Category Archives: Uncategorized
Sometimes you come across a short story that truly grabs you. This tale of restaurant mayhem from from the Mondays Are Murder Series at Akashic Books has a perfectly crafted first sentence and a kicker of an ending. It makes me want to find out more about author Josh Krigman.
“The floor was covered with Timothy’s blood when Maurice came down the steps from the dining room to see how things were moving along. The fry cook had mouthed off again and George, having wanted to do something about it for weeks, and who was now finishing up his fifth eighteen-hour shift in as many days, had taken action with the closest thing he could find, which, in this case, was the heavy cutting board to the right of the sink where George set his rings while washing the dishes…”
I know, you’re only supposed to have five. I wrote a list of these favorites, got six, and could not bear to take one of them of the list. Read them all and you’ll understand and be happy for the future of crime fiction.
1. The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan
A Montana sheriff’s deputy guards an old hired killer, hoping to get information about his past crimes. What ensues is a hard meditation on sin, death, regret, and friendship. A book as harsh and beautiful as its winter setting.
2. The White Van by Patrick Hoffman
A somewhat functioning drug addict is manipulated into being a part of a bank robbery. When she takes off with the money, she’s soon on the run from the criminals, the law, and a bent cop. Hoffman makes us feel the desperation of his characters in this steet-wise thriller that is part Elmore Leonard, part Hitchcock, yet completely unique.
3. The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
Joe is a poor college student with a drunk mother, autistic brother, and his own baggage. When Joe gets an assignment to write a biography, the project leads him to a dying Vietnam vet, still proclaiming his innocence for the rape and murder for which he was convicted. As Joe searches for information to prove the vet’s innocence, he soon endangers himself and those he loves. A great new voice in the mainstream thriller.
4. Stinking Rich by Rob Brunet
The tender of a Canadian pot farm runs afoul of his biker gang bosses in a situation involving a dead dog and a lot of cash in this comic crime novel. Brunet infuses his likable losers and bad guys with humanity and dialogue that keeps you laughing. The closest I’ve read to Donald Westlake. I almost forgot, there’s a lizard involved too.
5. Dry Bones In The Valley by Tom Bouman
Bouman’s affable, fiddle playing lawman, Henry Farrel, takes on a murder investigation that could light up his rural Pennsylvania county, already turned into a tinderbox by meth, poverty, and family history. Reminiscent of Craig Johnson in the way the hero interacts with his community.
6. Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie
McKenzie introduces us to meet former bareback rider turned PI, Rodeo Grace Garnett, who has to maneuver around wild women, shady good ol’ boy politics and business, questionable local law, and a rough and tumble Arizona that would make most big city detectives run for the safety of their own mean streets. I couldn’t help but hear echoes of James Crumley in the way it deals with people living a life on the margins.
All of the books listed above are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more top lists later in December!
-Post by Molly
I have always loved international crime fiction – something about crimes on other shores sparks the imagination in a way that a news bulletin from across town can’t quite mimic. 2014 has been a fantastic year for international crime fiction, with great new releases from all my favorite crime fiction publishers. I celebrated International Crime Fiction Month (known to the layman as June) at the store by launching a new blog series profiling mysteries set across the globe, and now it’s time to pick my top ten international crime fiction novels of 2014.
1. Laidlaw, by William McIlvanney – This reissue from Europa Editions’ World Noir Imprint takes place in a dismal 1970s Edinburgh, as a dour detective races to find a murder suspect before vigilantes get there first. Scotland’s miserable weather and, in this novel, even more miserable denizens are a perfect fit for noir.
2. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, by Adrian McKinty – McKinty finished up his Belfast-set Troubles Trilogy earlier this year with an explosive conclusion. Detective Sean Duffy, catholic policeman, punk aficionado, and all-around smartass, is hired by MI5 to track down an old schoolmate-turned-terrorist in what turns into a fascinating retelling of the closest Margaret Thatcher ever got to being assassinated.
3. Last Winter, We Parted, by Fuminori Nakamura – Not all Japanese detective novels are poetic explorations of alienation in modern society, but this novel certainly is. Last Winter We Parted follows a young journalist’s interviews with a photographer convicted of burning two of his models alive in a quixotic attempt to capture their essence. As the journalist becomes closer to the photographer and his sister, he begins to lose his own self.
4. Ghost Month, by Ed Lin – Ghost Month is Ed Lin’s first novel set abroad; his previous novels, set in New York City, have centered around the Chinese and Taiwanese-American community, and now Lin has voyaged to Taiwan itself. Ghost Month, takes place in the vibrant Night Market of Taipei, following a Joy Division-obsessed dropout as he tries to discover who killed his ex-girlfriend.
