Recommended Read: Blood by Choice by Rob Pierce

Uncle Dust is out for revenge after two woman an a child are murdered. Teaming up with his old crony Karma, he sets about killing the perpetrators.

Rob Pierce’s Blood By Choice is a brutal gut-punch of lowlife crime fiction with a great cast of characters. Cracking stuff.

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.

Come Get Me by Robert Ragan

Come Get Me

An artist, I draw guns on small time dealers making their little re-up. Stuck up assholes, treating their friends like shit until they’re crying to their buddies saying, “Fiends pulled a stick up on me.”

Even with drug problems, I’m dressed nice. Still with money in my pocket and my ears to those places decent people won’t go.

I always hear so and so is talking shit. Someone sent word, said tell me my name tastes like pussy in their mouth.

“Sending word back,” I said, “Tell ‘em soon it’s gonna taste like blood.”

THC gangstas, Dirty White Boys. Anybody can get it if they’ve got it and I want it.

I’ve been lucky so far. Running into bitches not willing to die over their product.

Great! Cause I swear I don’t want to hurt anybody. Get my ass whooped almost every time I fight.

Anyone else with a gun on ‘em would smoke somebody first. Not me, but the way things are going, I’m gonna have to pull the trigger.

My name is on a lot of people’s hit lists. Just the other day someone warned me to stay away from a certain part of town. Said if I get caught out that way, I’m getting my head busted wide open, if not something much worse.

Little no name gang at least put out a warning. Some people claim it’s going down on site if they spot me anywhere.

Motherfuckers act like I’m a recluse in isolation. Terrified to come out. Hell no!

So, tell whoever’s talking shit to come get me! I already know it’s inevitable. So, who will be the first to make me pull the trigger? I’ve gotta do what I gotta do.

Started out breaking into the dope spot. Flipping everything upside down. Sometimes we found drugs plus cash and guns too. Other times we didn’t find shit.

When I say we, well, back then there was my partner, his girlfriend and me. Marcy was a thieving bitch, but once we introduced firearms to our game, she wanted out.

Lester couldn’t let her go, so I told him to go back to playing middleman and cashing bad checks.

Those two will still be breathing once I‘m buried and covered with worms.

I know it’s coming. When my time does come, whoever it is better be ready.

I’m always watching my back; a scared man is a dangerous man.

They better remember to watch their back!

They’ll see me face my fears if I go broke.

So fucking real, they can’t stop me. That’s why those cowards make threats. I hear ‘em all, even pick it apart when they try to say something slick.

If they’re ever brave enough to do all the shit they talk about, I’ll be ready.

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The Click of the Shutting by Graham Wynd

The Click of the Shutting

Graham Wynd

 

She waited for the sound of it, the sound that meant safety, the sound that meant it was over for now. The time it was when his shouts might soften, sometimes even turn to tears and beg forgiveness, beg for comfort, remind her again how it was all her fault.

If only she wasn’t like that. 

If only she didn’t get in the way of things. If only she should read his mind so she would know what he was thinking because he didn’t have time to tell her. He was in a hurry, always. Unless he was taking his time.

‘You know I don’t mean it, Georgie,’ he would say after the click, after he shut the blade safely away. After the cutting, after the tears – hers anyway. Then it was sorry, then it was I didn’t mean it, then it was you made me do it. And she would believe it if only it weren’t for the scars.

He loved the scars.

Gregory traced the white lines on her arms and her legs with the wonder of a child. I made this! That mixture of pride and awe as if it were some kind of accomplishment. A five-year-old’s finger paints or a macaroni collage.

Georgie traced them herself in the few minutes of quiet before he knocked on the door to ask if she were done yet. They were memories – the burnt dinner, the too-loud laugh, the phone call – and they were badges. They were badges that said I am still here.

The click of the shutting blade made her shoulders drop back into place, her breath escape in a sigh, her fingers unclench. It would always be this way. Her mother said as much. 

‘At least he doesn’t beat you.’

Aye, that was something. Her mother never smiled because of the missing teeth. ‘I’m just waiting for him to die,’ she’d told Georgie one afternoon as they both washed up the dishes. ‘Not going to lift a finger after that. Eat takeaway. Use paper plates.’

At least she had goals. Georgie tried to remember what she had once dreamed. When Gregory first wooed her. She felt so proud. He was so much older. Then she had imagined he thought her real mature. But no. She’d learned another word for what she was: gullible.

Georgie wondered how the word had come about. After all, the gulls that haunted the city centre were anything but gullible. They were careful if aggressive. Didn’t trust humans, but followed them closely, looking for a chance. She’d seen people try to kick at them or throw cans at them. They dodged all weapons with loud honks like they were laughing.

Maybe she needed to be more gull than gullible.

Georgie lived on the scraps of Gregory’s life anyway. Sometimes literally: he would let her finish off the chips he didn’t eat when he got takeaway for himself. Other times he would make her beg. Trade cuts for a chicken wing. If she refused he cut her anyway, so might as well get something out of it. It helped to feel like a gull instead of a dog, which he made her feel like at first. 

The big gulls had a little dot of red on their beaks, like a drop of blood. That was like her too, though her blood was usually on her legs and arms, where the scars didn’t show as much. Georgie never wore shorts or short sleeves anymore. They weren’t big scars, except that one and Gregory had apologised for that and bought her a teddy bear, as if she were a child that needed bribing. He blamed the horror film they’d been watching. Gregory loved his horror films.

It might have gone on like that except for the pub. 

It was a rare enough outing. Gregory went to the pub on his own sometimes, though he didn’t trust her to be on her own for long. But he wanted to celebrate some football thing so they didn’t go to the local but to the big sports pub down by the church in the centre. When Gregory got fed up with all the noise and the shouts, they skipped out the back way into the alley, which led around to the bus stop faster.

But there was some big shaved head menace there that made even Gregory pause before he grabbed Georgie’s hand and plunged on, chin in the air, belligerent like. 

‘What’s your damage?’ the big bloke said, stopping Gregory short with a huge hand to his chest. 

‘No damage here, mate.’ Gregory kept the chin high and for a moment Georgie remembered loving him when the sun shone and his curls blew in the wind and he smiled.

‘That right?’ The big man sneered at Gregory and then for good measure leered at Georgie. ‘You got something to say for yourself?’

Georgie shook her head. Gregory took a step forward. The big man grabbed the front of his jumper.

‘What?’ Gregory asked with as much venom as he could manage.

‘I said, what’s your damage?’ the man repeated, then punched Gregory in the face. He went down like puppet with its strings cut. The big man sniffed and headed back toward the pub. Gregory lay still.

Georgie thought, what would a gull do?

She slipped her hand into his trouser pocket and pulled out the blade. With a press of the button, the knife clicked open. The blade shone in the moonlight.

Gregory was groaning and beginning to stir. Without thinking Georgie’s hand shot out and, like she’d seen in a thousand gory films, pulled the blade across his neck where it pulsed. Gregory’s eyes flew open and he made a sound that was half annoyance and half fear. Or maybe it was just all disbelief. His hands clutched at his throat. Blood poured between his fingers.

Georgie wiped the blood from the knife on his sleeve, then savoured the click of the blade shutting for the last time. Gregory kept one hand on his neck and the other reached toward her, then started scrabbling in the dirt and stones of the alley. She watched him for a few minutes, then turned and walked to the bus stop.

It was almost time for the 9:20.

BECAUSE THE NIGHT BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

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Charles Crockford ’s footsteps echoed as he walked across the rusty, metal railway bridge. A steely fog had spread itself across Seatown and he could no longer see the trains creeping slowly below him although he could hear them. They seemed to rasp and groan. He walked carefully down the steps and paused at the bottom to get his bearings. Smudges of streetlamps trailed off into the distance along Lothian Road.

Crockford headed off down the cobbled street, past the rows of partially demolished terraced houses that looked like broken teeth in the wan light.  He could just about make out a radio playing the latest episode of ‘Hello Cheeky.’ It was his wife’s favourite comedy programme and just the thought of that woman made his blood boil. Crockford ground his teeth and upped his pace.

He had been drinking cider with a few of the old boys in one of the bus shelters near the cemetery. One of them – Barky – was an ex-POW who they said suffered from shellshock. When he mixed the mother’s little helpers that the quack had given him with Old English cider Barky could be quite an entertaining old soak but sometimes he got stuck into singing the songs from his childhood over and over again. Tonight’s performance of ‘There’ll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover’ had certainly left a lot to be desired. It had been like fingers down a blackboard so, when the free drink had run out, Crockford had buggered off sharpish.

As he headed down Merry Street, Crockford could hear growling. Although he couldn’t see her in the darkness, he knew that Gertie Lark would be stood on her doorstep dressed in her stained flowered apron, a pair of rusty scissors in her hands, her dog beside her. His wife’s aunt had become a barber during the war, since all of the local barbers had been called up to fight, and she’d even kept it up for a while after peace had been declared. Still, each night, come rain or shine, Gertie stood on her step waiting for her husband Wally to come home even though it was more than 25 years after the war had ended and there was still no sign of him.  Boudica, her rottweiler, was always at her side and the dog hated Crockford. The whole family despised him, he was sure. They never appreciated his talent.

