisters By A River. That’s a brilliant book.
Which writers – one alive, one dead – would you like to have a drink with at The Bothy? And what would you serve them?
Alive writer: Zadie Smith. I want to talk to her about Chris Ware. Drink-wise, I like to think we’d have Manhattans but I’m not sure why that appeals.
Dead writer: James Joyce would be interesting. I think he’d be on the beer. Quite a lot of it. I’d have a pint of milk before we got started, just to line my stomach and remain relatively coherent.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
This is a really difficult question because it’s tempting me into revealing my fantasy career which I know is utterly unrealistic and a bit daft. So, I’ll go to the fringes of realism and say, I’d really like to be an author who gets decent feedback from readers … and maybe sells enough books to pay the bills.
The only author I can think of whose career is similar is probably Jim Thompson or Terry Southern. But then they got work in Hollywood … Argh. And … well … That’s all a bit fantastical, isn’t it?
Finally, what are your future publishing plans?
I’ve written a book linked to The Bothy which has had a bit of interest but I need to have another go at it. It’s too bleak as it is. I was in quite a nihilistic mood when I wrote it.
I’ve finished a first draft of another book which I think is more accessible. It still has a lot of my preoccupations but I’ve added a bit of (figurative) ice cream to make it a bit more palatable. Let’s see. Published or not, I’ll keep going until I run out of steam.
Bio: I live in Manchester with my girlfriend. We have a dog called Columbo. I cook, I read, and when I can afford it, buy and build Lego.
Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Andy Rausch to discuss his new book, American Trash.
Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch American Trash to potential readers?
My publisher is calling it Goodfellas with white trash rednecks. That’s pretty accurate. It’s about organized crime in the Ozarks and features some exceptionally lowlife characters. The crime organization operates out of a stationary carnival near Branson, so they are sort of part-time carnies, part-time criminals. Their leader is a man called Reverend Sammy, who is both a minister and a crime boss. It’s very down and dirty. Certainly the grittiest thing I’ve ever written.
The truth of the matter is, I owe a lot of that grit to you, Tom. After stumbling across your book, The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men, I fell in love with the extreme level of grittiness you write, so I decided to try and step up my game in that area. It’s essentially my normal writing but trying to go a little deeper and farther into the dark, gritty aspects. As you know, I actually dedicated the book to you. In some ways, you were its spiritual father.
When I tell people it’s about hillbilly gangsters, they always ask, “Like the show Ozark?” No, not at all like the show Ozark. Ozark is like a fucking Pixar movie compared to this. Also, the characters on Ozark look like they take showers. My characters aren’t like that. The characters in this book are the kind of guys who live on the three M’s – Marlboros, Mountain Dew, and meth.
This was really my attempt at Donald Ray Pollock meets Tom Leins meets Joe R. Lansdale.
What do you hope that readers take away from the book?
I hope they have a good time with the book, and I hope they walk away saying, “That motherfucker Andy Rausch can write.” Then maybe they’ll track down some of my other novels, like Bloody Sheets, Layla’s Score, The Suicide Game, or Until One of Us Is Dead. I’ve had three of my novels optioned for film now, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I don’t mean that in a cocky way, but I do think I can tell an entertaining story. I might not be good at much of anything else, but I think I do a decent job with that. But I work hard and I’ve been writing for many, many years.
You’ve notched up a lot of books in quick succession. Why is it so important to keep producing new work and moving forwards?
I had a heart transplant almost three years ago. My life expectancy is shorter than most people’s, so I want to write as much as I can while I can. But I’ve always been like this. I write a lot. I have almost forty-five books with about twenty publishers. Some of it’s fiction, some of it’s nonfiction. And the one thing I’ve always had is an obsessive need to create and write. That passion fuels my writing, which in turn fuels the rest of my life.
If you could recommend any one book from your back catalogue to a new reader, which one would you choose?
