Man Bites Trap by John Bowie

Man Bites Trap

Jude Greyson sat at his desk in a cold room. Outside, birds sang as if Spring brought a bountiful feast, and for the time being, the cats in the neighbourhood didn’t exist.

He didn’t hear them. The song. Beauty. Not in the notes or the spaces between them.

Downstairs his friends partied on from the night before. That’s what they called him, a friend. He didn’t hear them either.

The light flickered overhead. Nothing.

A dog barked next door. Silence.

All Jude heard was the zip on a small leather case as he tentatively started to open it. All he felt was numbness. He was a cannonball somehow floating on the waves of life and he knew he was due to fall, sink and rest. Someday soon, maybe it would be today.

His mother hadn’t said a word as she’d helped him pack his bags for college. She’d ironed sheer hell out of everything as she compensated for the weight she knew he carried inside. She saw it in him, the anxiousness. Like he had a crack-filled balloon in his belly about to pop. She’d ironed his clothes so heavily. Trying to purge his worry. Without the emotional tools to do it the way a mother should — she knew nothing else. So pressed, hard. She’d made creases down the front of his jeans as sharp as razor blades. Fuck he hated that. Almost as much as the assumption that his demeanour was nothing more than an adopted artist’s aloof masquerade. Stolen and borrowed from something he’d seen in a book, or the latest band he was into. And that somehow, he was going to come true at college, out of his shell — all crap.

Jude spent a lot of time with his door locked in his shared house at college. When he occasionally ventured out, the others were drawn to his blackheart. It oozed shadows and left invisible bloody footprints as he skulked around the tired old house. What was ridiculed at school, had become a honey-trap at college. An image of something they normally saw onscreen or in music mags. He was the real deal. A walking talking fucked up idol to be built up, and knocked down. They could see it wouldn’t take much. Unlike those they’d read and seen on screen, in bands and in those mags. He was…for real.

He didn’t feel any of that either, their abstract admirations — piss to the wind.

There was no way to see the full extent of his turmoil from the outside. His internal tormentors wore virtual masks, came in many colours and rarely showed an obvious face.

The zip went back on the little black case. As he opened it up, he imagined flying insects buzzing at his head. Carriers of distraction back into life. So, he swatted them away. From the case, rusty shiny blades looked up. He pulled back a shirt sleeve and admired each one of the fresh scars. Pushing. Made them seep.

He turned up the radio, he wasn’t listening to. All white noise drowning out a world; not his. This moment was between him and the blades. His real friends. And Family.

He cut himself, to test if he was still there. To see if he could feel past the numbness. A reality. He cut himself to have control. To be done to, by himself, and only himself. His feelings, born and made fragile by an unsympathetic upbringing, could erupt at any moment with outside influence. Here, he had complete orchestration over his pleasure, pain and when it started and stopped…

He sat back. Tears came. Of pleasure, pain, in the caress of the blade.

‘Jude, we’re having a brew… you want one?’

He wiped the blood away. Put on a plaster and rolled his sleeve down. He was ready to engage again. Although he didn’t know for how long.

‘Jude?’

Silence. Then a zip. Radio turned down.

‘You knocking one out in there, Jude?’

‘I’ll just be a sec…’

‘Filthy bastard.’

‘Be down in 5.’

* * *

Byron Walters was a public schoolboy prick. The rest of the household thought so as soon as he turned up on their doorstep. He stood there, way too fucking proud in his fake-tan skin. Posed catalogue-regal style, like the shitty neighbourhood didn’t matter, and the student house was his new castle. And, his new housemates peering hesitantly around the door were his new servants. His black designer holdall bag that hung from his hand was worth more than the rent they would all pay each quarter.

They let him in.

In the kitchen, the peeling walls bellowed and the others were glad Jude was locked in his room. They could tell Byron’s brash over-confident and constant banter-shit could send Jude spinning off, either in his head or literally. They’d have to ease them both in together, maybe over a brew. At least Byron wouldn’t be mouthing off as he took a sip of something, surely.

One of them went up to grasp the nettle. To get Jude.

            Byron kept laying it on. Really trying to sell himself, all the while misjudging his audience. It was about to go even more off-track, as Jude started to come down the stairs.

The others heard the steps and looked at each other. Byron didn’t notice. He was too busy sucking himself off with stories of girls in each port… How he couldn’t beat them off with a dirty stick — how he was the fucking man. And how all these girls…barely pubescent, were his trophies.

            The rest of the housemates felt the fabric of the house and kitchen change. With each of Jude’s steps overhead on the stairs carrying more weight than Byron’s hard-sell macho shit.

Jude slipped easily into the room behind Byron. And leant in the corner out of sight. One of the others nodded, leant over behind Byron and grabbed the kettle, filled it and returned to the base and switched it on.      

Click.

            Jude rolled and lit up.

            Byron sniffed the air, looked around and jumped at the new member in the room.

Jude was all in black, as usual, a translucent shadow. Aloof. An invisible reluctant observer, wishing to keep it that way.

            ‘What the fuck? You a fucking goth or something?’ Byron barked and laughed. Slapping his leg as if riding a horse, ‘thought this was Manchester…all indie kids, baggy trousers and Reni hats n’ shit,’ Byron’s words bounced around the kitchen. The others waited for their reception to take shape. Insult, a dig or friendly intentions were irrelevant. Jude was like thin ice with a bed of nails underneath at the best of times.

Jude breathed in.

Then out.

He gripped his forearm, enough to feel he could leave the room, at any moment without moving. His recent release was fresh enough that these stranger’s words bounced straight off him. The irony of the pain making his armour thick.

‘I’m going for a piss,’ Jude said to the floor, rolly hanging from his lip. He left, his smoke hanging in the vacuum he left behind.

‘That’s quite an act. Fucking dark arts reaper or something. Watch steam doesn’t come out,’ Byron said as Jude walked up the corridor and back up the stairs.

‘Ain’t no act,’ a voice said by the sink.

‘Bollocks,’ Jude barked. ‘Kid’s been listening to too much Smiths already, that’s all. We’ll get some Boddingtons in him, pills, poppers… Get him out into the big city for fuck sake. That’s just some small-town country repressed fuck up waiting to drink through it, get laid and come out the other side. Hell, he can have one of my birds. Two turning up tomorrow. At different times. It’s a nightmare of a juggling act anyhow…’ Byron’s coffee had kicked in and the others had wished they gave him tea instead. He was off on one, again. The gobshite was churning it out double time. Hyper. Like a dog busting for a piss, hopping on the spot between two lamp posts.

Jude’s footsteps started again on the stairs overhead. Coming back down.

‘Wait… I’ve an idea. It’s a belter — check this out!’ Byron announced to the room. ‘Everyone, hide. NOW! I’ll get behind the door, I’ve got just the thing for the fucking Crow,’ he giggled. No one joined in.

The others looked around, beyond worry. Not confident enough to rein in the ego dominating the room. And a little curious to see what was in store, despite knowing it wouldn’t end well. They knew it was a car crash coming and they were fixed to the back seat anyway.

Byron turned up the radio in the kitchen. Radiohead was playing Creep. ‘Perfect,’ he grinned and knelt down, unzipped the black holdall he’d just arrived with and quickly took something out, and put something under his tracky top before they could see it. Then he stepped behind the door and pulled it in front of himself so he was hidden.

The others all found a spot. Ducking, some in the cellar, others around a corner by the bins. All retreating best they could, out of sight.

From the top of the stairs, Jude heard Radiohead coming from the kitchen but already had Paul Weller in his head, and bits of Oasis, then Joy Division. He might have looked a Goth but his all-black uniform was a mere egoless wardrobe he didn’t have to think about. He was a broken priest of his own religion. His mind whirred on ideas, concepts, existential quandaries of abstract expressionism and broken mirrors. He was a deconstruction of himself. There was no time for public image preening.

By the last step of the stairs, New Order’s Crystal, was playing both in the kitchen and his mind. He floated to the bottom step.

His feet padded down the dark hallway. A thrown beer can had blown the bulb two nights ago and they hadn’t replaced it. The kitchen door was open but he couldn’t hear voices. This was normal over those that whispered in his head and whatever soundtrack he played there too. He heard the Chemical Brothers start and didn’t question whether it was internal or external. This soundtrack meant that rather than about to get worn down by the day, he was in a good place and mood. Ready to crack his own notions over what lay ahead.

He stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

Where had they gone?

The cellar was full of shit, nothing to see down there. And there was nothing much outside…

Longsight wasn’t a place to go sightseeing. Unless you liked boarded up windows, smashed out bus shelters and a community that could chew you up and leave you dead if you stopped still long enough.

They must be hiding.

Maybe they’d been burgled? And the rest were in the cellar tied up.

This area was rough. This city could eat you alive and you wouldn’t even make the second page of the local rag. Only last night a taxi driver had been mugged and killed. Some lads had jumped in, put a gun to his head and noose around his neck. Told him to drive or be shot. Said they’d let him know if he could stop before the rope tied back to a lamppost snapped his neck and his head came off. That was after he’d given them everything and showed them pictures of his wife and kids. His head was found by school kids the next morning and the car crashed into a fence a hundred yards ahead, motor still running as a piss and shit-soaked leg pressed an accelerator to the floor.

Jude grinned. Touched his forearm again — so be it. Muggers or not, he was going in.

Oasis’s Force of Nature played all around as Jude took a step forward. The world slowed.  At moments like this, his nervousness went past boiling point. Like when he had to talk to more than one person at a time, interact with an attractive girl…any girl. Or, just a stranger. Jude always swallowed it down and got on with it — and let a well-practiced zen-like power overwhelm him. When he stopped trying and let it win, he knew that would be the end. It was like the calm ebbs and flows moments before going over a waterfall in a small boat. Knowing…

The boat always goes over. 

He looked out of the kitchen window to the sun, felt nothing.

The door behind him snapped open crashing against the counter. Nothing, he didn’t jump.

He didn’t feel the gun barrel pressed hard against his temple or the arm gripped tight around his neck, pulling the gun and skull together tight. Nothing. But, he knew they were there.

He smiled.

‘Haha,’ a voice said, spitting over Jude’s face, ‘you’re gonna get it now… Say your last fucking words, CUNT!’

Jude breathed out, his eyes looked down. He didn’t resist the grip on his head and neck, instead embracing the moment, slowly closing his eyes as if going in for a kiss. ‘If you’re gonna do it, do it,’ Jude whispered, intimately.

Bryon started to shake.

He saw the Devil.

The others stepped out. The joke was on Bryon. They’d all been there long enough, the city was in their veins. Now it was in his.

‘Like we said,’ a voice went, ‘he’s for real.’

‘Fuck,’ Byron muttered… Gasping as realised he was out of breath. He felt small, naked.

‘Just pull the trigger, will you, so I don’t have to,’ this time Jude’s words sounding like a lover’s whisper.

Byron jumped away, scolded, as his feigned aggression faded fully away to reveal his extreme fear. He could see Jude welcomed the bullet. Any bullet. All the while seeming somehow bulletproof.

Byron’s arms dropped. The one holding the gun raised slowly back up and he put the piece on the worktop, delicately, like a priest holding out a communion wafer as a tear welled in his once superficial eyes. He’d been christened and embraced by loss of control. Now, he felt true darkness. Living and breathing in this place, and in Jude. This wasn’t an act. Byron’s image-persona was destroyed, ‘Pint?’ his lips quivered, conceding his comfortable life was now over.

‘Yes,’ Jude said, ‘and you’re fucking buying.’

As they put on their coats to leave, Byron put a hand on Jude’s shoulder and told him he’d wished he hadn’t pulled the joke. That he was an idiot. He was sorry. It was just a toy; fired blanks.

As they walked up the road, towards the nearest pub, a rope dangled from a lamppost and trailed to the centre of the road. Up ahead a burnt-out Vauxhall still smoked.

Sitting in a beer garden, by the fifth pint, Jude told Byron not to worry. That yes, he was an idiot. He didn’t need to tell him the rest… He didn’t need to say that he was sorry too, that it hadn’t been a real gun. That he welcomed a live round.

They sat in that beer garden in the pouring rain, getting soaked through, drinking down quicker than the heavens could re-fill the pint glasses. Small victories.

Jude closed his eyes and opened them again. There was no one there. Reopened, and they were back, smoking, drinking. The clouds took a rest and the sun strained for a chance as much it could in Manchester.

Jude looked into his glass. He saw just how much Byron had been shaken. He saw what was in him. He saw blackness. Flushing, embarrassed, he smiled again, bashful. Like receiving an unworthy felt compliment — a lover’s gift. Then, it drained away, and the calm washed over.

He rolled a cigarette and eyed a broken bottle with shards of razor-sharp glass by his feet.

It welcomed him. It spoke to him.

The bottle’s neck formed the perfect handle. The glass shon. In it he saw a crossroads — choices. Each, with a welcome release. All of them red as night, dark as sinkholes, and humming like the finest everlong embrace.

He saw the Devil.

This time, he’d be in control…and it wouldn’t be a joke.

John Bowie 2020 ©

John Bowie: Biography


John’s writing has appeared online and in print for the likes of Red Dog Press, Bristol Noir, Storgy Magazine, Close to the Bone, Litro Magazine, Punk Noir Magazine, Necro Productions and Deadman’s Tome.

He writes poetry, short stories and novels. His fiction is a semi-autobiographical mix of dirty realism, crime fiction and noir. Ghostly references to a heritage that includes the Vikings, Scotland, Ireland and the North, U.K. flavour the words throughout. Often with a dark humoured edge.

He’s the founder and editor of the Bristol Noir e-zine which specialises in dirty realism, noir and dark fiction.

John lives in Bristol with his wife and daughters, where he has been since the late nineties. He is a professional designer, artist and writer as well as a proud husband, father, brother and son.

John’s first novel, Untethered, the first in the Black Viking Thriller series is out now with Red Dog Press. Transference, the second Black Viking Thriller is due February 2021.

His pulp noir Weston-super-Nightmare is out in March 2021 with Close to the Bone.

His poetry collection, Dead Birds & Sinking Ships (Little Tales of Melancholy Madness) is due August 2021 with Close to the Bone Publishing.

A collection of Bristol Noir stories (Tainted Hearts & Dirty Hellhounds) curated by and including John’s work, is slated for Q1 2021.

David Nolan talks about The Mermaid’s Pool

THE MERMAID’S POOL : DAVID NOLAN

Detective Inspector John Smithdown is a good man with some bad things to deal with. It’s 1988 and ecstasy is flooding the streets of Manchester. The Second Summer of Love is here. Tell that to the locals on DI Smithdown’s patch.

Over one weekend, Smithdown is faced with a missing single mum,  machete wielding gangs in Oldham, simmering racial tensions across communities and a mutilated body found at the edge of a remote lake with a mythical reputation. People say bad things happen at the Mermaid’s Pool.

They’re dead right.

David Nolan – author of Black Moss – brings you a second helping of Manc Noir. Things just got even darker.

John Wisniewski interviews Nick Kolakowski

  1. When did you begin writing, Nick?

I’ve always written. Like so many others, I had one of those cliché writer childhoods where I wrote and drew my own little books. I also had an intense interest in crime fiction from a young age, as well — when I was nine or ten, my dad gave me an old paperback copy of “Trouble Is My Business,” which kicked off a lifelong addiction to all things noir. But I didn’t start writing crime fiction in a serious way until my late 30s, after veering through everything else — journalism, nonfiction book-writing, copywriting, etc. Plunging into crime fiction, and finding the community that came with it, felt like coming home.

2. Any favorite crime authors?

Among contemporary authors, some of my most hardcore favorites include Steph Cha (whose “Your House Will Pay” was my favorite book last year; it’s an excellent, searing mystery), Sarah Jilek (who just published “Saint Catastrophe,” a wonderfully weird and sexy book about cults, biker gangs, MFAs, and violence), Sean Cosby (whose ” Blacktop Wasteland” is a hell of a masterpiece), and David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s “Winter Counts” (an incredible mystery set on a Native American reservation). All of them are pushing the boundaries of what crime fiction can be, especially as a lens for viewing some of the biggest issues hitting society at the moment.

3. What makes a good crime novel? How do you create suspense?

If you want to build great suspense, you have to delay gratification. All the common tools of suspense — the cliffhanger, etc. — stem from that simple principle. You delay and delay and delay, in a way that leaves the audience wanting more. When I’m reading a crime novel or short story, I know it’s failing when they’re relying too much on spectacle — when they overstuff it with events because they think those will hold the reader’s attention. That doesn’t do anything but wear the reader down. Teasing them along, though… that’s the magic.

4.Could you tell us about writing “Rattlesnake Rodeo“, one of your latest?

“Rattlesnake Rodeo” is the sequel to “Boise Longpig Hunting Club.” I never intended to write a sequel to “Boise,” but the characters kept speaking to me after I finished the book. Plus, if you’ve read “Boise,” you know that it ends with a lot of plot threads still unresolved. With “Rattlesnake Rodeo,” I wanted to raise the stakes by an insane degree, to put the characters in pretty much the worst type of situation you can imagine any noir characters being plunged into.

5.How did you create the Jake Halligan character?

Jake’s history as a bounty hunter and a former soldier comes from a few people in my life who were former bounty hunters and soldiers. I like the idea of a roughneck who cuffs people by day but comes home and reads a ton of books—there’s a dichotomy there that breaks a bunch of clichés.

Many characters in noir and hardboiled fiction are fundamentally immoral, because that’s how you drive the plot—they’re fighting their dark places. With Jake, I wanted to create a character who was fundamentally good but grappling with some broken pieces (many of those the result of his experiences during the Iraq War). Jake’s sister, Frankie, is the opposite—she’d be a complete psychopath except for whatever wiring in her brain allows her to love her friends and family intensely.