Crockford muttered to himself. She was a mad old bird, that Gertie, but then the whole Lark family were off their rocker as far as he was concerned. Some blamed the Seatown bombardment during the Second World War but he didn’t know about that. He just regretted marrying into that batty brood. When thought about Marjorie, the acid in his stomach gurgled. She had never appreciated his writing, his dreams. His hopes. She never saw how his job at the Siemens factory was crushing him. He’d tried to make her understand but the bloody woman just didn’t listen no matter how loud he screamed. His novel would be big, he was sure of that. But all Marjorie cared about was playing bloody bills and popping a stupid bloody sprog.

It started to rain just as Crockford opened the door to The Shaggy Dog. The stuffy pub was warm and welcoming. It smelt of meat pies, beer and pipe smoke. Its brown and red colours were soothing. The pub was almost empty, probably due to the combination of the fog and the impending blackout, which would happen without warning like every other night. The bloody miners’ strike was taking its toll, that was for sure. Crockford thought the useless bastards should get another job if they don’t like the one they already have, but he usually kept that opinion to himself.  Most of the idiots around Seatown didn’t share his view.

He took off his cap and muffler. Alice, the pub’s massive landlady, was stood behind the bar with her hands on her hips. She had her hair in a pink beehive and wore a glittery pink dress.

‘Alright Alice, are you off down The Rialto later?’ said Crockford.

‘Aye,’ said Alice. ‘As per usual. I’ve got me dancin’ shoes on, like.’

She lifted a sparkly pink leg to show a sparkly pink shoe.

‘Very glam,’ said Crockford with a sneer that was lost on Alice.

He checked out his reflection in the frosted mirror that hung behind the bar. He straightened his quiff as Cormac, Alice’s husband, came out of the snug with a tray full of empty shot glasses. His thinning hair was plastered down with Brylcreem and his white shirt stuck to his skin with sweat. He was breathing heavily.

‘The usual?’ panted Cormac.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘No change there.’

Cormac poured a pint of bitter and Crockford licked his lips.

‘Can I have it on tick?’ said Crockford, grinning. ‘I’ll pay you when I win the football pools.’

‘That will be right,’ said Cormac, grimacing. He held out an open palm.

Crockford paid for his beer and took it into the snug.

There were two old men sat in there. They were both smoking pipes and playing dominoes. Eric Ruby was a painter and decorator who always looked on the verge of a heart attack and Big Bill Lark, Crockford ’s father in law, was a retired copper. His bushy eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead and made him look permanently confused but he was as sharp as a razor and always made Crockford uneasy.

‘How’s tricks?’ said Crockford.

He sat down.

‘Not too bad. Mustn’t grumble. Eric here’s been down that London,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye, said Crockford.  ‘How lovely. See the Queen, did you?

‘Near, as dammit,’ said Eric, grinning. ‘You can’t tell the lads from the lasses down there. They say all that glam rock fashion’s going to catch on up here sooner than later but I bloody hope not! The wife spends enough on mascara as it is without me chipping in!’

They all chuckled.

‘Things change, eh?’ said Bill, shrugging.

Crockford scowled.

‘Yeah, but not always for the better, though,’ said Crockford.

‘Maybe. But I wouldn’t turn the bloody clock back, I can tell you. Those were real hard times I’ve lived through. Two world wars and the depression weren’t a barrel of bloody laughs, I can tell you.’

He was lost in thought for a moment.

‘How’s our Marjorie, by the way?’ said Bill. ‘I haven’t seen hide nor hair of her for weeks.’

Crockford ’s stomach gurgled.

‘Er, she’s not been well,’ he said. ‘Woman’s troubles, again, you know what they’re like?’

Bill glared at Crockford.

‘It that right?’ said Bill.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘There’s always something wrong with that woman these days.’

And then everything turned black.

*

The Reverend Harry Bones said a final prayer and emptied the collection box. He stuffed the money in his coat pockets and picked up his suitcase just as the church’s lights went out.

‘Oh, bugger,’ he said, as he hit a leg on one of the pews.

He furtively edged his way to the front of the church, opened the front door and stepped out onto Lothian Road. It was the darkest he’d ever seen it. He could hear a fog horn roaring over the Headland and just about make out the beams from the lighthouse. There seemed to be not a soul about. Harry locked up The Church of The Nazarene, sighed and walked down the street. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders but an even greater one had been placed on them. He looked at his watch and upped his pace. The train would be at the station at midnight and he hoped Marjorie would be there, too.

*

‘Oh, off I trot to the little boys’ room, then,’ said Eric. ‘Hope I don’t get caught short again.’ He chuckled and followed a path of flickering candles that led the way to the pub’s toilets.

There was only one lit candle in the snug. Crockford took the dregs of Eric’s rum and poured it into his beer. He hoped that his father-in-law hadn’t seen him.

Bill coughed.

‘Did you hear that Benny Trout’s looking for a butcher’s assistant,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye,’ said Crockford.

His stomach gurgled.

‘Do you not fancy it, then?’ said Bill. ‘Work’s work, you know? It might be a golden opportunity.’

‘I’m still on the sick, aren’t I,’ said Crockford. ‘And anyway, I’m too busy working on my novel.’

Bill tutted and Crockford could feel his anger brewing, ready to boil. He finished his drink and staggered to his feet.

‘Well, I’m off to the snake pit,’ said Crockford.

‘Say hello to our Marjorie from me,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, I most certainly will,’ said Crockford, pushing past Eric as he left.

*

Marjorie Crockford was glad she’d finished dying her hair before the blackout as she only had one candle left, and she didn’t want to waste it. She’d ran out of them the day before, and all the shops on Lothian Road had sold out because of the power cuts. She’d been lucky to get that last bottle of peroxide from the chemist’s shop, too. A new look was just the thing for this new chapter in her life. He husband would hate the new hairstyle, she was sure. He’d tell her that she looked like Myra Hindley or something equally as unflattering. Not that he’d get the chance to see it.

Marjorie had been listening to ‘Hello Cheeky’ on Radio 2 when, as luck would have it, her transistor radio’s batteries had died. Now all she could hear was the grandfather clock’s ticking. She poured herself another glass of sweet sherry, sat on the settee and waited for her husband to come back from the pub.

*

Crockford ’s front door jammed as he tried to open it but he slammed a shoulder into it and pushed it open. His bladder was ready to burst so he rushed into the living room, through the kitchen and then out into the back yard where the toilet was. He swore as he banged against the coalhouse door. Then Marjorie heard the toilet door creak open.  She smiled. Crockford hadn’t noticed her sat on the sofa. He probably expected her to be in bed, waiting for him, as usual. But tonight was going to be anything but usual.

The clock struck eleven and Marjorie heard the knock at the door. She stood up and let her aunt Gertie in.

‘All set, petal?’ said Gertie.

‘Aye,’ said Marjorie. ‘It’s now or never.’

She tied the cashmere scarf that The Reverend Bones had given her around her bruised neck and walked into the kitchen. Gertie followed her.

Gertie stood behind the kitchen door holding her cutthroat razor. Marjorie held her breath as she heard the toilet flush. Crockford staggered into the kitchen at the exact same moment that the blackout ended and the kitchen lights flashed back on.

He shielded his eyes from the blinding glare.

‘Bollocks,’ he said. ‘What the bloody hell …’

Marjorie slammed a frying pan against the side of Crockford ’s head and he fell to his knees, groaning. She hit him again and Gertie moved quickly, grabbing his hair and reaching around and slicing Crockford ’s throat. She pushed him forward onto the tarpaulin covered floor.

Marjorie took off her blood splattered overall and pushed it into her suitcase.  She put on her overcoat and fastened it but she still shivered.

‘Are you okay to sort this mess out?’ said Marjorie.

‘Aye,’ said Gertie. ‘It’s nothing I haven’t done before, eh? I’ve got enough chicken wire to tie him up nicely. Once I throw him in the sea the wire will slice him up and then the fish will finish him off. You know the score, eh?’

Marjorie ’s stomach turned.

‘I’d best be off then,’ she said.

*

The London bound train’s headlights cut through the fog as it pulled into the railway station. Marjorie could see The Reverend Bones smiling as she walked toward him. She could never get used to calling him Harry – she’d know him since she’d been a nipper, after all – but she expected that would probably change after the twins were born. A foghorn sounded and Marjorie shivered. Harry closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.

‘A fresh start, eh?’ he said, as he took Marjorie ’s suitcase from her.

‘I really hope so, Reverend,’ said Marjorie, relieved that she’d brought her aunt’s cutthroat razor with her, just in case.

 

PAUL D. BRAZILL CAN BE FOUND LURKING HERE.