The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Andrew Nette

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Andrew Nette to discuss his excellent novel, Gunshine State (Down & Out Books).

Firstly, congratulations on the re-release of Gunshine State. How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

Thank you very much.

Gunshine State is a very Australian take on the classic ‘heist gone wrong’ story, set in Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Thailand, and Melbourne. Think Garry Disher’s Wyatt series, Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone and Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker books and you’ll have an idea what you are in for.

As for the storyline, here’s the pitch: Gary Chance is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief. His latest job takes place in Surfers Paradise, working as part gang run by an aging stand over man, Dennis Curry, who runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick ‘Freddie’ Gao. The job seems straightforward but Curry’s crew is anything but. Chance knows he can’t trust anyone, but nothing prepares him for what unfolds when Curry’s plan goes wrong

Compared to a lot of ambiguous crime fiction protagonists, Gary Chance is an open-book. Was it a deliberate decision to make him so open about his background?

While I didn’t particularly set out to write Chance as an open book, I did deliberately want him to have a discernable character with at least elements of a backstory. As much as I dig those crime stories where the criminal protagonist is a complete mystery person, solely focused on whatever criminal endeavour, I wanted Chance to be fleshed out a bit. I wanted him to have weaknesses and kinks and I was also keen to leaven out the dark material in the book – and the story gets pretty dark – with some humour, even if it is bleak humour. And you need some depth of character and backstory to do this. All this said, there is a lot about Chance I didn’t put in book one, so stay tuned.

I enjoyed the episodic nature of the story. Did you write the book in a linear fashion, or was it pieced together afterwards?

No, I write in a pretty linear way, starting off at the beginning and progressing in order until the end. The episodic nature of the novel also my attempt to signpost that the story takes places in very particularly phases, each with its own particular atmosphere.

I also appreciated the abundance of background details when setting the scene – how important is location in storytelling?

For me, hugely. Location is the part of fiction writing that comes easiest to me, as opposed to character, which is something I really need to work at. It is also the aspect of writing I enjoy the most. For me, the process of putting together the flow of a novel is a lot like watching a film, if that makes sense. I think about the story very visually and if I come up with a particular setting I really like, I’ll deliberately write the plot to include it.

A chunk of Gunshine State takes place in Thailand, and your previous book Ghost Money was set in Cambodia – what makes South-east Asia such a compelling backdrop for crime fiction?

Partly it’s the fact I spent a large part of the 1990s workings as a journalist in Indochina and I have travelled around the region extensively since then. It has given me a lot of material to play with. South-east Asia is also such a vibrant region and so much is going on – both incredibly good and heartbreakingly sad – you just can’t make up scenes and characters as good as the material you stumble across every day on the street in parts of Asia. My fascination with Asia as a setting for crime fiction is also a product of the fact that, in Australia, we are part of the region, increasingly so, but there are only a handful of crime novels set in it, and local publishers don’t seem to be at all interested in it. I have never been able to figure why this is so, but I try and fight against it.

Who do you consider your peers? Is there an Australian crime scene to speak of?

Does a bear shit in the woods? There is a huge Australian crime scene, which is far too broad to go into detail about here. The one sub-genre of crime fiction that Australia has historically not had a lot of is noir and hardboiled, which are my two favourites, although that has started to change over the last few years. In terms of Australian authors on the darker end of the scale that your readers might want to check out, I’d suggest David Whish Wilson, Emma Viskic, Leigh Redhead, Iain Ryan and Jock Serong. You can’t go wrong with any of their books.

Gunshine State has been published by Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite D&O authors or titles?

There are a lot of Down & Out authors I have not read, so I am not sure how informed my opinion is. I am a big fan of Eric Beetner’s work, as well as being in awe of his productivity. I have enjoyed the writing of Tom Pitts and Gary Phillips. I recently read Cleaning Up Finn by Sarah Chen, and really enjoyed that.

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

Hmmm, probably James Ellroy, even though I thought his latest book, Perfidia, was terrible. So many crime writers owe a debt to Ellroy and I am one of them. He blew a giant sized hole in what people thought crime fiction could be. How cool is that?

You are a big film fan: who would you cast as Chance, given the opportunity?

Easy, a young Bryan Brown. He IS Gary Chance.

Finally, I believe a sequel to Gunshine State is on the cards – how much can you tell us about that?

Yes, there is definitely a sequel on the cards. I am working on it at the moment. It is called Orphan Road and the plot revolves around one of Australia’s largest and most famous heists, the Great Bookie Robbery in 1976. I don’t want to say too much more about it, except to let your readers know that Gunshine State includes the first 5,000 or so words of the follow up as a teaser.


Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, reviewer and pulp scholar. He is the author of two novels, Ghost Money, a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, and Gunshine State. His short crime fiction has appeared in a number of print and on-line publications. His non-fiction includes, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980, which he co-edited, an upcoming book on Norman Jewison’s 1975 dystopian classic, Rollerball for the independent film and media studies publisher, Auteur. His reviews and non-fiction have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Sight and Sound, Guardian Australia and Noir City, the magazine of the US Film Noir Foundation.



The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Liam Sweeny

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Liam Sweeny to discuss his new short story collection, Street Whispers (All Due Respect).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Street Whispers. How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

Thank you. It was difficult to pick and arrange the stories. They were written at different times, some for publication, some for fun, a couple were lost treasures, so telling a story with the stories—it didn’t immediately lend itself to that. “The Gull Princess,” the first story, was a story that I felt had a ton of heart for its size. And I wanted to think about how people read short story collections. For a reader that’s unfamiliar with your work, you have maybe two stories to hook them in, and that first story’s got to hit. I think they all hit, especially with the crime-noir crowd, but that first story, I needed it to be something that could capture people who read broadly, like people that I encounter in my day-to-day travels. I’m hoping I achieved that.

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

I’m torn between “The Gull Princess” and “Rats,” but through sheer weight, I would go with “Rats.” I got into writing to put a focus on people that have become invisible to society: the homeless, the hopeless, the disregarded, the background criminals—basically the weathered people who’ve all but given up on finding a legit place in the world. “Rats” is about the life and death of a homeless man named David, and his friend, who remembers him as he makes his way through the city to make David matter. When I was about ten years old, my mother was active with the homeless rights movement in our area. I was involved in sleep outs and rallies, even getting to the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. This was a time when people were fighting to end homelessness with housing solutions. Soon after that, the focus shifted to a homeless “industry” of sheltering, treatment and managing the homeless on the street, i.e. city ordinances, police actions. I’ve also worked in an SRO for a time, so I’ve seen that battle from both ends. I’ve never myself been homeless, but that’s a matter of ‘any given Sunday’, I guess.

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

I think “The Ninth Step” is the oldest one, yeah, “Ninth Step.” It’s a story about an alcoholic coming to terms with his past, but with a twist. And that where I think I’m a different writer now than I was then. I used to pride myself on coming up with interesting twists. Whether it would be a full-on plot twist or just a turn of phrase at the end, I loved getting people to think one thing, and flip them around a hundred-and-eighty-degrees to show them what was happening while they were watching the left hand. I still like this, I think it’s fun, and if anything, I try to build upon the foundation I’ve built when I write one of those stories now. But I’ve been going down the path of slowing down the frenetic pace of action and focusing on the essence of a dramatic moment or moments, the intense focus on a person, giving my readers a mind’s-ride through very tough situations. I think this is where the first story, “The Gull Princess” is at.

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

That’s hard to say. I like authors like Don Winslow and James Ellroy, and they’re raw. And I’m sure there are many mainstream writers I know nothing about that are the same way. My tastes are rooted in the indie scene, primarily because I really want to support the scene that I’m in. I want to help the author that let their car insurance lapse so they could afford an editor before I want to help the author that has a full marketing team stocking the supermarkets and pharmacies with their books. The public “at-large” will buy their books and sing their praises; they don’t need my help as much. Crime fiction, to me, is gritty and organic and unapologetic. It takes risks, creates characters that are an affront to all we hold holy. I see that more in the indie scene, the willingness, in some cases the ability, to take risks.

Your collection has been published by All Due Respect/Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite ADR/D&O authors or titles you would like to recommend?

