Friday, March 30, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
This collection of eight stories set in the fictional town of Meadows Ford, Nebraska, is the latest from the fine hand of Richard Prosch. These are contemporary stories, as opposed to Prosch's recent, acclaimed Western collection, DEVILS NEST, but the writing is every bit as sharply honed.
The stories are suspenseful, sometimes bleak (like the weather), yet the characters and their interactions are so instantly recognizable and real that you nevertheless feel a kind of familiar warmth, especially if you are from a rural area or small town.
The standout, for me, was the shocking and haunting "Jolly's Boy". Which is not to say, by any means, that the remaining stories are weak. Each has its own distinction, all are memorable for their own reasons.
But the real star remains Prosch's aforementioned writing—a clean, straightforward, no-nonsense style that resonates with a passion for both his craft and his setting. I'll read anything he writes. You should too.
Persevere --- WD
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The story of Esau Till will shock you. It will sadden and anger you. It will disturb, perhaps even frighten you. But as you are reading it and experiencing these emotions, you will not be able to put the book down. And after you've finished it, when you do put it down, it will stay with you.
That is the power of Andrew Vachss's writing.
It is there in all of his work, but has seldom been displayed better or with greater impact than in THAT'S HOW I ROLL.
The novel is set within the frame of Esau telling his life story from Death Row. He makes it clear that this is neither a confession nor apology, simply a statement of facts recounting the events that brought him to this point. It is also a statement geared—as so much in his life has been—toward protecting his younger brother Tory.
Both Esau and Tory are the product of a forced incestuous relationship between their father—an abusive monster who Esau refers to as the Beast—and older sister. As Esau puts it, "When your sister is your mother, too, you know you're not going to come out right. Not you, not your life, not nothing."
Initial evidence of this comes in the form of Esau being born with spina bifida, paralyzed from the waist down; Tory is physically flawless but mentally slow. The one advantage Esau does have, however, is a genius IQ. It is this that he puts to work with laser-focused intensity to makes things better for Tory and him and, above all, to prepare Tory for life after Esau is gone. To do this, once they are free of the Beast after he's been executed for killing their sister, Esau channels his intellect into becoming a highly sophisticated explosives expert working for the two crime bosses who split control of the surrounding territory.
Esau shrewdly plays both sides against the middle with the crime bosses and, ultimately, with the law—all for the sake of maintaining his all-consuming commitment to protect and make a better life for Tory. Although spawned from depraved evil and forced by circumstances to become cold and ruthless in most other aspects of his life, the true, pure love that Esau feels for his brother is the driving force and solid central core to this complex, intricately plotted novel.
The rural setting—an unnamed coal mining community, presumably in the southeast—is an interesting change from Vachss's usual urban backgrounds. He captures it masterfully with his trademark spare descriptive prose and peoples it with memorable, convincing, fully realized characters … many of whom you would never want to meet, yet nevertheless will be mesmerized to read about.
Respect, honor, and loyalty are recurring themes in Vachss's work. Combined with the warning that if we fail to protect the most innocent victims of our society—the children—we risk failing to protect ourselves from those who may become increasingly more violent victimizers.
THAT'S HOW I ROLL is one of Andrew Vachss's best books yet—and that's saying a lot. In Esau Till, he has created one of his most fascinating characters. You will have to decide for yourself whether Esau is a victim or victimizer—or perhaps both. Either way, I guarantee you will not soon forget him or his story.
A new novel by my friend Andrew Vachss is always a special event. This one is certainly no exception. I hope you check it out, I think you'll agree.
Persevere --- WD
Friday, March 16, 2012
Watched this wonderful film again last night, after DVR-ing off the Western Channel. Have seen it numerous times before, but not for a while. Not sure why, but I don't have it in my DVD collection; now I've got it locked in My Recordings.
I always recognized this was not only a great Western, but a great film, period. Yet watching it again last night I saw textures and layers I had never fully appreciated before. I suspect this may be because I am now doing a lot of writing in the Western genre. Or maybe it's simply because I am getting older and more appreciative of the smaller touches, the subtleties that take something good and make it better.
Apparently, the head honchos at MGM did not recognize or appreciate those same things at the time this film was released. It was basically "thrown away" as just another B-Western shoot-'em-up and placed (usually on the bottom) of drive-in movie double bills with such masterpieces as The Tartars and World in My Pocket (?). However, the New York Times (unlikely as it may seem) recognized its worth in a very positive review and, when distributed overseas, High Country was widely acclaimed and even won at the Belgium Film Festival that year, beating out Fellini's much vaunted 8-1/2 (which, in my book, could rightfully be accomplished with your basic Geico gecko TV commercial – but that's another story).
At any rate, it was only years later, after director Sam Peckinpah came into greater prominence, that Ride The High Country began to garner the wide spread acclaim it deserved right from the start. It was a beautiful swan song for its stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea (both retired after this film, but then McCrea returned after a few years and did three or four more Westerns of far lesser stature) and, ultimately, ranks up there with The Wild Bunch as some of Peckinpah's best work.
If you haven't watched this gem in a while, you owe it to yourself to check it out again. And if for some reason you've never seen it, by all means put it on your to-be-viewed list and don't deprive yourself any longer.
