Friday, May 22, 2020

Today is MAY day for Beau

Today, Beau Johnson takes a look at MAY, from DSD's own Marietta Miles.

“May will haunt you long after you close the cover. Its every page is fraught with peril. Its every word oozes with tragedy You know it’s coming, but you won’t dare look away, lest you miss one of the freshest, most scintillating voices in Southern crime fiction.” —Eryk Pruitt, author of Dirtbags and What We Reckon

“May is gripping and yet poignant. May Cosby and the people around her struggle against the present and the past, trying to piece together a life that’s worth living. Set along the fragile Folly Island of North Carolina as a frightening storm approaches, May looks back upon her choices and does her best to come to terms with them. Extremely atmospheric and at times heart-wrenching, May is a story of choosing to leave the wreckage of the past and search for hope in the future.” —Jen Conley, author of Cannibals

“Every page has a lovely line, something to savor, even as the story uneasily slips under your skin. There’s beauty in the violence in this novella about loneliness and the lengths people go to free themselves from its grasp. You read May and imagine Marietta Miles sitting at the edge of the abyss, peering into it and scribbling into her notebook.” —E.A. Aymar, author of You’re As Good As Dead

“Marietta Miles is a unique voice in modern noir, a writer of such dark scenes that only the power of her words can provide the light that releases the reader into a world where hope remains. Showcasing a Southern sensibility that reminds at times of Flannery O’Connor, Miles continually reveals further breadth (and depths) to her characters. A book of dark charms, May adds to the staggeringly beautiful intoxication delivered by last year’s Route 12.” —Rob Pierce, author of Uncle Dust and With The Right Enemies

Get yours here

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Dead Girl Blues: Living With the Monster.

Back when I was an aspiring writer, one thing would always puzzle me, and that thing was the oft-repeated phrase “Find your own voice.”

“Understand character,” I got, as I did “Know the difference between story and plot,” but the own voice thing – especially because it was often referenced adjacent to finding your character’s voice – confused the hell out of me.

Til I discovered Lawrence Block. The first thing I read was a Bernie Rhodenbarr novel ( “the burglar in the closet,” I think) then I dipped into – and was quickly consumed by – The Matt Scudder novels. I devoured the Keller books, and then purchased his collected shorts “Enough rope,” and – in short order – everything I could lay my hands on. And as I read – and fell in love with – Block’s work, the phrase began to make sense.

Here was a body of work that had, as protagonists, a chatty sweet bookseller cum cat burglar, a brooding, depressive alcoholic ex-cop, a philatelist funding his hobby (habit) by killing people for money.

But what they have in common – what Block is a master of – is the authorial voice. The characters are varied, but the storytelling is conversational. When Block’s recounting a tale it’s like the days when your dad read you a story at bedtime, it’s (aptly for this book) the stranger in the bar who’s so entertaining you stand him several Jamesons and have the best night of your life. You’re in the story until a little aside pops up – may be irrelevant, may be entirely relevant - and you go with it because it’s hugely enjoyable.

Because his voice tells you stories you’re gripped by, tells them in such a way that even when they’re about the darkest things possible (Scudder accidentally killed a child while drunk, precipitating his exit from the NYPD, the end of his marriage and his slide down to a point where – in the earlier books – we feel he’s never far from putting the business end of his revolver in his mouth and pulling the trigger) you want to know what happens next. No matter how bad it gets.

And so we come to Dead Girl Blues, Lawrence Block’s  latest standalone novel. Block’s voice is key here, because this is a book about a man who commits an atrocity, and of what happens to him in the decades that follow.

It’s a horrible book, insofar as it (in this reader at least) inspired horror.

And it’s an absolute triumph.

We meet a man. He tells us, right up front, what he’s done, and we wait. To find out what happens next. Until we realise that we’re in the hands of a Scheherazade who knows no more than we do. This is not a Genius serial killer, or a deranged psychopath. Nor is it any of the dozen or so immediately recognisable tropes that are often used in these types of tales.

Here, instead, is an average man. Who walked into a bar one night. And did something terrible. There’s no pretence that what he did was an anomaly – we learn that the thought that triggered the act remains, that the consideration of the act itself is, in a way, a pleasurable act, and one which both keeps our protagonist away from repeating the act even as it edges him closer to an encore.

His self-awareness – the fact that this man knows what he’s done, knows he wants to do it again, and knows that only a series of quirks of fate have prevented him becoming the beast he fears he is – makes him even more horrifying than all the cartoon killers on the shelves.