God, I could probably go through both catalogs and just pick people wholesale. Most everybody that I like has at least something in ADR/D&O. I’ve actually thought of going to my local indie bookstores with a printed-out catalog and a televangelist’s grin, making sales. But here goes a few. I’ll just give names, because I dig all of their work that I’ve read.

Les Edgerton, Jack Getze, Tom Pitts, Ryan Sayles, Eric Beetner, Jon Bassoff, Angel Luis Colon, Jen Conley, Danny Gardner, Beau Johnson, Dana King, Ed Kurtz, S.W. Lauden, Terrence McCauley, Marietta Miles, Kate Pilarcik, Anthony Neil Smith… I think that’s a big enough reading list for people to start with. Also, Joe Clifford, a writer I follow, will be joining the family soon.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Stephen King, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling… Seriously though, my favourite authors from Down & Out and All Due Respect could be really copied down here. And a few others, so let me give a shout-out to EA Cook, who I can say is a true peer (we grew up writing together,) Todd Monahan and Paul David Brazill.

I think that we have a natural solidarity in that we’re all putting ourselves out there because we have something to say, and for whatever reason, we’ve sought our platform in the indie circuit. Broadly, I could consider everyone who writes my peer, because at the end of the day, we aren’t in competition with each other as much as we’re competing for the attention of that kid going to town on Candy crush Saga on his phone for five hours instead of picking up a book. I’ve always felt kinship in the writing community, among people who were well-known or unknown, and I’m sure I’m more in the latter category.

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

I’d have to say Herman Mellville. He lived across the river from me. He wrote what would much later become the world-famous Moby Dick, but didn’t really see that kind of fame, because he died, well, “not world-famously” about thirty years before his work had its revival. I’m partially joking, but I’m not looking for the kind of fame in my lifetime that some other authors have. Success, in that it pays the bills and made everybody happy, would work for me. But, seven hundred years from now, someone digging up a disc with all my writing on it, and not finding much else from the 21st Century, would be a treat.

Do you crave mainstream success, or is developing cult status satisfying enough?

Oh, cult status all the way. I want a seedy strip club in L.A. named after the seedy strip club in a couple of my stories, and anybody who comes in and quotes my characters gets all the Bacardi 151 they can drink. It’s kind of funny that you ask this. One of the stories is about a cult leader. Also, we have an honest-to-God cult in the area. I won’t name it, but we’re talking forced sleep deprivation and genital branding. I don’t want that in my cult.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I have the second in my Jack LeClere detective series, Presiding over the Damned, coming out in August of this year. I have the third novel on deck, and currently, I’m just writing as many shorts as I can, trying to find homes for them, and hopefully have another collection in time.


Liam Sweeny is an author and graphic designer from the Capital Region of New York State. His work has appeared both online and in print, in such periodicals as Spinetingler Magazine, Thuglit, All Due Respect, Pulp Modern and So It Goes: the Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He is the author of the collection Dead Man’s Switch and the detective thriller Welcome Back, Jack. The next Jack LeClere series title, Presiding over the Damned, will be out in August from Down & Out Books.

His new collection, Street Whispers, will be out on February 23rd, and is available for preorder now.



The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Nick Kolakowski

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Nick Kolakowski to discuss his new book, Slaughterhouse Blues (Shotgun Honey).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of your new book, Slaughterhouse Blues! Your previous book, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps boasted its fair share of slaughter – how have you topped that?!

I actually wrestled with the grand finale of “Slaughterhouse Blues” quite a bit. “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” ends with a Peckinpah-scale gun-battle between our protagonists, an assassin dressed as Elvis, and an army of crooked cops. Buildings blow up, thousands of rounds are expended at various targets, and a severed finger becomes a lethal weapon. How would I top that? With a nuke?

So with “Slaughterhouse Blues,” I didn’t focus on racking up a huge body count—I couldn’t see the payoff of that, story-wise. Instead, I made the narrative tighter, more intimate, more personal—“Slaughterhouse Blues” has nowhere near the violence of “A Brutal Bunch,” but when our heroes get hit, you really feel their pain.

After the small town carnage of the first book, the sequel unfolds in some comparatively exotic locations – how important is location in your fiction?

I’ve always seen the location as another character, and I don’t like setting fiction in a place I haven’t been in real life.

