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Stuff I Wish I’d Written

Stuff I Wish I’d Written … Joanne M Reinbold on Caroline Graham’s The Killings at Badger’s Drift

The summer has been hot, it’s been busy, it’s been dramatic – and here is Joanne M. Reinbold to open the autumn season of interviews.

I met Joanne at a Noir at the Bar event at a cracking pub in Delaware, where she read a story to chill the heart.

Hi Joanne, what’s The Killings at Badger’s Drift about?

The Killings at Badgers Drift by Caroline Graham is about an elderly woman, Emily Simpson, who, while searching the beech woods near her village for a rare orchid, sees something she wasn’t meant to see. Shocked and outraged, she flees, but not before she’s seen and recognized. The next day, Miss Simpson is found dead in her home by her friend, Lucy Bellringer. The village doctor declares Miss Simpson died of natural causes. Miss Bellringer does not agree, and it is through her persistence that DCI Barnaby and DS Troy become involved. After a proper post mortem, it is discovered that Miss Simpson has been poisoned and her death is declared a murder. The two detectives embark on an investigation wherein they encounter [SPOILERS] deadly blackmail, fraud, suicide, incest, and more vicious murders before unmasking a ruthless killer.

Readers should not assume that because The Killings at Badger’s Drift takes place in a seemingly placid and pleasant village in the English countryside that it is in any way a cozy mystery. Badger’s Drift is a police procedural with a decidedly dark current running through it. It also boasts one of the most brilliantly written prologues I have ever read, as well as having boasting rights for two of the most creepy, eccentric, and sinister characters, the Rainbirds, ever to appear on the page. Another claim to fame is the name Badger’s Drift, quite possibly the most unique village name ever conceived.

The Killings at Badger’s Drift is the basis for the BBC’s Midsomer Murders series, though Caroline Graham wrote only six original stories. After winning the Macavity Award (1989) and receiving nominations for the same honour at the 1989 Anthony Awards and the 1988 Agatha Awards, Badger’s Drift went on to be named one of the “Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time” by the Crime Writers Association.

The set-up has a cozy ring to it. Do you like cozies? What drew you to the book in the first place?

In general, no, I don’t care for cozies. For one thing, I don’t care for the name. I mean, what has “cozy” to do with murder? I recently came across a post on a mystery/crime blog where the author of the blog was discussing The Killings at Badgers Drift, the television version from Midsomer Murders. He was going through the programme scene by scene advising cozy readers on where they’d want to fast-forward through a scene or skip a scene completely. “There’s a crime scene here, buckets of blood—you’ll want to fast forward past that. Skip this scene; nudity and sex warning! Swearing in this bit!” While I found this amusing, I admit, I don’t completely understand it. If the murder and the investigation of the murder is peripheral to all other aspects of the story, why have a murder at all?

That being said, there are things that have become associated with cozies that I do enjoy, such as villages, farms, animals, and old traditions, trades, and folklore. On the flip side of that, I’m also very much interested in true crime, detective fiction, current trends in forensics, policing, and criminal psychology, and for want of a better term, “weird” stuff.

As for what drew me to The Killings at Badgers Drift. It features many of the elements I like in a mystery story: crime in the countryside; tough, clever, resourceful detectives; current forensics, policing, psychology, and social issues (for the time in which it was written), and weird stuff. Another draw is that Badgers Drift is also quite a fine piece of writing with a challenging plot.

Who are the detectives? Are they city men? Do they understand the countryside?

In The Killings at Badger’s Drift the detectives are Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and Detective Sergeant Gavin Troy. They work out of Causton CID (Criminal Investigative Department) in Causton a town in the county of Midsomer in Southwest England. Caroline Graham based her county of Midsomer on the actual rural county of Somerset also in the Southwest of England. Badger’s Drift was published in 1987 with the story taking place at that time. Today, one might compare the fictional town of Causton with that of the county town of Taunton in Somerset, and Causton CID with the Taunton Police Station, a sub-unit of the Avon and Somerset Police. DCI Barnaby and DS Troy call themselves “country coppers” given that the majority of their investigations take place in the rural areas and villages surrounding Causton. Ms. Graham employs a familiar trope of detective fiction in that Barnaby and Troy exhibit opposite personality traits with Barnaby being the more patient of the two and Troy being more impulsive. Still, they manage to get on well enough to work effectively as a team. Of the two, Barnaby is more conversant in country ways, but neither of them were born or raised in a rural setting.

