Criminal Records #2 – Paul Heatley on An Eye For An Eye

In the second instalment of a brand new series, UK crime writer Paul Heatley puts together a playlist to accompany his visceral 2016 thriller, An Eye For An Eye (Near To The Knuckle).

PENDULUM by Mark Lanegan

It’s no secret to anyone that knows me that I’m a BIG Mark Lanegan fan. I don’t make any secret of it. Listen to this song and tell me how you couldn’t be? Let’s set the scene for this one: imagine a ‘True Detective’ style opening of dark and grainy images taken from the story to come – a bloodied dart, a hammer, a one-eyed girl, mangled and fallen bodies – and put this song over the top of it. As with the next song in this small collection, the lyrics pertain to the main character – the world-weary Graeme Taylor: ‘Swing Pendulum, Swing low, Got no place to call my own, Oh my Lord don’t you bother me, I’m as tired as a man can be.’

WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE by The Animals

How could a story set in Newcastle not feature the music of the city’s finest band? I’m not particularly a fan of Lindisfarne so you won’t be seeing ’Fog On The Tyne’ or ’I’m Coming Home Newcastle’ on this list! As I stated above, this is the other song that relates most strongly to Graeme. He’s done with his old way of life and he wants to move on. Problem is, much like Michael Corleone, they just keep pulling him back in…

RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE by The Gun Club

Transport the Southern Gothic stylings of The Gun Club’s ‘Run Through The Jungle’ to the concrete jungle of Newcastle and the beaches of Northumberland, and here’s a song that fits REAL well. Its oppressive, driving rhythm compliments a story about a chase that can only have one ending…

THE MERCY SEAT by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

It was a toss-up between this one and ‘Red Right Hand’, but by this point ‘Red Right Hand’ has been used to death. ‘The Mercy Seat’, much like ‘Run Through The Jungle’, captures the same oppression of a chase that can’t be outrun, which is why I’ve gone for the link to the full seven-minute album version, as opposed to the five-minute single.

EYE FOR AN EYE by Soulfly

Here’s a song that I hope captures the frenetic, Chester Himes style high-energy that I wanted to present with this story. Also, it has the same name as the book, so you can stick it over the end credits!

Bio:

Paul Heatley is the author of more than fifty short stories published online and in print at a variety of publications including Thuglit, Mystery Tribune, Crime Factory, Spelk, and Shotgun Honey, among others. He is also the author of The Motel Whore & Other Stories, Guns, Drugs and Dogs, An Eye For An Eye and Fatboy. A prequel and a sequel to An Eye For An Eye will be released this summer from Near To The Knuckle with The Runner dropping in August and Violent By Design coming in September, and he has a new title, Guillotine, coming from All Due Respect in early 2019. 

Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

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The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Frank Westworth

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Frank Westworth to discuss his JJ Stoner series.

Firstly, for readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you pitch the JJ Stoner series to readers?

Did you ever wonder what trained killers do when they leave the military? JJ Stoner is one such; he knows killers and their ways, which makes him pretty good at finding them. What happens after that is down to the politicians…

How did you come up with the character, and how has he evolved since his first appearance?

Originally, the stories weren’t intended to be about JJ at all – they were based around a team of three female killers, three sisters in fact. Stoner was simply intended to be a device to reveal the sisters and their ways to The Reader. The character himself, JJ, is based on guys I met when both my sister and brother were serving in the British Army. With added detail to make him a fuller personality – a passion for playing guitar and riding large Harley-Davidson motorcycles, for example.

What do you hope that readers take away from your books?

I want every reader to be entertained, to have a good read, maybe to smile a little at the way things go and at the characters in there. Entertainment – that’s all I want The Reader to take away.

What are the main positives behind self-publishing – and what are the chief drawbacks?

The positives? An author is free to write what they want, without any of the positioning demanded by conventional publishers. Good friend of mine who’s a seriously successful thriller writer was told by his publishers that he needed to introduce a ‘supernatural’ theme to his books to make them more like Stephen King or John Connolly. His books sell well without that, but no, he has to do what he’s told.