Part of the book takes place in Nicaragua. Having spent time there, I have always thought that Central America would make a great backdrop for crime fiction – why did you choose that country?

Many years ago, through a confluence of random circumstances, I ended up as the managing editor of a cigar magazine—even though I don’t smoke. (Very long story short, a publishing company I worked for decided to launch a cigar magazine, and needed an in-house editor to run it, and I was the only one at the time not managing his own “book.”) As part of my work for that magazine, I ended up travelling through Central America and the Caribbean a good deal.

So I wrote about Nicaragua and Cuba in a non-fiction context, but always wanted to give it the fictional treatment, besides. You know how vibrant Nicaragua is, and how thick with history; as I sat down and outlined where I wanted Bill and Fiona (my main series characters) to go next, I thought: “How could I not send them there?”

Plus, I found using Nicaragua and Cuba heightened the writing process, because I could weave in my personal experiences. At the beginning of the book, for example, when the characters are drinking in a bar and a car backfires outside, and everyone dives to the floor because they think it’s incoming gunfire—that really happened. Or watching Havana cops chase pickpockets—things like that are all usable, if you’re a novelist.

Have you learned any key writing lessons through your work as an editor for the flash fiction site Shotgun Honey? Have you been able to apply these to your longer work?

Flash fiction really teaches you economy—any extraneous details, any “fat,” have to go, because you simply don’t have the word-count available for those sorts of digressions. With longer work like novellas and novels, you obviously have as much space as you need, but you still need to keep the reader’s attention. Helping edit Shotgun Honey has given me a much more prejudiced eye for what actually needs to stay in the text, even in novel-writing: I constantly stop and ask myself if something really needs to stay in.

If it’s funny or gruesome, I have a real struggle with cutting it out. I keep a separate document where I collect interesting bits and fragments that I’ve chopped from other works—sometimes they’ll find a good home later in another short story or novel.

Your collection has been published by Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite SH/D&O authors or titles you would like to recommend?

I just finished Angel Luis Colon’s “Meat City on Fire,” which is a fantastic collection of short stories. I’m dearly in love with Hector Acosta’s “Hardway,” which is a gritty-but-charming novel that manages to combine wrestling with crime. Rusty Barnes’ “Knuckledragger” is a real punch in the gut, especially the ending.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

There is a whole crew of New York City crime writers who I really admire and respect. There are regular Noir at the Bar events here, where we stand up and read from our current work-in-progress; it’s great fun to listen to what everyone is working on.

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

I’d take the Chuck Palahniuk pathway in a hot second. You publish a very weird, interesting book on your terms (“Fight Club”), and its success miraculously buys you the cultural cachet (and the financial power) to pretty much write anything you want and have it become a point of widespread discussion.

Your writing has an enviable mainstream quality: do you crave mainstream success, or is developing cult status satisfying enough?

I’d be a liar to dismiss popular success—I like the idea of the freedom that would come with that. But I’d also take cult status in a second. Just as long as I have the readers who like what I’m doing, and want to turn out for the next book and the next after that, I’m happy.

What can you tell us about the 3rd book in the ‘Love & Bullets Hookup’ series? Will there be more love or bullets?!

Lots more love, lots more bullets! It’s titled “Main Bad Guy,” and it wraps up the story of Bill and Fiona, while plunging quite a bit into their history; you’ll meet Fiona’s father, who’s mentioned in “Slaughterhouse Blues,” and is in many ways the ultimate badass.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

So in August, Down & Out Books will publish “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” which is my longest novel yet (although it’s not super-lengthy; I like to keep things tight—that flash fiction influence again!). It’s a take on “The Most Dangerous Game,” set in the American West, that tackles our current right-wing politics. I’m quite excited about it!


Nick Kolakowski is the author of “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” and “Slaughterhouse Blues.” His short fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, and various anthologies.


Under The Influence – Stephen King – by Beau Johnson

I have read many authors.  King.  Barker.  Koontz.  Irving.  Larsson.  These are only a few and I couldn’t possibly name them all.  But who it has always been about, and who it always comes back to for me is Stephen King.  Ever since I bought Misery for my brother all those years ago. A birthday gift if I remember correctly – because I was now a fifteen-year old with a job, I’ll have you know!

