Miles of Fun, Miles of Files

Paul Panepinto is bored at work. How could he not be? He’s a painter trapped by lapsed policies, cold chocolate in a Federal Funding mug, and long stints of muzak while on hold with Mortgage Depot. Also there are his smarmy daydreams of ‘better times’ with Suzanne Biedertyme to get him through the monotony.

Panepinto works in insurance.

As with most of the office hacks in Michael J. Sahno’s Miles of Files, Panepinto’s silver lining is that he works for not just any insurance company, but for Flambet Insurance. As the name suggests, the place is about to go up in flames.

Enter Graham Woodcock, the British second-in-command to Flambet’s witless heir, James. Woodcock’s embezzling from the company IRA through the phony accounts of non-existent employees Dolores Buenas and Philip Banks.

When Panepinto stumbles across the accounts with a few errant keystrokes, the novel’s central thread is set. Miles of Files is on its way to being a literary PI story focused more on the innocent and the victimized than on the PI or the crook.

Continue reading Miles of Fun, Miles of Files

Murder and the Father of American Diplomacy

We all know Ben Franklin as one of the nation’s earliest Renaissance Men: scientist, printer, writer, businessman, scholar, politician, diplomat. Fireman. In David R. Andresen’s short mystery Murder in a Blue Moon Ben takes a break from his more gentlemanly pursuits, such as chess, to solve a serial murder in Philadelphia.

It’s fall of 1752, the American Experiment still a quarter century from Independence. Constable Geoffrey Hunter turns to his friend over glasses of Madeira to mull the facts of a case involving prostitutes with broken necks and surprised looks on their faces.

The short mystery develops quickly, clues tying the mystery together sparse, the time between each murder so great they go undetected for nearly a decade. The narrative style befits the times. We take our modern P.I. and dial the voice back to the 18th Century. Andresen succeeds at doing this without slowing the yarn or making it stumble:

I’m not known for being a quiet man, but much of my work required discretion and the rest was so much a simple litany of common greed, sin, and sheer folly that I found it best to spare him and me the despair and disgust so many of my duties as Constable entailed.

When our good Constable does unburden his heart of the details of his case,  it requires the author of Poor Richard’s Almanac to put this puzzle together.

An imaginative slice of early American life that’s a tad more lurid than average, Murder in a Blue Moon is a quick, entertaining read.

Crook v Crook v Crooked Cop

nothingHardboiled noir fans: Bob Truluck delivers a lot more than promised in The Big Nothing. That’s no backhanded compliment.

The promise includes a vicious series of showdowns, a coterie of sadists and pervs, and a few well-intentioned rubes caught up in a game bigger than the pile they’re after.

The cast of criminals and dirty cops range from two common thieves of dubious mutual allegiance to a pair of sophisticated professionals with international pedigree and wild libidos. There’s the shifty lawyer and his boy-toy lover who play-act sex games of Russian Kapow, and a mothballed old crook bringing up the rear with his neophyte hacker.

Middle of them all is the sad-sack FBI gumshoe and his mysterious handler, who may or may not be running the game: ‘Milky wasn’t even sure what the guy was, if he was armed services, Special Forces, DEA, Secret Service or a fucking spook. Milky’d been led to believe the latter, but found out if you called the CIA joint in Virginia they’d say they didn’t know anyone by that name.’ Continue reading Crook v Crook v Crooked Cop

Guy Walks Into a Bar

Guy walks into a bar. Orders a Preston Lang.
Barkeep asks, “What’s a Preston Lang?”
“Rye. With a hint of the barrel.”
“Yeah. That too.”

41-l5e7evnl-_sx313_bo1204203200_Anyone who missed Lang’s first two crime paperbacks, The Carrier and The Blind Rooster, ought to jump right in and read The Sin Tax. Hard, straight writing. Contemporary plot. All the author’s wry and unobtrusive observation of human habit.

Female baddy you can sympathize with flashes her gun to male ex-con baddy you can also sympathize with: “You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a carry permit in New York. It’s insane. But once they give you one, they’re basically saying they want you to shoot somebody.”

It’s another New York setting—this time the Bronx and environs. Heads south to Delaware. But it’s a NYC story.

So is Janet serious? To protagonist Mark she’s serious as a heart attack:

It was a real gun, small and cold, looking like the smartest guy in the room.

There’s lots of Lang’s best ‘Who’s Hustling Who’ in The Sin Tax, a quest for money, smokes, and—less important—absolution. The petty take’s what matters. Watch it grow from 10’s to 100’s to ever bigger digits. Bigger as in life and death:

Only a psychotic individual would kill a man to make a point to someone as unimportant as Mark… once you erase a man as a form of communication to someone who isn’t even valuable to himself, there’s something very cold running inside of you.