Because this one feels real. He diverts on to topics as wide-ranging as favourite TV shows, or the challenges of having grown-up kids about to go off to college. He’s the man who could live next door; nice but unremarkable. He’s the husband you met later in life; the step-father you always wanted. And his normality is what makes him truly horrifying.

Block’s ability to tell us terrible stuff that rings true, to mix it with the mundane and instantly recognisable, and to retain our interest in - dammit, at times even our sympathy for - the character telling the story elevates this book into something that’s by turns chilling, warming, disturbingly erotic. It’s touching in its gentle descriptions of a marriage that becomes a love story, and the story’s ethics – Blocks empathy, which I have always felt is a hallmark of his work – makes it an odd sort of <and this is not a spoiler> redemption story.

It’s a book about the monster in all of us, and what happens when that monster gets loose. And it’s a book, I think, about learning to live with the monster and the consequences of our actions.

One of the best books he’s ever written.

Dead Girl Blues is our June 24th and you can pre-order it here <or buy it if you’re reading this after June 24th. In which case one has to ask: where the hell have you been? We missed you.>


Derek Farrell is the author of ‘Death of a Diva’ ‘Death of a Nobody,’ ‘Death of a Devil’ ‘Death of an Angel,’ and the novella "Death of a Sinner," all published by Fahrenheit Press.

The books have been described as “Like The Thin Man meets Will & Grace.” “Like M.C. Beaton on MDMA,” and – by no less an expert than Eric Idle – as “Quite Fun.”

Derek’s jobs have included: Burger dresser, Bank teller, David Bowie’s paperboy, and Investment Banker. He has lived and worked in New York, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Prague, Dublin, Johannesburg and London.

Farrell is married to the most English man on the planet and lives in West Sussex. They have no goats chickens children or pets, but they do have every Kylie Minogue record ever made.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

KISS Unmasked at 40

Forty years ago today, the rock band KISS released Unmasked. Over on my YouTube channel, I uploaded a short video of my memories of this album and a review. But I'm also including it here.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson

I don't read as much horror fiction as I used to, but I haven't lost my love for it, and every now and then, I'll get the urge to plunge into something I hope will leave me feeling chilled. When I heard that Michael David Wilson, founder of the great podcast This Is Horror, had written a novella, my interest was piqued, and I decided to pick his book up.

The Girl in the Video did not disappoint.

Freddie and Rachel are two Brits who live in Japan and work there as teachers. They have a strong and stable relationship.  One morning after breakfast, Freddie goes through his "periodic ritual of cycling through social media apps".  His description of the sort of compulsion that drives him to do this is funny, and something that nearly everyone, I think, can relate to:

"Rachel said I had a strange relationship with social media.  That I should delete it if it brought me so much anxiety and despair.  But it's swings and roundabouts.  How else was I supposed to know that Louis from middle school had mown his lawn or that Carys, who I hadn't seen in fifteen years, was holidaying in Malaga.  And without Facebook I certainly wouldn't have seen a picture of Thornby's breakfast - Cheerios every day for the past two weeks.  That's not even an exaggeration, the guy posted a bowl of Cheerios daily, even giving them a rating out of ten, no half marks, integers only."

Among all the usual virtual junk, Freddie notices a new Instagram direct message to him that has a Hello Kitty display picture.  The message is friendly, and Freddie, without thinking much about it, clicks the Bitly link below it.  

That's all it takes.  What he sees is a video from a youngish woman whose face is obscured by a Hello Kitty mask, and the video is both weird and somehow, without being pornographic, sexually arousing.  Of course, Freddie keeps this video and his reaction to it a secret from his wife, and what began with an innocuous click of a link from a stranger turns, with time, into an utter bad dream for Freddie. The Girl in the Video is indeed, as billed, a horror story for the smart-phone age, the digital era, and brings home the unease and terror you can let into your life so easily these days.   

Wilson's novella moves fast and develops tension expertly.  He also knows how to blend humor into the darkness. Freddie and Rachel are both believable and well-rounded, ordinary people pulled into something they in no way deserve.  Or wait: does Freddie, as his video stalker keeps saying, have a secret he needs to hide?  When Rachel tells Freddie that she is pregnant, that the baby they've been wanting is finally on the way, the stakes go up for both of them, and Freddie has to make a final decision on how to deal with his tormentor.  

This is a strong first book by Wilson, and it's ideal as a one-sitting read.

