Tag Archives: noir

Drag Noir


I’ve been working on a long project this year, but there have been a few calls for submissions I couldn’t let pass. Fox Spirits’ DRAG NOIR anthology proved irresistible. A line of dialogue—what would become the opening line of my contribution—popped into my head at work, the night before I saw the call. I typed it out and the story wrote itself. It takes place in my fictional town of Wellesport, Connecticut and introduces new characters alongside established ones. I do plan to revisit the newer residents, although I have no idea when or where (perhaps reader support will bring about the publication of Drag Noir 2?)

Editorial description and Contents:

DRAG NOIR: this is where glamour meets grit, where everyone’s wearing a disguise (whether they know it or not) and knowing the players takes a lot more than simply reading the score cards. Maybe everyone’s got something to hide, but they’ve got something to reveal, too. Scratch the surface and explore what secrets lie beneath — it’s bound to cost someone…a lot.

Introduction by Dana Gravesen and Bryan Asbury, The Meaning of Skin – Richard Godwin, Wheel Man – Tess Makovesky, No. 21: Gabriella Merlo – Ben Solomon, Geezer Dyke – Becky Thacker, Lucky in Cards – Jack Bates, Trespassing – Michael S. Chong, Chianti – Selene MacLeod, The Changeling – Tracy Fahey, Straight Baby – Redfern Jon Barrett, Kiki Le Shade – Chloe Yates, Protect Her – Walter Conley, King Bitch – James Bennett, A Bit of a Pickle – Paul D. Brazill, Stainless Steel – Amelia Mangan, The Itch of the Iron, The Pull of the Moon – Carol Borden

You can purchase it here: Drag Noir @ Amazon

Visit the publisher’s website to check out their catalog and get links to merchandise: Fox Spirit Books online

Or follow them on facebook for updates: facebook.com/foxspiritbooks


X-Mas List: 2013


Black Friday approaches.

That blackest of black, evil days.

Reader, I care about you. Honestly I do. I’d hate to see you trampled to death outside a Mega Mart. And for what? A Lalaloopsy doll! Yes, they’re cute. I’ll grant you that. But are they worth your life? Heck, no. You could put me at ease by staying in to order some (or all) of the following e-books from the relative safety of your own home.

The items listed may not have been published in 2013, but were read over the past year. I’ve dealt with many of them here on the blog. The titles either link to Amazon or alternate venues were the books can be purchased; names in the final two sections may also link to author pages/blogs/websites. I gain nothing from their sale, apart from the satisfaction of knowing that you’re in for a good time.


Where the hell are the anthologies?

Rather than read them straight through, I tend to bounce from one anthology to another. For the time being–though there are several I could post and I do suggest them elsewhere–I’d prefer not to include them in a list of works I’ve read completely. Maybe at the end of the year.

That’s it for me. Squirrel away some bail money and have a Katharine Hepcat Christmas.

–Walter Conley

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“At the Corner of Mars and Neptune” by Astrid ‘Artistikem’ Cruz

“The Big Rain” by Paul D. Brazill

“Miles to Little Ridge” by Heath Lowrance



Criminal Love and Other Stories by Mike Monson

Bad Times by Julie Morrigan

Sleepwalking: Crime Stories by Ray Nayler



Cutter’s Deal by Julie Morrigan

Big Stupid by Victor Gischler

Traitors by Carrie Clevenger



Afterbirth by Belinda Frisch

Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith

Seven Daze by Charlie Wade



JD Phillips

Gareth Spark

Anthony Venutolo



Blackwitch Press

Byker Books

Prologue Books

Criminal Love, Big Stupid

Great week for reading. I just finished Criminal Love and Other Stories, by Mike Monson and tore through Big Stupid, by Victor Gischler. Below are the reviews I posted on Amazon.



Criminal Love and Other Stories, by Mike Monson

What does it say about me that I felt at home reading this collection? Nevermind. What it says about the author, Mike Monson, is that he is a first-rate storyteller. Monson has the ability to pull you into his fictional world and you are there instantly. Believing it. As if you’d just tripped into someone else’s life. Monson’s work reminded me of Raymond Carver’s in that respect. His writing isn’t the focus of these tales, his characters are. Which is why I think another reviewer missed out on how good it really is. Because it’s not easy to hook and hold a reader without him being aware of how you’re doing it. This is fiction that transports, frightens, entertains. One of the best collections I’ve purchased this year. Buy Criminal Love and keep an eye out for whatever else Monson has on the way.

Criminal Love and Other Stories at Amazon

Mike Monson’s work has appeared in the anthologies Gloves Off, All Due Respect, Out of the Gutter 8, Flash Fiction World Volume 3 and can be found at websites like Yellow Mama and the Flash Fiction Offensive.