The downside is that it’s almost impossibly difficult to introduce your writing to an audience. And there is no money in it, which is fine if writing’s not intended to be an earner, less so otherwise.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I read all sorts of books, mostly crime and sci-fi. It’s not easy to define ‘mainstream’, but if you mean do I read books in the publishers’ Top Ten, then the answer is no, very rarely. They tend to be too formulaic for my tastes – probably because mainstream authors need to write what their publishers want, hence the current ‘The Girl Who…’ endless repetitions and the like. That said, there are a whole load of truly outstanding authors out there who are conventionally published on a smaller scale and produce stunningly good books. One joy of the internet is that it’s not difficult to find them. This is a good thing indeed.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Peers? That’s a hard one. I could never claim to be anywhere near as good as any of these authors, but I would be seriously delighted to be considered on the same page as Steve Hamilton, Craig Russell, Chris Petit, Michael Marshall Smith, Don Winslow, Derek Raymond, James Crumley and maybe even Fred Vargas! I’d not even try to compare my efforts with their books, but there’s a similar level of … intensity, perhaps.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, aka Jack Grimwood. He has written in so many different styles – SF, literary, historical and currently espionage – that his career has long been very interesting. He’s also a journalist – as I am – and I admire the way he writes and develops as a writer.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Not easy to be define! I’ve started writing the fourth book in the JJ Stoner ‘Killing Sisters’ trilogy (every trilogy needs four books, we all know that!) as well as another couple of short stories set in the same universe and featuring appearances by characters from the full-length novels. I’ve also dug my way into writing a sci-fi novel, but it’s very slow going as it’s an entirely different way of writing. We live to learn, though, don’t we?

Bio:

Frank Westworth shares several characteristics with his literary anti-hero, JJ Stoner: they both play mean blues guitar and ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Unlike Stoner, Frank hasn’t deliberately killed anyone. Instead, Frank edits a monthly classic motorcycle magazine.

Frank’s ‘Killing Sisters’ series starts with ‘A Last Act Of Charity’ and continues in ‘The Corruption Of Chastity’, concluding in ‘The Redemption Of Charm’. However, you can start with any of the books in the series; they’re written to be enjoyed if you come in halfway through…

You can also meet key characters from the Killing Sisters series in the JJ Stoner short stories, which begin with First Contract.

Author Facebook page:

www.facebook.com/killingsisters

Author website:

www.murdermayhemandmore.net

Author Amazon page:

www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-Westworth/e/B001K89ITA/

Author Goodreads page:

www.goodreads.com/author/show/576653.Frank_Westworth

 

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Chris Roy

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Chris Roy to discuss his new short story collection, Her Name Is Mercie (Near To The Knuckle).

Firstly, for anyone unfamiliar with you and your writing, can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how your situation has influenced your fiction?

I’ve been in quite a few interrogation rooms. Never thought I would feel privileged for it. Thanks for having me, Tom.

I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We didn’t have much, my mom, brother and sister and I, but we were happy.

I was in trouble a lot as a kid, for stealing (the first time I was in an interrogation room I was 10). I escaped from a juvenile detention center and went to military training school. I never really straightened up. Started pulling parts at my uncle’s junkyards when I was 12 and kept a full-time job as a mechanic during summers, and part-time every day during high school. Made a bunch of money selling drugs and got my own place when I was 17. Attempted 12th grade a second time and was expelled for possession of LSD. When I was actually home I didn’t watch much TV; I was likely outside working on cars, 4×4s, or motorcycles.

When I was 18 I worked at a transmission shop. I was also working with a Vietnamese dealer named Dong (also 18). We sold cocaine, ecstasy and weed. He supplied, I distributed. A disagreement over money escalated into threats, then, later, a fistfight. He died from injuries. A friend and I covered it up. Literally. And were charged and convicted.