You can get The Girl in the Video, which is published by Perpetual Motion Machine, here.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Roller Derby and Mystery

I’m happy to welcome A.J. Devlin back to Do Some Damage today. We’ve known each other since meeting at Bouchercon in Toronto several years ago. Back then, he was a yet-to-be-published writer. Now he’s an acclaimed, Lefty Award-nominated author whose second novel came out Friday. I’ve been waiting impatiently for it ever since I read the first one in his series. Imagine my delight when I found out it’s about bad-ass roller derby queens.
A.J.’s been compared with Carl Hiaasen, and I couldn’t agree more. Here he is with more on Rolling Thunder. - Claire
“I’m the Queen!”
“You’re gonna die!”
“Cross my path?”
“You’re gonna fly!”
That is an actual chant used during warm-up by some women’s flat-track roller derby teams, one that I borrowed and utilized in my latest mystery-comedy novel Rolling Thunder.
The first book in the series – Cobra Clutch – is set in the world of independent professional wrestling and tells the story of “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead, an ex-pro wrestler turned sleuth in Vancouver, looking for a kidnapped pet python being held for ransom.
For Jed’s follow up adventure I wanted to maintain the quirkiness inherit to a fringe sport but also showcase something completely different – which is why it made total sense to me that a wrestler character from the first book could very believably trade in the squared circle for the ferocity of flat-track roller derby. Both pro wrestling and roller derby have a taste for the theatrical, from their monikers to their costumes to the sometimes-brutalizing way in which these amazing athletes punish their bodies.
But there’s something special about roller derby that really sets it apart from anything else – and if I had to boil it down to a couple of words, I would have to say female empowerment. As the father of a particularly spirited five-year-old daughter, I can already imagine my little girl kicking butt and taking names on the flat track, competing in a truly unique and competitive sport while simultaneously celebrating her womanhood. Roller derby – or as the ladies call it, just “derby” – is a punk rock, anti-establishment, counter-culture sport. It features blood, sweat, and tears, but it’s also more than that. In the words of Jack Black from School Of Rock, it’s about “sticking it to the man.” Roller derby is fierce and fun and allows its competitors the freedom to embrace their inner badass while also reaping the benefits of a team sport.
Everything about roller derby is awesome. This is why I layered in as part of the plot for Rolling Thunder a narrative in which some wealthy investors are flirting with commercializing the sport and trying to take it mainstream. Similar to independent professional wrestling, roller derby isn’t about broad appeal or watering down something edgy in order to make it more appealing or palatable to the masses. The sport of roller derby answers to no one – and if you don’t like it then as far as the skaters, coaches, and fans are concerned, you can take a damn hike.
The sport of roller derby also offered a kind of a mirror effect for “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead, who himself is considered a bit edgy and outside the norm (as an atypical detective). Like roller derby, Jed does things his own way, often ruffles feathers or butts heads with authority figures, and answers to no one but himself. I had a blast writing Jed as he navigated his way through this raucous sport, and it was fun to see him both amid familiar surroundings but also completely out of his element at the same time.
I was incredibly fortunate to have my high school classmate, multimedia journalist, and former skater with the Terminal City Rollergirls of Vancouver not only proof-read but also advise me as I wrote the next chapter in the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series. I was quite frankly spoiled by my friend Jenna Hauck – aka “Hydro-Jenna Bomb” – and her incredible insight and feedback. Just knowing that a retired roller derby player of her stature and strong woman and mom of her caliber not only approved of but also liked Rolling Thunder meant the world to me.
While I intend to keep taking “Hammerhead” Jed on new adventures and throwing him into different arenas while continuing to push him out of his comfort zone, there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when a person who has lived a life in the world in which you’ve done your best to research and are trying to do justice gives you the thumbs up.
Just like independent professional wrestling, women’s flat-track roller derby is a spectacle that needs to be seen to be believed. So, if you get a chance, check out a game if you can, because I guarantee you every woman on the track competing is there for one reason and one reason alone – to embrace and celebrate what makes these warrior women the passionate and powerful people they are.
You can find Rolling Thunder through an independent bookstore at Indiebound, at publisher NeWest Press, or on Amazon

 A.J. Devlin grew up in Greater Vancouver before moving to Southern California for six years where he earned a B.F.A. in Screenwriting from Chapman University and a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute. COBRA CLUTCH, the first entry in the “Hammerhead” Jed ex-pro wrestler turned PI mystery-comedy series, was nominated for a 2019 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery and won the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel.