Bad Boy Boogie uncovered!

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Ain’t she a beauty? Designed by James Ray Tuck Jr., a fine author in his own right. Working with Eric and Lance at Down & Out Books has been a dream. The book will be published in April. It will be available for pre-order soon, and I will share the links once they are live.

So you can’t read it yet, but here’s what people who have read it have to say:

“Thomas Pluck has with this novel launched himself into the rare category of … must-read novels … must re-read … must tell all and sundry about. It is that fine, that compelling. Made me relive all that a wonder novel yields. Just tremendous.”
Ken Bruen, author of the Shamus and Macavity Award-winning Jack Taylor mysteries

“Thomas Pluck’s BAD BOY BOOGIE is a vivid dose of New Jersey noir with heart, soul and muscle.”
– Wallace Stroby, author of the Crissa Stone series

“Thomas Pluck is a crime writer to watch. Steeped in the genre’s grand tradition but with heart and bravado all his own, his writing is lean, smart and irresistibly compelling.”
Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me and Queenpin

“Jay Desmarteaux is a worthy addition to the list of crime fiction protagonists.  He’s Louisiana heart mixed with pure New Jersey grit.  Thomas Pluck’s prose is taut, muscular, and pulls the reader through the book’s violent bursts at a light speed clip.  Look out for this one.”
– Dave White, Shamus Award Nominated writer of the Jackson Donne series

“My first Thomas Pluck novel won’t be my last. Bad Boy Boogie is a superb, taut, little thriller that hits all the right notes and sustains its central conceits to the very last page.”
– Adrian McKinty, author of the Sean Duffy crime novels

“Beautiful Bad-assery. Full of lyrical longing for a youth unfulfilled and the brutal truth of an adulthood gone dangerously wrong. Brilliant. Thomas Pluck may well be the bastard love child of James Lee Burke and Richard Stark.”
– Josh Stallings, author of Anthony and Lefty Award nominated Young Americans, and the Mo McGuire series

And here’s a little taste:

When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gates of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. He had spent twenty-five years as a monk locked inside a dank Shaolin temple dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.

Men who needed killing.

I’ll be touring, so if you want to hear me read, grab a beer, arm wrassle, or set my beard aflame, check out my Events page.

 

The Year’s Best Crime & Mystery Stories 2016

I’m over the moon that my story “The Big Snip” was chosen by John Helfers and Kristine Kathryn Rusch for inclusion in The Year’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories 2016 with Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Higgins Clark, Jedidiah Ayres, SJ Rozan, and more. Thank you to the editors for choosing me, and to Lawrence Block for getting me to write it, and Peter Carlaftes and Kat Georges for originally publishing it in Dark City Lights at Three Rooms Press (where you can read it in print, if you prefer).
Paperback available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local indie bookstore.

Available as an e-book on KindleB&N Nook, Apple iBooks, and Kobo.
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 If you haven’t read it, or just want to read it again with some more great crime stories, grab it for your e-reader or read it on your phone, PC, Mac, iPad, ePood, or someone else’s.
My story’s about love and pain and justice on the Neuter Scooter, and it’s a personal favorite. I’ll be returning to these characters…

the awesomeness of Stranger Things – and recommended reading

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dunt dunna dunt dunt … my Winona

I loved the NetFlix original series Stranger Things. It’s only 8 episodes long, but never feels rushed. The Duffer Brothers did a great job, giving us characters we care about and a monster that truly terrified me. It’s set in the early ’80s and begins with four young kids playing a Dungeons & Dragons game. After the game ends one never makes it home. The cast is excellent, the police are not jerks or incompetent, and even the bullies have depth. It’s not perfect but it’s very close. And it doesn’t have a smarmy facade of nostalgia, the early ’80s were good and bad. A little anachronistic in behavior, but that’s expected.

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I recently read a list of “you might like…” books and wasn’t satisfied. It had the usual literary-friendly pre-genre picks like Arthur Machen and some other great books like Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, but … they really aren’t anything like the show. Stranger Things owes a lot to the following sources: Firestarter by Stephen King, also It and  Carrie and its clone The Fury, and Stand by Me. The works of H.P. Lovecraft. PoltergeistAkira, and the video game Silent Hill. There are nods to Aliens and the nerdy kids who all ring perfectly true reference things they love like The Hobbit and the Star Wars movies. And their favorite teacher is a clueless science nerd, who shows his date The Thing on VHS.

