SCOTT’S TOP FIVE CRIME FICTION SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS PART 2 – ANTHOLOGIES

To continue celebrating short stories for a short month, we’re moving to some of my favorite anthologies. Anthologies are a great way to discover new talent and enjoy your favorite authors at the same time. All the ones I picked here have a theme or challenge each author had to adhere to and some help support good causes.

Lone Star Noir (Akashic Noir) Cover ImageLone Star Noir edited by Bobby and Johnny Byrd – I might be biased since it covers my adopted state, but this gives a great overview of the the great crime writing talent we have in Texas as well as grabbing a few writers who normally write outside the genre. Joe Lansdale riffs off the movie Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, Jesse Sublett pulls an Austin heist man’s revenge, and George Wier’s “Duckweed” is a fun yarn with a man on the run. Lisa Sandlin’s story lead to her wonderful PI story The Do Right. The Byrds even unearthed a story by the late great James Crumley. This is a great example of the Akashic Noir anthologies.

Trouble In The Heartland: Crime Fiction Based On The Songs Of Bruce Sprinsteen edited by Joe Clifford- Being a Springsteen fan makes me biased again. Whether playing off the song title or playing close to the lyrics, these stories capture the working class pathos of The Boss. Dennis Lehane kicks it into gear with his take on “State Trooper,” then Jordan Harper plants his own flag, using “Because The Night.” Hilary Davidson takes a dark haunting look at “Hungry Heart” and Les Edgerton gets you into the mind of a cold blooded “Ice Man.” If you can handle a lot of stories with brutality give this one a shot. Proceeds go to The Bob Woodruff Foundation for veterans.

In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper Cover ImageIn Sunlight Or In Shadow edited by Lawrence Block – Block had each auther pick a Dennis Hopper painting and write a story behind it. Jeffery Deaver used “Hotel by The Railway” for a spy yarn, Stephen King shows “The Room In New York” is less serene than it appears, and the editor’s interpretation of “The Automat” is haunting. All of the stories show how great art and an artist from one medium can spark creativity in ones from an other.

Wall Street Noir edited by Peter Spiegelman – Speigelman, a former programmer on Wall Street took the Akashic Noir idea of stories centered around a certain place and expanded it to the reach of that place, starting with the street, New York City, then U.S., and finally internationally. Megan Abbott looks at crime and finance in Harlem, John Burdette looks at business and sex in Asia, and Peter Blauner gives a story about a broker, his psychiatrist, and the movie The Godfather.

The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers, and Dark Roads: Original Stories by Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, C. J. Box, Diana Gabaldon, Ace Atkins & Others Cover ImageThe Highway Kind edited by Patrick Milliken – A great collection of stories of crime and automobiles. George Pelecanos uses a muscle car as a meditation on rage, death, and change in “The Black Ford Cuda.” Joe Lansdale (who is in three of these anthologies) creates a Depression-era Tom Sawyer-like romp with “Driving To Geronimo’s Grave”, and Wallace Stroby puts us on a desolate highway with a tense encounter with a motorist and a biker in “night Run” that carries echoes of the Richard Matheson classic “Duel.”

SCOTT’S TOP FIVE CRIME FICTION SHORT STORY COLLECTION PART 1 – AUTHOR COLLECTIONS

With BookPeople celebrating short stories for this short month of February, I thought I’d share some of my favorite collections. First is author collections. Many of these authors have written  some wonderful novels, but their craft really shines in short fiction. In all these books, not one writer has a weak one in the bunch.

The Big Book of the Continental Op Cover ImageThe Big Book of Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett – The punk rock of detective fiction. Fast, hard, and from the proletariat. Hammett, a former Pinkerton operative, tore apart the gentility of the drawing room detective and made him a working class hero. His story “The Tenth Clew” is practically a dismissal of the Sherlock Holmes story.

Crimes In Southern Indiana by Frank Bill – Every tale in here is a fine if tarnished gem. Each is a violent portrait of a decaying Midwest where the gun culture has met the drug culture. A story reminiscent of the Maltese falcon, but with a coon hound replacing the black bird, has a great last line.

Love and Other Wounds: Stories Cover ImageLove And Other Wounds by Jordan Harper- It’s as if Harper took Hammett’s rough and tumble hard boiled style and expanded on it for this century. All of these are edgy tales with that views many of it’s survivors and criminals on the fringe with a beautiful dark romanticism.

Cannibals: Stories From The Edge Of The Pine Barrens by Jen Conley- Conley delivers a wonderful empathy to her characters whether they be a single barmaid trying to make the best choice for her grandchild for a different life than her or her daughter’s, small time crooks, or her reccurring police officer Andrea Vogel.

Take-Out: And Other Tales of Culinary Crime Cover ImageTake Out by Rob Hart – Hart finds intersection of crime and food (or sometimes drink) in these well crafted tales that often explore his home of New York City as well. The story “Creampuff” about a bouncer at a designer pastry shop is worth the price alone. Hart shows there can be a lot of humor and humanity in hard boiled.

 

One Brings Knowledge, the Other Brings Enthusiasm: Interview with Joe & Kasey Lansdale

Joe Lansdale has written several short horror stories featuring Dana Roberts, an investigator in the supernatural. Later on his daughter Kasey joined him on the stories that have Dana team up with her character, Jana. They recently released a collection of all the stories, plus a new one in Terror Is Our Business. Joe and Kasey will be at BookPeople August 23rd at 7pm to discuss and sign the book. We got to ask them a few questions early about working on the stories and together.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the character Dana Roberts come about?

