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Review: Pull and Pray by Angel Colon

Today in The Gutter:

Chris McGinley reviews the latest from homeboy Angel Colon.

Book Review: Pull and Pray by Angel Colon


If you like crime fiction with sharp dialogue, clever technical detail, and characters who take  pains to see all the angles--and there are dozens of them--you will enjoy Angel Colon's newest novel, Pull and Play (Down and Out Books), a follow up to his No Happy Endings.

The title is a riff on a heist planned by some family members--and a few outsiders--who look to do a "retirement job" involving payoff codes hidden in slot machines. Oh, one other notable feature here: the main characters are women; seasoned con-artists and skilled thieves thoroughly accustomed to "the life."  Each has her own unique specialties and idiosyncratic methods that don't always jibe with the style of the other crew members. Not surprisingly, this often causes strife. But it's all part of a dysfunctional family tradition for the main operators, another source of much discord in the novel, and even some humor, too.

Expert lock picker Fantine Park reluctantly agrees to work on a heist engineered by her aunt, Matilda Rhee. In fact, she only agrees because the aunt informs Fan that she possesses information about the death of Fan's mother--an "accident" on a previous job. Fan desperately wants revenge on her mother's killers, and agrees to do the job. Yes, it's a bribe . . . . about the murder of Fan's mother . . . one presented by her own aunt!  This is the kind of dysfunction central to much of the action. The reader, and indeed Fan herself, is always suspicious of Matilda, called Matty, a fact that makes for some fine narrative tension throughout.

As for the crime itself, there's an important inside element. Neil works in the casino industry and has access to schedules for slot machine pick-ups and deliveries. The job involves finding access to the carefully guarded machines and then cracking some more codes to determine the random number generator behind jackpot payoffs in slots all over the region. With the creation of some outside software (once the codes are ascertained) the heist promises to be a goldmine. Of course, there are several players, and everything has to come together just right, or the whole thing's a bust and the prospect of jail time becomes very real for everyone.

Much of the novel centers on these technical aspects of the job: how to navigate x, y, and z, and how to plan for the inevitable contingencies. For those who enjoy the technical facets of contemporary heist stories, Pull and Pray will surely satisfy. Happily, the crew also employs some old-school cons and decoys in order to effect their plan. There's something here for fans of the traditional heist-job narrative as well.

One thing that's especially refreshing is that Pull and Play is a feminist narrative, whether or not you think the term belongs in a discussion of crime novels. Put simply, the women are in charge here. Fan impresses her crew with her savvy and ability to improvise on the fly. If they're reluctant subordinates early on, they soon come to realize that Fan has the skills and the vision few others possess. Matty, however, exercises a more insidious control over the crew. As the architect of the job, she says who does what and when, and she brooks no contest--much to the chagrin of others in several places.

One of Colon's strengths in creating these colorful characters is his use of dialogue. The novel brims with it. There are snappy rejoinders, wise-ass remarks, clever references to sources well outside the sphere of criminal enterprise, and even emotional outbursts that ring true because of Colon's facility at dialogue. The narration, too, impresses for its ability to add dimension to characters without heavy-handedness. Consider the following passage in which Fan confronts the fact that her skills aren't what they used to be, at least not yet.

While Fan hadn’t ignored picking she wasn’t working for time anymore. Now faced with real pressure, her fingers lost their sensitivity. There was a time she swore she could feel the tiniest nuance as she slipped picks into locks—the bumps, dips, dives—that whisper of a moment when the tumblers were aligned and all it took was a twist. It would only cost her a few breaths to get most locks opened but the locks Neil provided felt impenetrable.
Fan looked at her stopwatch. It was over seven minutes and the lock she was working on was still engaged. “This is such bullshit.” Her cheeks and ears were hot. She felt almost embarrassed yet nobody was in the room with her. All that build up over the past few hours, that positivity, was already melting away.
It's a reflection on professionalism, and a lament over the deterioration of one's abilities. 
Like an athlete no longer able to perform the same feats, Fan is unhinged over her inability to pick a lock. Colon never devolves into maudlin sentiment or contrived rage. Instead he simply adds the detail that she was embarrassed, despite the fact she was alone. Such clever passages abound in Pull and Pray.
If you like heist stories full of action, technical detail, double-dealing, and strong female characters, pick up Angel Colon's fine Pull and Pray. You won't be disappointed.
  