6. Tell us about the Love & Bullets series? How were those characters created?

With the Love & Bullets novellas (“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” “Slaughterhouse Blues,” and “Main Bad Guy”), I wanted to create something that was action-heavy, funny, and extremely hyperactive. Bill and Fiona, the two main characters, aren’t quite as smart as they think they are, although they’re more than capable of surviving when they rip off their gangster bosses and try to escape to the Caribbean.

The novellas were originally published via Shotgun Honey, which specializes in noir novellas. Then a large German publisher bought and translated the novellas in one volume for the German and Swiss markets, which meant I needed to rewrite the books slightly, in order to ensure the narrative read smoothly as one giant novel as opposed to three shorter ones. Now Shotgun Honey is going to publish the novellas as a complete book in English, which gave me the opportunity to rewrite yet again—and add to it. It’s a rare gift to be able to rewrite and adjust your book repeatedly as times go on; I’ve used the opportunity to tweak issues, improve the plot, etc. So that’s been fun!

7. In another of your most recent novels “Boise Longpig Hunting Club”, Jake Halligan faces many dangers, in a novel full of action. Does this help to draw the reader in, to keep the reader guessing?

With “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” I was inspired by “The Most Dangerous Game” and other novels and movies over the past hundred years that have featured people hunting other people for sport. Given the political and cultural polarization in America, I thought it’d be interesting to revamp that story with a lot of contemporary subtext.

At the same time, I also wanted “Boise” to be something of a mystery, because that would keep the reader engaged until it was time for the big hunt to kick off. I was borrowing a little bit from the Lee Child playbook with that one—if you’ve read the Reacher novels, you know that Child is very good at weaving together mystery and action to keep you glued throughout the entire book.

8. What will your next book be about?

I’m actually working on *two* novels right now. One is an Agatha Christie-style locked-room mystery that takes place in a highly unusual time and location; the other is a ticking-clock mystery/action novel that goes in a really odd direction for its final act. I’ve been increasingly interested in what happens when you mix genres together—comedy and horror, mystery and horror, and so on. These two manuscripts are experiments in that vein, and we’ll just have to see how I do.

Bishop Rider Week: Monday – Fire In The Hole by Beau Johnson

This story is part of Rider’s early days, before he finds a certain video and tracks down the men who killed his mother and sister. This is also Batista’s first appearance in a Rider story, and as you’ll see, the Detective isn’t as onboard with Bishop’s brand of justice as he’d come to be. Either way: the struggle begins.        

FIRE IN THE HOLE

I push the steel harder into the back of Terrance’s shaved head. 

            “C’mon,” he says. “You and me, Rider, we’ve similar goals.”  The scum was right as well as wrong.  Where I saw him and his kind as a means to an end, he only wanted atop the pile.  “We’re businessmen, you and I.  Way I see it, the info I’m givin’ you, I should be gettin’ a free pass.” 

“Anne-Marie Shields.  Did she get a pass?”  Terrance was smart, played dumb, but I already knew.   Put a bullet in his crotch to make him understand.  I unloaded the remaining five just to let off steam.

            “And this piece of shit, this Terrance, he said Toomey and his men are coming in night after next?”  Batista continued to look out over Culver, the city he’d sworn to protect.  Duty and honor are the things which make up Detective John Batista; what made up most of the men he stood in line with.  That he now found himself in my world was something we rarely discussed.  It was a given, what I did.  And he’d yet to try and turn me in.

In him I see myself, a time when belief had been the norm; that this world did in fact not kick at its dead.  Detective Batista and I, we have our demons, sure, each the thing that drives us on.  But to be fair, that is where the similarities end.  No matter how much he might think otherwise.

Toomey, though…Toomey was the here and now.  And Toomey was trouble.  Aggressive. Ruthless.  Feral.  He was high end too, lacking the moral compass most considered a conscience.  Word on the street was he kept a portable wood chipper now, and that the man was unafraid to take his time if given the chance. 

Bangers wouldn’t use him, slingers either, which left me two choices, both of which I could work with.  Russians or Italians.  Little more re-con and Bobby Carmine popped into view.

“Head-shit looking to take you out, I see.”  Batista runs a hand through his greying hair, goes down about his goatee and finishes with a sigh.  Politics notwithstanding, I swear the man’s as textbook as they come.

“What it looks like, yeah.”

“And just what is it you want from me?”  I looked to the city’s lights behind him, looked down into the valley which had claimed so many.  Culver was not the place I’d been born, but I was certain it’d be the place I’d die.       

“I want unobstructed access to the south side when this goes down.  I’m not looking for collateral damage.  Ensure the night’s patrol is light.”

He looks at me, shakes his head, and then says he’d work on it: Batista-speak for yes.

“You’re going to need ordnance, then.”  I told him yes, but that it wouldn’t be coming from him.  As ever, he’d already done more than enough. 

Outside Carmine’s place I load the launcher as soon as I see Toomey and his crew are given the go through.  Ten minutes later and I light the night.  Upon entering, I can’t help but think back to men like Toomey.  Hell, to men like Carmine himself.  Lowlifes who think they deserve; men arrogant enough to believe the streets were theirs; who would rob and kill and extort and have others do the very same thing in their name.  I picture Mick the Fish, Danny Dolan, and Marcel Abrum.  They were special, each of them, all receiving a little extra piece of my time.  To Toomey I would do the same.  He of the wood chipper fame deserved no less.

As the Kevlar takes two to the chest I turn, dive, but take one in the side of the leg as I return fire.  I hear a click.  Another.  And then the gun as it’s tossed aside. 

“Come if yer comin’ goddammit!”  I did.  It was Toomey, of course.  Why men like him never died like the rest of them I will never know for sure.

Through the debris and flame and smoke I see what he’s become—intestines that stream outwards, flowing in place of his legs.  Thick, they wind around brick and plaster like pregnant string.  He gurgles, spits up, and as I approach I step on as much of him as I can.  In the end I don’t need bullets.  I only look him in the eye. 

To protect and serve, Batista says.  To protect and save, I respond.

I admit the difference is vast.

Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his wife and three boys. He has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the Molotov Cocktail. Besides writing, Beau enjoys golfing, pushing off Boats and certain Giant Tigers.

Find Beau Johnson online …

Website: https://www.beaujohnsonfiction.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007691865781
Twitter: https://twitter.com/beaujohnson44
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Beau-Johnson/e/B079MHF7RG/
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17692442.Beau_Johnson

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973) by K A Laity

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973)

I read the novel so long ago (back in my L. A. days so looooong ago) I could only remember the basics of the story. There were probably more of them in the original script by the legend Leigh Brackett, but Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking always left room for improvisation and Elliott Gould—unlikely to be most director’s ideal choice to play Phillip Marlowe—works well here.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this film that likewise memory proves unreliable. So much has changed in the mean time, too. I’ve been soaking in noir and neo-noir for so long now it’s altered my view on the genre, mostly to be much more accommodating. I dug out my vintage paperback to read later and sat down on a sunny Saturday afternoon to visit 1973 Los Angeles with Elliot Gould and co and Vilmos Zsigmond’s singular cinematography.

The ginger cat is the one thing everybody remembers. I should write a book about ginger cats in noir. You can’t cheat a cat. Chandler loved cats. The scene feels genuine to any cat lover: having fallen asleep in his clothes, Marlowe is awakened by the moggy landing on his belly. Ouch. He has no choice but to drag himself out at 3am in his 1948 Lincoln convertible to the 24 hour food store. The car is a nice touch, signaling Marlowe a throwback to another time, Chandler’s idea of the P.I. as a kind of knight with a code.

Then there’s the candle dippers next door. The topless women would feel more gratuitous if they didn’t have a totally believable and completely natural hippy languor. Asking Marlowe to pick up boxes of brownie mix and doing elaborate yoga poses on the balcony at night. The iconic High Tower provides an unforgettable location for Marlowe’s home, outdone only by the Malibu Colony. Apparently the Ward’s house was the one Altman was living in at the time.

Nina van Pallandt embodies the concerned wife with just enough difference from the mostly Californian cast to make her thinking seem mysterious but believable. Sterling Hayden is a legend and manages to uphold that without chewing scenery which would be easy to do in the role of the writer who can no longer write, who is drunk and angry with the world, not necessarily in that order. Allegedly inspired by Chandler’s own struggles as his wife was dying. Ward’s death is changed from the novel and pays off much better, especially in how it affects Marlowe, who develops a fondness for the difficult man. The drinking scene with Hayden and Gould was largely improvised and has an authentic feel.

Henry Gibson, best known at the time as a gentle poet on Laugh-In, is super creepy and menacing in a really unsettling way as the dry-out doctor trying to extort money from Wade.

Jim Bouton, better known for baseball and even more so for his tell-all memoir Ball Four about that career, makes his film debut as the pal asking Marlowe for a lift to Mexico with some suspicious injuries including a clawed face.

What feels most 70s about this movie is the cops. Well, not that they’ve changed much in L.A. according to my friends who still live there. That gritty, don’t care about anything attitude and the clothes—those awful seventies clothes that modern films never quite get right—they provide a good target for Marlowe’s dogged resistance. The ink interrogation scene is another improvised scene.

I had to look it up, but yeah, there’s a portrait of Leonard Cohen in the Ward’s house because Altman was a fan. Speaking of fans, I love the gatekeeper at the Colony and his impressions of the stars.

A cool thing: except for ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ that opens and closes the film, all the other music is variations of the theme tune by Johnny Mercer and John Williams—even the dirge played in the scenes in Mexico. It’s a great thematic device that gives the picture aural coherence.

The changed ending is often credited to Altman, but it was part of Brackett’s original script which was shopped around for some years before finally coming together with this unexpected group of talents. It works. The final scene is almost an inverse of The Third Man’s iconic ending, with a harmonica in place of the jaunty zither.

Well worth a revisit if it’s been a while for you, too. If you’ve not seen it, a treat awaits. Bonus: here’s a great interview with Gould by Kim Morgan.

K A LAITY IS HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE.

A Rotten Plan by Morgan Boyd

Dave had been trying to get in with the local cartel for years: The Wyler family. The only time he had ever caught their attention was when he ratted on a guy in the organization that his sister was dating.  The guy had been ripping them off in coke sales.  Dave dropped the dime, and sure enough, nobody ever heard from his sister’s boyfriend again, but it didn’t get him any closer to joining their ranks.  See, nobody likes a rat.  Not even those who benefit from his squealing .

The Wyler’s had a family tattoo they wore behind their right ear.  It was of a Barbary lion, and if you had the tattoo it meant you were in.  Dave wanted that tattoo more than anything.  He’d even tried to draw it in pen behind his ear a few times, using a mirror, so that he could feel what it was like to be one of the boys, but his renderings always ended up looking like smeared shit.

Dave had a new plan, though.  This time he was sure to get himself noticed by the Wyler’s, and he’d finally get some steady employment instead of being some asshole, schmuck assistant manager at a grocery store.  He pictured himself pulling out guy’s teeth that wouldn’t talk, or roughing up the kid who came up short on the money.  That was what he wanted to be more than anything, a tough guy.

This new plan to get noticed wafted in right under his nose. Some hippy kids rented the house across the street. It wasn’t long before the smell of their grow operation started stinking up the block.  One day, when the hippies were out, Dave snuck around back, and had a peek over the fence into the yard.  Holy shit, he thought.  It’s the goddamn emerald triangle back here. Hundreds of cannabis plants flowered in row after row of tired and cracked black pots.

Dave didn’t know dick about weed. He was going to take off a few boards on the hippies’ fence late at night, steal all of the plants in the back of a U-Haul truck, and stash it at a storage unit until he figured out how to turn a profit on it to impress the Wyler’s.  Fortunately, just before he was about to go through with his scheme, he let Howl in on his plan. Howl was an ex-con, gulf war vet, and a bandana wearing heavy stoner.

“What the fuck will you do with a bunch of unharvested bud?” Howl asked.

“Sell it.”

“To who?  Who the fuck is going to buy unharvested bud?” Howl said lighting a joint. “Only thing you’ll do is fuck up the crop.”