Caroline Graham, author of The Killings at Badger’s Drift

How does the rural population treat them? Do they see them as a protective duo, or are they seen suspiciously as outsiders?

At the time Badger’s Drift was written many villages still had local police constables who were around, if not every day, then on a regular basis. The people knew them and for the most part they were seen has helpful and protective. CID detectives only appeared when a murder or other major crime had been committed. They most probably had no prior experience or history with the people in the villages and farms and therefore were looked upon with some suspicion, especially since they were the ones probing into people’s personal lives and activities as a means of gathering information and identifying suspects. This is the case in Badger’s Drift. The people who put their hopes in the detectives solving the crime and delivering justice look on them favorably (if they believe the detectives are doing their jobs properly), while others who are or become the focus of their investigations certainly do not, don’t want them around, and are happy to be rid of them as the detectives typically turn up all manner of secrets, scandal, prior bad acts, or simply things folks would rather not be public knowledge.

The doctor concludes Emily Simpson died of natural causes. Does Lucy Bellringer know what Emily saw before she died or is she suspicious of her neighbours?

Miss Bellringer does not know what Emily saw before she died. Her firm belief that something isn’t right in the matter of Emily’s death is based on two things: Emily did a number of things on the day she died that were completely out of character for her, and two, because of Emily’s age, eighty, a death certificate was automatically issued by her doctor without a post-mortem based on his observation of a large bruise on her leg which obviously indicated a fall, the shock of which had been too much for her heart and led to her demise.

Miss Bellringer points out that if Emily had been half that age, questions would have been asked and a post-mortem carried out. When DCI Barnaby suggests that perhaps Emily had taken ill while she was out on her bicycle, Miss Bellringer protests that if that had been the case, Emily surely would have stopped at Miss Bellringer’s cottage on her way home as she would have to pass her gate on the way. And she would have stopped, Miss Bellringer insists because “we’ve been best friends since childhood. She would have stopped, and I would have looked after her.”

She also finds that Emily discovered a rare ghost orchid in the beech woods and marked its location. By doing so Emily won a competition that the two friends have engaged in for many years. The fact that Emily then fails to tell Miss Bellringer that she’d found the ghost orchid first is so out of character as to be unheard of. Shortly, thereafter, Miss Bellringer finds a scrap of paper by Emily’s phone with a name and phone number on it that she recognizes as belonging to the Samaritans. The Samaritans operate a confidential help line for people who need to unburden themselves of worries. Miss Bellringer tells DCI Barnaby that whatever it is that Emily saw—and couldn’t tell her oldest and best friend about—must have been a terrible and unspeakable thing, because nothing else can explain her ringing total strangers.

DCI Barnaby’s response is insightful and sensible: “It was his belief, forged by thirty years of looking and listening, that no one ever acted out of character What most people thought of as character (the accumulation, or lack of, certain social, educational, and material assets) was shallow stuff. Real character was revealed when these accretions were stripped away. Anyone was capable of anything. However, Miss Simpson had done several things on the last day of her life that someone who had known her closely since childhood had never known her to do before. And that was odd. Odd and interesting.”

And so, DCI Barnaby tells Miss Bellringer after she mentions her concern that the police might not take her appeal for an investigation seriously: “…all complaints and inquiries are investigated. Our opinion of their veracity is quite irrelevant.”

Still from the TV show.

Do all the villagers’ accretions of social norms strip at the investigation, even though not all of them are guilty of murder? How is their sense of community affected?

Soon after the detectives begin interviewing residents of the village, two more particularly brutal murders occur. The victims are Iris Rainbird and her son, Dennis, the village undertaker. They are found hacked to death in their cottage. Notebooks are found that reveal the Rainbirds had quite a lucrative sideline in blackmail. From these notebooks the police discover which villagers are being blackmailed and why.