Recommended.


Review by: Chris McGinley

Angel Luis Colón is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS, the BLACKY JAGUAR series of novellas, the collection MEAT CITY ON FIRE (AND OTHER ASSORTED DEBACLES), and the upcoming PULL & PRAY (July 2018). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife


Chris McGinley teaches middle school in Lexington, KY. His work has appeared in Switchblade, Tough, the ID Press crime anthology (forthcoming), and on a host of Internet forums.

Review: the Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor


The past is never far…

I went outside my usual comfort zone with my latest read and I am really glad I did. I sunk my teeth into C.J. Tudor’s debut novel The Chalk Man, and it sunk its claws into me. This multilayered novel is brilliantly plotted and introduced me to an author with a fresh voice and a easy writing style which sucked me into the book within the first few pages.


Jumping between timelines, the book centers on the present day, where the main character Eddie is being forced to come to grips with a past he has tried to bury, and 1986, when Eddie and his gang of friends came face-to-face with death. The Chalk Man navigates the two timelines in a seamless, breathtaking manner that is clear and concise to the reader, never straying into extraneous details and planting many red herrings along its journey. Tudor has an eye for details and many of the breadcrumbs dropped throughout the novel pay dividends at its satisfying and well contrived dénouement.

In some ways this is a coming of age novel. Eddie and his friends are your typical group of buddies basking in a summer off of school and enjoying the freedoms which come with that time off. But they soon find death visits their doorstep, both accidental and intentional. Along with a mysterious murder, chalk figures of stickmen begin to appear, pulling Eddie into a mystery much too complex for a 12-year old boy to decipher.

Fast forward to present day and we see the ramifications the past has had on the innocent lives forever changed by the emergence of the Chalk Man many years prior. When the chalk figures begin to reappear and the scabs of old wounds are ripped off, we see the past is never far and old secrets can be hidden away, but never forgotten.

Tudor’s ability to raise suspicion in the mind of the reader and have it directed at nearly every character she has created is what sets this novel about the pack. With alternating timelines between each chapter, some books get bogged down and seem to plod through chapters which feel like information drops; but Tudor avoids this pitfall and each chapter begins with a fresh feeling and ends with a cliffhanger which has you invested in its conclusion when the story picks up again.

I really dug this book and expect big things ahead for Tudor. She has crafted a very well-written debut. I am very glad I picked this one up off the strength of the blurbs on the back jacket. Readers will be well-rewarding for digging into this one.

Highly Recommended.

Karmic Catastrophe

"Life is but the shipwreck of our plans."

Plan your missteps wisely.

Karmic Catastrophe by Lisa Ciarfella



The constant hammering, going on two years now, never ended. It had been all bang, bang, bang in her ear twenty-four, seven including Saturdays, sometimes Sundays too. Traci’s next-door neighbor had been on a roll, determined to see both the tear-down of his old beach bungalow and the birth of his new McMansion through to the bitter end, and she’d grown mighty tired of it. 

Weekday evenings were always the worst. She’d slug home dead tired after a full day’s grind of grad school classes and all she wanted was to veg out on the sofa and mindlessly click her way through re-runs of FX’s Criminal Minds. Tonight, that game plan was not to be.

Her day had been particularly brutal; two final exams and a follow-up thesis meeting with her adviser, neither of which had gone particularly well. He’d never embraced her writing, especially her crime fiction, and always sent her away from the mandatory weekly interrogations frustrated. If only he understood; those unpaved alleys snaking their way down crime-city central fed into her soul like a mainline, much like that crystal-clear moon outside her kitchen window.

As she mixed her nightly snack of pasta and perfectly poached eggs, Traci stared up at the moon’s amber silhouette, half crescent with slivers of orange and black running straight down its middle. Nature’s ultimate backdrop for banging out a couple of deliciously decadent criminal characters.

If only the damn noise would just stop! But the work crew’s constant Mexican Mariachi music and hard tools cracking away at the concrete got inside her head, made it throb hard. If only her neighbor had hired a real contractor instead of forging ahead on his DIY project, with no clue how to DIY! Ahhhh, but a girl could dream!

Since he’d started, she had multiple waking fantasies where she casually walked by and tossed a match over the construction mess skewed carelessly across his property. Then nonchalantly watched while the place went up in flames; a real bang-up, Fourth of July backyard extravaganza! In her fantasy, she always waited to call 9-1-1 til it burned half way down to the shards, with nothing left to recoup. Problem was, her apartment lay within spitting distance. She didn’t own much but her laptop—full of grad school projects, a novel in the works, and stories yet submitted—was not expendable. Neither was her puppy, Lilac, who she’d snuck in under the landlord’s radar. Everything else, though...

Running had been her go-to to drown out the noise, so she’d laced up the Reeboks and when she got back, the crew had finally packed it in. Clicking on the telly, she sat back to unwind but quickly realized she wasn’t alone.

A gruff, strange voice rang out from the half-constructed space next door, straight through her living room window. A rough, male accent;  Australian or New Zealand. “Awwwrrrrr... I’m gonna do it. Back off mate, or I swear I’ll do it. I can promise ya that.”

Traci jumped up out of her makeshift sofa fashioned from beach chairs and whoopee cushions and went to the window. An unrecognizable large dark figure swooshed right by her in the narrow shadows between her place and her neighbor’s house-in-progress. “Who’s there?” she cried.

She ran to her tiny bedroom and grabbed up her dad’s old aluminum bat from underneath the bed. He’d given it to her years ago, thinking it might come in handy one day. Back at the window, she saw a spark flash from deep inside the construction zone where a quaint bungalow once stood, long before the wrecking ball wreaked its havoc. Another flash popped off quick, then another and another.

“Hey you, I’ve got a bat,” she said, as if that might help. “And a dog.” She eyed all twenty-four inches of Lilac’s height. There were three more flashes, each brighter than the next.

Then, from the dark, came her neighbor, Karl’s, voice. “Traci – that you? Quick call the cops, now. He’s gonna do it and I don’t have my phone!”

“Gonna do what?” she cried. “What the hell’s going on over there?” She saw nothing but heard running, feet shuffling, then a whoosh of liquid spilling out onto the dirt.

A lunging sound came next, a jacket ripping, and a strange gurgling noise from the stranger’s throat. Get your hands off my throat, yankee, or I swear I’ll let her rip,” he said.

“Traci, call now!” Karl shouted.

Another flash exploded and fantastic heat welled up all around. She started to dial but her fingers hesitated. She tried again, but nothing.

“Sheeeeit,” Karl cried. “You son of a bitch. Now you’ve gone and done it.”

Traci stood mesmerized as the blaze outside her window grew from the size of a flickering Bic at a Bon Jovi concert to the mother of all bonfires. Thoughts of graham crackers and marshmallows entered her brain.

When the heat really started smoking, she snapped to and grabbed both her pup and prized laptop and jammed out her apartment’s back door. She could hear both Karl and the strange figure who started the blaze loudly screaming and fighting. Neither one of them would go down without a fight.

Traci stood on the sidewalk with neighbors gathering on all sides. Someone had called the fire department, someone else the cops, and her typically serene street was now filled with the chaos. Everyone stared as Karl’s proposed McMansion slowly melted into ashes. 

The next day, the neighborhood was abuzz. The cops had matched the stranger’s teeth with that of a local known vagrant. They’d had trouble with him before and said it was just a matter of time before he’d cause more. 

Neither Karl nor his DIY project made it into the new year. Christmas was still a few weeks away, but it seemed Karma delivered presents early this year. 



