Book Review: Stay Ugly by Daniel Vlasaty


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


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


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 sells some kind of Japanese space heater or some shit.

 Buy Stay Ugly!



Book Review: Wonderland (A Spenser Novel) by Ace Atkins


Author: Ace Atkins

Publisher: No Exit Press

Release Date: March 2014

Robert B. Parker may have died in 2010, but Spenser – his most famous creation – continues to live on… Boxing trainer Henry Cimoli and Spenser go way back, but the old man has never had to ask the private eye for a favour – until now. When a shadowy property developer attempts to buy up Henry’s condo on Revere Beach – and sends his thugs to help expedite the process – Spenser and his Native American apprentice Zebulon ‘Z’ Sixkill follow the trail to a charming but dangerous Las Vegas tycoon, only to discover that he isn’t the only person interested in the land. As in all good stories, carnage ensues!

Despite the fine reviews for his Quinn Colson series, I had yet to tackle a book by Ace Atkins – the crime writer selected by the estate of the late Robert B. Parker to continue his iconic Spenser series. Further, while I’ve read a whole bunch of Spenser mysteries over the years, I feel like I’ve read as many unconvincing ones as I have great ones, so this was something of a speculative purchase. Happily, Wonderland was a little cracker!

Whereas I have sometimes found Spenser’s idiosyncrasies off-putting in the past, Atkins weaves the source material into something new and improved. The knockabout tone he recreates is pitch-perfect, and his brand of literary ventriloquism feels like a genuinely affectionate tribute, but the storytelling verve is fresh and exciting. Factor in a slow-burning mystery, a succession of appropriately brutal fight scenes and a heavy-duty dose of emotional clout and you have a genuinely riveting novella. Regardless of your level of Spenser fandom, this bruising PI thriller is well worth checking out!

(Note: after finishing Wonderland I discovered that it is currently being filmed by Peter Berg for Netflix, with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. The cast list suggests the story will deviate slightly from the novel – with Hawk installed as Spenser’s sidekick, rather than Z – but I’m intrigued nonetheless!)

Review by Tom Leins

Criminal Records #8 – Jason Beech on Never Go Back

In the latest instalment of the Criminal Records series, Jason Beech puts together a playlist to accompany his new book, Never Go Back (Close to the Bone, 2019).

REBELLION (LIES) by Arcade Fire

Barlow Vine has just killed a man – his lover’s lover. Now he’s heading from Spain back to his hometown in the vain hope that his actions won’t catch up with him.

There’s a scene in the basement of the abandoned house where Barlow doesn’t quite know if his confused, concussed mind is dreaming or the shadows on the wall of dancing kids are real. The lyrics aren’t the main thing, and Arcade Fire are not British, but there’s a feverish folksiness to the sound which fits the strangeness.

GHOST TOWN by The Specials


Barlow’s arrival back in Sheffield is not what he dreamt. To start, he’s committed murder in Spain so he can’t just throw himself back into the swing of things. So, Sheffield has turned into a Ghost Town, where people just swish past him without acknowledgement to a soundtrack of wind. Lots of wind in Sheffield…


Barlow’s a big fan of The Jam. So is his crush, and so is his oldest friend. The Jam’s music runs through the novel. Barlow and his old mate, Denise, love them. His newfound love, Surraya, strides about in an Eton Rifles t-shirt. It’s also one of my all-time favourites.

COOL FOR CATS by Squeeze

There’s a piano in the cellar of the abandoned house Barlow hides in. What better way to cheer a man with a splitting headache than a jolly romp through Squeeze’s classic? The piano’s out of tune, so turn the wonky up to eleven.



His head is beating, there are men either trying to kill him – or use him – and he’s in mental turmoil at the murder he’s committed. What else to take the edge off but the soothing strings of Blur’s The Universal? It has a mournful quality to fit Barlow’s many regrets.

Buy Never Go Back!


Sheffield native, New Jersey resident Jason Beech writes crime fiction. His coming-of-age crime drama City of Forts was described as “tense, atmospheric, and haunting” by UK crime writer Paul D. Brazill. You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Pulp Metal Magazine. His new novel, Never Go Back, is published by Close To The Bone on 29 November 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!

Book Review: The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney


Author: Liam McIlvanney

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: June 2018

Glasgow. 1969. A serial killer known as the Quaker has lured three women from the same nightclub and viciously murdered them. As the police’s laborious investigation drags on, the sense of fear is palpable and the cops are seemingly no closer to establishing the killer’s identity. Enter DI McCormack, a talented young detective who has been dispatched to Glasgow to shut down the botched investigation. Before he can pull the plug on the case, a fourth woman is found dead in a derelict tenement flat and McCormack becomes determined to win over his suspicious colleagues and nail the culprit.