He failed to read it, but I was hooked, becoming what King calls a ‘constant reader’.  I mean, who wouldn’t be after you’ve met the likes of Annie Wilkes?  She is perfect in every way.  In every way I like, that is.  And therein is what draws me, and people like me, to King, I think.  Not that I turn from the sunshine totally, but because I’m drawn to the darkness just a little bit more.  It’s not for some, sure, but for me his influence began right there, in my teens.

Mr. King, as I have said before, became my Vader.

Not Anakin.  Vader.

It wasn’t until my twenties that he blew my mind, though.  When I began to understand the enormity of what was unfolding before me and that I’d been invited to the dance without even knowing; when I realized Randall Flag from The Stand was in fact the wizard from Eyes of The Dragon.  As I said:  Mind.  Blown.

My own writing, for what it’s worth, is far from Uncle Stevie’s but he is still very much a part of the words I put to page.   I haven’t a Dark Tower like King, nor will I ever, but I do have Bishop Rider – a man trying to save himself by saving others, and the main protagonist from my collection, A Better Kind of Hate.

Born of influence, I truly believe I would not have met him if not for my brother’s lack of interest in a birthday present I would end up taking for myself.

I will never reach the heights of Stephen King, no, and I know as much, but if I ever have the chance to meet him I hope I’d be able to articulate the influence he has had upon me and my life.

If not, maybe I’d find a way to put those words into a story…

Maybe I’d ensure it ended in revenge…

Bio: Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, Horror Sleaze Trash, Spelk and Story & Grit. His collection, A Better Kind of Hate, is available now via Down & Out Books. 


Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write a short piece about one of your formative influences? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

Book Review: Gravesend by William Boyle


Author: William Boyle

Publisher: No Exit Press

Release Date: January 2018

Ray Boy Calabrese is released from prison 16 years after his actions led to the tragic death of an innocent young man. The victim’s brother, Conway D’Innocenzio, is a 29-year-old Brooklynite, working at a branch of Rite Aid in Gravesend, Brooklyn, nursing a festering grudge against Ray Boy. Obsessed with killing his nemesis, but incapable of following through with his plan, Conway goes badly off the rails, and his sense of despair is rivalled only by that of Ray Boy himself. Hard with prison muscle on the outside, Ray Boy has gone soft inside, and is now utterly appalled at his crime. No longer the neighbourhood threat that his friends – and his loose cannon nephew Eugene – want him to be, it is clear that no one in Gravesend destined for a happy ending…

Gravesend is a book about memory, legacy and reputation – and the toxic baggage than can haunt subsequent generations. It’s a crime story, but one that constantly wrong-foots you, by steering the narrative in unexpected directions. The characters, streets and bars feel incredibly authentic, and the level of background detail that Boyle brings to the table throughout is superb.

The gritty street-level storytelling has welcome echoes of George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane, but Gravesend actually put me in mind of a different pair of writers. I discovered Daniel Woodrell and James Sallis through No Exit Press many years ago – two writers who produce slim books that made a big impact. Boyle’s Brooklyn backdrop may have little in common with Woodrell’s country noir, or the smouldering New Orleans of Sallis’s Lew Griffin books, but his nuanced writing holds up very well against their work.

Highly recommended.


Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: May by Marietta Miles


Author: Marietta Miles

Publisher: Down & Out Books

Release Date: January 2018

Troubled May Cosby ekes out a living on the sleepy island of Folly, repairing holiday homes and dealing weed on the side. Struggling to outrun her damaged past, she hunkers down as a destructive nor’easter bears down on her ramshackle home. As the storm approaches, it becomes clear that there are sinister forces at work on the island, and a dark night of the soul awaits…

Route 12 by Marietta Miles was one of my favourite books of 2016, and May provides another welcome jolt of dread-filled small town Americana. The earlier book – which comprised two pitch-perfect novellas – weaved together stunted lives, repressed sexuality and clumsy bursts of violence, to create a gritty compelling package. May – a slow-burner by comparison – explores similar themes, and the writing is as strong as ever.