Lisa Ciarfella is a recent CSULB MFA grad and writes darkly tainted, noir-style prose where bad things happen to bad people, and not so bad people get caught up in the madness. She’s been featured on Pulp Metal Magazine, Ashedit.com, Studenthealth101, Near to the Knuckle, and other places. Lisa’s currently cranking out short stories and her first crime fiction novel, doggedly pursuing the game! Find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lisajohnljc Or on her blog, at https://www.writingfictionnow.com.

Review: Slaughterhouse Blues, by Nick Kolakowski


I recently tore through Nick Kolakowski’s latest installment in the Love & Bullets trilogy, Slaughterhouse Blues and I am here to bear witness to his ability to suck any reader back into the world of Bill and Fiona, the engaging main characters of the trilogy. This time Bill and Fiona are looking to stay a step ahead of a gang of thugs and assassins, running through the landscapes of Cuba, Nicaragua, and the US.


Bill’s penchant for stealing for anyone he can has come back to haunt him once again. Having stolen money from the Rockaway Mob, while also crossing the group that was protecting him from the mob’s retribution, Bill and Fiona are forced to elude the mob and their hired assassins, a pair of seemingly benign couple.  
                               
This installment of the trilogy has lots of action and fight scenes. At times it felt a bit heavy with only a few pages of storyline advancement before a new battle erupted, but that’s just a small nitpick on my end. The battles do show us the ruthlessness and toughness of Fiona throughout the book and we see Bill really come into his own as a tough guy. He emerges as a man who is recognizing life as a fugitive is not a fun life that allows his to indulge his taste for finer things, instead he is forced to stay alert and on his toes at all times.

With great character growth throughout, this most recent installment in the trilogy offers lots of action, fun, and has piqued my interest in reading the final installment upon its release. This offering has lots of action and plenty of laugh out loud moments, the same recipe which made the first book so much fun. This is well worth your time.

Recommended.


Twisted Sister

Country bumpkins seem like easy targets.

Don't get too confident, because once you turn your back. . .

Twisted Sister by Gregory Rodrigues



Lek and Ay came from the poor, rural north. They had never been to a cinema, ridden in an elevator, or bathed their lovely bodies in hot water. The chaos of Bangkok’s main bus station was a slap across the face. The sisters held hands to comfort each other.

Lek looked warily at a man who smiled at her. Her father told her to be careful of men in the big city. 

“Sawade Cup,” he said, “I think you not know Bangkok. I help you.”

“Meow cup,” she replied, politely declining the stranger’s offer.  

“So what you do? Stay in bus station?” he asked.

“I wait my family,” Lek lied.

The man leered at them, knowing they were poor rice farmers from the drought-blasted north sent to find jobs in Bangkok’s sweatshops or bars only to send all they earned back home.

His boss had told him only fresh, young girls and new faces.

The sisters sat back to back atop their suitcases. Their mother’s friend, who was meant to meet them, never showed. Lek counted the meager amount of money her father had given them. It was enough for just a few days.  “Sister,” she said, “that man still look us. I think he make trouble. We must look for room for night.”

The man watched the sisters leave and carefully followed. After seeing them enter a dilapidated hotel, he made a phone call.

As the girls climbed the hotel stairs, they saw drunk foreign men holding hands with young women.

“Sister, this hotel for whore,” Lek said. “We must lock door good.”

During the night, goons kicked their door open and raped the sisters until morning.

One of them scribbled on a piece of paper and tossed it on Lek’s naked body. “Call number if you want work. Boss bar need new ladies. What else you do, anyway?”

Lek looked at him with hatred in her eyes but said nothing.

The girls cleaned themselves up, washing away the blood and their innocence.

“Now, we can never go home, sister,” Lek said, ‘What would we tell Papa?”

They left the hotel.

“Where you think you are?” the janitor of the apartment building sneered. “This not Issan. You want sleep in my broom closet? You not have money for room one month.”

“Can I see it?” Lek asked.

The janitor couldn’t believe she was serious but saw the opportunity. It would be extra money for him and both sisters were attractive. Anything was possible.