Mark’s smarter than your average loser. But he’s not smart enough to avoid teaming up with your dumber than average loser, Slider. Slider delivers Mark straight into Janet’s hands, because smart or not he’s still just a two-bit loser, time served for busting a man’s head in a bar-fight and leaving his tongue on the counter.

To each his own vendetta in The Sin Tax, where even the winners get a taste the barrel.

Everyone knows that cigarettes will kill you. Mark works the overnight in a grimy deli in the Bronx, selling gray market smokes and bad meat. His hotheaded manager Janet pushes him to help her con their boss into paying cash for a truck full of tax-free cigarettes. Soon he finds that Janet is willing to do nearly anything to grab the money, and what they’re up to is a lot more dangerous than three packs a day. More.

Peace Corps Writer’s Crime Debut

Congrats to fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Chris Orlet (Poland, 1992-94), who’s debut novel In the Pines came out this month from New Pulp Press. New Pulp is home to many other fine noir and crime writers like Mark Richardson (see my review of Hunt for the Troll–2015). NPP released my neo-noir satire, Two Pumps for the Body Man, this past spring.

Read what other RPCVs are up to at PeaceCorpsWorldwide.

in the pinesIn a small southern Illinois town, Emily Ahrens, a rather plain, unexceptional 17-year-old girl, dies suddenly, horribly and inexplicably, at home. There appears to be no rational explanation for her death. Tests soon confirm that Emily died of kidney failure due to arsenic poisoning. Tests also confirm that she was not pregnant. A coroner’s inquest, called to decide whether her death was suicide, accident, homicide, natural or undetermined concludes the death is undetermined. With no evidence of foul play, local authorities are reluctant to investigate. The girl’s father, Walt Ahrens, a local car dealer, refuses to let the matter drop and begins obsessively seeking answers, even as his family begs him not to, even as the townspeople seek to put the tragedy behind them. Stonewalled, Walt hires a shady private investigator from the city to look into the circumstances of his daughter’s death, but he too fails to turn up any answers, only more questions, before dumping the case back into Walt’s lap. When the desperate father turns up the screws on one rather unsavory suspect, a fatal accident ensues, and circumstances begin to spiral out of control.

Chris Orlet was born and raised in Belleville, Illinois. He has worked a multitude of dead-end jobs, including bartender, sportswriter, gun seller, Peace Corps volunteer, tech writer, salesman for a trailer parts company, and other occupations too unsavory to mention. He lives in Saint Louis, Missouri with his wife, son, and dachshund.

DeWildt’s Brutal Rural Noir

KillwKindnessC.S. DeWildt writes a sick rural noir in Kill ‘Em With Kindness, no surprise given the strength of his previous release Love You to a Pulp.

The narrative blazes through the rural backwoods of Horton burning down churches and meting out vengeance on more than a few good ol’ boys—some who deserve it, some who don’t. And as with DeWildt’s previous work, the writing includes special twists of imagery: “Chief rubbed his thumb and forefinger on the end of his sheathed baton. Turning and pinching it like a whore’s nipple.”

The plot here is streamlined, a single trip down a dark rabbit hole. Protagonist Nick inserts himself in a bar fight between damaged goods Kimmy and her rivals for the affections of town bully Chad Toll. Used to flying low and living off the proceeds of his basement weed farm, Nick is sucked into Toll’s world of brutal crimes and daily retribution, a world where crows are trained to hunt and peck with painful precision and dogs to double-team the enemy and cough up fingers when done.

DeWidlt’s forest is filled with darkness and cruelty, and the consequences are “mutilated genitals, being eaten, beaten, used for profit, exploited under heavy thumbs that Horton seemed to have one too many of.” Because when all’s said and done we still have Chief, cop and ultimate progenitor of so much more than just the town’s inbred violence. Nick’s quest is the oldest kind: “Anything available vs. the evil that threatens everything.”

If there’s a downside to Kill ‘Em With Kindness it’s that DeWildt was going up against his own best writing in Love You to a Pulp (“the real deal: hard and fast but also rich with literary merit… writing that rings true, the best of the best… this writing puts its blade through your heart, pointed and sharp, balanced between fine-grained detail and cosmic philosophy). Less cosmic philosophy and rural mythology this time around, but still some fine writing: “The long, straight gravel drive was dark, shaded with little slashes of sunlight that ripped through narrow breaks and turned the corn stalks into the shadowy fingers that bad-touched everything that dared come close.”