Layla’s Score is, I think, a good introduction. It’s a story of a hitman and his little girl traveling across the country so he can do “one last job”, the job of a lifetime. That’s the first in what will be a trilogy of books if I can ever get back to that, and it also features the protagonist from my first novel, The Suicide Game, in a supporting role.
Layla’s Score is important to me because Layla is based heavily on my daughter, Josslyn. I was awaiting my transplant and it looked like there was a good chance I wasn’t going to make it, so I wrote that for her to have if I didn’t make it.
Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?
I read both. My biggest influences have been Elmore Leonard, Quentin Tarantino, and Joe R. Lansdale. Like them, my work is dialogue-driven crime (although Lansdale writes a lot more beyond those things). I also love writers like Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block, George V. Higgins, Don Winslow, S. Craig Zahler, and now, more recently, S.A. Cosby, whose big-league debut, Blacktop Wasteland, was the best book I read this year by a country mile. I also love the Bust series written by Jason Starr and Ken Bruen. And also Charlie Stella. I really like his stuff, too.
In the indie world, I read a lot of folks like yourself, who have also become a huge inspiration/influence: Paul D. Brazill, and Chris Miller, among others. As you know, I edited a forthcoming anthology of hitman stories for All Due Respect that features 18 writers I absolutely love, including Lansdale, Collins, yourself, Brazill, Miller, and many, many others. I stand by every single writer who appears in that anthology and I am insanely proud of it. It’s going to be a knockout. It’s the best project I’ve ever been associated with.
Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?
There are a lot, but I’m the closest to Chris Miller, Clark Roberts, Chris Roy, and Mark Slade. I talk to them frequently. I adore your work and you and I talked about doing a book before COVID, but we don’t talk routinely. But I definitely consider you a peer and someone I’m a fan of. T. Fox Dunham and I were going to collaborate once. Another guy I would kill to collaborate with is Paul D. Brazill. Other peers include Daniel Vlasaty, Rob Pierce, Nikki Dolson, Michael A. Gonzales… The list goes on and on.
I also talk to guys who write other stuff, like David C. Hayes, Tyson Blue, Stephen Spignesi. Those are guys who can write anything. Doesn’t matter what kind of book or story, they can write it.
If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?
It would be your book, The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men. I don’t mean that as a knock in saying they wouldn’t have heard of it. Judging from how few reviews it has at the moment, that’s the only answer I can think of, because it’s pure fucking brilliance. One of my very favorite books this year and the only one that made me reconsider things about my own writing. And I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you.
You know how much I loved that because I wrote you immediately and told you and also posted about it and reviewed it. That’s a good book, no pun intended, and if there is any fairness to be had in this world, it will be noticed and read by many more people. I’ve read it twice now and it was just as good the second time. That book just struck a chord with me in a way that very, very few have ever done.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
Joe R. Lansdale. Now this would require me to live a long life, but Joe did everything his way. He’s become a friend, but he’s definitely my hero and was even before. Lansdale is a guy who defied the so-called rules by writing whatever he wanted. Publishers and editors want writers to write one genre so they can pigeonhole them and make them a product. That way when people see their names, they will go after the new book because it will essentially be like their last ten. But he didn’t do that. He wrote everything. Whatever the fuck he wanted. So, he built a solid readership, but it took him longer to really explode than it would have had he followed the rules. But like the song says, he did it his way.
Beyond that, he also chooses to sometimes publish with smaller publishers just because he can. He’s published with a lot of the really big houses, but most of his books are with Subterranean. There’s nothing wrong with Subterranean, but they’re not as big as, say, Doubleday or Little, Brown and Company, whom he has also published with. But he’s loyal and they do right by him. As a result of Lansdale and Subterranean treating each other with respect, they’ve both grown.