5. The Minotaur’s Head, by Marek Krajewski – Set in Poland and Prussia on the eve of the Second World War, The Minotaur’s Head follows two detectives; one a straight laced family man, the other a drunken aesthete of the Belle Époque; as they try to solve a crime that quickly entangles them in larger politics. Marek Krajewski, perhaps because he is Polish, and clearly because he is a good writer, has a perfect handle on the the dialogue and sensibilities of the time period.
6. The Secret Place, by Tana French – In each of French’s novels, a different character from the Dublin Murder Squad becomes the protagonist for an intense psychological exploration into human nature and crime. French’s latest installment of the series stars Detective Stephen Moran, previously introduced in Faithful Place, who teams up with a colleague’s teenage daughter to investigate a murder at an elite private school.
7. The Final Silence, by Stuart Neville – The Final Silence, Neville’s latest installment in his DI Jack Lennon series, has the detective at a low point in his life when an ex-girlfriend comes knocking to tell him she found something rather disturbing in her dead uncle’s spare bedroom. Neville crafts a thrilling narrative that, like much of his work, also serves as a meditative reminder of Belfast’s haunting past.
8. Murder at Cape Three Points, by Kwei Quartey – This is the third installment of Ghanaian-American Kwei Quartey’s Detective Darko Dawson series. In Murder at Cape Three Points, Ghanaian Detective Dawson is called in to solve the seemingly ritualistic murder of an affluent couple found dead near an oil rig. His investigation is quickly stymied in his efforts by corruption, bureaucracy, and nefarious oil companies, and he must use intuition and unorthodox means to solve the crime.
9. The Mad and the Bad, by Jean-Patrick Manchette – After reading Manchette’s novel The Mad and The Bad, recently reissued by New York Review of Books, I have yet another reason to love the folks at NYRB. The Mad and The Bad is a crazed romp through 1970s France. A spoiled heir to a fortune is kidnapped by an ulcer-ridden hit-man. The child’s nanny, only recently released from a mental institution, must try to keep him safe despite her increasingly fragile grasp on reality.
10. Singapore Noir, edited by Cheryl Lu Tan - this impeccable collection of stories set in the glitzy high rises and seedy underbelly of Singapore is one of Akashic’s finest releases to date. You’ll get a vast array of characters from one of the worlds most diverse cities, including mafiosos, maids, and murderers of all kinds, and plenty of proof that Singapore can be as murderous a city-state as Rome ever was.
Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
December is here; a time of family, friendship, perhaps some frost, and most certainly murder most foul. Here are some of our favorite novels to usher in the New Year. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Trouble In The Heartland edited by Joe Clifford
Over forty of the best crime writers out there, including Eric Beetner, Hilary Davidson, and Dennis Lehane, each tackling the title of a Bruce Springsteen song and turning it into a story. Full of losers, longing, cars, desired women, and working class drive, these stories do the Boss proud.
Bite Harder by Anonynmous-9
Paraplegic vigilante Dean Drayhart and his helper monkey Sid are back. When a hit is put on the both of them and and Cinda, Dean’s sex worker girlfriend, Dean has to break out of prison, get Sid and fight back. This fun follow-up to Hard Bite ups the ante in blood and laughs.
A Song to Die For by Mike Blakely
A rollicking novel of crime and music in 1975 Austin that brings together a singer-songwriter, a Texas Ranger, and a murdered Mafia princess. Blakely gives us an Austin where the attitude and the music was truly outlaw. Meet Mike with Robert Knott on January 14th during our western night.
Our last Noir At The Bar of 2014 (happening tonight, November 24, at 7pm at Opal Divine’s) has us going out with top talent. The line up is composed of first offenders and hardened felons. We’ve got both rural and southwestern noir authors and a guy who mashes up so many genres that we don’t know what the hell to call him. And of course, we’ll be joined by our own Jesse Sublett
C..B. McKenzie is the recent winner of the Tony Hillerman award for Bad Country. The book introduces us to cowboy-turned-private eye Rodeo Grace Garnett. McKenzie gives a rough and tumble feel to an unromanticized American west.
Glenn Gray’s The Little Boy Inside And Other Stories has been getting great buzz. The tales, which range from crime (especially involving illegal steroid use) to sci fi to body horror, are almost always funny and disturbing. Don’t eat while Glenn reads.
Matthew McBride instantly became a MysteryPeople favorite with his gonzo hard boiled debut Frank Sinatra In A Blender. He has received more rave reviews for his intense rural crime novel A Swollen Red Sun. The book deals with the repercussions of corruption in a Missouri county overrun by meth and violence.
Austin author and musician Jesse Sublett will perform some of his murder ballads, as well as reading (his latest is Grave Digger Blues) and everyone will be on hand to sign books afterwards. Before you’re put upon by holiday cheer, join us at Opal’s and celebrate the noir side of life.