Here are some books I’ve read that reminded me of Stranger Things in a good way:

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. There are scenes in this novel that still haunt me. It’s similar to It, but so much more concise and darker. Four young kids growing up in a town haunted by the evil of its past, which they must confront to save their lives.

Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale. Not quite as perfect as his masterpiece The Bottoms, but when a local girl goes missing, her oddball friends go on a Huck Finn-like adventure to find her, while avoiding the evil Skunk who haunts the swamps of the Sabine River. The Bottoms has young Harry witnessing a murder and trying to save a black friend from being lynched for it, and is possibly Lansdale’s best.

In the Woods, by Tana French. The first one by the master crime writer is darker and more haunting. Before Rob Ryan was police, as a young boy he was found tied to a tree in the woods near an ancient altar. The other two boys were never found. Now the land is about to be razed for developments and he goes seeking answers, as he remembers nothing of that night.

The stories of Laird Barron. The Children of Old Leech are even worse than the otherworldly Thing in Stranger Things and they also love to hide in the boles of trees. Start with The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley. Another creepy childhood tale of a family’s yearly visit to an old Christian shrine in the hopes of healing their learning disabled youngest boy. The miracle occurs, but the source is something far more sinister.

My own short novella The Summer of Blind Joe Death is a weird tale set in ’20s Appalachia, where two young boys face the greatest evil there is.

And if you want to read a Megan Abbott novel about a missing child that will haunt you, it’s The End of Everything you want. One of my favorites.

Have you watched the series? What did you think? And what books or series would you recommend, to those who loved it?

 

 

 

Mystery or Crime Fiction? Less Filling.

Both Patti Abbott and Spinetingler editor Brian Lindemuth (at Do Some Damage) have asked whether you prefer Mysteries or Crime Fiction, both as a reader, and a writer, when it comes to labeling books.
It used to be that Crime Fiction was a subset to Mystery, and now the tables seem to be turning somewhat. Here is my long comment at DSD.

Almost every story has an element of mystery. What happens next? Parker is on a bridge and he tells a guy off. I like this guy. What’s he gonna do next? But that’s not a story of deduction. Is Tana French’s excellent Faithful Place allowed to be crime fiction? There’s a murder and we don’t know who did it. But her depiction of Dublin and her excellent characters are right out of Hammett or Chandler.

I like both mysteries and crime fiction. I consider Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr “Burglar” mysteries to be cozies. I can never keep up with the classifications that nerds keep narrowing down, whether it’s in music (no dude, that’s not shoegaze, it’s um, darkwave fartsniff dubstep!) or books or whatever. I can’t be bothered.

Let’s face it, Mystery and Crime Fiction are labels to sell a book. If it bothers you to see “Mystery” on a book you like, is it because you imagine Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher and don’t want to be associated with fans of those stories?
Mystery lovers likely get the same shiver when they see Crime Fiction or Noir on a label, they know there may be foul language and testicles (probably severed ones).
It’s a marketing construct. I don’t like either label. “Crime Fiction” can certainly drive away readers who assume it’s all about serial killers and gumshoes wearing fedoras and talking like Bogart, just like “Mystery” may be dismissed as a puzzler to keep you occupied in the waiting room for the gastroenterologist.

What about “Suspense”? I hope your story has suspense, even if it’s “literary fiction.” But heavens forfend it be labeled a “thriller,” those are for reading on airplanes, right? Speaking of thrills, I’m thrilled when an author I like is in the good old Fiction section. Megan Abbott, Pete Dexter, Scott Phillips are all recent sightings. But I don’t mind wandering to the Mystery corner, like the “Adult” section of the video store (if you remember those) to get my kicks.

Like Colson Whitehead says about those who call genre fiction a guilty pleasure:

“Other people’s labels. Other people’s hang-ups.”

Book Blast: Bird, Ellison, Abbott, Beat to a Pulp and more

Several books by authors I admire have hit the streets recently. But first, let me get this out of the way. My friend Sabrina graciously opened the door of her blog to me, and I have a guest post up about why I wrote “Little Sister,” my story for last year’s Lost Children Charity Anthology.  Sabrina is a great friend, and my ideal reader: a passionate fan of crime fiction, who likes a story fraught with action, real stakes, and bloody thrills. She always puts her heart into her reviews, and if you like thrillers and noir, I highly recommend you follow her blog.

