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Review: Criminal Love & Other Stories by Mike Monson

Chris Leek
Independent Reviewer
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Today is Criminal Love day in the Gutter, but before Ryan Sayles starts showing us his jailhouse tats, I don’t mean the kind of back-door prison action that goes on after lights out. I’m talking about Mike Monson’s new collection, Criminal Love and other stories.
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If you are a regular here in the Gutter or at any of the other, lesser crime fiction magazines then Mike Monson will need no introduction. His work has appeared pretty much everywhere online and in most of the top crime anthologies published during the past 12 months or so. Criminal Love collects all of these previously published pieces and offers up a couple of new ones into the bargain.

I have read many of these stories before and I enjoyed them just as much the second time around. They range from gritty hard-hitting pulp tales about violence and revenge to more wistful vignettes full of longing and remorse. What really sets Mike’s work apart is his ability to find the criminal in everyone. His protagonist is the guy you sit next to on the subway or the girl who works in the office down the hall. He takes these regular Joes and Janes and hammers them with the daily grind of their dead end jobs and unfulfilling lives until they either fold or fight back.
Mr. Monson is also not afraid to flex his literary muscles and buck convention a little. The self explanatory “One Long Unrequited Sentence about Love” and the excellent second person narrative in “Heritage Classic” are fine examples of a writer at perfect ease with his craft. All of these stories pack a good punch. The previously mentioned “Heritage Classic” is a great examination of the male mid-life crisis that stays with you long after you have finished reading it. My favorite is the classy tale of “An Evening in Sin City,” which as well as having a sexy Cher look-alike (circa 1975) also throws you a seriously dark curve ball.

Mike has recently left California’s Central Valley, which provides the setting for many of the stories in Criminal Love, and he is now kicking it in the Aloha State. Sun and surf don’t come cheap and he could probably use a little scratch while he waits for Steve McGarrett to get back to him on that opening at Five-O, so show him some love (criminal or otherwise) and go buy his book already. I mean, come on it’s less than a buck, jeez…