For interviews, reviews and updates, visit Mike Monson’s Blog.

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Big Stupid, by Victor Gischler

Big Stupid does what it’s supposed to. It’s a fast, sexy, violent, wisecracking tale that can be read in one sitting. But Victor Gischler also adds a lot of heart to the story. The final sequence, as the characters race to settle things against the approach of a hurricane, is concisely and brilliantly rendered. And the ending stunned me, ringing in my head for a quite a while after I’d set the book down. 4.5, really.

(I gave it 4 stars. If you don’t know, Amazon has a one-to-five whole star rating system.)

This novella “cracks foxy,” as Sam Spade used to say.

Big Stupid at Amazon

Victor Gischler’s books include Gun Monkeys, The Deputy and Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. He recently launched the epic fantasy serial Ink Mage. He has also written screenplays and scripted comic books like X-Men, Deadpool, Punisher and Spike.

You can try to keep up with him at Victor Gischler’s Blogpocalypse.



Guest Fiction: Gareth Spark

KH is honored to present an excerpt from the upcoming novella


The north wind blew dust off the coal yard against the rusted door of the car. It was a ’92 Chrysler le baron, worn through by years of the back roads, pale in the blue, pre-dawn light. Jax rested against the vehicle and felt the cold metal through the thin denim of his jacket. He shook tobacco from a dented tin into paper trembling in the breeze, then licked and made the cigarette, scraped a match against its box and sparked up. His white hair fluttered beneath a ball cap stained by sweat and diesel. He squinted over piles of frosty coal to the light place where the sun was due. His nephew was late.

A blackbird sang a few notes from a naked branch, mistaking the false dawn for the real one to come. Jax listened then dragged on the smoke. The tobacco was cheap and bitter strands stuck to his ice-stricken lip. He spat and looked over at the high rushing water of the stream beyond the yard. Snowmelt from the mountains pushed the water over black rocks topped with ice. He heard a whistle and looked along the tattered wire fence. The boy was coming with the gun. His name was Gray, and Jax Stafford thought it a stupid name to inflict upon any child, but his sister would never be swayed on anything once she’d set her mind to it. ‘You’re late,’ Jax said.

Gray shrugged. He carried a double barrel shotgun cracked open over his shoulder. It was old, damn old. ‘You got any shells for this thing?’ He grabbed the weapon, sighted down the open barrels, and checked the action. The metal was so cold it burned his bare fingers. Gray said nothing. Jax looked up at him with hard blue eyes. The cigarette hung from his lower lip and smoked into the breeze as he waited.

Gray looked down at his feet. The sole was hanging from his boot. ‘I thought we was just gonna scare him.’

‘And nothing’s scarier than a loaded gun an inch away from yer fuckin’ face, son, loaded bein’ the important part of that sentence. You must have had the wherewithal to bring ammo.’

‘I could only find one.’ He handed the shell over.

Jax squinted at it. ‘Well, at least now we’re set.’ He jammed the shell into his denim jacket, handed back the gun. ‘It’ll have to do.’

They drove up out of the valley as the sky paled. The land was black, hard, and wet beneath the ice-blue dawn. Gray drove. His dirty hair was some shade between brown and blond and hung down the back of his long neck from beneath a knitted cap. He chewed his lip as he drove. ‘Your mother doing all right?’ Jax asked.

‘Told me to keep away from you,’ Gray answered with a buck-toothed grin.

‘She always was the smart one.’

‘Said you got Uncle Frank killed.’

‘Frank,’ Jax smiled, ‘good ol’ Frank. Now there was a man knew how to walk this world; as regards my getting him killed, let’s just say Frank never learned to pick his fights. Bit off more than he could chew.’ He looked out of the window at the mine buildings they were passing, grey steel patterned by rust and rain and dirt blown from the hills. ‘I haven’t thought about Frank for a long time.’

‘She said you was the one should have been killed.’

‘That was kind of her.’

‘Said you ran and left Frank to face them on his own.’

‘Frank could of run too,’ Jax said. He leaned over and pushed a cassette into the stereo. Johnny Cash started to play through tinny speakers. ‘Let’s leave the dead alone now; they’s work to do.’

They drove empty roads until they reached the high country. The land was black beneath snow-filled clouds and the wind blew wild from the hills. Jax indicated a dirty clay track cutting through a blackthorn hedge on the right. ‘This is us,’ he said. ‘Stop the car.’ The radio fell silent and the engine growled into sleep. Gray’s hands shook as he lit a Marlboro. Jax stared at the cigarette packet and said, ‘And here I was thinking times were hard? Where d’you get the ready-rolled?’