First up, my friend Nigel Bird- one of my favorite short story writers- has written his first novel. Some are calling it “teacher noir,” about a Scottish schoolteacher who tries to help one of his troubled students, and ends up in over his head. Nigel is the author of the excellent story collection Dirty Old Town, and last year’s smashing novella Smoke. In Loco Parentis is available at Amazon.

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Megan Abbott is one of noir’s rising stars. She began with powerful nods to the classics, and last year she wrote The End of Everything, a daring novel about an abducted girl in the Detroit chi-chi suburbs. I first read her in the L.A. Noire story collection, where her tale of Hollywood sleaze “The Girl” knocked me out of my socks and into next week at the same time. Now she’s tackled the high octane and brutally competitive world of high school cheerleading with DARE ME, and Dave White gives it a great review at his new blog, Beer ‘n Books. Dave is an IPA hound, but he has great taste in beer. He also writes a pretty good yarn himself, like Witness to Death.

Buy Dare Me at Indiebound
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Beat to a Pulp Round Two is out, and editing superstar David Cranmer has put together another stunner of a collection. This time Charles Ardai, Bill Pronzini, Patricia Abbott, James Reasoner, Glenn Gray and Steve Weddle are on the card, among other champs, contenders and ringers. And look at that cover. David is one of my favorite editors to work with, and he really knows how to rope together a collection. Maybe he learned a little from Cash Laramie, his western marshal?
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And last but not least, the first author to influence me and make me pick up the pen was Harlan Ellison. Maybe you’ve read of our infamous correspondence? Well, Harlan began writing juvenile delinquent tales, before he broke the chains from pulp SF and created his own audacious flavor of speculative fiction. And some of those tales were racy, collected as “Sex Gang,” under the pseudonym Paul Merchant. They’ve been out of print, until now. Kicks Books is releasing them with the only slightly less squirmy title, Pulling a Train.

I don’t see the Ellison book available at my local indie or at Amazon yet, but these are what I’ll be reading this summer… once I catch up and read Dead Harvest, The Adjustment, City of the Lost, Edge of Dark Water, and That’s How I Roll!

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Crime Factory 10

This is how they do it down under…

The Crime Factory issue #10 is out, with an interview with Megan Abbott, a deposition by Josh Stallings and my story “Lefty,” about some goombahs on a fishing trip to the Louisiana bayou. It is available as a PDF from their website (Follow the Crime Factory link) and will soon be available for Kindle. I wish it was available in print, but they only do that for special issues like Kung Fu Factory. I wonder if Createspace could turn this PDF into a print on demand zine, or Lulu? I think it would be worth the trouble. So read it on your PC or your e-reader, it’s free and they always get a great line-up of contributors!

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Great Plucking Reads

Everyone’s picking their favorite books of the year it seems. I reviewed all my favorites here over the months, but I’ll collect them here for you.
I’m all about emotional impact. I appreciate a clever twist or a brilliant storyline but one of the enduring phrases from my youth is from Harvey with Jimmy Stewart and his pooka pal the invisible rabbit. “You can be oh so clever or oh so pleasant. For years I tried clever. I’d suggest pleasant.” Meaning, it’s good to be clever, but don’t be cocky about it. These writers are clever, but they aren’t about being clever. They pack a wallop with their stories and it’s not there to shock, but to shake… to shake you out of jaded ordinary life and make you think, or heaven forfend, care.

So here are my favorite reads of the year. You may truncate them to five or ten to make a handy list.

Out There Bad, by Josh Stallings
A strong new voice and a powerful character blasting onto the scene, Mo McGuire is a dark hero, a wounded warrior, who dares shove our face in the evil we tolerate every day. This is the second book by Stallings and kicked my ass. He takes you on a hellride through L.A.’s human meat grinder and hunts it to its source with a two chilling and remorseless killers at his back. Moses is forced to acknowledge his own complicity as a strip club bouncer, and learns what it takes to stand up for those he cares about. L.A. has a new crime boss, it just doesn’t know it yet: and his name is Stallings.

