Book Review: Stay Ugly by Daniel Vlasaty

STAY UGLY

Author: Daniel Vlasaty

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: February 2020

Eric is an ex-con, bare-knuckle boxer better known around the Rogers Park neighbourhood of Chicago as ‘Ugly’. While he wants to ditch his violent past – and his notorious nickname – his criminal associates have other ideas…

When his estranged junkie brother Joe steals $100,000 from a local drug dealer, Ugly finds himself on the hook for the debt – unless he hands the kid over. At a loss for where to turn, he enlists his old buddy, Nicky – a man still dick-deep in the thug-life – and the duo hit the streets to find him. Inevitably, each step takes him deeper into the life he’s desperate to leave behind, and things are going to get seriously bloody before the night is over.

Stay Ugly is raw and nasty in all the right places. Punch-drunk bare-knuckle hardman Ugly is our tour guide across nocturnal Chicago, and his quest to find his junkie brother is a bone-shattering, bullet-strewn treat. The violence and the backdrop feel grim and authentic throughout, and Ugly’s sordid trawl is detailed in tight, gritty prose. This book fights hard and it fights dirty, and Daniel Vlasaty has crafted a brutally entertaining dog-eat-dog thriller.

All Due Respect has published crime fiction spanning a number of different sub-genres over the years, but is probably best known for its savage, unforgiving novellas. This vicious slab of badass storytelling is another winner, and fits right in with the many highlights in the ADR back catalogue. Savage, visceral stuff.

Buy Stay Ugly!

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Slow Bear by Anthony Neil Smith

SLOW BEAR

Author: Anthony Neil Smith

Publisher: Fahrenheit Press

Release Date: January 2020

Micah ‘Slow Bear’ Cross used to be a reservation cop – until his left arm was shot off in a violent altercation. Like many men with lax moral codes, he did well in the lawless Bakken oil fields of North Dakota – but those days are long gone. Now he spends his time nursing warm beer, lazily flirting with casino barmaid Kylie. A spectacularly poor decision earns the wrath of his former boss, and Slow Bear finds himself forced into a thankless fact-finding mission. His target is Santana the Exile – a man with fingers in lots of unsavoury pies. The ex-cop’s mission starts badly and quickly gets worse – a lot fucking worse.

Slow Bear is an unofficial sequel to Worm, which was published in 2015 by Blasted Heath (since re-released by Down & Out Books). Slow Bear was a memorable supporting character – in a book full of memorable supporting characters – and this new book picks up his story further down the line. Worm ranks as one of my favourite crime novels of the last decade, so I was excited to see what Smith had up his sleeve this time around.

Slow Bear reads like Worm’s weirder, shiftier little brother. The boomtown is now a fracking-wracked ghost town, and the seedy pleasures on offer are now queasier than ever. Everything is dingier, nastier, more savage, except Slow Bear, that is – who has lost his edge as well as his arm.

This brisk book (it clocks in at around 130 pages) is a bleak, surreal page-turner – so hardboiled it hurts. While Slow Bear doesn’t quite hit the delirious heights of Worm, it is a great book – and one that teases at future misadventures for its hapless anti-hero. I can’t wait!

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Tommy Shakes by Rob Pierce

TOMMY SHAKES

Author: Rob Pierce

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: September 2019

Tommy Shakowski AKA ‘Tommy Shakes’ earned his name as a heroin addict, but now he’s just a drunk. A drunk who has convinced himself that his next big score will be enough to win back the affections of his increasingly distant wife and son. When the opportunity to join a couple of freelancers and take part in a heist emerges, Tommy attempts to clean up his act and wrestle control of the scam. People skills aren’t high on Tommy’s CV, however, and the stress of managing a crew of sociopaths drives him back to the bottle. Little does he know, the target – a popular restaurant that runs an illegal sports book out back – is affiliated with a notorious Chinese mobster, and Tommy is about to enter a world of shit and pain.

Tommy is a colossal fuck-up, incapable of real change, and whatever charm he once had has been eroded by years of hard drinking and low-level criminality. His booze intake is staggering enough, but his gastrointestinal problems are even worse, and Pierce details the whole sorry ordeal in gleefully graphic detail. Indeed, it is this unflinching approach that sets the story apart from similar material – and highlights Pierce as a writer that is willing to go where other writers fear to tread.

The tone is paranoid, booze-fuelled and distrustful throughout and Tommy Shakes plays out like a shit-streaked nightmare, with the title character lurching between toilet bowls and terrible decisions – unaware how bad things are really getting. If taciturn tough guys, simmering violence and pungent criminality are your thing, then this book is a memorable addition to the heist sub-genre.

Tommy Shakes reads like an excrement-splattered George V. Higgins caper, and – take it from me – no one is going to get away clean – least of all the hapless Tommy…

Buy Tommy Shakes!

Review by Tom Leins

 

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Daniel Vlasaty

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Daniel Vlasaty to discuss his new book, Stay Ugly (All Due Respect).

Congratulations on the publication of Stay Ugly! How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

Eric is an ex-con, bareknuckle boxer better known around his Chicago neighborhood as “Ugly.” He wants to shed his past, build a life with his family, but his past won’t be so easily left behind. His junkie brother Joe has stolen $100K from a powerful drug dealer—and Ugly’s on the hook unless he hands Joe over.

I loved the energy, the violence, the tone… but the book may prove too visceral for some crime readers’ tastes. Do you think too much contemporary crime fiction pulls its punches, or are our tastes too extreme?
I never really gave much thought to the violence I put in my books. But that’s probably because I do write about violent people doing bad things in a violent neighborhood in a city known worldwide for its violence. So, it just feels natural to me. I don’t think you can set a crime story in gangland Chicago without there being excess levels of the shit.

As far as how my stuff compares to other contemporary crime fiction, I can’t speak to that. I just want my shit to feel authentic.

But I will say that my other books have been criticized for being “unrealistic.” I’ve been told people don’t talk the way my characters talk. People don’t act the way my characters act. Shit like that. But I think that just depends on the kinds of people you know, the kinds of places you frequent, the kind of life you live.
For the last 14 years I’ve worked in methadone clinics and psych hospitals all throughout Chicago. I used to run a detox unit for heroin addicts and alcoholics. I’ve facilitated groups for people coming out of prison, people court-ordered into treatment. I’ve sat and counseled and talked with and laughed with murderers and active gang members.

And I can tell you that my shit comes off sounding pretty fucking tame when compared to some of the stories I’ve heard.

This book was published by the fantastic All Due Respect; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I try to read everything. I don’t ever want to be about only one thing — if that makes any fucking sense at all. That being said, I do tend to favour indie crime fiction, obviously.

I like to read stories that hit quick and hard. I don’t want to be bored. I don’t like things to be overly descriptive. I don’t want to read a crime story with long, flowing prose. I want to read a story that fucks my shit up and doesn’t even give me a second to catch my breath.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I’m pretty comfortable over here with the rest of the All Due Respect family.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?
For some reason I’m drawing a complete fucking blank on novels right now but my brain keeps going to comic books. I feel like crime comics don’t get enough play in “literary” circles. I love anything and everything Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have done together — Criminal, Bad Weekend, Scene of the Crime, The Fade Out, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, Fatale, Kill or Be Killed, etc.

Also if you haven’t read it, most def check out Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M Guera. It’s about an undercover FBI agent assigned to infiltrate the police force on the reservation where he was raised. It’s violent and dangerous and beautiful and sexy and blah-blah-blah.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
I would just love to quit my fucking job and be able to support my family with my writing. So, I guess any writer that is able to do that would be my answer. And the reason would be because I hate going to my current job every single day like some fucking sap.

But you know, money and bills and responsibilities and all that shit.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans? Without giving too much away, the ending to Stay Ugly appears to pave the way for a sequel…?

Paul D. Brazill was the first person to suggest a Stay Ugly sequel to me. Prior to that the thought never crossed my mind. I figured I was done with Ugly and Nicky. But I liked the idea and started to mess around with it a bit. I got a few chapters outlined right now and I’m having fun with it. It’s set two years after Stay Ugly and shit’s already getting bloody. Its working title is Please Come Back to Us

Aside from that I’m “working” on at least three other books.

Methadone is a fictionalized version of an actual robbery that happened at the methadone clinic where I currently work. The real thing was crazy, I’m talking machine guns and a score of about $1,000,000 worth of methadone.

Them Animals is set in the aftermath of a drive-by shooting/massacre. The story alternates between the only survivor of the shooting (a sixteen years old girl and her family) and also the inner workings of the gangs on both sides of the shooting.

Gets You Dead is about a dude getting mixed up with some mobsters after his uncle, another low-level wise guy, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Bio: Daniel Vlasaty is the author of The Church of TV as God, Amphetamine Psychosis, Only Bones, A New and Different Kind of Pain, and Stay Ugly. He lives a few miles outside of Chicago with his wife and daughter and works at a methadone clinic.

Website: Facebook, mostly. I used to have a website but I let the domain lapse and now danielvlasaty.com sells some kind of Japanese space heater or some shit.

 Buy Stay Ugly!