I’m 36 now. I’ve served 18 on a life sentence, housed in maximum security on High Risk since 2005 for two escapes. A couple of my best friends are on Death Row.

Art and fitness are what I’m known for as a convict. I’m serious business when it comes to tattooing (though, oddly, I have none). Rise Tattoo Magazine in France featured my work last year – what an honor that was. I’m very passionate about boxing. Currently training a couple of youngsters that have developed quickly. They won’t shut up about how tough they are and never pass up a chance to flex. I love it.

Your question makes me think back to when I was arrested, in the county jail as a teenager. When I got serious about art, and very serious about fitness and boxing training. If, back then, someone told me I would become a professional writer in prison I would have pointed and laughed at them. My writing skills were non-existent then.

Writing home and to pen-pals – combined with personal criminal experience, crimes I’ve studied and the hundreds of novels and non-fiction books I’ve read – gave me what I needed to start writing crime fiction in 2007. As a necessity I’m a very physical person. That carries over into my writing, too.

In the beginning I sensationalized crime with highly amoral protagonists. I would fabricate crimes that used the poor to steal from the rich, say, or the state and government. I was still very much a criminal then, involved in some of the crimes I created stories from. I was driven to create crimes that I could carry out from my cell. The victims never knew who I was or where I was. The plan was to make enough to buy my freedom. I learned so much – that I could potentially make a lot of money, that I was a danger to a lot of people, and then, no matter how I tried to rationalize it away, I learned I had a conscience. There are guys in the system making a killing running scams and want me on their team. I know I could make a pile of cash and maybe get out with it. But I won’t go back to that life.

In a world of criminals where the most criminal enjoys the highest status, I was known. The person I once was is a different animal than the person writing this now.

Writing adds a significant healthy purpose to my life. So far it’s not rewarding in profits, though it’s rewarding in a way I would never experience as a crook.

Turning our attention towards your new book: congratulations on the publication of Her Name Is Mercie. How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

Thanks, man.

Coming up with the themes for each took some thinking. My short stories in the past were centered around crimes. The job, the heist or scam was the thing. Her Name Is Mercie is about the characters, the tribulations they experience from crimes committed against them. Each story is vastly different, though each has an element of wrongdoing, characters doing awful things to other characters. Mercie is the main feature, the longest story, so it gets pole position. Marsh Madness is the shortest, a cliffhanger, so it’s last.

Do you have a favourite story in the collection? If so, why is it your favourite?

Marsh Madness is the first in a new style. It marks a change for me. I had been writing for a decade, worked on my thrillers for several years, and they weren’t well-received. The handful of reviews were sincere though were mostly courtesies. A writer I respect greatly critiqued Shocking Circumstances and gave advice on how to improve that would make some writers quit. I took it as a challenge, and changed my style and my entire approach to crime fiction. Marsh Madness was an exercise after a lot of studying. A test, written during a dark time. It impressed the right people and took me in a creative direction I didn’t see coming.

What is the oldest story in the book? How do you think your style has evolved since then?

I’ve mentioned Marsh Madness was the first in this collection. The style progressed into a variable one. Tension and emotional descriptions aren’t applied with just action or danger of some kind. There’s more story involved now. More linking of emotions to the setting. The narrative doesn’t tell readers a character is feeling a certain way – it shows the characters expressing it so that readers get the feeling themselves.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

Most of the crime fiction I’ve read has been mainstream. Novels in prison are, by far, written by New York Times bestselling authors.

Your collection has been published by Near To The Knuckle – do you have any favourite NTTK authors or titles you would like to recommend?

Paul Brazill is great, right? Brit grit specialist. Richard Godwin has an otherworldly style that will keep you on your toes. I’ve read some of your work, too. Damn brilliant stuff.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why? 

Possibly Greg Iles. Each of his books are so well put together, a shit ton of brain power thrown at each page. His style is top shelf. So are his sales – I would like to be able to afford an attorney some day and get back in court!