‘I found I had some money.’

‘That must have been a pleasant surprise. Don’t count on too many of those.’ The pain hit him in the side; he winced hard and grabbed the space under his ribs where his body was killing itself.

Gray noted the old man’s attitude and nodded down as the wind rocked the car. ‘Hurt much?’

‘No, it’s a fuckin’ treat.’ He gasped and reached for a pill bottle on the back seat. ‘This is what I’m saying, son; the Lord has a cold heart. You come back into the world after 10 years staring at steel bars and get told the future you was counting on all them years just got a whole hell of a lot shorter.’ He threw a handful of pills down his throat, washed them down with a hit from a battered whisky flask. ‘Now come on.’


Sophie Anne Clifford laid her daughter in the Moses basket and looked back to her father, sleeping in a rocking chair. He would soon leave for the mine where he was a guard. The baby had cried most of the night, kept the house awake, and the old man was tired. She tied back her long bleached hair with an elastic band and kicked his foot. He was more than a little overweight, and his red face was sweating in the glow of the electric fire. ‘Old man,’ she said, ‘you’ll be late.’

He mumbled something she could not hear, and then rubbed his face with a paw like hand, his eyes still closed. She heard the calloused skin rub over the bristles of his grey moustache. ‘I’m up,’ he said.


‘That’d be a move in the right direction.’

She stepped into the kitchen and started tipping cheap no-brand coffee into a damp filter. ‘You should of retired gracefully, like most other men your age.’ She shouted through from the kitchen. ‘You expect anyone?’


‘There’s a man outside.’

Her father, whose name was Jed Clifford, pulled his frame from the chair, padded through to the kitchen, and glanced at the clock above the electric oven; it was coming up on 6 AM. ‘Who in the hell is it?’ He peered through the greasy window at Gray Stafford, standing in the yard between a broken generator and a mouldering tool shed. He wore a dirty jacket Jed recognised though it was missing the mining company logo. The fabric was darker where it had been. He was tying a bandana round his face. ‘Sophie Anne, get the baby and get upstairs.’

‘Stay right where you are.’ Shotgun hammers clicked back; the sound was brittle, like arthritic knuckles cracking. Sophie turned and looked straight into Jax Stafford’s rheumy blue eyes, hidden behind a wolf man Halloween mask. He coughed, and then whispered, ‘You should really lock your door, Big Jed; never know who might be passing on these hills. Might be some soul looking to huff and puff and blow your house down.’ He held the gun level, aiming it at Sophie Anne rather than her father.

Jed acknowledged this and moved himself in front of his daughter, slowly. ‘Who is that?’ He said. Sweat ran down his round face. ‘I know that voice, who is that?’

‘Boy,’ Jax yelled, turning his head towards the door but keeping his eyes locked on the girl, ‘get in here.’

There was a bang as Gray slammed the door behind him. He held a switchblade that he swapped nervously from one hand to the other. He was breathing fast.

‘What is it y’all want?’ Jed asked.

‘Just what’s owed me,’ Jax answered, holding the gun level, aimed at the Moses basket now. ‘You’re gonna be real co-operative from here on, Jed.’

‘Jackson Stafford?’

Jax snorted, and then peeled the mask from his face with his free hand. ‘Couldn’t breathe in that thing anyhow, you remember me, I should be honored I guess.’

‘The last man I slapped in cuffs, yes, I remember you. You can’t roll up in a man’s house like this.’

‘Ain’t your house, now, is it? And shut the hell up anyhow, when I got this scattergun trained on that child. You only got the one thing in this world worth a damn, Jed, and that’s your entry code to that cashbox at the mine. ‘

Jed sighed and lowered his hands. ‘All right.’

‘Now we’re taking the girl and the kid,’ Jax said, ‘with no undue fussing, and I want you to bring me every last penny in that box by sundown, or I’m gonna kill them both, and you know I’ll do it.’ He coughed. ‘I ain’t got nothin’ left to lose.’

‘Where am I bringing it?’

Jax grinned. His crooked teeth were stained nicotine yellow. ‘Bring it where the horses died.’


Gareth Spark is the author of the crime thriller BLACK RAIN, the short story collection HALF PAST NOTHING, and the poetry collections AT THE BREAKWATER, RAMRAID and RAIN IN A DRY LAND. Gareth’s fiction has appeared at Near 2 the Knuckle, Out of the Gutter and Shotgun Honey. His story “All Night” opened the 2013 anthology GLOVES OFF. Look for WHERE THE HORSES DIED to be released by the end of this year.


Gareth blogs at http://garethspark.blogspot.co.uk

He is on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gareth.spark

And twitter at http://twitter.com/sparkgareth


Miles to Little Ridge, Gloves Off, On Dangerous Ground


MILES TO LITTLE RIDGE, by Heath Lowrance

It’s been a while since I read a Western (I like to read them on airplanes, for some reason, but haven’t flown since 2011). Miles to Little Ridge is a quick, very entertaining read. Characters that are multi-dimensional and real from the moment they appear. Gripping action. Sharp dialogue. A lot of heart. If you’re in the mood for a kickass short story, this one is thirty-three pages long and only 99¢.

Heath Lowrance is the author of City of Heretics, The Bastard Hand and the short story collection Dig Ten Graves. You can visit his blog at http://www.psychonoir.blogspot.com

Miles to Little Ridge at Amazon


Free for a limited time….

Near to the Knuckle Presents: GLOVES OFF.


My contribution, “Highway Star,” grew from a roadtrip I made from Virginia to Wyoming. It wasn’t a trip I enjoyed. Two days of hard driving—a good portion of that in tornado-spawning thunderstorms—bad coffee, gas station tacquitos, Cherokee filters, lots of heavy silence. The wheels on the rental truck weren’t the only ones turning.

From the editors:

Gloves Off is a collection of dark stories from the cream of the literary crop. These stories have one thing in common: they will come at you, all guns blazing. There’s a story lurking down every dark alley. Just when your back is turned a plot-twist is ready to attack.

The stories in this anthology are mainly crime, but there is also grim humour and the supernatural; dark tales for an adult audience featuring hit men, mobsters, bikers and stalkers. Are you prepared for the bloody scenes within?

GLOVES OFF at Amazon




What kind of movie is On Dangerous Ground? A man tries to slap a blind woman to make her talk. That’s what kind of movie it is.

On Dangerous Ground is a thriller released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1952. It was produced by John Houseman and directed by Nicolas Ray (with help from Ida Lupino). Ray and A.I. Bezzerides, screenwriter, adapted the story from Gerard Butler’s novel, Mad with Much Heart.

Ostensibly about the hunt for a psychotic murderer, the true focus of this picture is the unraveling of its protagonist. Jim Wilson is a cop on the verge of a breakdown. Cops see people at their worst on a daily basis. Most are able to shrug this off or at least find a way to deal with it. Wilson is unable to do so. It eats at him until he can’t stand it anymore. He is disgusted not only by the criminals he pursues, but by the job and by himself, as well. He has reached a point where he can no longer control his rage. After beating one too many suspects, Wilson is sent to work on the murder of a girl in a remote part of the state, to get him out of the city and give him a chance to cool off.

The best aspect of this film is the acting. Nicolas Ray elicits first-rate performances out of everyone, including bit parts like that of a teenage floozy in a bar (uncredited, but I believe it was played by Nita Talbot).

Walter Brent is Ward Bond, father of the victim. He is hell-bent on avenging her death. Bond doesn’t want the killer apprehended. He wants to blow the kid’s head off with a shotgun. When the blind sister of the alleged murderer refuses to divulge his whereabouts, it is Bond who tries to slap her across the face—only Jim’s intervention stops him. There is a bit of black comedy in which the ham-handed Bond accidentally sets Malden’s living room carpet on fire and Jim puts it out before she notices.

The blind woman in question, Mary Malden, is played by Ida Lupino. Lupino gives a nuanced, emotionally rich performance. She brings this character to life, imbuing it with such depth that you could dive into that liquid gaze and never hit bottom. (Cut me some slack. I have a thing for Ida Lupino.)

Sumner Williams is great as Danny Malden. Danny is clearly unbalanced, but it’s not the cartoonish, over-the-top nonsense we usually get from Hollywood. Williams plays it so you’re not sure just how fucked-up he is. You want to console him and back away from him at the same time. I wish more actors would rely on acting rather than gimmicks in such roles.

Outshining them all, however, is Robert Ryan as tortured policeman Jim Wilson. I can’t think of a more menacing performance, though Mitchum came close a few times. Even in scenes that don’t have Wilson smacking the shit out of people, wanting to smack the shit out of people, or talking about smacking the shit out of people, he is roiling inside. His stare is so intense it crackles. During the first half of the film, all he has to do appear in a scene and you flinch. But there’s more to Jim Wilson than that. In the last section, once he arrives upstate, his character evolves. Confronted with Bond’s rage, his own diminishes. He becomes sympathetic to both Mary and Danny Malden and even, eventually, to Ward Bond. The blind Mary then peers into Jim’s soul. Their conversation about loneliness, like Sumner Williams’ turn as Danny, is remarkably insightful and sophisticated for that era without being overblown, and holds up well.

