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

Swimming with Sharks

My first shark dive, over a decade ago, our group encountered half a dozen reef sharks in the Red Sea. The big monsters circled the coral an hour offshore. The sight stole my breath, my aqualung pumping furiously—not the best reaction at minus 30 ft.

The white tip is a predator, though not likely to charge across open water for a taste of human. Still, they were massive. We sent bubbles to the surface in thick veils. We watched and photographed for long minutes.

This was a side adventure during a dangerous time in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. We’d escaped the very real threat of terrorism on shore in pursuit of terrifying thrills at sea. There was purity in the experience. The vast blue surrounded us. Our dive team numbered the same as the sharks. We had the cameras; they had the advantage.

Months later, we would be hit hard by the terrorists (more). The sharks never bothered.

This comes to mind all these years later after taking up the snorkel once again, this time with my youngest son. Our charter from Big Pine Key brought us 30 minutes out, to Looe Key reef. The wind was big and the waves bigger. They rocked the boat as we climbed down the ladder and pushed away, the six-year-old in my lap. Continue reading Swimming with Sharks


A nightmare tree grows in the hammock jungle along Route One of Fat Deer Key. Poisonwood. Its touch will boil the skin; its toxin, when burned, will sear the lungs; its berries, if ingested, will sour the gut.

At mile 56 the Poisonwood grows alongside its antidote, the Gumbo Limbo. Folk medicine has it the remedy should be sipped as tea. Gumbo Limbo’s nicknamed here tourist tree: its peeling red bark reminds locals of sunburned visitors.

For a time today we hiked among these opposing forces. I had the Gumbo Limbo for the Poisonwood. Gumbo’s monstrous appearance—deep, iridescent red amid the gentle green of the trail’s dominant thatch palm—seemed the very incarnation of evil. The Gumbo Limbo grew in clusters, trunks twisting and sinister as they climbed among the subtle, grey Poisonwood. Who wouldn’t think the former evil?

Stranger still along the coral-lined trail: tokens and small treasures lay about at odd intervals. Silver tokens here, blue-and-white marbles there, a tin marked ‘Fun Fun Fun’ in the crook of one tree, a twenty and some baubles in the opening of another. At one point we found an Easter egg, this Monday before Good Friday. Continue reading Poisonwood

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

An ounce of hope, a Fifth of futility

GodInNeonReview: God in Neon by Sam Slaughter

Sam Slaughter’s collection of stories features protagonists paddling up a great river of booze. Their strokes are futile, the current strong: with beer, tequila, whiskey, Old Crow, Jack, PBR. They struggle under the blurry burden of constant intoxication, their boozing not an act so much as a reality, like breathing. The booze, a unifying antagonist, is steady. Lurking. There.

God in Neon is filled with atheists at the bar looking for comfort but meeting instead with uneasy self-discovery.

One spits fire and chews glass as a Key West street freak; another lights up her favorite watering hole because the doc says one drink more will do her in. One doesn’t want the baby but doesn’t want his girlfriend drinking the baby to death (“Just because I don’t want it doesn’t mean it ain’t mine”); another contemplates his remorse over strapping dad to a wheelchair ahead of a night at The Package Depot, the saloon-cum-brownbag joint that unites them all. Another stuffs rabbits with fake Easter grass in hopes his son will talk to him. The boy keeps mum. Even silence is self-discovery.

Full review

A Confederacy of (Political) Dunces

I enjoy politics. And I enjoy books. So I’ve put the two together and re-cast the 2016 presidential contenders as their literary counterparts. Today, the Republicans.

Before the weekend I had  Bush playing Ignatius J. Reilly. His shuffling campaign had all the promise of a college-educated person pushing a hot dog cart around the Big Easy. Bush may be out, but it still seems appropriate to open the exercise with an homage to John Kennedy Toole’s classic treatise on the awfulness of humanity: the endless episodes of debate, the roguish demagoguery and grandstanding, the low-class dirty tricks and empty promises… all these conspire towards the feeling that watching the campaigns is like watching live picaresque. And there’s this: if Jeb is Ignatius, then Barbara gets to play his New Orleans po’ white trash mum, a deserved justice for the way she insulted the victims of Hurricane Katrina.


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

Cruz and Rubio
I pair Tweddle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum as the King and the Duke from Huckleberry Finn, each trying to out-rascal the other with no regard but for their own comforts. I also see in them the creations of Charles Dickens. The anxious, uncomfortable, thirsty Rubio is like a schoolboy: more facts in his head than his tongue can keep up with. He’s an orphan lost in the adult world, an Oliver Twist: “Please sir, may I have some more?” And as one Washington Post commentator described Cruz, he’s Uriah Heap from David Copperfield: “Oily, obsequious, conniving, insincere… a real creep. And he cheats.” Just ask Ben Carson.


He’s that character you can’t remember from that book you didn’t read for that college course you’re not sure you finished and keep waking up in a sweat at 2 a.m., panicked that you don’t actually have enough credits to graduate.

Joseph. From the Bible. Which is how he knows the pyramids were built by himself to store grain, and not to bury the pharaohs as is commonly accepted. To this physician I say, “Heal thyself.” I think he may have swallowed a very large Bible.


He turns everything said about him against the person who says it. For that, Trump may be called He Who Must Not Be Named. But doing so gives him more power than he deserves. There’s nothing magical or mysterious about Trump, after all. He’s base. He’s crass. He’s a blunt object. He’s Roald Dahl’s Mr. Wormwood, a dishonest, intellectually-depraved used car salesman more likely to watch television while eating dinner—pizza, with a fork—off a tray on his lap than to develop rational policies or cavort with world leaders.

See the Democratic cast later this week. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about how others view the Republican candidates and their literary counterparts.

Review: When You Cross That Line

The short line-up of characters in Sam Slaughter’s collection lead lives you’d rather not lead yourself, and therein lies the charm.

The unnamed narrator of When You Cross That Line is moving to Florida when he has a run-in with an alligator salesman. The episode turns from odd to ugly, leaving the narrator in search of a swamp, hopeless of finding normalcy in his new adoptive state.


Next James and Grunt get out their power equipment to take care of a facial tattoo, and later the sword-wielding Mr. Gordon strips off his kimono in the middle of the street, forgetting to take his sword with him when he’s shooed back inside.

I empathized most with World War II vet Paul, who fought for your freedoms and will gladly smash your face in if you abuse them. Stupid mid-day drunken salesmen.

The final story, A Bear in the Trunk, works least well. But there’s a guy named Tonka and a drug dealer named Clyde who gives away beer at Gary’s Saloon. Again we aren’t privy to the narrator’s name but it hardly matters: things don’t turn out too well for him, and I’m not convinced the ending really works. I’m not convinced it doesn’t.

And that’s the nature of this short collection of clear-eyed writing. The prose is under control, the characters are unusual, and the reader is grateful to observe from afar: “I bet none of your northern friends have ever held a gator. Be the first.” He pushed on the word northern like it was an intruder.

Strong writing about wart-covered characters, straight out the swamps of Central Florida.