Bio:

Chris Roy was raised in South Mississippi, in the midst of ugly Gulf Coast beaches and spectacular muddy bayous.

Chris lived comfortably with the criminal ventures of his youth until a fistfight in 1999 ended tragically. Since January, 2000, he’s been serving a life sentence in the Mississippi Department of Corrections.  

Nowadays he lives his life of crime vicariously, through the edgy, fast-paced stories he pens, hoping to entertain readers. When he isn’t writing, he’s reading, drawing or looking for prospects to train in boxing.

Books:

Her Name Is Mercie

Shocking Circumstances Book I: Last Shine

Shocking Circumstances Book 2: Resurrection

Sharp as a Razor Book I: A Dying Wish

Website:

http://www.unjustelement.com

Twitter:

@AuthorChrisRoy

Amazon Author Page:

https://www.amazon.com/Chris-Roy/e/B00MF6LCHM

 

 

Book Review: Suburban Dick by C.S. DeWildt

SUBURBAN DICK

Author: C.S. DeWildt

Publisher: Shotgun Honey (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: May 2018

Disgraced cop-turned-small town private investigator Gus Harris is a man with meagre expectations. All he wants is enough business to keep his one-man operation afloat and the opportunity to remain a part of his estranged children’s lives. When a pair of distraught parents enlist him to track down their missing son – a promising member of the wrestling team at Horton High School – the assignment taps into Gus’s tenacious side, and puts him on a collision course with the team’s creepy born-again Christian coach, Geoff Hanson, and his ready-made squad of swollen man-child henchmen.

The wonderfully titled Suburban Dick represents something of a curveball after DeWildt’s excellent Kill ‘Em With Kindness (All Due Respect, May 2016) – which was described as ‘a brutally enjoyable slab of small town carnageon this site shortly after its release. If the plot seems tame at first glance, the story is anything but, and there is a truly glorious moment late in the book in which the situation lurches grotesquely out of control!

Despite his numerous faults, the short-tempered Gus is a tremendously likeable protagonist, and you find yourself rooting for him from the start. He may be sloppy – since being kicked out by his wife he sleeps on a fold-out sofa bed in his office – but his love for his family and his moral code shine through. DeWildt does a great job of reconfiguring a potentially clichéd character into fully-realised human being, and Gus actually evolves as the story unfolds.

Suburban Dick is a treat, and I look forward to future instalments, as Gus feels like a character with plenty more mileage in the tank. DeWildt is at his strongest when he is confounding expectations and exploring the seedy underbelly of small town America, and this book does both very well. Great stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

Buy from Down & Out Books

Criminal Records #1 – Tom Leins on Meat Bubbles

In the first instalment of a brand new series, Dirty Books curator Tom Leins talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his new book, Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle).

MEAT BUBBLES

Drum & bass is about as an unlikely influence on crime fiction as you can get, but it most definitely influenced the title story of my new collection. I first encountered ‘Meat Bubbles’ by Dirty Harry on a second-hand D&B compilation, and knew I had to repurpose that wonderfully grisly title for my own malevolent purposes. After all, how queasy must a black-market surgical procedure be for it to cause meat bubbles?! For what it’s worth, drum & bass is actually pretty good writing music: brutal breakbeats, stomach-churning bass, and a sprinkling of paranoia. Go ahead, punk – give it a try…

PINKY RING

In early-2017 I had a story – Incarcerated Scarfaces – published in This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With: A Wu-Tang Tribute Anthology. It was crammed with so many Wu-Tang Clan references it probably warranted footnotes! Pinky Ring takes its name from the 2001 single ‘Uzi (Pinky Ring)’, which was included on the Iron Flag album. The Wu-Tang references here are far more subtle – just the title and a reference to garbage bags full of hash. (Note: the killer sample is from ‘Parade Strut’ by JJ Johnson, which was featured on the soundtrack of Blaxploitation movie Willie Dynamite!)

Hip-hop is a huge influence on my crime fiction. I love densely packed imagery-rich lyrics, and like to build up stories one line at a time, shuffling the text around until the whole package starts to flow. I don’t plan my stories in notebooks – I scrawl them on scraps of paper like Eminem in 8 Mile!  Walking around Paignton on my lunch break, listening to the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Notorious BIG, while soaking up the sights is a potent combo. Seeing drug dogs sent into sheltered accommodation, or men stumbling down Foxhole Road with bloody lump hammers in the middle of the day are striking images. Witness these things with Ghostface Killah rapping in your ear, and you know you are going to have a good writing session that evening!

THE GUNS OF BRIXHAM

I’m sure most writers have a dreaded first book attempt stashed away on their hard-drive – so lamentable that they can’t even bear to open the document any more to check how bad it was. Mine was called Thirsty & Miserable, and while most of the content was too cringe-worthy to even consider reworking, elements of the closing story The Guns of Brixham made it into a new story of the same name, which first appeared as part of the Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder series a couple of years ago.

Most notably, I resurrected the location of the climactic showdown and the character of Errol – no longer a bouncer – now an ex-soldier providing muscle-for-hire for a Turkish heroin dealer. Like the Wu-Tang Clan, The Clash are another band whose imagery blew me away the first time I heard them (‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’, in that case), and like a lot of their records ‘The Guns of Brixton’ still sounds tremendous. I’m a sucker for picking my titles first and then concocting a story to fit, and this one is a definite example!

DRY SALVAGE

I first encountered cult Scottish indie band AC Acoustics when Placebo singer Brian Molko wore a t-shirt promoting their great 1999 single ‘Stunt Girl’. (Apparently this was on Top of the Pops, but I have no idea!) The early AC Acoustics albums didn’t quite work for me, and my favourite record of theirs was 2000’s low-key Understanding Music, which includes this song, ‘Dry Salvage’.

It was only after finishing my story of the same name that I grew curious about the origins of the phrase, and I discovered that the band had been referencing T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Dry Salvages’. My knowledge of 1940s poetry unfortunately pales next to my knowledge of turn-of-the-Millennium Scottish indie bands, but it is a great phrase which worked perfectly for a story about a decrepit storage facility that harbours all manner of dark secrets. Dry Salvage is one of the last pieces in Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, and I hope the bruised and beaten mood of the story matches the subdued qualities of the song.

SNUFF RACKET: OBLIVION

‘Snuff Racket’, the novelette that closes Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, started life as ‘Didn’t Bleed Red’, a serialised neo-Giallo story which appeared in The Blood Red Experiment. The initial title was taken from an album track by cult ‘90s Brit-rockers Terrorvision, and inspired by the murderous antagonist’s early observation that a pool of blood ‘glints like dog piss on petrol’!

The original title was downgraded to a chapter heading when I reworked the story for publication, but the Terrorvision theme remained intact, with a number of other song and album titles appearing as chapter titles, including ‘Hide The Dead Girl’, ‘Perseverance’ and ‘How To Make Friends & Influence People’, all of which seemed weirdly appropriate! Fittingly, ‘Oblivion’ crops up in the epilogue…

Bio:

Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction. A pair of novelettes, Skull Meat and Snuff Racket, are available via Amazon and the short story collections Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect), will be published in 2018. For more information, please visit: Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.

Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

 

 

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With C.S. DeWildt

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with C. S. DeWildt to discuss his new book, Suburban Dick (Shotgun Honey).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book. First things first, the question on everyone’s lips: how long is Chris DeWildt’s Suburban Dick?

Long enough to get the job done – 200 pages.

On a more practical note, how would you pitch Suburban Dick to potential readers?

Work and home life collide as smartass private detective Gus Harris investigates the case of the missing high school wrestler.

Which characters influenced Gus Harris in Suburban Dick?

He’s a combination of Jake Gittes, Jim Rockford, and me.

As a reader, what draws you to private eye fiction?