Syndicate Books is a new independent publisher, dedicated to bringing back the works of great and influential crime authors back in print. They started this fall by bringing out British author Ted Lewis’ hard as nails Jack Carter Trilogy. Jack Carter And The Mafia Pigeon, the third book in the trilogy, appears in the U.S. for the first time. We talked with Syndicate head and founder Paul Oliver about his endeavor, Ted Lewis, and legacy publishing.
MP: How did the idea for Syndicate books come about?
PO: It goes back to when I owned a bookstore in the Philadelphia area. We sold used books as well as new and in the process of handling all of those second hand books you encounter some interesting things. It could be an author you’ve never heard of and is utterly out of print, yet they have a run of blurbs from incredibly famous writers on the dust jacket. Or recognize that the translator is someone who worked on the most imminent books of the day. Little things like that. I’d take those books home and give them a read. Sometimes they were out of print because they weren’t very good or were particularly dated. But sometimes, not often, I’d read something really good that for whatever reason had slipped through the cracks. I wanted to publish those books.
2. Was there a particular reason Ted Lewis’ Get Carter Trilogy came out first for Syndicate?
PO: I learned about Ted Lewis from Max Allan Collins. At the time, in a former life, I was working on the reissues of Derek Raymond’s excellent Factory Novels and I thought they might be up Max’s alley. I wrote to him and somewhere in my email I described Derek Raymond as “The Godfather of British Noir.” All caps. Max was gracious enough to write back and explain to me that if I wanted to talk about “The Godfather of British Noir” then I needed to be talking about someone named Ted Lewis. Ted’s books were thoroughly out of print and very expensive, a hundred or so dollars for a mass market paperback, and knowing two of the three movies (yes, there is a third movie—titled “Hitman”—starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier) I thought it was worth investigating. I was in the process of reading Lewis and scheming about starting Syndicate when I moved to Soho Press. It didn’t take long before Stuart Neville, one of our most acclaimed authors at Soho, shared that he was a huge admirer of Lewis. I knew I had to do it.
That’s the long answer. The short one is: GET CARTER. There’s not many cooler book/movie combos going.
MP: For those who only know Jack Carter from the Michael Caine film, what are they missing that are in the books?
PO: I think the Carter in the novels is a little more human. Caine’s Carter is colder, if not more ruthless, but in the end as much interested in preserving his own name as he is avenging his brother. I think Caine’s Jack Carter evolves in the final scenes where his fiery need for personal satisfaction burns off his own ego and leaves a genuine need to avenge his brother’s death. The Jack Carter of Lewis’ novel has sincere misgivings about how he was with his brother from the start of the story. Notice that I didn’t say he has misgivings about who he was or who he had become. Carter is a villain. He is a gangster who is proud of what he has achieved but at the same time very much in conflict over how he treated his brother in life. Some of the novel’s best writing occurs in an extended flashback of Jack and Frank as kids and the moment where they went down separate paths.
MP: What makes Ted Lewis’ books important to crime fiction?
PO: He is uncompromising. It’s the most remarkable trait among his many gifts. Lewis wrote incredible dialogue and described the English postwar society with remarkable nuance and, well, disdain. But his characters were all villains and that’s what is really neat to me. In his most notable novels they are not merely people on the wrong side of the law but thoroughly bad people. Jack Carter is a high level enforcer for a London-based organized crime family (read: Kray Brothers) and he is very good at his job. These are hard tales about bad people doing bad things to other people to maintain their standard of life. In a word: crime. A lot of writers want to do this but either come up short on experience or nerve. It takes a lot of both to write a character like Jack Carter or George Fowler (the protagonist of the forthcoming novel, GBH).
If you wanted to find a literary blood brother to Jack Carter you’d only find a handful. Maybe only one: James Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant from the USA Underworld Trilogy. As Max Allan Collins writes in the introduction to Jack Carter’s Law, “Carter makes Parker look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” And it’s true. Donald Westlake’s Parker would despise Jack Carter and that’s why Ted Lewis created something remarkable and, for lack of a better word, true.
MP: Each Carter book has an intro by a filmmaker or author who admired the author. Do you plan to do that for all Syndicate Books?
PO: I do. When you’re making the argument that a writer that has fallen out of print or somehow slipped out of the crime fiction canon deserves to belong there, you need a spokesperson. It’s also a very sincere process. Sometimes blurbs or intros are about money or currying favor. Ted Lewis is dead. The people who wrote those intros and blurbs stand to gain very little by doing so and I think that makes the whole thing a little more interesting.
MP: I also love the covers, they draw a nice connotation to the period in which they were originally published without being anachronistic. Can you tell us about the artist and how you both approached the look?
