Book Review: Route 12 by Marietta Miles

ROUTE 12

Author: Marietta Miles

Publisher: All Due Respect

Release Date: February 2016

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Route 12 by Marietta Miles comprises two evocative, disturbing novellas set in Appalachia in the 1960s and 1970s. These are bleak stories about people who have been dealt a rotten hand by life: a boy dragged into reform school at an early age, due to his mother’s unhealthy lifestyle choices – only to emerge with a violent disregard for society; a girl crippled by a bad dose of polio vaccine, and left friendless and exposed; a drunken mother desperate for cash who makes a terrible mistake… In these pitch-black stories the characters’ choices define them – for better or worse.

Marietta Miles brings a gothic intensity to these tales of damaged small town lives, which seem to congeal in the worst way imaginable.  Opening story ‘Route 12’ is the jewel in the tarnished crown – a tremendous, nastily memorable piece of work. Chief protagonist Percy is a horribly damaged young man, whose queasy charisma sucks a pair of vulnerable young girls into his sick orbit. Miles displays an unfailingly sharp eye for detail, teasing small, haunting nuggets out of the plot, and imbuing the drama with a skin-crawling level of tension.

While the title story will likely attract the most attention, B-side cut ‘Blood & Sin’ is no less compelling, and the character of Pastor Danny Friend is a true literary grotesque. Although it feels like the story has the life choked out of it just as it starts getting really twisted, the gruelling content still packs one hell of a punch.

All in all, a dark, unsettling pair of novellas that adds a bold, new dimension to the All Due Respect slate. Impressive, distinctive work from Marietta Miles.

Reviewed by Tom Leins

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Book Review: Bad Luck City by Matt Phillips

BAD LUCK CITY

Author: Matt Phillips

Publisher: Near To The Knuckle

Release Date: February 2016

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Half-bored and all-the-way drunk, Las Vegas journalist Sim Palmer is unfulfilled in his job – covering the local entertainment scene for an alternative weekly newspaper. An unexpected phone call from a wilfully obscure underworld figure shakes Sim out of his middle-aged malaise, and reignites the flame that helped him earn his stripes as an investigative reporter. He is nudged in the direction of a dark case involving a missing girl, and the deeper he digs, the more it becomes apparent that the truth may be entwined with his late father’s hoodlum past. Suffice to say, there are more than just skeletons in this particular closet…

Last year, Matt Phillips demonstrated his desert noir credentials with Redbone (Number Thirteen Press), a murky, slow-burning slice of Americana. More immediate than its predecessor, Bad Luck City is a very different beast, but no less entertaining. In crime fiction, the notion of a dogged investigative journalist pursuing a hot lead into ominous territory is as well-worn as a crumpled fedora, or an ash-streaked suit, but the absorbing familial flashbacks give Bad Luck City extra resonance, and broaden the story’s scope.

UK crime fiction publisher Near To The Knuckle is very much on the ascendency, and this taut, sweaty little thriller represents a solid start to their planned ‘Knuckle-cracking Novellas’ series. Good stuff!

Reviewed by Tom Leins

Book Review: Diesel Therapy by Greg Barth

DIESEL THERAPY (SELENA BOOK 2)

Author: Greg Barth

Publisher: All Due Respect

Release Date: November 2015

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Diesel Therapy is the follow-up to cult crime thriller Selena. While in Federal custody on a grisly assortment of charges relating to her actions in the first book, the title character finds herself an unwilling pawn in a deadly game being orchestrated by powerful men she has scant understanding of. Despite Selena being on lock-down, her enemies aren’t finished hurting her yet, and she is put through the physical and emotional wringer once more. When presented with an unexpected opportunity to right old wrongs, she hatches an escape plan and ends up joining forces with an unimaginable ally.

I have a confession to make: I enjoyed the original book so much that I was genuinely nervous about revisiting the character, and delayed my reading of the book accordingly. More fool me, as this sequel is a violent delight: an adrenaline-charged, sweaty-palmed riot of spilled blood and bad men. As the first book drew to a close, it seemed like Greg Barth had written himself into a corner, but he drives things forward by dragging the reader back into Selena’s queasy, desperate past.

Selena is a terrific anti-hero: permanently brutalised, but at her most dangerous when she is cornered. The setting may be half a world away, but the Selena series is shaping up like a vicious hillbilly remix of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo saga. If you have any interest in contemporary crime fiction, you need to get deep, down and dirty with Selena.

Reviewed by Tom Leins