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott
The most daring novel of the year, exposing the rotten heart of suburbia. This one’s on a lot of end of the year best-of lists and I will smugly say I TOLD YOU SO. Back when I reviewed it this summer. Nya nya nya NYA nya.  A profoundly disturbing look at the dangers young women face on the verge of womanhood, and a story that will defy your attempts to predict its outcome. When Lizzie’s best friend is abducted, she begins her own investigation… starting with the secrets only best friends would share.

Choke Hold, by Christa Faust
It flies like classic pulp, it reads like truth and it hits you with a smart left hook that leaves you as stunned as a fighter wobbling through his first standing eight-count. There are no slick twists, only artfully written characters, broken down gladiators from the sex and violence trades who’ve battled for our entertainment. They are writ large but speak to a deeper truth. Angel always lands on her feet, but the fear level was the highest for me in this one. The axe is always ready to fall.

Crimes in Southern Indiana, by Frank Bill
A brutal emotional dispatch from the war zone in your backyard. The debut of the year, this is blood feud poetry. Desperate situations where beat-down people stand on the line between what they know is wrong and sheer survival in a hardscrabble emotionally jagged landscape. Staring into the abysmal latrine of humanity, it is easy to sink to nihilism, to embrace the banality of evil, but Frank Bill refuses to take the easy road. People beyond forgiveness seek mere understanding. Desires criss-cross and hurtle together like jalopies down a one lane dirt road. Anyone can write brutality. Giving it a dark but honest human heart takes guts and a keen sense of people, and this novel speaks volumes of messy truth.

Pym, by Mat Johnson
Not a crime novel, but one of the funniest and honest books on race and English literature I’ve ever read. It turns a brutally racist Poe tale on its head and has a snicker on every page while doing it. An African-American professor of African-American studies is fired because he won’t be the token African-American on the diversity committee. While looking for a slave narrative to base his next thesis on, he finds an intriguing document that suggests Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was based on fact, and gathers together a crew to find the islands it described. A bizarre and hilarious adventure through American literature commences, and not a week goes by where I don’t think of this book.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

The grandmaster shows us how it’s done, returning to a place in Matt Scudder’s past where he was less experienced and more vulnerable. There is little action, but you can’t tell from the tension level. No one writes New York like Mr. Block, and he explores new ground by taking us to Scudder’s past. A crook in AA is killed when he begins asking forgiveness, and Matt needs to know why. With his usual bulldog tenacity he explores a rogue’s gallery of human frailty while keeping a slippery grip on his own sobriety. I liked the story, the mystery of High Low Jack’s murder and his shady past, but the characters are what keeps this book in my mind.
The Weight by Andrew Vachss
Character-driven fiction at its best, we meet “Sugar,” a weightlifter and con who takes the rap on a crime he didn’t commit to protect his crew. What happens after he takes the weight is nothing you’d expect. Mentors and feet of clay, and a lead you’d trust to spot you under the bar when the weight is damn heavy.

Frank Sinatra in a Blender, by Matthew McBride
From the title, to its meaning, to its hard-drinking anti-hero and fully-fleshed hard luck villains, not since early Carl Hiaasen has vicious comedy of human existence been so entertainingly portrayed. I still sometimes remember a scene or a line, stare into space and laugh, and everyone around me takes a few steps away from me. Just a great read.

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski 

It plays on Hollywood conspiracies and the starlet meat grinder, all while telling a fast paced, thrilling and very funny tale. Duane the Brain can come up with stories I can’t even imagine, and he fleshes them out with hilarious and cynical prose that keeps the pages turning.
Headstone by Ken Bruen
My introduction to Ken’s unique style and fierce heart, I am told this isn’t the best Jack Taylor novel. All that means is the others are even better. A back alley tour of Galway, a city I’ve only seen as a tourist, that was a hell of an eye opener. Taylor tackles mindless hate and nihilism and tears its tongue out at the roots. He fears no evil and leaves no villain spared. Truly excellent writing from a master I will read every word of, before I die.

The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
I let this slip by because it’s a short story collection. But these stories, like Crimes in Southern Indiana, are all about a place and a people and make a patchwork that becomes a tapestry as you step back. This was my introduction to Mr. Woodrell, and I’ve picked up several of his novels since. He has an economy with words that leans toward poetry, and a blood-borne knowledge of the human heart. This is an excellent introduction to the author, who’d be called the Raymond Carver of the Ozarks… if he wasn’t an equally adept novelist as short story master.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck