This is the second Beat to a Pulp collection I’ve read (the top-notch Superheros being the first) and most of it is as entertaining as I expected. It kicks off nicely with Kieran Shea’s funny The Takedown Heart, and gets into its groove with Eric Beetner’s Split the Take. Charles Boeckman takes you to uncomfortable places with Tough Cop by using the classic femme fatale trope, wringing out some excellent juice.
There are two standouts, both worth paying the full price for. Jen Conley’s It’s Coming is about Mandy, an eighth-grade girl terrified of Aunt Ettie’s alcohol-induced mutterings. The aunt lives in the room over the garage at Mandy’s dad’s insistence, which infuriates her mum. A little shanty town full of homeless and the chronically underpaid live just over the way. Aunt Ettie jabbers on about them, getting all apocalyptic and telling anyone who’ll listen that “It’s coming.” The warning scares Mandy more because her aunt singles out the threat (in the vaguest fashion) by saying “it” instead of “they.” When a homeless man Aunt Ettie knew in high school starts visiting, Mandy thinks the “it” has arrived.
I’ve read a few things by Jen Conley and loved them all. She writes about ordinary things, without any fancy phrases, and makes them pop and fizz anyway. This is no exception. Uncluttered storytelling with a lot of heart and a great deal of mystery. And a cracking ending.
The cherry on the cake is Matthew C. Funk’s Vicious Day. It’s an understated title. The first sentence tells us that one of the boss’ men has been killed. Thus starts the most methodical piece of revenge I think I’ve ever read. It features classical music (Night on Bald Mountain), countless disposable cell phones, a relaxed meal, a decoy, the novel Atonement, and lots of memorable imagery. Such as: “I like this part of the drive – when the ancient oaks reach their arms out to gather the Avenue into the bold colors of the French Quarter and the evening feels like an angel snuck a bit of rum into it.” Sounds like a place I’d like to cruise down, except you’d share the town with this boss, who wants a certain woman full of holes so she more effectively sinks into the swamp.
Its humidity sticks to you like “marzipan.” The story sticks to you like splattered blood. I loved it.
I didn’t read the westerns, but that’s only because the genre is not my thing – but, overall, this is a top read.

You can buy BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled 2 from Amazons US and UK.