Winner of the 2018 Scottish Crime Book of the Year, The Quaker is a visceral, relentless police procedural that drags the seemingly clean-cut McCormack through the grit and grime of late-60s Glasgow. The seedy atmospherics are utterly convincing and the level of period detail is similarly excellent.

The Quaker is a ferociously entertaining thriller that successfully blends a pungent David Peace-style Red Riding ambience with a dose of Glasgow grit and a genuinely gripping plot. Fantastic stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Welcome to HolyHell by Math Bird


Author: Math Bird

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

Release Date: October 2018

At the outset of the marvellous Welcome to HolyHell youngster Jay stumbles across a briefcase full of cash – which he believes will change his life forever. Unfortunately for him, the money’s disappearance – and abrupt reappearance – was never going to go unnoticed, and before long a number of dangerous, damaged men are sniffing around – all desperate to get their hands on the loot.

Set in north-east Wales in the scorching summer of 1976, Math Bird has crafted a gripping, nerve-jangling story that is part-thriller, part-coming-of-age tale. The characterisation is nuanced throughout and the book is propelled forward by a crackling undercurrent of menace. When I reviewed Bird’s short story collection Histories of the Dead on this site, I praised its ‘noir sensibility, measured storytelling, sense of place and psychological turmoil’. It was a cracking collection, but this novel is even better, as he seizes on the themes explored in his earlier short fiction and runs with them.

Grubby, authentic and deftly plotted, Welcome to HolyHell is possibly my favourite All Due Respect book to date. With its sweaty explorations of lust, loyalty and small-town violence it would sit comfortably alongside plenty of acclaimed British literary fiction and really deserves to tap into a wider audience. Great stuff.

Buy Now!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Eamonn Griffin

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Eamonn Griffin to discuss his book, East of England (Unbound Digital).

Hi Eamonn, how would you pitch East of England to potential readers?

Ah, I’m notoriously bad at this kind of thing. So I’m cheating slightly here by quoting from a couple of reviews that folk have kindly left on Amazon. “A tale of violence and various dodgy dealings” was one summary. A story of “betrayals and violence without mercy” was another. A third and final one was “a modern gangland novel in the Chandler/Hammett tradition”, which is good to hear. Then again, someone just put “A good down-to-earth novel” which I really like too. It’s a Lincolnshire noir, and by “noir” I don’t mean any old crime or thriller novel being loosely grouped together under that banner, but one which takes note of at least some of the conventions of the noir novels and movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s – that period between The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil and which works in that kind of tradition.

Many of the key scenes in East of England take place in the type of locations that are rarely seen in crime fiction. How important was it to you to give an authentic depiction of the area?

Folk are fond of saying that the setting is a character in the story, and in lots of good writing that’s certainly the case. East of England’s set in Lincolnshire in part because it’s a place that I know quite well, and in part because it’s underused in fiction. That means that you can bring something slightly different to readers, and it also gives to a chance to deal with the specifics of what happens in rural and post-industrial communities. There are some commonalities with the kinds of crimes and dark dealings that you might find in London or Los Angeles, but those sorts of places are well-served by other writers.

What I’m doing is hopefully a little different in a way that’s interesting to readers. Also, the countryside is often treated in a bucolic, semi-comic and backward kind of way; an idealised area that’s largely harmless, sometimes charming, and where the crime writing is perhaps approached with an eye as much on the humour as the drama. Again, there are plenty of other writers doing that, and doing it better than I could ever do, so taking a hard-boiled approach to the countryside felt appropriate.

The East Lindsey part of Lincolnshire is interesting; it’s flat, being largely reclaimed from the sea, and has been struggling economically for generations. And hardship can be a precursor of and driver of crime, as well as of related activities. Also, there’s some tourism here along the coast, with several resorts, plus a scattering of market towns between the farms and abandoned RAF stations left behind after the second World War. You don’t have to make too much up. One area that I have played about with is in semi-fictionalizing some place names. That is deliberate (and a decision that a couple of readers who know the area haven’t liked); it gives me some wiggle room, so I can fictionalise some details without compromising the reporting of the geography of the area.

Dan Matlock’s actions are highly methodical and he doesn’t second-guess himself. How easy was it to establish his voice and his persona? 

It was fairly straightforward, and driven by a clear understanding of the character from the beginning. Dan Matlock is something of a loner, and he doesn’t work in partnership with others. Some writers have their detectives work in pairs – a classic trope from Sherlock Holmes stories onwards – so that questions of detection and decision-making can be dialogue-driven. With Matlock, this is largely internalised, so we experience him in real time, working out problems, assessing situations, responding to current threats. He spends a lot of time in his own head out of necessity, and there’s something of the writer there too – we tend to be the same as a breed, so there’s a little of drawing on my own approach too things, pus some inspiration from other characters and from the sort of crime and noir fiction that I tend to respond best to myself.

Did you know how the book would play out before you started writing it?

Yes. I had the ending first, and wrote towards it. That’s how I tend to work.

What do you hope that readers take away from the story?

That they enjoyed it, that they liked both the writing and the story, an that they’d be interested to read about what Dan Matlock got up to next. I’ve plenty of ideas for more books, and I’m writing a follow-up (though stand-alone) novel at the moment. And also, that they’d consider some of the detail about the setting, both in time and place, and about how they felt about both.

Who are your prime influences?

My first crime and noir-related loves were Gregory McDonald’s Fletch and Flynn novels, and Robert B Parker’s Spenser series. I read those before I delved back into the likes of Hammett, James M Cain, and Raymond Chandler.

More recently, there’s so much great stuff out there that it’s hard to list them all. Here’s a few though. Michael Connelly is – as plenty will appreciate – fantastic as a popular novelist, and his Bosch novels (as well as the recent TV adaptation) are fantastic. Two writers whose work has been of more direct influence are Donald E Westlake and Lawrence Block. Block’s Matt Scudder books are an inspiration, and there’s something of Dan Matlock in the Parker books written by Westlake under the pseudonym of Richard Stark. Matlock is perhaps half of each character – Parker is a stone-cold amoral bastard, and all the more enjoyable for it, whereas Scudder is a very human unlicensed private investigator. The character trajectory in the Scudder books from self-loathing alcoholic ex-cop to becoming settled and secure is one of the marvels of the genre; the books are worth reading in sequence for that alone.

Inevitably, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a touchstone, if only because of his and Matlock’s similarities in their loner status and in their methodical nature; there are straightforward comparisons to be made, though the two characters – and the moral and physical universes that they inhabit – are somewhat different. That said, if you like Lee Child’s books (and who doesn’t?) then hopefully you’ll find something to appreciate in East of England. I’ve recently read Andy Martin’s books on Lee Child (Reacher Said Nothing and With Child), both of which follow the writer and which examine his writing and publishing process and experiences. They give great insights into what it’s like to be a successful and distinctive author.

There are others as well. Off the top of my head: Lou Berney, Don Winslow, S Craig Zahler, and Manda/MC Scott are all writers who’ve worked in the genre that I’ve taken some inspiration from. It’s only right also that there’s acknowledgement given to Ted Lewis, whose Jack Carter books are set not a million miles away – the south bank of the Humber, with occasional forays deeper into Lincolnshire – and are key British noir works. The biography of Lewis by Nick Triplow is well worth a read.

Also, with a local-ish connection are David Mark and Nick Quantrill. Mark’s books are Hull-based, as are Quantrill’s, with a detective and a PI protagonist, respectively. As such, they’re just over the Humber from Lincolnshire. Both sets of novels are interesting in their own right, and in the ways that they treat both their locations with seriousness – in ways that mark them out as being a little different from standard genre offerings. Both authors are well worth your reading time!

And that’s before we get to non-genre writers who’ve been influential. Let’s leave it there for the time being!

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

Blimey. I’ve no idea. I’m old enough to not have career plans for my writing as such. I’d just like to keep having books published and for there to be at least one reader out there who likes them and would like to see more.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

There are at least two more Dan Matlock books on their way. First up is Piece of Work, which will hopefully be out before the end of 2019. Second is Canine Jubilee, which – like East of England was – is being crowdfunded via Unbound. You can find about more about that here:

In addition, I’ve got outlines for several more Matlock novels; hopefully there’ll be enough of a readership out there wanting the books to make them a reality!

Outside of Matlock, I’m working slowly on a couple of non-noir projects. One of them has been a few years in the researching, and is a historical procedural thriller in the court of Elizabeth I.

Bio: Eamonn Griffin was born and raised in Lincolnshire, though these days he lives in north-east Wales.

He’s worked as a stonemason, a strawberry picker, in plastics factories (everything from packing those little bags for loose change you get from banks to production planning via transport manager via fork-lift driving), in agricultural and industrial laboratories, in a computer games shop, and latterly in further and higher education.

He doesn’t do any of that any more. Instead, he writes fulltime, either as a freelancer, or else on fiction.

Eamonn has collected a PhD, an MA, an assortment of teaching qualifications, and a BSc along the way. He really likes biltong, and has recently returned to learning to play piano, something he abandoned when he was about seven and has regretted since.


Twitter: @eamonngriffin /


The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Rob Pierce

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Rob Pierce to discuss his new book, Tommy Shakes (All Due Respect).

Hi Rob, congratulations on the publication of your new book. How would you pitch Tommy Shakes to potential readers?

Tommy is a career criminal, but not real good at it. He has major drinking and health problems and, in an effort to salvage his crumbling marriage, tries to pull one big job. They pull the robbery but one member of Tommy’s crew gets gun happy and it turns into a bloodbath. Among the dead: a prized employee of a local gangster. Now they’re wanted for murder, and the law is the least of their problems.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

I’ve never thought about that. I want people to go through some of Tommy’s emotional struggles. This was written while my own marriage was falling apart, which is why it took so long to finish. I don’t think I’ve written a good book unless I’m emotionally drained by the time it’s complete.

What would be your recommended drink of choice for people to enjoy while reading the book?

Knob Creek bourbon is a prominent drink of choice for the characters (and for me, although to nowhere the extent of these men). But you’ll probably get through the book faster if you hold it down to beer for the most part. Of course, not every shot in this book is alcohol.

You have published a number of books through All Due Respect in recent years. Do you have a favourite, and which one would you recommend to someone who is unfamiliar with your work?

With the Right Enemies is my favorite to date, but it’s the sequel to Uncle Dust, so I’d recommend starting there. Also, Dust probably has the most crossover appeal to non-noir readers, despite its being a noir novel. Not that any of my books are for the squeamish.

Of all your protagonists to date, who do you have a soft spot for, and why?

I love every protagonist as a character or I couldn’t write the books. You know, after he accepted Uncle Dust for All Due Respect, Mike Monson asked me how I wrote that character. And I found Dust an easy character to write, an extension of me without the suppression of violence (although Dust tries).

The creation of Vollmer in With the Right Enemies, on the other hand, impresses me most, because he has so little to do with me. Or most of humanity.

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

These days I read primarily independents, although I read a lot of older books as well. As to reading mainstream, I don’t think I read mainstream writers, although some of my favorites (Don Winslow, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy), are published by mainstream houses. I’m currently reading Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird, which is published by Mulholland Books, so you tell me.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I don’t write like them, but I feel an affinity with Mike Monson and Tom Pitts, two terrific writers who really push the pace. There are a lot of good current writers, but I write primarily about criminals. I definitely enjoy books with good guys, but I don’t relate to them.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

Tequila Blue by Rolo Diez. It’s about a corrupt Mexican cop investigating a gringo’s murder. As the back cover says, “a labyrinth of gang wars, assassinated prostitutes, and corrupt politicians.” Touch of Evil, indeed.

It’s the only Diez novel translated into English. If I had the money, I’d pay someone to translate the rest of them.

Who are your prime influences?

Hammett, David Goodis, George V. Higgins. Chester Himes and Richard Stark for action scenes. Eastern European post-Holocaust writers for a lot of the overall darkness, I’m sure. I mean, how dark is a crime novel when you’ve grown up with pogroms?

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

Career? I write books, I don’t have a career. Not in this. This is far more an addiction than a career. My idea of fame would be a large cult following. A lot of great writers haven’t gotten even that.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

The book after Tommy Shakes will be the conclusion of the Uncle Dust/With the Right Enemies trilogy. It’s called Blood By Choice and I’ve recently sent it to All Due Respect; no word on a publication date yet, but 2020 sometime is the goal. Like all my books, it pulls in characters from the other books and adds a few new ones who I’m likely to write more about in the future. Hell, Tommy Shakes is a standalone but it includes one character from my previous work and another is mentioned. And a major character in Tommy returns in Blood. It’s one thing to kill off a character, another to end an entire world.

Bio: Rob Pierce wrote the novels Tommy Shakes, Uncle Dust, and With the Right Enemies, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet. Rob has also edited dozens of novels for All Due Respect and freelance, and has had stories published in numerous ugly magazines. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.


Buy Tommy Shakes!