The book comes into its own during the menacing final third, which sees the various story strands coalesce. Importantly, we get a better look at John Karl, Jr. – a protagonist every bit as nasty as his fictional predecessors, Percy (Route 12) and Pastor Danny Friend (Blood & Sin) – even if his presence is more insidious.

There are a handful of loose ends – not to mention a couple of hideous supporting characters with unfinished business – that make a sequel a seriously appealing proposition. Now that the scene has been set, I’d bet that Marietta Miles raises the stakes next time around – and I hope she goes even darker. Storm-ravaged Folly is not a nice place to be – I’m interested to see how bleak it gets for May!


Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: My Tired Shadow by Joseph Hirsch


Author: Joseph Hirsch

Publisher: Underground Voices

Release Date: November 2017

As a boxer, Ritchie “Redrum” Abruzzi struggled to step out of the shadow of his much-loved world champion father, Ritchie “Bam-Bam” Abruzzi. As a washed-up fighter he has other problems to contend with…

While his reputation remains strong enough to prompt talk of a comeback, there is easier money to be had fighting in high-stakes bare-knuckle matches in run-down parts of LA. Throw in death threats from the son of a man he killed in the ring more than a decade ago, the arrival in town of his own estranged son, and a creepy B-movie director who wants to capitalise on Ritchie’s infamy, and Ritchie’s enforced retirement is about to take some unexpected turns.

My Tired Shadow unfolds in a series of bruising – emotionally and physically – chapters which chart Ritchie’s botched attempt at a comeback, and the mental disintegration that follows. Ritchie is a fully fleshed-out protagonist, well aware of his own deficiencies, but seemingly unable to resist hitting the self-destruct button every time his tentative plans go off the rails.

The combination of fictionalised biography and authentic boxing history is effortlessly done, and the seedy narrative is richly imagined throughout. Crammed with queasy details and mercilessly unsentimental, My Tired Shadow makes for a brutal reading experience. The impressive eye for detail extends to the colourful supporting cast: fight promoters, ruined ex-fighters, B-movie actors and other LA undesirables.

In the final quarter of the book, the story lurches – entirely convincingly – into full-blown noir territory, as Ritchie hatches a wild plan to restore his self-respect and make things right. This is followed by a genuinely unpredictable final act, which sees the narrative come full-circle.

If you are a fan of boxing and lowlife literature, My Tired Shadow comes highly recommended.

My Tired Shadow @ Underground Voices

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With L.A. Sykes

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with L.A. Sykes to discuss The Hard Cold Shoulder (Near To The Knuckle).

Your novella The Hard Cold Shoulder was recently re-released by Near To The Knuckle. The book is set in 2013, and the political backdrop adds to the bleak mood.  Were you tempted to tweak the political context for the re-release, to chart the deteriorating social backdrop?

Not at all. In fact, I actually added the date in the text for the re-release. Events like the striking nurses and the sense of betrayal that followed the Liberal Democrats’ essentially treacherous behaviour in the coalition were part of the milieu.

Also, with the population on the increase and Bobbies on the beat on the decrease, there was something uneasy going on in relation to essentially goading public servants, not to mention jeopardising public safety on a significant scale.

I actually went on strike from a psychiatric hospital, and rather than join a picket line I watched the media coverage. His side of the house of commons roared with laughter when David Cameron described nursing staff walking out as a ‘damp squib’, and I thought these people are going to get it at the ballot box; hence Brexit and a Corbyn led Labour Party, a left-wing alternative not seen since the late seventies.

His smug dismissal ended with him crying outside Downing Street, having not realised how alienated the populace had become.

The novella predicts the deterioration, and rather than alter it to chart the deteriorating backdrop I just wanted it to snapshot the time, seen through the eyes of an ex-cop.

Also, the number thirteen stood out, given the historically erroneous although still prevalent superstitious connotation of unluckiness, which fitted to the thirteen chapter structure of the story.

Are politics and crime fiction uneasy bedfellows, or do you believe that crime writers are the very people who should be addressing these issues?

I’ll answer the latter part first: it’s entirely down to the individual writer whether or not they want to address issues, be it politics or anything else. I think crime fiction is the perfect place to address transgression, given society is malleable to political influence. Also, given politics is essentially corruptible, these things go hand in hand.