Also of note are the score by Bernard Herrman and stark, occasionally gorgeous—pay attention to the Colorado exteriors—cinematography of George E. Diskant.

On Dangerous Ground doesn’t have a happy ending. It does have sort of a happy epilogue, but one that doesn’t feel cheap or tacked on. It feels right, given what has transpired between Jim and Mary.

Buy this. Rent it. Stream it. Catch it on late-night TV. Just don’t pass it up.


Recommended: Three Collections


I’ve been busy. The good kind of busy—writing and submitting shorts, revising a novella. But I thought I’d take a minute to recommend three short story collections you should own.


When I started to read crime fiction online, I encountered the work of Ray Nayler. Haunting. Timeless. How I felt it should be done. Ray’s stories first drove me to submit my own work online. He is the author of the novel American Graveyards, has had stories in a variety of magazines, including Ellery Queen, Cemetary Dance, Crimewave, Handheld Crime, Blue Murder, and hand-printed a few volumes of his stories that I treasure. “Man in the Dark” and “The Bat House” both received the honor of Distinguished Mystery Story in Best American Mystery Stories.

Sleepwalking at Amazon


WATCH YOU DROWN, by Chris Rhatigan

Watch You Drown is an excellent book of noir shorts and flash fiction. Told in a unique, compelling voice that rings true throughout. Stories often end on notes that cause you to explore the implications of what you’ve read. The flash pieces, which read like poetry, are no less thought-provoking. It’s that good. And it’s free. Download it, already.

Chris is the author of the novella The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other and edits All Due Respect and Pulp Ink, which was shortlisted for a Spinetingler Award.

Download Watch You Drown


BAD TIMES, by Julie Morrigan

Bad Times is comprised of three previous collections by Julie: Gone Bad, Show No Mercy and Wired. Wired was my introduction to Julie’s work and grabbed me by the literary collar. Her Byker Books novella, Cutter’s Deal, furthered my admiration. Morrigan’s writing is like Charlie Watts’ drumming: no need to flail around and toss sticks through the air, when you can lay down such a tight, badass and irresistible groove. In addition to having short stories all over the place, Julie is the author of the novels Heartbreaker, Convictions (voted as one of the top five books of the year by crime and thriller fans at the Crime Fiction Lover website) and Darke: The Devil, The Magician and The Fool.

Bad Times at Amazon


Review: Seven Daze by Charlie Wade


Caffeine Nights Publishing
Cover design by Mark (Wills) Williams

Released from prison, and hacked off with a life of petty crime, Jim takes a new job: contract killing. But what happens when your first hit fails?

The man who hired Jim wants his money back. And then some. Jim has one week to raise it. Failure to do this, as well, could result in those seven days being his last. The situation is further complicated by a witness named Charlotte, who may not be quite what she seems.


The Race Against Time is a common device in noir fiction and was a hallmark of seminal authors like Cornell Woolrich (Phantom Lady, Deadline at Dawn), who wrote the living hell out of it. I encounter it often. What distinguishes Charlie Wade’s novel, the thing I enjoyed most about SEVEN DAZE, is the carefully-measured pace and what results from it.

Rather than give us a frenetic highlight reel–as many authors do with this type of set-up–Charlie Wade immerses us in Jim’s crumbling world. We are with him around the clock. And while that clock is ticking and ticking loudly, Wade handles the story with remarkable control, permitting us to share in Jim’s everyday observations, to skulk through crowds with him in search of a mark, to experience his anxiety over his relationship with Charlotte, partake in his mounting desperation. None of it is rushed, but explored with painstaking detail. This is a first-rate character study. I felt that I came to know Jim. Halfway through the book, I found myself already wishing that it was longer or the launch of a series.

In addition, SEVEN DAZE contains very effective humor, again used with restraint and well-placed, offering an occasional reprieve from the tension. Part Two begins with a twist that simultaneously calms Jim and intensifies his worries (no easy feat to pull off). It’s as if the first section is a firework cruising into the sky, the second a detonation of that missile into a blaze of possibilities. The supporting cast are well drawn. And because of the tone and approach of the final chapters, the ending caught me by surprise.

Buy it. Read it. Tell your friends.

SEVEN DAZE at Amazon.

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About the author:

SEVEN DAZE is Charlie Wade’s third novel. His short fiction has appeared online and in publications like Out of the Gutter and Off the Record. He is currently at work on a short story/prequel to SD and a crime novel told from a policeman’s point of view, featuring his character DI Britwell.

Charlie’s blog is called Batteries Aren’t Included.

He is on facebook at /charlie.wade.566.