The thrill of the chase! I just love the experience, watching them put the clues together. And I think PI protagonists are interesting cats. They straddle the moral line and I’m drawn to that.

As a writer, how tough is it to give the private eye story fresh impetus?

I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that. I just try to do something I have seen or heard before. If I can entertain myself I’m sure I can entertain a few readers.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene? Do you think crime fiction is too safe?

The mainstream stuff doesn’t do it for me. One of the things I like most about the indie scene is the huge body of undiscovered work. I feel mainstream crime fiction is definitely too safe. The last mainstream piece of crime fiction I read was Gone Girl, and the twist was interesting but beyond that it didn’t do much for me. I like darker stories, stories about terrible people doing terrible things. Indie is where it’s at.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I dunno. I suffer from classic imposter syndrome, so I’m hesitant to throw myself into the same category as anyone else. That said, I’m pretty tight with a lot of the All Due Respect writers and a few in the Down & Out Books crowd.

Which books from the Down & Out/Shotgun Honey/All Due Respect extended family would you recommend to the uninitiated?

Hustle or Knuckleball by Tom Pitts. Crosswise by S.W. Lauden. Great guys, great writers. Texas Two-Step by Michael Pool is next on my list.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Probably Faulkner, Nabakov, or Jim Thompson. They all leveraged their talents to secure Hollywood gigs. I’d love to be making films but telling stories on paper is cheaper.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Working on a couple sequels, one to Suburban Dick and another to my Neil Chambers book, Love You to a Pulp.

Bio:

CS DeWildt lives in Arizona with his wife and sons. He is the author of several works of longer fiction and a collection of shorts. Please visit him here:

https://csdewildt.com

https://www.facebook.com/csdewildtauthor/

https://twitter.com/csdewildt

Book Review: The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

THE FIGHTER

Author: Michael Farris Smith

Publisher: No Exit Press

Release Date: March 2018

Punch-drunk middle-aged bareknuckle fighter Jack Boucher is damaged beyond repair. Too many punches to the skull have scrambled his brain, and now he has to carry around a notebook highlighting which of his scuzzy acquaintances are his friends, and which are his enemies. Abandoned as a child, Boucher was raised by a foster mother, who now resides in a hospice, suffering from dementia. Desperate to protect the family home from repossession, pill-popping Boucher seems destined for one last stint in the cage…

At just over 200 pages, The Fighter is a slight book that packs a ferocious punch. Beautifully written, and utterly absorbing, Farris Smith has crafted an emphatic story about a man pushed to the limits – desperate to claw back a slither of self-respect as he backslides into the abyss.

The creaking Boucher is an impressively ravaged physical specimen – held together by his scar tissue and his conscience – and the supporting players are equally well-judged. Carny runaway Annette and savage local crime boss Big Momma Sweet are among the vividly-drawn characters that populate the book, and both could comfortably carry their own novellas. The Fighter is an excellent book that comes highly recommended.

Review by Tom Leins

Buy from No Exit Press

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Anthony Neil Smith

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Anthony Neil Smith to discuss his new book, The Cyclist (Bastei Entertainment).

Congratulations on the release of your new book, The Cyclist. How would you pitch the story to would-be readers?

A failed Marine falls for a girl hallway around the world and flies to see her on a “blind date”. Little does he know, she’s hiding a secret that might just be the end of him.

Scotland is a country with a rich crime fiction history. Why did you pick it as the location for your fish-out-of-water thriller?

Well, I love Scotland. I’ve been there twice, but I’ve had friends there for years, such as Allan Guthrie (my editor) and Ray Banks. I’ve read loads of novels from the country – everyone from A.L. Kennedy to Irvine Welsh to James Kelman. So it was a natural choice to want to write about it. The Highlands are beautiful, but they can also be terrifying in a sublime way. And Glasgow has a lot of personality and attitude. I feel at home there, even though I’m still learning a lot with every trip I take and every book I read.

Given the right break, The Cyclist feels like it could resonate with a mainstream audience – was that intentional?

Absolutely. I’ve written thirteen previous novels, all of which have attracted a “cult” audience, I’d say, and some of the early ones were really rough “gonzo noir.” And I love those books!  However, I’ve always dreamed of a larger audience enjoying my books, the same way I enjoy a lot of mainstream thrillers and crime novels. So that’s a goal of mine: to learn how to write a book that can reach out and grab a very large swath of thriller readers. THE CYCLIST is another step on that journey. I mean, some writers may scoff at James Patterson or John Grisham, but they must know *something* I haven’t figured out yet in order to have so many people love to read them.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I read all of it. I love the dangerous edge of the indies, and I love the big name bestsellers. And I definitely prefer when the writing and the plot are both working at a very high level, what some people might call “transcending the genre,” although a lot of writers I know abhor that phrase. I don’t mind it. I think it just means to transcend genre expectations, thus reinvigorating the genre we love so much.

The Cyclist drags the reader into so pretty dark places – do you think crime fiction is too safe?

Sometimes, but I also have to face the fact that everyone should be able to enjoy crime fiction at a level that’s right for them, and not all crime fiction is right for every reader. I am exasperated by those people who will shit all over a novel simply because it had “naughty language” in it, but they have no trouble with bloody murder. Or, you know, turned off by sex in a book. I *love* sex scenes in books, if they don’t go for awful poetry over getting the job done.

I don’t think it’s too safe, though, when we consider that so many crime novels are also social justice novels, touching on subjects that more literary writers have been afraid to touch. Think about THE WIRE, for instance, or Don Winslow’s THE CARTEL. Those are politically provocative works.

Did you worry that you had gone too far with any of the violence in the book?

Nope. I think artists should be allowed to go wherever the story takes them, and I think violence in art is never as awful as real life can dish out. But let’s be real: I don’t think I’m glamorizing violence, and any good writer should tell you the same thing. When we write violent scenes, they have to scare ourselves in order for us to know that they work. You can sort of tell which scenes cause us to cringe as we write them. It should feel as dangerous as real life. But then again, like with horror movie gore, we *want* that visceral terror while also feeling safe.

Stepping away from your new book, your back catalogue was recently re-released by Down & Out Books – how did that arrangement come about?

Eric Campbell, who runs D&O, was kind enough to publish some of my ebook originals from Blasted Heath as paperbacks. So once Blasted Heath closed up shop, D&O seemed a natural fit for my backlist. They’ve been great to work with, have given me generous terms, and they are passionate about crime fiction. I’m also glad that I still get to work with my Blasted Heath cover designer J.T. Lindroos, who has performed artistic miracles.

If you could recommend one of your books to a first-time reader, which one would you choose?

Definitely ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS. That is the book that I think should’ve been a bestseller, should’ve been a movie, and should’ve made me rich. I think it came together beautifully. I saw a story about young Somali men in Minnesota who would go “missing” here, only to end up in Mogadishu fighting for the terrorists in a Civil War. It was fascinating and sad, so the story and characters came to me soon after hearing about it.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Well, that’s a tough one. There are so many that I’m bound to leave some out, and I’m certainly much less read than many of them! But I’ll throw a few names out there, like my close friends Victor Gischler and Sean Doolittle, and Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Jason Starr, Stephen Graham Jones, Adrian McKinty. IT’S NOT A FAIR QUESTION! I’ve met so many great writers, befriended so many, and with our old magazine PLOTS WITH GUNS, I’d even say we helped birth a few careers. So it’s an impossible question.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Wow oh wow. I daydream about this all the time, and I hope I can achieve it one day. It’s not so much the money as it is the reaching out to readers… but it’s the money, too. I would love to see myself achieving what James Ellroy has, or Walter Mosley, or Laura Lippman, or T. Jefferson Parker, or Tana French, or Adrian McKinty. I mean, I would love to write full-time (even though I love my job as a university professor) for a big audience that gets where I’m coming from.