“What do you propose then?”

“Let the hippies do all of the work.  Let them harvest the bud.  Let them dry that shit.  Let them trim it.  When it’s all done, and ready to toke, that’s when we make our move.”

“How long will that take?”

“Judging by the smell, a few weeks.”

Dave wasn’t thrilled about putting his plan on hold, so he took out his dissatisfaction on the customers at the grocery store, but Howl knew about pot.  He knew how to move it, and if Dave could turn a tighty profit on the bud, he’d be on the fast track to getting that Wyler tat.

Howl worked recon for a few weeks.  He’d climb onto the roof of Dave’s house, and stare down into the hippies’ yard with a pair of binoculars. Finally, after he’d gathered enough intel to make an educated decision, Howl green-lit the operation.

“For some lazy ass hippies, they sure have been working hard to get that weed ready to roll,” Howl said.  They trimmed it outside, and now it’s hanging in the garage, drying.”

Dave rented a U-Haul truck, and he and Howl waited. After a few hours, they saw the hippies pile into their hippy bus, and drive off to do whatever hippy shit hippies do.  Dave packed his pistol, and Howl grabbed his lock picking kit.  They scurried across the street, and had the front door opened in no time.

Turning a corner into the living room, they came face to ass with a couple of the free loving, free loader type loadies caught in the act of coitus. Dave wouldn’t have minded watching if the lovers were into that kind of thing, but the guy reached over for his piece.  Dave got the draw on him, and put a bullet in the hippy’s forehead.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Howl said as the woman began screaming at the sight of her recently deceased lover. “What the fuck?”

“He went for his gun,” Dave said.  “It was us or him.”

“Well, now you have to dust her too,” Howl said. “She’s a witness.”

“Seems a shame,” Dave said, raising the gun, and shooting her in the head. “Sorry about that, lady.”

“The only shame is the size of your brain, asshole.  I’m not trying to catch a murder wrap.”

“Shit, this place is nice inside,” Dave said.  “Look at that big ass flat screen TV, and that spacious leather couch.  I thought hippies lived on dirt floors and made beads out of potatoes or some shit.”

“Come on, let’s get that dank loaded into the truck before those other Summer of sixty-niners return. 

Dave and Howl opened the door leading into the garage, and a wave of stinky bud odor crashed over them.

“Jackpot,” Dave said.  “Serves these beatniks right, stinking up my goddamn neighborhood.”

“Hold on,” Howl said, examining the drying buds, hanging on rows of strings throughout the entire garage. “You have to be fucking kidding me.”

“What?”

“It’s fucking botrytis.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s everywhere.”

“What is?”

“These motherfuckers are some serious amateurs. This stuff aint worth shit.”

“What the hell do you mean?”

“This is what I mean,” Howl said, taking a bud off the string.  It had brown patches of death on the outside, but when he ripped the flower apart, the inside was filled with a fine brown dust that floated into the air. “Gray mold. Also known as bud rot. If you don’t catch it early, it spreads like fire through your crop.”

“Can we still sell this shit?” Dave asked.

“These idiots must have been watering the leaves at night or something.  Fucking morons.”

“Can we still sell this shit?” Dave asked again.

“It’s all fucked and worthless. You know something?”

“What?”

“You were right.”

“I was?”

“This house is way too nice for a bunch of dirty ass amateur hippies, who can’t even grow weed.”

“That’s what I was saying.  Did you see the size of that TV in the living room? You could park a bus on it.”

“How can these peace lovers, who can’t even grow nugs correctly,” Howl asked as they returned to the dead couple in the living room, “afford all of this really nice shit?”

Howl reached over the dead couple, grabbed a leather-bound suitcase, and opened it. Hundreds of little white bindles dropped to the floor.

“We better haul ass,” Howl said, and quickly gathered up the white packets on the floor, and returned them to the suitcase.

“Hey, Howl?” Dave asked, pointing at a small black security camera on the ceiling. “What the hell is that?”

“Fuck it.  We got to go.”

“Hold on,” Dave said, and reached up, and unplugged the device, and put it in his pocket.  “We have to cover our tracks.”

“The video footage isn’t stored on the camera, numbnuts.”

“Then where is it stored?” Dave asked, and kicked the dead guy. “I bet he knows.  Where’s it at?  Or I put another hole in you.”

“Christ, Dave. The poor bastard’s already dead.  Let’s bounce the fuck out.”

“Oh, shit,” Dave said, pushing the dead guy’s head to the side with the barrel of his gun. “This aint no moonbeam.”

A Barbary lion was tattooed behind the dead guy’s ear.

“Come on asshole.”

Howl slipped out the front door with the briefcase under his arm. Dave stumbled out of the house behind him. As they stepped off the porch, a long black car pulled into the driveway. The barrel of a long gun stuck out the back window, and the cracking sound of two gunshots pierced the marijuana scented air. 

Bio: Morgan Boyd used to live in Santa Cruz, California.  Now he lives somewhere else with his wife, daughter, cat, and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Coffee and Fried Chicken, Tough, Pulp Metal Magazine, Spelk and in print at Switchblade Magazine.  He also has stories forthcoming at Yellow Mama and Story and Grit.

Classic Caper: The Black Lizard (1934) – Edogawa Rampo by K. A. Laity

71R8RysfPwLA while back Carol Borden of the Cultural Gutter hepped me to the 1962 film version of this novel which I absolutely raved over. I finally got around to reading the novel and I’m happy to say it’s great fun, too.

 

The 2006 Kurodahan Press edition, translated by Ian Hughes, includes The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows (1928). There’s an introduction by Mark Schreiber that offers a good overview of the author born Hirai Tar?, his works and his influence, including real life criminals writing sarcastic letters to the police and signing themselves as characters from his novels.

 

Is there a better tribute to a crime writer?

 

The Black Lizard is a jewel thief with an almost orgasmic desire for shiny stones. In the opening chapter on Christmas Eve, the criminal mastermind dances in her private club with ecstatic pleasure clad only in her jewels, inflaming the desires of the men who will do anything she says. That’s useful because she’s set her black heart on obtaining the Star of Egypt, a colonial spoil that belongs to the leading jewel merchant in Tokyo.