If you like your noir fast, brutal, and twisted jump on this pickup truck barreling down the dirt roads between Horton’s lost corn fields.

True Crime Review: Ivory Tower Cop

George Kirkham and Leonard Territo pair up to deliver an informative, fast-paced police procedural in Ivory Tower Cop, exploring a serial rape case based on actual events. The thriller digs into half a dozen savage crimes, the latest developments in forensic science, arcane Biblical studies, historical detail from The Third Reich, and Nazism’s reach into the present with a pace and range worthy of Dan Brown.


David Roth is an internationally recognized expert on the behavioral profiling of serial rapists, a professor at the University of Miami, and a widower who lost his wife and son to a drunk driver several years before the events of this story. He’s fast-tracked through the police academy to team up with Miami PD’s special victims unit, headed by an attractive young Cuban-American, Maria Sosa. Stir in romance among the story’s numerous other fine attributes.

Full Review

Cheney: still wrong after all these years

Former veep, elegantly cloaked in fiction

Crediting Dick Cheney for his rebuke of Donald Trump’s bigotry gets no traction with me. Sorry Dick: you can’t make up for decades of reckless decisions and bad policy based on one easy moment of obvious decency. You’re still a modern architect of the very party now on the verge of nominating a racist bully with a wild ego and worse ideas than your own for the White House.

dickedI made a big mistake when I ordered D*cked. A colossal error indeed. What I should’ve done was get the paperback instead of the e-book. That way all the riders on DC Metro would know about my impeccable taste for biting prose and my disdain for wicked human beings.

The real beauty about the compilation titled D*cked: Dark Fiction Inspired by Dick Cheney is that in spite of its premise, the book didn’t turn into a couple of dozen stories about trolls. What was the premise?

“No rules, no quarter. Make him a hero. Make him a perp. Make him a throwaway reference. Whatever fired the writer’s engine. All our authors had to do was craft a fictional, satirical tale inspired by the most vexing juggernaut of modern American politics — Dick Cheney.”

Yes: the troll is there (“Neighborhood Watch” by Rachel Canon). But so is the twisted, murderous perv who designs his own latex Cheney lookalike so he can run his hands up and down the former Veep’s nethers (Keith Rawson’s “The Many Loves of Arthur Snow”); so is futuristic Dick, or his statue anyway, whose reckoning becomes the subject of a high school senior prank in Jimmy Callaway’s “A Restoration of Power and Authority”; Flamethrower Dick gets it on in Greg Bardsley’s “Behind Those Yellow Rapids”.

Full review

The views expressed on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of my employer

San Francisco: Crime and Baseball

San Francisco–can you get any stranger? Spiked baseball bats chained to parking meters all over town. They appeared, 27 of them, on Thanksgiving: preparations for the Black Friday zombie shopper apocalypse?

SF's strange new bat population...
SF’s strange new bat population…

Speaking of crime, baseball, and the City by the Bay: check out Tom Pitts’ Knuckleball…

The whole city of San Francisco wants a cop-killer caught. Over at Giants stadium Hugh Patterson’s jolly mug fills the Jumbotron: 30K reward and the good will of the city, the tabloids, the cops.

Patterson was a good cop. No ordinary beat-walker. Loved his uniform, helping old ladies and handing out stickers to kids. He was a believer, a Giants fan. He was a man of the people until one of the people put a bullet in his head, then five more for good measure.


Patterson’s partner, Vince Alvarez, a cop in golden handcuffs, doing his time until retirement. Bust the baddies and get home to his wife, his high school sweet heart. Doesn’t give a fig about more than that. She’s his reason for being and maybe some day they’ll have kids.

Shooting at 24th and Capp, San Francisco’s Mission District, good cop goes down. Bad cop’s got a shoddy story, looking for someone to pin it on.

Full Review

The Blind Rooster Jumps to Paperback

Preston Lang’s The Blind Rooster (Crime Wave Press) is now more pulpy than ever before. It’s recently been made available in paperback!

Reading this dime-store crime tale is a lot like people-watching at the Laundromat: the major figures resemble coin-op types, people resigned to the vague indignity of paying to have their underwear tumble around in a public washer. And don’t take your eyes off them for a moment—they’d just as soon pinch a quarter from your pocket as take your favorite pair of jeans from a hot dryer.



This summer I pretended to sit down with Lang to talk about a few things. We covered the emotional intelligence of peanut eaters, the role of fire hydrants in the government’s summer emergency plans, and the collected work of Franklin W. Dixon, among other things.

If you’re eager for more Preston Lang when you finish, check out his crime books: The Carrier and The Blind Rooster.

Skip the small talk and heading straight to it: Interview with Preston Lang