But then again, there’s something kind of cool about being a cult author.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I want to work with publishers who a) I like, and b) who want to help me reach more readers. I’d love to work with someone with creative ideas, not just folks looking at the bottom line all the time. After THE CYCLIST, I’m currently working on a book I’ve been thinking of writing for a long time, based on an actual crime committed by someone I once knew. It’s very early, but it’s coming together nicely. I have no idea what people will think of it, but it’s just one I *have* to write to get it out of my system.

After that: another adrenaline-drenched crime thriller, I hope. I’ll write those until I drop.

Bio:

Anthony Neil Smith is the author of fourteen novels, including YELLOW MEDICINE, ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS, CASTLE DANGER, and THE CYCLIST. He is a professor and the Chair of English, Philosophy, Spanish & Humanities at Southwest Minnesota State University. He likes cheap red wine and tacos. His dog is named Herman, and he is a good boy.

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Book Review: The Cyclist by Anthony Neil Smith

THE CYCLIST

Author: Anthony Neil Smith

Publisher: Bastei Entertainment

Release Date: May 2018

Since dropping out of Navy SEAL training, Judd has found himself in a rut. Living alone, and tormented – quite literally – by Burt, his drunken former SEAL trainer, he takes solace in a burgeoning online friendship with a Scottish girl named Catriona, built on their shared obsession with cycling. As their mutual attraction grows, Judd makes the bold decision to fly to Scotland and meet Cat in person, with a view to taking an epic bike trip through the Scottish Highlands, and getting to know each other more intimately. Nothing is quite what it seems, however, and Judd’s dream trip quickly degenerates into a bloody nightmare, as a mysterious lunatic sets his sights on the couple…

With its transatlantic, fish-out-of-water plot, and its nerve-jangling Catfish-meets-Rambo storyline, The Cyclist represents a well-judged lunge towards the mainstream for cult crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith. The principal characters are unusual and well-rendered, and the narrative is satisfyingly twisty throughout. That said, Smith pulls no punches with the grisly violence, which made me wince more than once.

Sometimes The Cyclist feels less like a cat ‘n’ mouse thriller, and more like a visit to a menagerie of maniacs – and that is definitely a good thing! Entertaining stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Reviews: A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps + Slaughterhouse Blues by Nick Kolakowski

A BRUTAL BUNCH OF HEARTBROKEN SAPS + SLAUGHTERHOUSE BLUES

Author: Nick Kolakowski

Publisher: Shotgun Honey (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: May 2017 + February 2018

At the outset of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, self-absorbed hustler Bill is on the run from the Rockaway Mob, millions in embezzled cash safely tucked in the trunk of his not-at-all-conspicuous lime-green convertible. Bill is confident he can out-run the handful of undesirables on his trail, but his grand exit strategy hits a major roadblock in the form of a posse of small-town criminals whose initial southern hospitality proves unfortunately short-lived. Happily – for the reader at least – the situation spirals bloodily out of control, and carnage ensues. Follow-up Slaughterhouse Blues picks up the narrative thread, with Bill and (pursuer-turned-lover) Fiona now hunted by sociopathic, well-groomed contract-killers Barbara and Ken! Cue more love, more bullets and more imaginative bloodshed!

With these two novellas Nick Kolakowski cements his position as a contemporary crime writer worthy of further scrutiny. Twisted, amusing and enjoyably violent, these books are a fine advertisement for the Shotgun Honey brand. Rather than risk repeating himself, in Slaughterhouse Blues Kolakowski whisks his protagonists Bill and Fiona off to Cuba and Nicaragua, respectively – furthering the storyline and dragging the characters even further out of their comfort zone. The evocative Latin American locations are convincingly rendered, and give the cat ‘n’ mouse story an extra narrative charge. All in all, a pair of quick, slick crime stories that complement the author’s entertaining body of short fiction.

Buy A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

Buy Slaughterhouse Blues

Review by Tom Leins