Mops and brooms stood arranged along the walls and used rags littered the cement floor but Lek saw it was just big enough for both of them to lie down. It would work.  

The sisters cleaned up and went to the local shopping mall. The manager laughed at their Issan accents, looked speculatively at their breasts, and offered them jobs as cleaners.

The girls started their new working lives and after a few weeks moved into a cheap room. Once a month, they treated themselves to an English movie.

“You very pretty little lady,’’ a falang man said to Lek in the ticket queue.

“Thank you,’’ she said shyly.

They chatted and Lek was astonished he spoke fluent Thai. It was the first time she’d ever spoken to a foreigner.

***

Two years later, as Lek was driving her car, she glanced admiringly at her exquisite fingernails, each nail one hand-painted in meticulous detail with a different flower. She smiled with satisfaction. It had cost five-thousand baht. That used to be three months rent for her shabby room.

Of course, it was all Richard’s money. It was a pity he drank so much and was a different man from when they married.

“You know what you are,” he’d said the other night, mockingly. “You’re my Asian Barbie doll. If you’re not careful, maybe I’ll trade you in for Barbie’s little sister. She’s still around here somewhere. I’m told dancing in one of the gogo bars.”

Lek winced at the thought of Ay, who’d finally succumbed to the temptation of making good money by selling her body.

“But what I do wrong to you, Richard? Why you angry with me?” Lek asked.

“You’re getting too fucking sure of yourself,” he said. “Just remember I found you in the gutter and I can put you back there any time.”

Lek became anxious at the thought of going back to her poverty-stricken past. The memories grasped her heart with icy fingers. No. She couldn’t go back to mopping floors, squatting on the floor of that miserable room, and the constant demands from men. Never again.

Richard got drunk every night. He was a tall American and the safety rail on the balcony of their Pattaya city penthouse was designed for shorter Asians. Just a quick push and she’d be rich and free forever. All men were bastards anyway and this would be her final revenge on the man who used her like a toy, revenge for a rape that would never be punished.

She stood on the penthouse balcony later that night and pointed into the distance. “Darling, what that over there?” she asked Richard.

Richard, swaying drunkenly, leaned against the railing and looked into the darkness. 

Lek got behind him and pushed with all her strength.

Richard was so drunk, he didn’t even cry out as he toppled over into oblivion. 


***

The young policeman looked at the mangled body.

“My husband very drunk and he fell over railing,” the wife had said, tearfully.

Impossible to prove otherwise. Besides, his superiors weren’t interested, even if they had the same suspicions he did. It happened so often in “Sin City,” resident expatriates had a name for it. What was the English term? Yes, The Pattaya Plunge.

Greg Rodrigues is an Australian ex-cop. He took some hits a few years back and decided to stop the world, he wanted to get off. Ended up in Thailand; Bangkok and Pattaya, gutter capitals of sin and sex. A haven for the burned-out, jaded, misfits, outlaws, and other escapees.

Review: Texas Two-Step, by Michael Pool


Michael Pool put me on notice when I first read Debt Crusher, his first novel. He has lived up to the promise that book offered glimpses of with his newest book, Texas Two-Step. This is a fast paced, wild ride through a drug deal with double crossings, crooked cops, and relationships which are frayed and strained.


When Cooper discovers he is about to become a proud father, he is forced to confront the fact the life of following bands around, taking and dealing drugs, and basically living for the moment, need to come to an end. Instead of making a quick exit from that life, he elects to procure one more big weed deal to unload the high-grade strain he has been growing. Going against his better judgement, and the advice of his best friend and partner Davis, he reaches out to an old connection, Sancho. Dealing with Sancho has always meant dealing with additional headaches and baggage, but this time Sancho also brings with him a former NFL bust who is looking to pull a double cross, a crooked sheriff who puts profit above serving the public good, and a pair of law enforcers who are looking to put Sancho, and by extension Cooper and Davis, away for good.

This book is about friendship and growing up for the good of all you love and hold dear. But it is also about chasing one last big score, staying ahead of the threats nipping at your heels, and most importantly, keeping the reader invested until the final pages.

Pool is set to put the reading world on notice with this one. While not as pulpy as Debt Crusher, he shows he can juggle multiple story lines and flesh out his characters with a keen eye. This book is a hell of a ride and will have you excited about, not only the ending of this book, but the future of Pool. He is poised to make some noise in the noir landscape. I am going all-in on Pool.

Highly Recommended.

Ruffle Bar

Guy goes to a five-dollar hooker and gets crabs.

When he complains, she replies, "For five dollars, what did you expect? Lobster?"

Ruffle Bar by Angel Luis Colón



We were poaching horseshoe crab at Ruffle Bar when Jamie asked, “You ever fuck around with a hooker worth the trouble? Kind of woman makes it completely rational to lose everything over?”

We barely spoke about sex or life. Wasn’t much time to talk about philosophy or belief when you were looking over your shoulder for police spotlights and avoiding the spiky parts of horseshoe crabs. Apparently these little motherfuckers had valuable blood and there were a million hoops the pharma companies needed jumping through to bleed them legally. It was easier to pay a few assholes to troll the beaches and sandbars.

It was stinky, messy, paranoid business. Fortunately, the money was solid for a side gig.

I changed the subject. “You think you can eat these fucking things? Been taking them two weeks now and I’ve yet to think of a single reason to try thanks to the smell.” I picked a crab up by the tail. Ugly fuckers.

Jamie’s eyebrows perked up. “Nah, I think you’d shit your pants for days. Hell, I don’t think a damn thing in this water should be edible.” He motioned out to the water.  “People buy it, though. We’re all too stupid or don’t care enough.” He pointed at me with a broken crab tail. “You know most tuna out there isn’t even tuna? Something called snakefish. Got oils in it that we can’t stomach and can make you leak out the ass.”

“Like those chips from back in the day?” I asked.

“Yeah, what was that stuff called? Olektra?”

“Nah, Olestra. Made people leak out their assholes. Had a friend who had the same problem from too much creatine or something.”

We heard the sound of a boat motor. Jamie and I ducked down and scurried towards the dilapidated remains of a brick wall closest to us. We kept low. I held my breath and said a prayer to whatever God would have mercy on my crab-poaching ass.

“But seriously, you ever fuck a hooker you thought was worth the money?” Jamie had a setup he liked and wasn’t letting go.

I sighed, ignoring the dead fish stench of the filthy sand only an inch away from my face. “Never fucked a whore, man.”

“Really?” The tone was making the punchline obvious.

“Yep. No whores. I’m too pretty. Only crabs I ever had experience with are the ones in our boat.” I slowly pushed myself up with my arms. I kept my legs dead. No police boats. Must have been someone making their way back to dock. I stood up and brushed the sand from my pants. “I feel like you’ve got something to say, man.”

“What makes you say that?” Jamie stood up. There was fury in those eyes—the kind of anger a desperate man with a broken heart likes to carry. “What makes you think I got something to say to you?”

I moved back to the pile of crabs I laid out earlier and started to transfer them onto our boat. “For one, fuck,” I said as I pricked my finger. I dropped the crab that pricked me and its shell shattered. “For one, this is the most we’ve ever spoken. And, as luck would have it, I found out I’ve been fucking your woman just yesterday when you showed me her picture. I’m figuring you found out about me in a similar way.”

Fuck yeah, I jumped ahead. Best way to take the wind out the sails of folks think they got something over your head—you pull the fucking rope attached to the guillotine blade yourself. I kicked myself for sending Viv nudes the other night. Of course she didn’t delete the goddamn things. Couldn’t figure what irked me more, finding out I was working with my side lay’s hubby or that he probably knew which way my dick curved.

Taking control of the big moment seemed to make him smaller. It wasn’t that I wanted the poor bastard to suffer; I just didn’t give a flying fuck about him. We were there to make cash, nothing more. We happened to be on the same team. I wanted to explain that to him; to say that the drive thru cashier doesn’t sit back worrying about the motherfucker mopping the bathroom, but my words had consequences.