Persevere — WD
Friday, March 9, 2012
In recent weeks, a welcome number of action-packed Westerns have come galloping onto the scene. Anyone who still says the Western is dead clearly hasn't been paying attention (the upcoming Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp-Tonto movie quite aside). Like it's done for other areas of genre fiction, the eBook revolution has played a big part in this. Rootin'-tootin' traditional Westerns on electronic media … go figure.
And there are plenty of good, solid print Westerns still in the mix, too.
Here are some recent titles I am anxious to read (or already have):
This latest entry in the popular Rancho Deluxe series is penned by Bill Crider and is another fine yarn. Bill may be best known for his contemporary mysteries featuring Sheriff Dan Rhodes (and also, my personal favorite, his Truman Smith PI books) but he is certainly no stranger to the Western genre. OUTRAGE AT BLANCO and RYAN RIDES BACK are among noteworthy previous titles. You can't go wrong with Crider, no matter the genre.
Here's the latest novel-length adventure in the Cash Laramie/Gideon Miles series, as created by Edward Grainger (who everybody knows is David Cranmer). This one is written by Nik Morton and is a flat-out, action-packed, sexy, lighting-paced read! As the production blurb says: "Gun Smoke Rises and Blood Spills" ... add that to the sensual cover and the 99-cent price tag and how can you NOT give this book a try?
Here's a Western series with a bit of a twist (but not so much of one that it slips out of the category of still being damn good "Western" fare). Lucas Hallam is a former cowboy and Pinkerton agent who has outlived his time in the wild country and is now working as a stuntman and part-time PI in early Hollywood. In short, he's one of the most original Western (or PI) characters you have ever read. THE HALLAM COLLECTION indicated here is a collection of (long) short stories, one of which was the initial introduction of the character. Author L.J. Washburn (who everybody knows is the wife of James Reasoner) also wrote these novel-length Hallam tales: WILD NIGHT, DEAD STICK, and DOG HEAVIES --- all of which are terrific and have been re-issued in eBook format. In addition, some of Livia's earlier Westerns --- EPITAPH, BANDERA PASS, GHOST RIVER --- are also available again as eBook re-issues. I highly recommend all of these.
This is the second in a new Western series by the prolific and always excellent James Reasoner. You don't have to read the first book ahead of this one, but it might help (but, heck, why not just go ahead and treat yourself to BOTH - with Reasoner at the helm, you know you're not going to be disappointed). James (husband of Livia/L.J. Washburn as per above) has written so many good books in so many genres I can't begin to mention all of them here. (Although, without going into details, I will make three exceptions - TEXAS WIND, DIAMONDBACK, and DUST DEVILS; all are available on Kindle and if you haven't read all or any of these, you owe it to yourself to correct that ASAP.) Getting back to strictly Westerns, James is also currently writing in Rancho Diablo series and re-releasing some stand-alones, such as THE HUNTED. As covered here in a past blog, James and Livia also co-wrote the WIND RIVER series now in eBook re-issue and they appear to be doing very well. All of these are worth checking out --- like I said above, you owe it to yourself and with Reasoner at the helm you'll never be disappointed.
Monday, March 5, 2012
The byline here reads "Jack Tunney" --- but for this particular entry in the popular Fight Card series, the author is actually yours truly. The Fight Card series was created late last year by Paul Bishop and Mel Odom and there have been three titles prior to this one so far in the series --- one each by Paul and Mel, a third by Eric Beetner. All take place circa the 1950s and each features a different protagonist and setting; the linking factor being that the featured fighter came from St. Vincent's Asylum for Boys in Chicago and was originally trained by Father Tim, the battling priest. These are old-fashioned, pulpy, action-packed tales yet also feature a lot of heart and passion (think something along the lines of the "Rocky" movies). I was honored to be invited to participate in this. My story is set in Milwaukee, 1954, and features Danny "The Duke" Dugronski, an ex-Marine who's earned a respectable reputation as a solid regional heavyweight --- until the Mob tries to muscle in and force him into some rigged fights. Before it's over, they find out that Danny is a fighter who's willing to stand his ground and slug it out with any opponent, no matter who it is. This is a little different than most anything else I've written. I hope you give it a try, I think you'll like it. Persevere --- WD
The byline here reads "Jack Tunney" --- but for this particular entry in the popular Fight Card series, the author is actually yours truly. The Fight Card series was created late last year by Paul Bishop and Mel Odom and there have been three titles prior to this one so far in the series --- one each by Paul and Mel, a third by Eric Beetner.
All take place circa the 1950s and each features a different protagonist and setting; the linking factor being that the featured fighter came from St. Vincent's Asylum for Boys in Chicago and was originally trained by Father Tim, the battling priest. These are old-fashioned, pulpy, action-packed tales yet also feature a lot of heart and passion (think something along the lines of the "Rocky" movies).
I was honored to be invited to participate in this. My story is set in Milwaukee, 1954, and features Danny "The Duke" Dugronski, an ex-Marine who's earned a respectable reputation as a solid regional heavyweight --- until the Mob tries to muscle in and force him into some rigged fights. Before it's over, they find out that Danny is a fighter who's willing to stand his ground and slug it out with any opponent, no matter who it is.
This is a little different than most anything else I've written.
I hope you give it a try, I think you'll like it.
Persevere --- WD