He’s my favorite living writer, no two ways about it. But beyond the writing, he’s a good man. He’s kind and he treats people well. His books are entertaining as all hell, but he’s also spent his entire career writing about issues that were important to him, like combating racism. If Lansdale isn’t someone to look up to, I don’t know who is. If I ever “made” it, I’d want to be a down-to-earth nice human being like he is. There is a reason writers love him, and it’s only fifty percent because of his writing, which is fucking magnificent anyway.
Finally, what are your future publishing plans?
I’d really like to break out of the indie world, but I don’t really try to hard to do that either. I just write. All the time. I have nonfiction books coming out about both Lansdale and Elmore Leonard. I have a lot of nonfiction coming out. I helped actress Erica Gavin write her memoir, I have a biography of the cinematographer Gary Graver coming out. As for fiction, I’m doing some different things. I’m actually working on a comedy right now with Charles E. Pratt Jr. I may also have projects with Chris Miller and Clark Roberts coming.
But mostly my plans are just going insane from all of the different projects I’m trying to finish.
Bio: Andy Rausch is a film journalist and author who has written more than forty books. His novels include Savage Brooklyn, Layla’s Score, and Let It Kill You. He recently published a novelization of the classic film, Carnival of Souls, titled Nightmare Pavilion, and his newest nonfiction book is My Best Friend’s Birthday: The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film. He writes a regular column in Screem magazine and is a web editor at Diabolique.
At the start of The Bothy we find everyman protagonist Tom grieving for his dead girlfriend, Stephanie. Her powerful family are convinced that Tom is responsible for her death, and have placed a bounty on his head. At the behest of his pal Gary, Tom seeks refuge in The Bothy, a dilapidated moorland pub on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. The pub is run by Frank, a ‘tough but fair’ associate of Gary’s, who appears to be dealing with demons of his own. The outwardly friendly Frank is a violent but eccentric persona, but at least he appears to have Tom’s best interests at heart. The old man has his fair share of underworld enemies, however – men nursing their own rotten grudges – and Tom comes to realise that his rural bolt-hole isn’t quite as secure as he was led to believe…
The Bothy is part grot-streaked rural crime story, part surrealist melodrama, part grisly gangster yarn. It’s a potent mix and the story makes fine use of its bleak, desolate location. The Bothy itself is a cheerless, half-derelict pub populated with cheerless, half-derelict men: gone-to-seed crime lord Frank, inscrutable barman/dogsbody Ken and aging scumbags Tucker and Braudy. All of Tom’s encounters with his new friends – no matter how mundane – are dripping with menace. A well-judged undercurrent of queasiness bubbles beneath the surface throughout and the author’s deadpan descriptions of off-kilter scenarios are darkly hilarious.
I’m always intrigued when a non-genre publisher puts out a crime novel and The Bothy more than delivers on its curious premise. Well-paced, well-written and peppered with random acts of violence, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I look forward to seeing what Trevor Mark Thomas tackles next.
Next up in the Interrogation Room, Tom Leins talks to Chris Rhatigan and David Nemeth, the co-editors of the brand new ‘hard-as-nails’ crime fiction anthology All Due Respect 2020, which is released today via Down & Out Books!
Firstly, Chris: All Due Respect has attracted a cult following with you at the helm. What made you want to resurrect the original ADR zine after such a long hiatus?
I got burned out doing the magazine in 2015. Back then we were putting out full quarterly issues with several stories along with reviews and non-fiction. It was a ton of work, and I was busy with the novel side of publishing.
Then last year I was reading Tough and became nostalgic for the good ol’ days of publishing short fiction. To avoid getting burned out again, I decided to go back to the original form of the magazine: one story per month.
And, David: after tracking the current indie crime scene for Unlawful Acts, why were you so keen to get involved in this venture alongside Chris?
David: Is this a trick question? The books Chris published at All Due Respect have always been some of my favorite crime fiction. When Chris returned from India to Philadelphia, and me being from Wilmington, we were able to meet a few times. And he tolerated me. When Chris came up with the idea, I jumped at it.
Back in the pulp era, short story magazines were a real proving ground for hardboiled crime writers. Nowadays, with a few notable exceptions, paying crime markets are dwindling into obscurity. Why do you think that is?
Chris: I’m not sure why pulp magazines went away in the first place. I’m assuming it’s because they weren’t as profitable as novels.
The better question to me is why there are any paying crime fiction markets today. Crime short stories are a niche within a niche. The readership of these magazines is mostly writers.
David: Insert emoji of a guy shrugging his shoulders with arms raised and flat hands.
All Due Respect 2020 features a handful of names that may already be familiar to regular ADR readers, alongside a number of unknown quantities. What common themes link all of the stories in this collection?
Chris: I don’t think there’s a common theme—other than David and I liked all these stories enough to publish them.
David: One of the things I’ve noticed about reading is that a lot of what you like or not like is a product of your emotions at that time. Sometimes, a re-read of a story Chris liked that I wasn’t a fan of helps. Sometimes, it doesn’t.
Have you both been in agreement over all of the stories that made the cut, or has any material polarised you?
Chris: Yes, we have a policy that we both have to approve of the story for it to be published. We’ve had a few stories we’ve disagreed on.
David: In an unrelated fact, Wilmington, Delaware is the home of Fight Club.
Has selecting/rejecting stories this year heightened or weakened your enjoyment of short fiction?
Chris: I’m going to wager that there isn’t a single short fiction editor who would say that the submission process heightens their enjoyment of reading short fiction. We chose twelve stories out of—I’m guessing here—150 to 200 submissions. The process of sorting through them all is a chore.
David: I can’t tolerate bad writing anymore. But when you come across that story that just hits every fucking note, it makes it so worthwhile.
Chris: Definitely. Finding an excellent story by a writer I’ve never heard of before is the best.
In the past I have bought plenty of books based on the strength of an author’s shorter works. Do you think short story writing is a mere stepping stone, or should more writers aspire to craft excellent stories and collections?
Chris: It depends on the writer. It’s certainly useful for those who go on to publish novels, both from a craft perspective and recognition perspective.
In general though, I would say short fiction doesn’t get the respect it deserves, mainly because it’s perceived as having little commercial value. Some established writers are best in the short form but the industry will always be pushing novels.
David: There’s no money in either novels or short stories, so you might as well write what you like.
If you could each convince one contemporary writer (any genre, any level of fame) to submit a story to the ADR zine, who would it be, and why?
Chris: Megan Abbott. I’ve only read her novels but I’m assuming her short stories are just as brilliant.
David: Walter Mosley. Right now, I’m enjoying reading his new short story collection, “The Awkward Black Man”.
Finally, looking ahead, as 2020 draws to a close, I know you guys are opening up for 2021 submissions. What kind of short stories do you want to see in your inbox to take things to the next level?
Chris: Stories that keep things as simple as possible—a single plot, a few characters, little to no backstory.
Don’t try to shock us—even if you succeed at shocking us, it won’t make us like the story any more. This goes for both plot twists and over-the-top sex and violence.
Keep it light on the bio details. Or don’t include a bio, that’s also fine.
At the outset of Adrian McKinty’s multi-award-winning standalone novel The Chain, a stranger kidnaps Rachel’s 13-year-old daughter, Kylie. Within minutes, an anonymous phone call informs Rachel that if she wants to free her daughter, she must abduct someone else’s child. Kylie will only be released when her victim’s parents kidnap another child. If any of these steps don’t happen, the kidnapped child/children will be killed. What follows is grim and enthralling.
I enjoyed the pulpy thrills of McKinty’s Michael Forsythe trilogy many years ago, but the masterful Sean Duffy series (which commenced with 2012’s The Cold, Cold Ground) was a real cut above, and deserved a far wider readership. The Chain is a very different book altogether, and feels like a more mainstream-orientated proposition. Mainstream can be a dirty word, and a lot of high-concept thrillers I have dabbled with over the years have left me cold and unengaged.
Impressively, The Chain clicks straight away, and McKinty takes a deep dive into his character’s lives, presenting Rachel as a fully-rounded protagonist. The Massachusetts locale feels grubby and lived-in, and the tension is cranked up notch by notch as Rachel’s ominous mission unfolds.
Masterfully plotted and completely gripping, The Chain deserves all of the praise heaped on it to date. I just hope that this emotionally bruising page-turner helps to persuade more readers to investigate the excellent Duffy series as well. Superb stuff.
Next up in the Interrogation Room, Tom Leins talks to S.A. Cosby to discuss his new book Blacktop Wasteland, which has already earned plaudits from the likes of Lee Child, Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosley!
Firstly, congratulations on the upcoming publication of Blacktop Wasteland! How would you pitch the book to potential readers?
It’s Hell or Highwater meets Drive but with black people from the South.
What do you hope that readers take away from the story?
I hope that people will get a glimpse into a world they don’t often see. Black Rural America. That they might gain an understanding of how hard it is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps when you don’t have any boots.
The title – and the excellent cover – conjure up a ‘70s vibe. Do you have a favourite era for crime fiction?
I’m a child of the ‘80s, but I grew up on ‘60s and ‘70s era crime fiction. The work of Donald Goines, early Elmore Leonard, books likes The Friends of Eddie Coyle or movies like Cotton Comes to Harlem shaped my sensibilities. There is an undeniable grittiness and sense of place that is unique to the time period that I just love.
It seems like you’ve had an incredible couple of years – with a lot more excitement in the pipeline. What has been your personal highlight to date?
I think winning the Anthony Award. It’s voted on by both writers and fans and it felt like such a moment of validation. I’m a poor kid from the low country of Virginia. A college dropout who grew up in a trailer and there I was holding aloft an award that had previously been won by my writing heroes. For all time when someone mentions the Anthony Awards they can talk about Dennis Lehane, Barbara Neely and me… ha, ha!
Since the news of the movie option dropped recently, how much thought have you given to actor/director wish-lists?
Oh man, when I was writing the book, I had certain actors and directors in mind. My dream cast is either Winston Duke or John David Washington as Bug, Timothy Olyphant as Ronnie and F. Gary Gray as the director…
You have been blurbed by some excellent authors – which one would you most like to sit down and have a drink with?
Wow, way to put me on the spot (ha, ha!). I mean they are all great and I’m blown away by all their kind words. I can’t narrow it down to just one so I’ll say Walter Mosley and Dennis Lehane so we can drink Old Fashioneds and talk about narrative structure. Or what’s our favourite way to beat up on bad guys.
For your money, which writers (mainstream or independent) are doing the most interesting work in contemporary crime fiction?
There are so many great crime authors putting out really interesting and bold crime fiction these days. For my money the ones that have blown me away are Eryk Pruitt, Kelly J. Ford, Kellye Garrett, John Vercher, Jake Hinson, Angel Luis Colon and Jennifer Hillier. I’m in awe of all of them and the way they are taking the genre into new and intriguing places.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any writer, who would you pick, and why?
I mentioned him already, but I’d love if my career had one-tenth of the longevity of Walter Mosley’s.
Looking ahead, can you share details of any upcoming projects?
I just finished the first draft of my next crime novel tentatively titled RAZORBLADE TEARS. I call it The Defiant Ones meets Rolling Thunder.
Finally, if you could go back – to when you first started getting your work in front of people – and give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be?
Write fearlessly. Stand up for your vision. Don’t spend so much money on cheap liquor.
S.A. Cosby is an award-winning writer from South-eastern Virginia. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including THUGLIT, TOUGH, The Faking of the President, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and many others. His first rural noir crime novel MY DARKEST PRAYER was published in 2019 by INTRIGUE PUBLISHING. He was awarded the Anthony for Best Short Story at the 50th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. His latest novel BLACKTOP WASTELAND comes out July 14th of this year from FLATIRON BOOOKS.
You can follow him @blacklionking73 on Twitter or at S.A. Cosby Author on Facebook
In Changeling, online journalist Scott King – who has become an internet sensation thanks to his ‘Six Stories’ podcasts – enters a world of pain when he looks into the chilling case of seven-year-old Alfie Marsden, who vanished from his father’s car on Christmas Eve 1988.
The little boy went missing in the notorious Wentshire Forest Pass, a location plagued with supernatural stories and strange sightings, which was subsequently acquired by the RAF and fenced off to dissuade prying eyes. No trace of the boy was ever found, and Alfie was officially declared dead in 1995, but the case continues to cast a grim shadow over those familiar with it. 30 years on, can Scott King get any closer to the truth?
Changeling – the third book in Matt Wesolowski’s acclaimed ‘Six Stories’ series – is a sly, multi-faceted mystery, and the author wrongfooted me more than once as he picked away at the scabs of a notorious cold case. The conflicting witness statements that make up the book’s narrative offer grisly, bone-deep examinations of the unfortunate characters and their questionable motivations, and the effect is completely gripping. This technique allows the author to not only get under the protagonists’ skins – but also get under yours.
He also includes a layer of grubby realism lacking in a lot of high-concept mysteries and the book is unnerving on a number of levels. While the murky supernatural elements of the book hit the spot, they pale in comparison to the all-too-human terrors that are uncovered as the story evolves. The Six Stories series boasts an intriguing premise, and Changeling – my first encounter with Wesolowski’s work – is extremely well-executed and makes for disturbingly compulsive reading. Highly recommended.
When a stack of human remains and prehistoric artefacts is discovered in the small town of Brickburgh, a media circus descends upon South Devon. One of the reporters pressed into service is lifestyle journalist Katrine, who has escaped her traumatic past by moving to the sedate environs of the Westcountry. Meanwhile, single parent Helene also finds herself drawn to Brickburgh – haunted by the subterranean recordings her dead brother Lincoln made six years earlier. The deeper the two women dig, the more myth and reality start to blur in this sleepy corner of Devon. Are the rumoured disappearances – dating back decades – connected to the shadowy drug plantations? Or are they related to sightings of the mythical ‘red folk’? Or is the truth too hideous to contemplate?
Earlier this year I was walking the coastal path between Paignton and Brixham – a walk I have done dozens of times – when I got distracted by my phone and ended up straying off the beaten track. Unconcerned, I trudged ahead into a ravaged section of landscape I had no recollection of ever seeing before. I felt suddenly disorientated, but unable to turn back. I carried on for another five minutes – each step stranger than the last until something in my mind snapped like one of the rotten branches underfoot and I hastily retraced my steps, through tangled foliage and across uprooted tree trunks, and re-joined the coastal path. I was so unnerved that I joked to some friends that evening that I briefly felt like I had stumbled into a scene from The Ritual! Not long after, I started reading The Reddening. Suffice to say, as a South Devon resident this book had an extra charge for me!
Most Devon horror stories begin and end on Dartmoor, so from the outset The Reddening feels like a particularly refreshing curve-ball of a story. Nevill has an impressive knack for bringing the coastal paths of Devon to life – and imbuing them with a sinister, otherworldly energy. His hyper-literate writing style is queasy and immersive at the same time and adds to the sense of slow building dread. He also shifts gears effortlessly. Whether veering into subterranean folk-horror or gruelling survival thriller territory, the action is always utterly convincing. In addition, all of the main characters and supporting players have meaty, convincing back stories and never feel like unfinished sketches.
Suffice to say, The Reddening is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last year – a fantastic achievement, and a book squirms with the kind of rotten scenes that live long in the memory. There are insidious horrors lurking amongst the mud, shit and foliage in South Devon. I dare you to take a closer look.