Motherfucker pulled a knife. Motherfucker came at me with tears in his eyes and a dwarf star made of hate eating his heart inside out. Motherfucker tripped and missed me by a country mile. Went head over heels and landed in the boat on our pile of horseshoe crab.

The response time after the fall was bizarrely quick. Jamie popped up like a kid’s theater puppet—same slack jaw—and yelped at me. The poor fuck fell in the pile in a bad way. Three crabs’ tails pierced him and those fuckers stayed put. Two in the chest and one nestled firmly under his left eye.

“Am, am I okay?” Jamie asked.

I didn’t have an answer.

He stood there trembling and asked again, “Am I okay?”

I noticed the knife then, behind the crab in his face and lodged in his ear. He still didn’t make a move and his eyes looked vacant—like he didn’t even see me anymore.

“Okay?” This time his tongue stumbled over his teeth and he lurched forward, taking a tumble back off the boat. He landed face first on the sand and lay still.

“Well, shit,” I said, stymied to find the sense of urgency I was supposed to have.

Still, the body needed burying, didn’t it? 

 #

I called Viv a few hours after I’d finished the work. Cut off whatever it was we had amicably while I counted the night’s take. She mentioned she was going to her mom’s house either way. That whatever her plans were didn’t really amount to anything at all and she realized it only after Jamie decided she was something he owned more than valued.

Took the long way home and saw a quick report on the news regarding an unidentified man found dead in Jamaica Bay. Felt bad, drank, showered, and tried to sleep.

Shower didn’t really help. The damn smell clung to me. Couldn’t get a wink of sleep.



Angel Luis Colón is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS, the BLACKY JAGUAR series of novellas, the collection MEAT CITY ON FIRE (AND OTHER ASSORTED DEBACLES), and the upcoming PULL & PRAY (July 2018). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. 

Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife

Review: Tin Men, by Mike Knowles


I have considered myself a fan of Mike Knowles since I read his first book in his incredible Wilson series. His writing is well-plotted and well-researched, leading to captivating books which are meticulous in details and richness. I was excited to see his latest book, Tin Men, was a departure from the Wilson series, as I was interested to see how he could handle creating new characters and new plots.


Tin Men differs from the Wilson series a great deal. The biggest difference is the changing from crime novel to a police procedural. I tend to read many crime novels but few police procedurals, as I find the point of view of the criminal more entertaining and more noirish. However, Knowles has crafted a procedural in which the detectives are straddling the thin line between cops and crooks. This balancing act led to a book which hooked me from the beginning and held my attention until the very last page.

The plot is an engaging one; a female cop is found brutally murdered within her home and her unborn fetus removed from her womb. The cops assigned to investigate the crime all bring personal baggage to the case.

There is Os, a brutish cop who is not squeamish about using brutal methods to avenge victims and seeks justice by all means necessary. He also happens to be the father of the missing baby, but he keeps this fact close to the vest.

His partner is Woody, a cop looking to avenge the death of one of his fellow officers, but also the man struggling to put the ghosts of his dead wife and child to rest within his heart and his mind. His reliance on illegal drugs is not making it any easier to quiet the voices in his head, nor is it helping him in his quest for justice in this case.

The outsider in the investigation is Dennis, a cop who is always on the outside circle from the others in blue. He is full of bravado, but his colleagues see him as a lazy outsider who doesn’t deserve respect or accolades for his accomplishments. Dennis believes this might be the case which forces those around him to afford him respect.

This book is a hell of a page turner and deserves a wide audience. Knowles juggles the multiple plot lines and points of view with mastery and ease. Each plot thread propels the story forward and brings it to a satisfying climax. Knowles is certainly an author you should seek out.

Highly Recommended.

An Outlaw of Note

Who can you trust?

With a price on your head, that list is very very short.

An Outlaw of Note by Patrick Cooper



Cliff tossed the newspaper on the table. “In town but one night and you made the paper.” 

Elias put his coffee down and picked up the paper. An unflattering picture of himself stared back. Above his photo, the headline read: Noted Outlaw Elias Warring Passes Through Town. He cleared his throat. “Noted outlaw Elias Warring has arrived in Montgomery Flats on his way to Atlantic City. Warring, who drank his fill at the Trappe Tavern last night, is wanted in several northern states for murder, bank robbery, horse theft, swine arson-”

“Swine arson?”

“Blasphemy, general mayhem, and...oh no.”

“What?”

“And sodomy.”

Cliff recoiled. “The fuck?!”

“I didn’t do any of those goddamn things! Especially that, most importantly that last one! All I do is run shine, dammit!”

“I know that, but you shouldn’t have run your mouth off like that. With that lubricated mouth on you, what did you think that journalist was gonna do?”

Elias slouched in the chair and looked out the second floor window. They’d taken a room above a butcher shop for a couple of days, before heading to Atlantic City. The article was right about that. They were going there to hook up with a bootlegging crew. Elias and Cliff knew the eastern Pennsylvania back roads better than most, valuable knowledge for a crew looking to expand around the tri-state area.

They’d arrived in Montgomery Flats late and went to the tavern to unwind. A few drinks deep, Elias latched onto a redhead with cleavage you could hide a donkey between. He started spinning yarns to impress her. Disinterested, she left and a journalist took her place on the barstool. Elias was too wet to care. So, on he rambled about misdeeds never done.
 
“Shit,” Cliff said. “You sure like talking big when you’re drunk.”

“How the hell would I know that journo would take me seriously?! Swine arson, for Chrissakes!”

“They’re taking you serious, all right.” Cliff fished a hand into the pocket where he kept his .45 and pulled out a flier with the same unflattering photo of his mug, along with a $1,000 REWARD in big, bold letters. “They’re hanging everywhere in town.”

The sound of footsteps rumbled outside.

Elias quickly sprang up and reached for his pistol. Cliff drew his own gun and stepped toward the door.

A voice called out, “We know he’s in there! The outlaw Elias Warring! Send him out and there won’t be any trouble!”

Cliff leaned his heavy frame against the door. “He ain’t no outlaw! He was just talking shit!”

“Bull!” The voice said.

Elias took a cautious peek out the window.

The street was clogged with townsfolk armed with makeshift weapons. An obese Chinese boy holding a sharpened hog bone stood at the front of the crowd.

“Damn it all! It’s a hunting party!” Elias yelled.

“Don’t worry!” Cliff whispered. “They ain’t getting in here.”

“We hear you!” someone in the mob yelled. “You got until the count of three to send him out! One!”

“He was drunk!” Cliff yelled back. “Just running his mouth to impress some fire-crotch!”

Someone in the crowd yelled, “It was in the newspaper! It’s got to be true!” Another person called out,“They wouldn’t print it if it weren’t facts! Two!”

Elias fell to his knees and vomited. He took a moment to gather himself and said, “I’m a dead man. You gotta get me out of here. The roof, maybe we-”

Cliff fired.

The bullet tore through Elias’ abdomen. He made a sound like a dying animal and folded in on himself. “What the fuck, Cliff?” Blood bubbled out of the sides of his mouth. 

Cliff approached with a genuine look of sympathy in his eyes. “Thousand bucks is a thousand bucks. You know how things are.”

“I ain’t no outlaw.”

“Yeah but it said so in the paper.” Cliff put a bullet through Elias’ head.

When the door to the small room caved in with townsfolk, Cliff stuffed his gun back in his coat and hoisted Elias over his shoulder.  

Townsfolk parted in silence as he walked out of the room and over to the courthouse.

Cliff waited twenty minutes while the officials got his reward money together. He walked to the tavern and bought everyone a round. The journalist interviewed him about his brave showdown with the outlaw Elias Warring.

Cliff proceeded to drink himself into oblivion.


Patrick Cooper is a writer in Trappe PA. His short fiction has appeared in various places, including Thug Lit, Akashic Books website, Shotgun Honey, Ghost Parachute, and some print anthologies. Find more of his goods at: https://patrickgcooper.com/