Take for example the political choice to cut police officers on the beat; the criminal will take full advantage and street level crime will go up. So realistically political decisions have a knock on effect to the criminological. The criminal operates in a societal milieu, whether they choose to think about it or not.

Again it’s up to the writer, I don’t think it’s a should, it’s a can if they choose to, and if they choose to then the crime novel can be the perfect vehicle to reflect a time and a place.

The Hard Cold Shoulder is a defiantly British story. Who are your favourite British writers – past or present? How have they influenced your own writing?

Derek Raymond, reflecting the essence of British noir, writing about the everyman victim, just blazed a trail started by the great Ted Lewis. David Peace, Alan Sillitoe and David Storey immediately also jump to mind. The latter two so-called ‘angry young men’, who showed me you can write about stuff relevant to working class lives, with passion and anger.

Crime-wise, Peace’s Red Riding Quartet has elevated the genre in my opinion. While you can see plain as day the influence of the master himself, James Ellroy, Peace’s British twist and research into the history of the times he writes about is meticulous. Plus with the darkly poetic prose style I honestly think he’s one of the best novelists of our generation in any genre.

Victor Headley’s Yardie novels were great too. They influenced me by writing stories I wanted to read about, rather than cozy mysteries, or whatever, that didn’t get the pulse jumping, they all had edge, and I knew I wanted to write about similar topics. They showed that it was ok to write what you want.

There are many, many others, most importantly the Irish writer Ken Bruen, and lots of American writers, but that’s a different question…

In terms of current UK writers – I hate to start as I’ll forget some – but I’ll go with the likes of Paul Brazill, Gareth Spark, Aidan Thorn, Paul Heatley, yourself, Keith Nixon, Nigel Bird, and plenty of others.

Manchester seems like a city that lends itself to noir fiction – are there any notable works that you would recommend?

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood, set in 1930’s Salford. It depicts the indignity of unemployment and living conditions in the thirties. It’s not noir, but its setting is one Dave Goodis would have had a field day with.

I suspect there are lots of police procedurals set in Manchester, in particular I like Col Bury’s Jack Striker, but noir fiction wise I don’t know many others apart from Ray Banks’ McInnes series, which is partially set there, and whose work I would definitely recommend.

Do you find yourself gravitating towards independent publishers, or does mainstream crime fiction satisfy your tastes?

To tell you the truth, I find a lot of mainstream fiction too safe, too predictable, and I find myself going back more and more to re-read older stuff. At the end of the day I’m a reader and I like to read good prose and edgy writing, and I definitely find it much more from the independent publishers when looking for newer books.

It seems to me the independent scene is bringing out great stuff that mainstream would not touch because of financial reasons. Les Edgerton’s brilliant The Rapist is a prime example.

There’s a real emphasis on passion for writing that’s shining through. So, I don’t look at the publisher any more, I look at the story and the style, and there is a fantastic amount out there, which is great.

I think that people are starting to wake up to the fact that the big publisher is not a guarantee of better quality than the independent one, and it’s high time that realisation took place.

Which current writers do you consider to be your peers? Any recent books you would care to recommend?

I don’t know how to answer the first part, I’ll leave that to others to decide.

As for books, instead of recent ones, I’d like to recommend A Rage in Harlem and its sequels by Chester Himes. It kicks of the Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones detective series, one of the finest written in my opinion, and I see lots of recommended reads and rarely do I see Himes get a mention, so I’ll go for him.

The Hard Cold Shoulder is a violent book in places. In crime fiction terms, how far is too far?

I think this can easily slip into a censorship debate.

My personal view is that it’s naïve to shy away from the violence of human beings. Fact is, at this moment in time someone somewhere is doing something horrific, and if the violence is repellent, then good, it’s supposed to be. People can pretend bad things don’t happen all they want, but they’re frankly deluding themselves.

To put it plainly, we know repulsive things happen, so why shouldn’t they be written about?

I’m not saying there aren’t lines that shouldn’t be crossed however, I do understand that there are limits, but at the same time to ignore depraved human capabilities rather than expose them means things will never change.