PO: Thanks for that. I love them too. The artist is Katherine Grames and she was incredible to work with. Carter is a very stylish man. He’s kitted out in a mohair suit and monogrammed cufflinks, and very detailed about his gear. This is the height of the Mod 60s and Carter is kind of a Mod superman. Katherine loves fashion and loved the idea of designing these books. You’ve seen her design on some of Soho’s most prominent titles: Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series, Kwei Quartey’s Murder at Cape Three Points, and one of my favorites, the redesigned Station Series by David Downing. Basically she’s great.
MP: It seems lately that legacy publishing has been reserved for online publishing, but there’s been some resurgence this year of bringing some of the authors back into physical print to be sold in stores as well. What makes you see the larger market for them?
PO: It’s not that ebooks are regressing, because they’re still an incredibly large portion of a publisher’s business. But two years ago on a subway car in New York you saw a lot of tablets and reading devices. These days you’re seeing books again. Books are a rugged technology that will be hard to replace and it will be even harder for electronic books to replace the alchemy that exists between the design of a book, its contents, and a reader.
MP: Is there anything you can tell us about future endeavors for Syndicate?
PO: I’m thrilled to say Syndicate has its second project. There’s still plenty to be done with the rest of Ted Lewis’ novels, including the publication of what many consider his final masterpiece, GBH, but I’ve also gone ahead and lined up our next project. And it is a coup. In 2015 Syndicate Books will publish the complete works of Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster and crime fiction legend, Margaret Millar. Millar was a two-time Edgar-winner (literally receiving the honor of “Grandmaster”) and a Los Angeles Times “Woman of the Year.” In life she was more famous than her fellow crime author husband, Kenneth Millar (aka Ross Macdonald) but for one reason or another her books have fallen out of print. She’s tremendous and like Lewis (or any great crime writer) she was interested in the bad wood beneath the veneer of society. It just so happens that she was writing about the so-called “Greatest Generation.”
Paul Oliver is founder and head of Syndicate Books. They have so far released all of Ted Lewis’ previously out-of-print Jack Carter Trilogy, and their upcoming releases include Lewis’ novel GBH and the complete works of Margeret Millar. You can find all volumes of the Carter Trilogy on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
We have the honor of hosting Rob Brunet with Terry Shames this Monday, November 10th. His novel Filthy Rich is getting great buzz as one of the best debuts of the year, combining crime and comedy brilliantly. In this story, originally a part of the anthology Down, Out, & Dead, serves as a prequel to Filthy Rich.
By Rob Brunet
Perko Ratwick needed a change in plans like he needed hemorrhoids. He rocked his Harley onto its kickstand and walked to the water’s edge where a man stood fishing.
“Biting today?” he asked.
The man grunted and looked at the white bucket beside him. Perko peeked in and saw what had to be half a dozen scaly creatures, gills flapping on the top ones.
“These good eating?” Making conversation when he’d much rather knee-cap the fisherman. Four months of planning, a twenty-thousand-dollar down payment so this bugger could set up a suburban grow op, and now he calls to say the deal’s off? No explanation?
“Free food.” The man finished reeling in his line, shook a clump of weeds from its green and yellow lure, and cast again.
Perko didn’t get it. Nghiem had to be worth a couple million, maybe more. He’d arrived from Vietnam a decade ago and was running at least six grow houses in the suburbs north of Toronto, one of which was supposed to supply Perko. Surely he could afford dinner. “We coulda met in a restaurant,” said the biker. “I’d a picked up the tab.”
Nghiem said, “Sense of obligation. No need.”
“So what’s the deal? Your message said something changed.”
“I said no deal. Go find new grower.”
Perko said, “I don’t understand. You’re saying—”
“What so hard? NO GROW FOR YOU.”
Perko watched as he tugged and reeled, pulling the lure through the shallows. Nghiem’s plain white van sat forty feet away, backed in off the road. With cars passing every minute or so, there was no way to drag him over without being seen. Besides, chances were the guy had a couple goons inside the van in case their boss needed help delivering bad news.
“I’ve already lined up the sale,” Perko said.
Nghiem’s rod bent suddenly. He let a little line run out then started reeling again, still smooth and slow. “Cops busted two houses. One guy third time. He’s not coming out soon.”
The Vietnamese grower ran a straightforward game. Buy a nondescript house on a quiet street, grow three or four cycles of skunk weed. Fresh coat of paint, and sell the house to some sucker who wouldn’t know it was full of mold until long after the check had cleared. Toughest part of the guy’s operation was finding people fool enough to live in the houses while tending the plants, yet straight enough to fit in.
“What happened,” Perko asked.
“They get nosey?”
“Kid got lonely. Had a barbecue.”
“You gotta be kidding.”
“Cost me crop, both houses. Now I have to pay lawyers.”
The Vietnamese sighed. “They are the breaks.”
“Them,” said Perko. “Them’s the breaks.”
“Problem is, my down payment.”
“House is a crime scene. No can sell. Have to wait.”