Joe Lansdale: I was reading some old style ghost stories, and stories involving psychic detectives like Carnaki, Jules De Grandin, John Silence, thinking about The Nightstalker TV show, and I thought, you know, I’d like to write something like that, but in the older more “sober” tradition, as that wasn’t commonly in my wheelhouse, so I wrote a couple stories about a modern supernatural detective, she calls herself a detective of the Supernormal, meaning that she believes all things have a rational and scientific answer, even if we don’t know what it is yet. She’s a bit stiff as a character, in the old tradition, and I liked her quite a bit. I think both of the original stories were picked up for Best Horror of the Year, and I thought, okay, that’s it. But I had the urge to write a couple more, and did, one for an anthology Kasey edited titled Impossible Monsters. Later on, Kasey and I wrote a story together for a Chris Golden anthology, and Jana was born. She didn’t have a connection to Dana, but later we decided to put the two together. And truthfully, that overly sober Dana was wearing me out. I wanted some spice. Dana had that. She was a lot like Kasey, and Kasey came from a horror background, but like me, her interest are broader, and in fact, she was more excited by what is often called Women’s Fiction. I hate the term Chick Lit, as that designates the origin of the usage, which is that women are like hens, running around without design or purpose. But hey, there it is. We blended the ideas, with Kasey taking the helm and me pulling up the sails on that ship.

MPS: How did the stories change when Jana appeared on the scene?

Joe: They got funnier, more irreverent, less serious, at least from Jana’s viewpoint they were. They were still the same sort of stories, but Jana became the narrator. I think it made Dana more interesting to have Jana observe her and comment on her.  Dana is the master, and Jana is sort of the sorcerer’s apprentice.

Terror Is Our Business: Dana Roberts' Casebook of Horrors Cover ImageKasey: When Jana came in the picture, it felt like a natural transition, closer to the way dad and myself usually see things. Darkly humorous. It seemed like Jana’s existence allowed Dana to lighten up some, and find a middle ground with one another like real relationships of any sort do.

MPS: What do you think each of you bring to the stories?

Kasey: I think the female prospective has always been something my father is good at, but it was fun focusing on things that were from my point of view, in my current consciousness in certain instances. I think Jana allowed the humor to come in a little more since Dana was written intentionally stiff.

Joe:  One brings knowledge, the other brings enthusiasm.

MPS: Are there any particular authors who influenced the stories?

Joe: I mentioned my influences for this type of story in the first question, but to pin it more, William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, Seabury Quinn, and Richard Matheson’s original Night Stalker script, which established the character. There were others here and there.

Kasey: For me there wasn’t a particular author I was channeling, more the character of Jana kept calling for me to tell her own story. I felt very character driven with these stories.

MPS: These kinds of tales partly rely on an eerie mood. How do you approach that aspect of the writing?

Kasey: I think for me I just imagine the things that I find eerie. What are the things that make me uncomfortable and scared in a good way, and then try to channel that into the stories.

Joe: With me it’s something that has seeped into my bones since a child. I’ve read a lot of this stuff, and all manner of fiction. I learned by reading, absorbed it.

MPS: What makes them worth coming back to?

Joe: I did it out of nostalgia, but when I did, I began to learn lessons all over again. They’re more severely plotted than a lot of my work. The ones I did alone I didn’t plot out, but my internal knowledge of the stories plotted them as I wrote. When Kasey and I wrote together, we had some discussions, laid out some basic plot lines, thin, but directions. Otherwise, working together, we were riding our horses off in all directions at once. That doesn’t work too well.

Kasey: I think the relationship between the two characters is really the key. The juxtaposition of these two women is really what I am drawn to. I know women like both of the characters, and in some ways I am like both of them, though admittedly more like Jana. It’s about watching them both grow as individuals and as a team, and seeing how even very different people can come together for the greater good.

MPS: Do you see a novel length investigation for Dana and Jana?

Joe: We’ve discussed it. It may be in the cards.

Kasey: We definitely see more adventures for these two in the future. The response has been tremendous, and I enjoy getting to do work with my dad.

Review Of Culprits edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips

Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning Cover ImageIt is hard for me to resist a heist novel or film. A bunch of sharp professionals with an even sharper plan that somehow goes sideways can always hook a reader or writer no matter how formulaic. Writers Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips found a handful of fellow writers in love with the big score to give it a fresh take with Culprits: The Heist Was Just The Beginning.

Both Gary and Richard write the first chapter together, featuring a unique target. Hard case heist man O’Conner gathers a group of smooth criminals to steal an illegal slush fund off a wealthy right-winger’s Texas ranch. A double cross happens with the pilot who was supposed to fly them out, leaving each member on the run with their split of the take. That’s when the other writers take over.

Each author takes a character and writes about them dealing with the fall out of the heist. Zoe Sharp and Jessica Kaye respectively take the inside players, the power broker’s trophy wife and her penny-ante thief lover, delivering well executed double and triple crosses that ripple through the book. Joe Clifford taps into the hard fatalism of a classic Manhunt magazine story, telling us the fate of “Eel Estevez.” Gar Anthony Haywood gives another side to the turncoat with “I Got You.” David Corbett gives us a slow burn suspense tale featuring the financier of the heist. Brett Battles and Manuel Ramos also deliver great contributions. Richard and Gary come back at the end with the climax.

The movement from each author’s story to the next is fluid. While each works individually as a short story, when placed in sequence each story shows its relationship to the previous. Since each chapter is from the point of one of the criminals, the various author voices never become incongruent.

Like master heist men themselves, Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips gathered their crew together and pulled off a perfect hard boiled job, though nothing went sideways. Most “shared novels,” even the best, come off as little more than an interesting experiment and a fun way to get writers together. This was the first time I felt a seamless story was being told with one. If I was going to join a gang of criminals, I’d want Gary and Richard to be the leaders.