It is a violent book in places like you say, yet regardless of the righteousness of violence, once you cross a line there are often irreparable consequences. I think it shows that too.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m currently drafting some longer standalone works which should hopefully see the light of day late next year and just after. Also, I’m working on some more short fiction which I hope will be ready to go throughout the coming months.

Book Review: The Hard Cold Shoulder by L.A. Sykes


Author: L.A. Sykes

Publisher: Near To The Knuckle

Release Date: December 2017

The Hard Cold Shoulder is the story of Ben Pitkin, a traumatised ex-cop now scraping a living as a private investigator in Greater Manchester. Lured into taking a sordid missing persons case by local bottom-feeder Tommy Rellis, Pitkin’s unstable existence is about to get even darker…

This pitch-black novella from L.A. Sykes delivers a stark, bracing blast of Manchester noir. While Pitkin’s increasingly violent trawl through the city’s seedy underbelly drives the book, the story is also underpinned by a clear sense of social conscience, which adds depth to the proceedings. The disgraced-ex-cop-turned-private-eye may sound clichéd on paper, but in Sykes’ hands it is stranger and edgier – and completely gripping.

The Hard Cold Shoulder is a quick, brutal read, and fits in very well with the rest of the Near To The Knuckle back catalogue. Good stuff!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Marietta Miles

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Marietta Miles to discuss her new book, May (Down & Out Books).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of May! How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

Thank you. You’ve been so supportive. This is the story of a woman with a dark and painful past. After burning bridges and chances, she finds herself living alone on a small resort island, drifting through her days.

As a destructive nor’easter plows towards her remote pocket of peace, May tries to hunker down after the island is evacuated, but she finds she is not alone. There are others on the island and they are in a very dangerous state of mind. For the first time, May can’t run away.

In May – as in Route 12 – the backdrop feels very authentic. How much of the location is real, and how much is imagined?

I’m lucky, I’ve moved around quite a bit and have experienced different places. So far, I’ve set my books in places inspired by where I’ve lived. Right now, I’m finishing up a book based on May so it takes place on the coast, but I think the next one will be set in Los Angeles.

Your books have a real emotional impact. How much of yourself do you put into your characters?  

I’m motivated by the stories of others and my characters are usually a soup of many people. There may be aspects, events or locales, of my life that I add because it fills out or moves the story, but I get very bored with my own narrative. I think, an uncomfortable dose of empathy for my fellow humans helps me to imagine my characters.

What do you hope people take away from the new book?

I hope that the individuals in the book stay with readers for a long time. That is what I always hope for when I write.

May has been published by Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite D&O authors or titles?

That is a challenging question. Eric and the gang have made so many wonderful additions to their list of authors. Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden are two of my favorites. Tom Pitts does dark well and I love everything he has ever written. Down & Out will also be releasing new books from Ed Aymar, Sarah M. Chen, Rob Pierce, Beau Johnson, Michael Pool and a bunch more.

I politely decline to answer.

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

I do not read a lot of mainstream crime fiction. My tastes run to the darker side of things and I think independent crime allows for that a bit more.

I also read a lot of horror. Grab you by the guts, fear for your life and soul kind of horror. Stories that make you turn on the lights and hide under the covers.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I don’t think about having peers, believe it or not. In my head, all of my writer friends are better than I am and I’m lucky to be in their midst. Likewise, I cannot imagine my stories having a place alongside my favourites. It’s like I live in a lovely, unrealistic vacuum.

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

I try not to think about that too much, I have no expectations. I’m happy every time I get the chance to write. I do hope I am able to tell a moving tale, that is my focus.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’ll be sending something new to Down & Out very soon. Fingers crossed.


Marietta Miles’s short stories and flash can be found in Thrills, Kills and Chaos, the Flash Fiction Offensive, Yellow Mama, Hardboiled Wonderland and Revolt Daily. Her stories have been included in anthologies available through Static Movement Publishing, Out of the Gutter, and Horrified Press. She is rotating host for Noir on the Radio, Dames in the Dark. Her first book, Route 12, was released February of 2016. Her new book, May, was released in January 2018 with Down & Out Books. Born in Alabama, raised in Louisiana, she currently resides in Virginia with her husband and two children.