Thursday, December 27, 2012


Dev Conrad—the cynical yet hopeful political consultant from Ed Gorman’s 2008 novel Sleeping Dogs—returns in Stranglehold.  Conrad is a Chicago-based political consultant who has one serious flaw; he has a conscience.  He plays to win, but he has an antiquated sense of fairness and honor.  A trait that isn’t in high demand in American politics.

Susan Cooper is an ideal candidate—she is attractive, intelligent, well spoken and personable—but as the election nears she becomes erratic and secretive.  Dev Conrad is called in as a trouble-shooter to find out the problem and put a leash on the candidate.  It’s not a quick fix however—Cooper is unmoved in her strange behavior and the clues Conrad finds lead him both to and away from his target.

Stranglehold is everything a mystery should be: dark, witty, plot driven, but populated by characters that matter, and it is never generic.  Mr Gorman takes a standard plot—murder, blackmail, lust—and breaths new life into it with twists that surprise the reader and invigorate the story.  It is a murder mystery, but its cock-eyed slant tracks the story into unexpected territory.

The opening line reads: “All roads lead to motels.” A standard theme in detective fiction—the seedy motel where unspeakable madness occurs—but Ed Gorman uses it as a kind of foil.  Not a trick by any standard, but he turns the trope against itself as well as the reader.

Ed Gorman is the most reliable writer of suspense currently working.  His plots—see above—are always clever and tight, his prose is smooth and hard at once, his narrative is steady and his dialogue is crystal.  But his real power is with the people that populate his stories.  His work has a dark cynicism about it, but that cynicism is rarely projected onto his characters.  There is hope in the behavior of his characters—they tend to be kind, solid, melancholy and very real; i. e. flawed.  The hero is as flawed as the antagonist, but it is the flaws, and how the character manages them, that generate compassion and interest from the reader.

Stranglehold is different from the first Dev Conrad novel: Sleeping Dogs.  It is darker.  There is less humor, although there is plenty if you enjoy your humor dry and subtle.  The differences between the two novels is interesting only on an intellectual level because both are entertaining.  The bottom line is, Stranglehold is the real deal.  It is another example of just how good Ed Gorman is at his craft.  It is also a reminder of the injustice that his name isn’t on the same lists as Stephen King, Dean Koontz and the rest of the high quality bestsellers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ONE FOR HELL by Jada M. Davis

Stark House Press released a reprint of a 1952 Fawcett Red Seal original titled One for Hell written by Jada M. Davis back in 2010.  Davis is a writer I wasn’t familiar with and after reading it, I really don’t know why.  It is terrific and one of the best hardboiled noir tales I’ve read.  It resembles the work of two pulp writers, W. L. Heath—particularly Violent Saturday—and Jim Thompson.  It has the violence and dark shadows of Thompson and the sociology of secrets that Heath did so well.

Willa Ree is a drifter and a petty criminal.  The novel opens with Ree riding the rails toward a small Texas boomtown. His plan is simple: fleece the town and move on.  What happens is beyond Ree’s expectations and the town looks better to him by the minute.

One for Hell is pure entertainment.  There isn’t a protagonist.  The supporting cast, Willa Ree is the main player, come and go like visitors to an amusement park.  One by one they ratchet the pressure on Ree until he is ready to break.  And one by one Ree pushes them aside until he no longer has the ability.

The plot is tight and woven with a sophistication of character, morality and corruption.  The town has secrets—everyone has something to hide and Ree uses this underlying human weakness to his advantage.  He culls his enemies, the weaker ones first, from the herd and eliminates them. He has a girlfriend who is an arch-type, flawed at that, of woman.  She has all the strengths and the weaknesses and most are both—a desire to trust, to love and believe.  She is the light of the story and the hope.
The action is developed with a solidity and audacity that separates this novel from so many others of its type.  There is a scene in the middle part of the novel that covers 18 pages that changed my view of what can be done with both violence and action in a prose story.  It rolled like a freight train in the dark hard night.  It changed Ree from a smalltime hoodlum to a big time psychopath. It was the crux of the story, the beginning of the end for Willa Ree, and the push that leads the reader into his twisted mind.

There really isn’t anything flat in One for Hell.  Everything works.  From the plot to the characters to the psychology to the prose and it wraps itself together without the reader really knowing that it is happening.  Willa Ree spends much of his time trying to guess the actions and motives of other people and the internal dialogue is simple and interesting:
“Maybe the old woman knew. Or maybe she found it, though not likely. Baldy wasn’t a trusting sort of person, and she wouldn’t have guessed he had money in the first place. He sat on the trunk and surveyed the room. Pictures? Too simple.”
One for Hell is proof that Stark House is one of the best publishers of classic crime fiction.  This, like all of its releases, is still fresh and vibrant all these years later and it is going to be on my bookshelf for a very long time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stark House Press Super Christmas Sale

I received this nice piece of good news from Stark House.  Take my advice and buy a few of the titles. 
Happy Holidays from Stark House Press!

Earlier in the season we offered our first ever Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale to our newsletter subscribers. In an effort to reach out to all our readers, however, we're now making a similar buy 2 get 1 free sale on all in-stock titles from now until midnight on Christmas Day, 2012. And did we mention the FREE SHIPPING?

Details and a complete book listing are available here. Happy Holidays, everyone!