“Waiting ain’t my specialty.”
“I pay. Five thousand a week. You have in no time.”
“I’d rather the weed. We had a deal.”
“Your money.” Nghiem nudged the white bucket with his foot. “Take it.”
“There’ll be interest.”
“See you next week. No problem?” The man grinned, mouth full of yellow teeth. Perko imagined yanking them one by one with a set of pliers. Nghiem glanced over his shoulder to the white van. No question he had backup. His rod bent double, and he started reeling fast. Perko looked at the dying fish piled on top of one another. He tilted the bucket on its side to reveal a sliver of pink plastic bag. Pinching it between his thumb and two fingers, he tugged. As it pulled free, two fish started flopping, slapping his forearm, making it slick with slime.
He walked back to his bike and wiped his hands and the bag in the grass. He watched Nghiem land a rock bass, bang its head against the ground, and drop it in the bucket. Driving away, Perko was relieved to find the fish smell disappeared in the wind.
Bad enough Nghiem’s screw-up messed with Perko Ratwick’s plans to move a few hundred kilos of high grade pot. Business was business and the biker had talked his way out of worse corners before. The New York buyers would still be there once he found a new supply. It wasn’t about one deal, though. Perko had a real shot at making Road Captain in the Libidos Motorcycle Club. Launch himself into the big leagues—a guy who brokered deals between rival gangs and lined the Libidos coffers without taking on real exposure. Kind of like an investment banker, only quicker. And less paperwork.
He set a meet with a guy named Frederick who wanted into the Libidos in a bad way.
“Maybe it’s a good thing the gook fell through,” Perko said.
“Maybe I been coming at this wrong.”
The men were sitting at a picnic table in dead quiet downtown Bobcaygeon. The ice had barely broken up and the locks wouldn’t be operational for a few weeks yet. Perko said, “These locks run, what, five months a year?”
“’Bout dat,” said Frederick.
“And when they do, they’re only open something like eight, ten hours a day?”
“So, the water never stops flowing.”
“’Course not,” said Perko. “They control the water level, but they don’t kill the flow.”
Frederick looked from the locks to Perko and said, “What you mean?”
“Do I gotta paint the whole picture? Instead of waitin’ for some other guy to deliver supply, I could be growin’ myself. Year-round. Much as I like.”
“So you take on more risk.”
“Not if I do things right. Arm’s length,” Perko said. “That’s where you come in.”
“How come me?”
“You wanna patch Libido some day? Earn your stripes. Couple things I need you to do.”
Frederick nodded slowly.
“First, find me a grower,” Perko said. “Make sure he’s no fool.”
“And the other thing?”
“It’s a little more complicated,” Perko said, and told him about Nghiem’s rate of pay.
Perko decided to go all pro. Thinking about Nghiem’s lonely grower and the barbecue, he wasn’t about to put his own name on the deed for some suburban shack on a street full of busybodies. Besides, once he got the gig going, he’d need two houses, then four. Before he knew it, he’d be back begging product from the fish-frying bastard. Never mind how many growers he’d wind up hiring. The more he thought about it, the less his plan felt risk-free. The Libidos would let him run with it, take their cut, but his ass would be hanging way out there. No, what Perko needed was a large-scale operation. Leverage.
He found a farm.
Mildred Perrigrew owned the farm and had lived on it for nearly sixty-five years, starting when she married Orvus Perrigrew the week she graduated from Grade Ten. Orvus was twenty-two at the time and had only stayed in school himself until Grade Six, dropping out to work the farm with his uncle until the elder Perrigrew passed away. When Orvus inherited the land, he immediately looked around for a mate. Marrying Mildred was a real coup: he got himself a young wife as well as a capable bookkeeper, since Mildred had taken both accounting and typing classes for the two years she was in high school.
All of this Perko Ratwick learned from Mildred herself when he responded to her ad in the Peterborough Examiner:
FARM FOR RENT
Good barn. Better house. Not much of a woodlot, but good water and some apple trees. $3,000 monthly. Cash only. Contact Mildred at Hillview Retirement Residence, Peterborough.
Perko tried telephoning, but the attendant said Mildred had left strict instructions that she intended to meet potential renters in person.
“You can tell a lot about a man from looking in his eyes, my daddy always told me,” Mildred said to Perko over a cup of coffee in the Hillview sun room. “Did I already say ‘Thank you’ for the donuts? Well, thank you, kindly, anyway. What a nice young man you are.” Perko had brought a dozen Krispy Kremes. Between the two of them, he and Mildred had already eaten half the box.
“I gave Orvus four children, don’t you know,” Mildred said. “Two girls and two boys, before I lost Orvus during childbirth.” She paused and watched Perko pick up flakes of dried honey from the table top with his fingertip. She gave a little shrug and continued: “It happened when I went into labor with Jeremy. Orvus sent our eldest, Marianne, to fetch the doctor. Doc Grainger lived about five miles up the main road. Marianne was only nine at the time, but we were used to trusting her with important errands. She was pretty independent and knew how to handle a horse.”
“Right. So, do I gotta give the rent money to this Marianne or to you?” Perko asked, scratching his chin.
“To me, young man. It’s my farm, not the children’s.” She squinted at him and stuck out her lower lip. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes. I told Orvus, go get some hot water and clean towels. And step on it, I said, ’cause you know that number four is like as not to come along even faster than number three did. So Orvus tells Baxter—he was six, no, seven years old—to build a fire in the woodstove. Baxter ran straight out to the woodshed to get some logs. Then, don’t you know it, Greta—she was barely two and a half—well she decides she wants a bottle, and she started to cry.
“‘Don’t you be worried about me, Orvus Perrigrew,’ I told him. ‘You just give Greta her bottle and then come back with some water for me to drink. The doctor will be here soon enough. Besides, it isn’t as if I’m new to childbearing.’
“So off he goes and leaves me in the bedroom, and Greta follows him out to the kitchen. There was a jug of milk left from breakfast because I always made sure we kept enough for the afternoon. I guess Orvus must have been pouring the milk into a saucepan to heat it on the stove, because I heard Greta get all excited. I figure she was hanging on his pant leg the way she liked to do some times, because I heard Orvus say, ‘No sweetheart. We can’t play airplane right now. Poppy’s got to take care of Mommy.’
“The next thing I hear is Baxter shouting out as he stomped back in the kitchen: ‘Here’s the wood, Poppy.’ I figure the door must have struck Orvus on the backside because, well, Baxter told me later, Orvus just spun around, with Greta hanging onto his pants for dear life. I heard her shrieking, but it was for joy, you know, the way babies do. Baxter stumbled and I heard the logs he was carrying spill onto the kitchen floor. Baxter told me Orvus’s feet flew out from under him when he stepped on one of the rolling logs. He landed flat on his back. That was one very loud crash, mercy me. I jumped right out of the bed, labor or no labor, and walked across the bedroom so I could see into the kitchen. The saucepan had flown out of Orvus’s hands and clattered down beside him. There was milk everywhere. Greta was bouncing up and down on Orvus’s belly and shrieking, ‘Again, Poppy! Again! Do fly-fly again!’
“Orvus wasn’t moving and I figured he must have smacked his head on the corner of the stove.”
“So, was he dead?”
“Dead? Dear me, no! It would take more than a knock on the noggin to do in Orvus Perrigrew. He was fine stock, my husband.” Mildred reached for another donut, took one bite and then licked her fingers as she passed it back and forth between her hands. Perko sighed and scraped some dirt from under his thumbnail.
“After just a moment or two, Orvus’s eyes fluttered open and he said, ‘I better get some more milk.’
“Well, it was early in the day to be milking a cow for the second time, but Orvus wasn’t about to leave his baby girl without her bottle, so he picked up the milk jug and headed out to the barn. And that’s the very last I saw of him.”
“So he just took off on you? Left you with the kids? End of story?” Perko asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
“Of course not! What a silly question. He would never do such a thing. Besides, like I told you, Orvus died during childbirth.” She paused to eat half the donut. Perko grabbed one himself and shoved it whole into his mouth, pushing the last bit in with his thumb and wiping his fingers on his jeans.
“See, I got the pains again right after he left the house and so I made my way back to the bedroom. Baxter did his best to take care of me, and Marianne arrived with Doc Grainger soon enough. No one even noticed Orvus was missing until after Jeremy was born, cleaned up, and in my arms. Except Greta, of course, but her crying didn’t get a whole lot of attention once my pains began in earnest, and I was making all my own noises and such.
“Then Doc Grainger said to Baxter to go get his pa so he could meet his new son, and Baxter went out and came back white as a ghost two minutes later. He said, ‘Poppy’s under Bessie’—she was our cow—‘and he don’t look too good at all and he’s not talking or nothing.’
“Seems somehow Orvus must have tripped up Bessie while trying to milk her, or maybe she was real upset at getting milked a second time so early in the day. Whatever the case, Bessie’s leg was broken and all fifteen hundred pounds of her were laying on top of Orvus. Baxter said he had an awful grimace frozen on his face. Like he knew he was done for when it happened—and just how much Bessie was worth to our family. But there isn’t a whole lot a soul can do when a cow lands on you.”
Mildred quietly finished her donut and licked the honey off her fingers once more. She fixed Perko Ratwick in the eye and said, “So that’s how come I raised my children all alone on the farm. And maybe having to work so hard while they were growing up is why one by one they left the land as soon as a better opportunity came along—not that I blame them—and now I’m just too old to live out there but still I can’t bring myself to sell it because, well, you know, you just never know, do you. Maybe one of the grandkids will want to revive the farm. Or maybe they’ll just sell it once I’m in the ground, but that will be the kids’ decision, not mine. Now, what did you say you wanted to do out there, Mr. Smith?”
Perko shoved the last donut into his mouth, took a gulp of coffee and resumed staring at Mildred with his best attempt at an interested look. Half a minute passed before it dawned on him that the old biddy had stopped talking.
“Mr. Smith? I say, why is it you want to rent my farm?”
“I’m a…ahem…a painter,” he said. “I’m looking for a place where I can get close to nature. I especially like plants.” He paused and blinked slowly. Mildred stared at him like he was speaking in a foreign tongue. “Some of my canvases are really big, so I figure I’ll set up my operation in your barn.”
Mildred continued to stare. She asked, “Couldn’t you just rent an apartment or something? What do you need with a farm?”
“It’s real important to me to find peace and quiet. Money’s no object where my creativity is concerned.”
“You do realize the hayfields have already been rented to the neighbor.”
“I just need the barn.”
“It comes with the house, too.”
“Fine by me.”
“I’d feel better if you had a look at it first. I don’t want any landlord-tenant headaches at my age.”
“No really, I—”
The look in Mildred’s eye made Perko shut up and listen. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been put in his place quite so firmly. She said, “Here’s the key. You go have a look around and come back and tell me what you decide.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said.
“I’m not going anywhere.” She pushed herself to her feet and shuffled across the room to where a game of Snap was getting started. She gave him one last look, jerked her chin toward the door, and said, “Deal me in.”
Perko sat in the bow of the fishing boat wearing a floppy hat bedecked with lures. Using the electric motor, Frederick navigated close to the rocky shore. The water was deep enough he could have used the outboard but a silent approach was critical. They got within twenty feet of Nghiem before he even realized he had company. He smiled, waved, and cast his line in the opposite direction. When he noticed the boat was nosing up against the causeway he warned them to watch out for the bottom. Even when Perko jumped in the knee deep water and scrambled across the zebra mussel-encrusted rock, it was clear the Vietnamese took him for just another fisherman until he got a good look at his face. By then it was too late. Perko clocked him with a paddle and Frederick leapt ashore to help drag him into the boat. Frederick insisted on snatching the white pail full of fish. It wasn’t until he fired up the outboard and buzzed out onto the lake that there was any sign of movement from the white van facing the road. If Nghiem’s bodyguards did fire their guns, they missed. Perko couldn’t hear a damn thing over the two hundred twenty horsepower engine’s roar.
Drifting in the middle of the lake, Perko prodded Nghiem with his foot and splashed water on his face. “Scream and I’ll cut you some gills,” Perko said.
The man just lay there on his side in the boat’s hull, his eyes blinking like a bass.
“You’re gonna make a phone call,” Perko said. “My cash gets delivered, with a ten thousand kicker, before morning. All of it. If it don’t, the rest of your houses are going down, and we’ll find out how well you swim with your hands tied to your feet.” Perko asked him what number to dial then held the phone to his ear.
Frederick baited a hook and dropped a line off starboard.
“Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise, Mr. Smith,” Mildred said, flipping open the fresh box of Krispy Kremes.
Perko Ratwick remained standing. There were plenty more donuts where those came from, and he wasn’t in the mood to hear about life—nor death—on the farm he was about to rent. “Everything checks out,” he said. “I’ll take it.”
“Do sit, Mr. Smith. Tell me about your paintings.”
He leaned in close and said quietly, “I noticed a little unconventional wiring in a couple of the outbuildings. Mind if I clean that up while I’m out there?”
She nibbled a donut and looked as though she hadn’t heard.
“Mrs. Perrigrew, I’d like to rent your farm.”
“Like the ad said, it’ll be three thousand dollars a month, in cash, and I would very much like it if you brought a box of these donuts with you each time you come to pay me.” Perko offered Mildred his hand and she shook it. “You know, you do smell rather like Orvus did. A real manly smell. Have you been fishing?”
Forcing a smile, Perko took a thick wad of bills out of his jacket pocket. Mildred’s eyes sparkled wide when she saw the money, then narrowed again suddenly. “First and last month’s rent, of course,” she said.
Perko grinned and nodded. It wasn’t like he’d be coming back any time soon.
“And did I mention that there would be a damage deposit? I can’t very well be chasing after a young buck like you at my age, now can I?”
“Here’s the first eight months rent,” he said, thumbing a stack of bills and laying them on the table. “And other five grand damage deposit.”
Mildred’s eyes darted left and right as she swept the money off the table and tucked it into a large pocket on the front of her frock. She seemed satisfied nobody had witnessed the transaction.
“Well, now, that’s mighty thoughtful of you, Mr. Smith.”
As Perko turned to leave, she said, “Mr. Smith, could you do me a favor?”
He forced his shoulders to relax and pasted what he hoped was a friendly smile on his face. “What?”
“On your way out, kindly tell that nice young man at the front desk I will be taking the bus to the Horned Owl Casino this evening, after all.”
Guest Post by Rob Brunet, author of Stinking Rich
Growing Up On a Beach Outside Ottawa
I often get asked about the characters I write about. Where do they come from? Do I know people like that? Often I point to the time I’ve spent in the country as if the whackos populating my stories are somehow representative of the people I know there. If you’ve read what I write, you’ll know that’s unlikely. I’m not sure that makes the reference a cop-out. It’s just incomplete.
Not unlike the tropes that drive country music, characters like Perko Ratwick or Terry Miner are painted a tad vibrant on purpose. If I’ve done my work right, they’ll engage my readers’ emotion, yet remain off-kilter enough to amuse.
Part of them is anchored in my experience down dirt roads stretching right back to my formative years on a beach upriver from Ottawa. In a lot of ways, I grew up on that beach. My city-kid lens skewed much of what I saw, but by the time I was a teenager, the barriers between the cottage kids and the locals broke down. There’s nothing like sitting on a log around a bonfire drinking underage beer to make everyone equal.
Until then, I’d naively seen the local kids—those who lived in cottage country year-round—as the lucky ones. I was oblivious to the boredom afflicting life at the end of the school bus run. Once summer ended and the population thinned to next-to-no-one, these guys had little to do. Breaking-and-entering to them was as common as road hockey to my pals in the city: a little wintry fun on a Saturday afternoon.
Between that and minor illicit behaviour sprinkled with occasional violence, more than a few of them experienced youthful run-ins with the local constabulary. In fact, if a guy hadn’t been sent to the detention centre at least once by the time he turned fifteen, his friends thought him “slow”.
I’m not suggesting petty criminality was universal, but its prevalence was higher than what you’d find in the city. And no one considered it a big deal.
I remember sitting round the fire one summer catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen since the previous fall. He asked me whether it was true my father had bought the cottage next to ours—a real fixer-upper my dad purchased as a defensive move when he’d learned the prospective new owner intended to park construction equipment on the property.
I told my friend my friend, yes, that cottage was now ours, and waited for the jab about how us city slickers were always buying things up and lording it over the locals. Instead, my pal hung his head just a little and apologized, telling me they’d never have broken into it that past winter if they’d known it was ours.
Later, my father told me he’d noticed a few things moved around. More than a squirrel might do. And he shrugged at the idea a few of the local boys had busted in. “There was nothing worth stealing in there anyway,” he said. And nothing more needed be done about it.
Another summer, I had a girlfriend up there. Well, for a week or so anyway. Her other boyfriend had gone off on vacation with his wife or something. He left this girl with a case of beer and the keys to a car. She was fifteen. I know my mother was happy that one didn’t last. Come to think of it, so am I.
Country had a way of aging people different from the city. More than once, I was surprised to learn someone was two or three years older than their apparent learning or behaviour would suggest. On the other hand, a lot of them had full-time jobs and something passing for real responsibility before they’d reach the end of high school.
I’m sure I could have found parallel worlds in the city and the reality is, I sometimes did. But something about the directness of life in the country stuck with me. It resonated in positive ways, and now finds its way into my writing. The characters in Stinking Rich may seem a little warped from an urban standpoint, but I trust their connection to their setting rings true.
For November, we have three paperbacks for fun and affordable reading as the cooler weather settles in.
Jack Carter & The Mafia Pigeon by Ted Lewis
Now, the Jack Carter trilogy is fully restored by Syndicate Books with this novel appearing for the first time in the States. This time, the London mob enforcer is tricked by his employers into being the bodyguard for an American Mafia boss at a Spanish villa. Throw in two beautiful women, one the wife of Carter’s boss who he’s seeing on the sly, and expect a lot of scheming and shooting under the sun.
Easy Death by Daniel Boyd
A holiday tale for the hard boiled set. In 1951, two World War Two vets are sent out into a December blizzard by a small town crime boss to rob an armored car. The money, mishaps, and presence of a female park ranger make for a great retro crime novel. Boyd, a Ohio police officer, knows his cops and criminals.
2014 Best American Mystery Stories edited by Otto Penzler and Laura Lippman
One of the best from this annual edition. One feels the presence of guest co-editor Laura Lippman’s sensibility in this great range of contemporary crime fiction that leans toward the character driven. There are stories by MysteryPeople favorites like Megan Abbott and Dennis Tafoya, as well as work by general fiction authors Annie Proulx and Russell Banks. Austin author, Ed Kurtz, has a story as well. A great stocking stuffer.