Monday, August 8, 2011

"Fresh Pulp and Geezer Noir" at Los Angeles Review of Books

Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, I have a piece called "Fresh Pulp and Geezer Noir" in which I review: Damn Near Dead 2: Live Noir or Die Trying, edited by Bill Crider; By Hook or By Crook, and 30 More of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg; The Best American Noir of the Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler; and The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, also edited by Penzler.

The full review is available here on the LARB's website, but here is a sample:
Among the most unusual of the original anthologies is Damn Near Dead 2: Live Noir or Die Trying, a collection of twenty-eight tales in the self-defined niche of “geezer noir.” Edited by Bill Crider and published by the small-but-ambitious Houston-based Busted Flush Press, this follow-up to 2006’s original Damn Near Dead, manages to avoid the trappings of “gimmick” anthologies. The contributors clearly have fun with the “geezer” theme, but they focus on the story rather than the shtick. Stories range from the satiric — Joe R. Lansdale’s pithy “The Old Man in the Motorized Chair,” about a grumpy, retired detective who solves crimes between commercial breaks — to the tragic — Ed Gorman’s “Flying Solo,” about two terminally-ill cancer patients whose turn to violent vigilantism reflects their deeply rooted social and personal discontent. Anthology-opener “Sleep, Creep, Leap” by Patricia Abbott, a clever slow-burner about neighborly good intentions gone wrong, evokes the patient plotting and redolent characterization of Margaret Millar. Gary Phillips’ “The Investor” points to new directions in socially conscious crime fiction by fusing classic genre elements — mob corruption and hitmen — with timely economic and environmental concerns. And James Reasoner’s “Warning Shot” mixes pathos and action, as a Depression-era night security guard copes with the emotional and tangible consequences of an accidental shooting. Happily, Damn Near Dead 2 does without nursing home pastiche and cranky cane wielders.

Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, the editors of By Hook or By Crook, and 30 More of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year (Tyrus Books), have collaborated for over two decades and are among the most respected anthologists in the field. Their latest collection offers a thorough and comprehensive look at the contemporary crime fiction scene, ranging from established novelists to up-and-coming writers. Laura Lippman—whose Tess Monaghan novels have won nearly all the major mystery awards (the Edgar, Agatha, Shamus, Nero Wolfe, and Anthony) — gives the archetype of the suffering mother a dark twist in “Cougar,” a story about a woman whose life comes to a crossroads when her son converts her house into a meth lab. Tom Piccirilli, two-time winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Paperback Original, is known primarily for his novels, but has done some of his best work is in the short form. Less bleak than his recent novella “The Last Deep Breath,” “Blood Sacrifices and the Catatonic Kid” combines a loony-bin jailbreak with a revenge fantasy, and highlights the author’s capacity for dark humor. And Anthony- and Derringer-winner Bill Crider’s “Pure Pulp” is a delightful and loving tribute to a bygone era: a locked room mystery set amidst a group of pulpwood writers.

Two of the best stories come from emerging voices and first appeared online, a forward-thinking decision on the editors’ part. Sandra Seamans’ “Survival Instincts” (Pulp Pusher) — about a young girl who hides in the walls of a hotel room while listening to a brutal murder — is a tense, existential snapshot of sudden violence, and Greg Bardsley’s “Crazy Larry Smells Bacon” (Plots with Guns) is a psychotic head-scratcher in the best possible way. Bardsley’s story is wild, unpredictable, and totally original: Crazy Larry is an eccentric neighbor who likes to play with knives on the front lawn while lathered in cocoa butter and wearing a Speedo, and revenge smells like bacon to him. Another distinguishing highlight is Jon L. Breen’s extensive year in review feature, which covers novels, stories, scholarly and reference books, as well as all the award winners; this survey will surely be a boon for future generations of readers and scholars.

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