 

Her daring plan is to kidnap Iwase’s daughter at the ritzy Kei? Hotel, then force him to give up the jewel to get her back. The queenpin is so arrogant that she writes him anonymous letters warning him what is going to happen and when. Iwase is disturbed and hires renowned detective Akechi Kogor? to safeguard his daughter. Akechi is confident that no one can get past his clever preparations. He even bets the stylish Madame Midorikawa that he will succeed. She pledges all her jewels that he won’t.

 

Of course Mme Midorikawa is just the Black Lizard in disguise and her clever preparations are even better than his. Disguises are the rule of the game and there are so many. Luck allows Akechi to find the daughter before she’s completely spirited away, but this makes the criminal mastermind even more determined.

 

Another even more daring plot is hatched and poor Sanae is kidnapped right from the Iwase home. The jeweler regretfully agrees to hand over the Star of Egypt at the top of a tower in a theme park. The place is deserted except for a stylish ‘genteel’ woman who of course reveals her true face. ‘The Black Lizard! She was a monster, a shape-shifter.’ But Akechi has a few tricks up his sleeve, too.

 

There’s a lot of excitement, more disguises, a moment when the Black Lizard has Akechi in her power and finds herself unexpectedly drawn to a mind that matches her own: ‘Driven by some strange emotion, she had the weird illusion that the man lying stretched out under her seat was not her enemy, but almost a lover.’

 

But jewels are the most important thing and we’re off to her secret underground lair that has jewels and a whole lot more—a most unusual ‘zoo’ that she plans to add poor Sanae to in a most interesting exhibit.

 

Great fun! Now to see the 1968 film…

John Wisniewski interviews A J Devlin

rollling thunder

Q: When did you begin writing, A.J.?

A: Oh geez, I mean, I guess I began writing very young. In elementary school my best friend and I were in Grade 3 or 4 and in an enrichment program. It was lots of fun and we did a lot of creative projects. I remember we had a fairy tale assignment so we wrote and illustrated a mash-up book about Snow White and The Three Little Pigs where the pigs were all karate masters and kicked the heck out of the evil queen, her minions, and the seven dwarves. But reading and writing was always a big part of my life, so after hanging up my sneakers at nineteen after trying to follow in my father’s footsteps as a basketball player for the Canadian Men’s National Team, I very quickly zeroed in on the Screenwriting program at Chapman University where I earned my B.F.A. followed by a M.F.A. at The American Film Institute and haven’t looked back.

Q: Any favourite crime and mystery authors?

A: I have many favourite crime and mystery authors! Since becoming published in 2018 I’ve pretty much exclusively read Canadian crime fiction. My current favourites include Sam Wiebe, Amber Cowie, Dave Butler, Niall Howell, Seamus Heffernan, and D.B. Carew to name a few and there are so many more I could list. And there are more great Canadian crime writers on the horizon — like J.T. Siemens — who recently signed with my publisher NeWest Press and his forthcoming novel TO THOSE WHO KILLED ME is a wicked read. However, when I was in university and living in Los Angeles, I read almost exclusively American authors. Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and Joe R. Lansdale were the writers who inspired and influenced me the most.

Q: Your debut novel was Cobra Clutch. How did you create the “Hammerhead” Jed character?

A: I came up with the “Hammerhead” Jed character after spending a lot of time reading mystery novels from what I’ve dubbed the “athlete / detective” sub-genre. I’ve read crime fiction about boxer detectives, surfer detectives, hockey player detectives, sports agent detectives — you name the sport and there is probably a sleuth that comes from that background. However, as far as I could tell, no one had ever created a pro wrestler detective. That combined with the fact I was a huge professional wrestling fan growing up and later became fascinated with pro wrestling biographies and documentaries — plus the contrast between the in-ring theatrics and many outside of the ring tragedies — seemed like a great angle for creating a pro wrestler detective.

Q: You combine elements of humour into your storylines, A.J. What do you think is the overall effect on the reader?

A: I think humour is intrinsic to the “Hammerhead” Jed series, which is why it’s marketed as a mystery-comedy. I also believe because professional wrestling can be so over-the-top, to not include humour in stories about a pro wrestler detective would almost be doing the squared circle a disservice. I hope the overall effect on readers is that the humour adds to the escapist entertainment I strive to create in the books and makes them more fun. I grew up on movies like Back To The Future, The Last Boy Scout, and Die Hard — all adventures in which humour plays a big role — so I’m definitely attempting to capture some of that whimsy in the books.

Q: What makes a good crime / mystery novel?

A: I think there are several elements that make for a good crime / mystery novel. There are also two kinds — series books and standalones. I prefer series mysteries as I enjoy reading and writing characters over multiple books so I’ll focus on those kinds of mysteries for my answer. I believe a distinctive protagonist goes a long way. My professor and mentor used to say that the true appeal of books in a mystery novel series isn’t actually the mystery but the lead character, and that the narrative was simply a vehicle for readers to spend time with an old friend. With regards to the mystery itself, I think twists, turns, misdirection, and red herrings are pretty important as it keeps the reader engaged and allows them to try and figure out the whodunnit. Finally, I would say pacing is crucial as the best crime fiction comes from the books that are page turners.

Q: Are there any crime / mystery movies that you like?

A: Definitely! Just to name a handful I would go with Harrison Ford’s THE FUGITIVE, as I think it’s a great pulse-pounding mystery-thriller that holds up. Many of Alfred Hitchcock’s innovative films would have to be on my list, with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN probably being my favourite. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is very dark but riveting and I vividly remember reading the book as a teenager. THE USUAL SUSPECTS is a terrific, twisty flick. CHINATOWN is of course a masterpiece. And for lighter and more humorous fare I would say Shane Black’s KISS KISS BANG BANG and THE LAST BOY SCOUT round out my list as they are very much tonally similar to what I aspired to emulate with the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series. 

Q: Could you tell us about writing ROLLING THUNDER?

A: Writing ROLLING THUNDER was a blast! When I wrote the first book in the “Hammerhead” Jed series — COBRA CLUTCH — I was trying to channel Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane style pulp fiction with wrestlers and detectives in Vancouver. The book turned out more comedic than I expected, but it also felt like it had developed organically. I realized with a pro wrestler detective protagonist that humour was essential and intrinsic to the series. So going into ROLLING THUNDER, I set out from the start to write a comedic mystery, which is why I think of the two books it’s the more humorous and entertaining.

Q: Any future plans or projects, maybe a new book?

A: I’m currently hard at work on book 3 in the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series. This time around Jed catches a case that pulls him into the world of Mixed Martial Arts. The idea for the series was always to have him perpetually drawn into different fringe sports or unique subcultures while working as a private investigator, and given Jed’s pro wrestling background combined with growing up as the son of a legendary Vancouver Police Department officer, I believe he is uniquely suited for such work.

A J DEVLIN IS HERE

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Classic Noir: Two by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding K. A. Laity

People have been talking about Bookshop as an alternative to the ‘zon so I hopped over to set up my profile there and see what they have. Disappointingly, they have a very patchy collection. Ironically, as they sell themselves as a booster of independent bookstores, you’ll mostly find volumes from the not-so-indie presses. I tried to add some things with ISBNs, but if it’s not in their database, you can’t add it. Out of the couple dozen (?) or so books I have out, I found a random 5.

Unable to burnish my own self-serving profile, I decided to set up some recommendations, including a ‘Godmothers of Noir’ list. I figure I’ll add to as I go along, but as you can imagine, I ran out of steam because data entry is boring. So to prod myself into doing more, I offer a couple recs here.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding was ‘the top suspense writer of them all’ according to Raymond Chandler. Jake Hinkson agrees, acknowledging that the reason she tends to be dropped from the noir canon is largely because she doesn’t fit the hardboiled cliché. He argues that despite her ‘comfortable’ appearance, ‘I’d wager everything I own in the world that if you could have sidled up to Holding at some stuffy dinner party and asked her what she was really thinking the answer would have been darkly funny and perceptive.’

KILL JOY (1942) is the story of Maggie MacGowan, a young woman with ambition working as a servant in quiet house when she’d much rather be working in an office. While the housekeeper reads the sensational headlines about a local murder, tutting that the young woman ‘brought it on herself’ probably from wearing pajamas or shorts—‘and shorts they are!’ Maggie chafes at her position, but release comes through trying to help the young niece Miss Dolly, who flatters her ego and then confides in her like an equal: she’s in danger and afraid and needs to flee. She wants Maggie to come as her secretary. Because Dolly appears to be everything chic and sophisticated in her eyes, and she’s getting threatening notes from someone who signs his name as Othello, Maggie is won over to the scheme and they sneak away.

It all seems exciting and romantic but Maggie is dismayed to find they arrive in the dark of night at a ‘nasty dirty’ little house on the water. There’s no food but there are two strange men: Neely, a Dutch artist who seems unconcerned with anything, and Johnny Cassidy, a smooth talking fellow who alternately entrances and disgusts the young woman. One minute he’s putting on a cod Scots accent to tease her and the next he’s muttering dark drunken ramblings.

Dolly’s lawyer shows up but soon appears floating in the estuary. And things really begin to unravel. At first Maggie is primly determined to get herself out of the increasingly-gothic surroundings, but she’s checked first by sympathy for Dolly and then by a growing fear that she can’t escape. The bohemian group intermingles with the local Long Island gentry. Maggie learns that all the ‘class’ she attributed to Miss Dolly is really embodied by Gabrielle Getty, whose husband is another circling around the eternal victim—unless it’s Miss Dolly herself who’s only playing a part.

The book will keep you guessing as to who’s knocking off one inconvenient person after another right up to the end. It’s fascinating to see the changes in Maggie who is initially crushed by finding out that she’s not as smart as she thought she was, yet bounces back with real courage and plenty of pluck.

THE VIRGIN HUNTRESS (1951) could not be more different. Like Hughes’ In a Lonely Place (1947) this novel plops us into the mind of misogynist, self-pitying manipulator. The novel opens on V-J Day, neatly taking advantage of the noir hinge between the war and post war periods. Montford Duchesne is not quite in the same celebratory mood as the rest of the population. The end of the war means the end of his job in the shipyard on Staten Island. It means more difficulty coping with his landlady’s daughter Gwen, who’s determined to marry him. He thinks he deserves better things.

It’s interesting how different Maggie’s ambitions – initially just as self-deluded – compare to Monty’s: Maggie realises it’s herself that needs to change; Monty stubbornly waits for the world to change around him. And there’s that thing he can’t quite bear to think about in his past. The (mostly female) ghosts that haunt him lead him to a random change of plans. In the chaos of the celebrations, he wanders away from his would-be fiancée to offer assistance to a couple of women in a Rolls who are being menaced by a sailor who’s trying to force them to celebrate with him.

The rescuer gets invited along since they’re all heading back to Manhattan and at first it seems like a dream come true for Monty: away from his down-at-the-heel life and into the wealthy world of Argentian oil wealth. So what if Rose has her suspicions about him. Her tia Luisa takes an instant liking to him and invites him to use her brother’s hotel room while he sorts himself out.

Monty veers from arrogance to abject self-loathing: ‘This time he paid, this time he tipped, lavishly. Maybe she was noticing. After all, he thought. I’m not an oaf. Not a hick. My father’s people…I went to a really good school.’ Like Dix Steele, Monty wants all the things he thinks he deserves while knowing the world is against him. Oh and there’s that thing haunting him, that give him nightmares and makes him sweat and act belligerent and desperately try to fix things so no one will find out just what he can’t bring himself to remember.

Both of these books will grab you and have you flipping pages right to the end. While some of the noir tropes will be familiar, you’ll find plenty of surprises, too. Even bit part characters are memorable and distinct (wow, Monty’s mother). See the ongoing list of ‘Godmothers of Noir’ here.