Two of the blackmail victims are Dr. Lassiter and his wife, Barbara. They are being blackmailed because she is a former prostitute who married him for money and privilege. The detectives also learn that the Rainbirds discovered a local woman, Phyllis Cladell, murdered her sister in a supposed hunting accident two years previous. When confronted by the police, Phyllis confesses, is arrested, and later commits suicide in prison. And though there is no reference in the notebook DCI Barnaby and DS Troy reckon the Rainbirds knew who killed Emily Simpson and had a go at blackmailing them with disastrous results.

In the course of the investigation a scheme is uncovered in which Katherine Lacey who is set to marry her benefactor, Henry Trace, a wealthy older man and local landowner, whom she and her brother, Michael, then intend to murder, claim his estate, and leave the country, is discovered.

When the Lacey’s are alerted by a childhood nanny, who DCI Barnaby had contacted, that their incestuous relationship has been discovered, the brother and sister commit double suicide by shotgun.

It’s later found that it was Katherine Lacey and not Phyllis Cladell who murdered Bella Trace, the wife of Katherine’s and Michael’s benefactor. Phyllis really believed she had shot Bella. Due to the commotion and many people moving about and shooting during the hunting party, Phyllis did not realize that someone concealed (Katherine Lacey) in the trees behind her had fired the fatal shot.

By the end of the story, the villagers’ sense of community is shattered. Six deaths and much sordidness uncovered has left the village traumatized, as well as lives ruined, and reputations undone. Perhaps the only positive is that the villagers no longer must fear the tyranny of the blackmailing Rainbirds.

The sequel.

What’s the writing style: noirish or does it reflect (and disguise the evildoings) the rhythms of an English country village?

I would say that Caroline Graham’s writing style in Badger’s Drift is slightly formal, somewhat bucolic, with a touch of humor. While it does reflect the rhythms of the countryside and village life, she does not disguise the evildoings that go on, in fact, her descriptions of murder and mayhem are often quite graphic.

You like English country crime fiction beyond Badger’s Drift – How does the characterization differ from urban noir?

Yes. There’s quite a bit of Britcrime that takes place in the countryside or takes the detectives or other protagonists into the countryside. That’s the case in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) an unforgettable crime classic by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes and Watson must travel from London to Devonshire to discover who is behind the warnings and/or threats against Sir Henry Baskerville. Much of the story takes place on the ominous Grimpen Moor where one misstep means death in a pool of quicksand and the baleful howl of the hound echoes in the night. Great stuff.

Another of my favorites is the thriller Road Rage (1997) by Ruth Rendell. The main themes of this story—which is based on an actual event—are the environment and environmental activism. A by-pass is planned in the village of Kingsmarkham that will destroy a forest and the habitats of many wild animals. The villagers protest the bypass and disrupt the work on the new run. Soon protestors begin to disappear and another alleged environmental group, Sacred Globe, claims responsibility and threatens to kill the hostages unless plans for the bypass are completely cancelled. Chief Inspector Wexford, whose wife Dora is among the hostages, must discover who Sacred Globe is, then find a way to free the hostages.

Then there’s the classic Hallowe’en Party (1969) by Agatha Christie in which the private detective, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a child who has been drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. I want to say right now that I completely disagree with the notion that Agatha Christie wrote cozies. Her stories are some of the darkest mysteries ever conceived, and her characters rival one another in maliciousness, spitefulness, sociopathy, and evil intentions. In Hallowe’en Party Poirot, at the request of his friend, crime writer Ariadne Oliver, travels from London to the village of Woodleigh Common to investigate the child’s murder. The story action centers around the fabulous Quarry Garden created by the horticultural genius, Michael Garfield.

And finally, there’s A Place of Execution (1999) by Val McDermid. The story takes place in 1963 in the village of Scardale in Derbyshire where thirteen-year-old Alison Carter vanishes. Alison’s disappearance is the first case of newly promoted Inspector George Bennett who leads the searches among the limestone dales and caves of the White Peak without success, until decades later when a shocking truth comes to light and he learns the fate of the girl he could not find.

Characterization in these stories differs from urban noir in several ways. Foremost, I would say, the protagonist, whether police, PI, or other, is not an outsider or an outcast. They may have their differences with others, but they remain connected to family, friends, and colleagues, continue to work as a team, have people and institutions they care about and that care for them. There isn’t that pervasive sense of alienation you often find in urban noir protagonists.

Also, urban noir is the realm of the non-hero or anti-hero and no amount of effort on his/her part will change their fate, because they are bound by a fatalistic or nihilistic view of life. They have no hope and suffer no one who does. While the protagonist (heroes/heroines) of other stories are motivated by a need for justice, order, or love, and pursue those ends within the constraints of the law or the boundaries of society, the noir protagonist is more likely to be driven by revenge, greed, or lust and will cross a moral line to get what they want.

And finally, a noir protagonist must have a capacity for violence, as well as often being the victim of violence. Rather than calming things down, they stir things up, and, as a result, noir protagonists rarely achieve a “happy ending” or even a fair one. They often end up with worse than they started with.

Noir protagonists, when written well, are complex and intriguing and their stories can be quite addictive.

What differences do you see between UK and American rural crime novels.

That’s an excellent question, and a difficult one for me to answer. Recently, while reading a book on British cooking, I came across a statement that gave me some insight. The author is making an analogy about food preparation, of course, when he says: “In Britain, we don’t have climate, we have weather.” A rather clever way of saying there is diversity on a small scale, but not so much on a large scale, because the United Kingdom doesn’t cover a large geographic area such as the United States or say, Africa.

So, in the UK you’re not going to have rural crime novels that take place in a desert, such as Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels that take place in New Mexico in the American Southwest, or in over-heated Lousiana swamplands of the American Deep South where James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series is set. Also, there’s Sue Henry’s Alaska mysteries that take place in an arctic terrain, and Sharyn McCrumb’s Elizabeth MacPherson mystery series that takes place throughout the massive range of the Appalachian Mountains.

In the UK rural crime novels that I’ve read the characters move around the countryside, in and out of villages and small towns, but there isn’t the kind of long distance travel that often occurs in American rural crime fiction, for example Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail where the story takes place during Alaska’s world-famous Iditarod: a grueling eleven-hundred-mile dogsled race across hazardous Arctic terrain.

I think the “weather and climate” statement also applies to people/characters. In UK rural crime fiction, you’ll find diversity in regional cultures, but again probably not to the degree you’ll find it in American rural crime fiction where there are very distinct cultural differences in communities of Native Americans, Cajuns, Tex Mex, as well as Amish, Shaker, Mormon, and number of other religious sects, to give a few examples.

My choices in American rural crime fiction are often Southern Gothic or Grotesque and include the works of writers such as Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, James Dickey, and even Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

The rural crime novels of these authors and those mentioned previously differ from what CrimeReads defines as “rural noir” in that they don’t necessarily deal with “the harsh lives of people in remote places and their conflicts with kin or rival clans that go back generations.” Though, I have to say that Wise Blood, a Southern Grotesque, by Flannery O’Connor will give any noir novel of any persuasion a run for its money!

Joanne M Reinbold

How would you describe your next writing project?

I’m working on the second book in my DCI Rylan Crowe Mysteries series. The first book in the series, Missing, is a novelette, or a “book shot” as they’re called now. The second book is a full length novel, as will be subsequent books in the series, though I may do more “book shots” in between. The second book, like the first, takes place in a village in the English countryside where a brutal murder has been committed and the detectives have a devil of a job getting to the bottom of it. During the course of their investigation, they have to deal with scams targeting the elderly, cybercrime, a rural crime ring, and immigration issues, all of which make sorting out the murder that much more difficult.

Joanne, you’ve been a top guest. Any final words?

Thanks so much for inviting me, Jason. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you. Some final words … I would tell readers to not shy away from trying something new when selecting books. There are so many fine writers that aren’t on best seller lists. Ferreting out new voices and stories is an adventure I’ve always enjoyed and I would encourage folks to give it a try. That, in fact, is how I was introduced to your stories. When I heard you read at a Noir at the Bar in Wilmington, DE. I liked your story and your reading, so I went looking for more of your work. That was a bit of good fortune for me!

Thank you, Joanne.

Joanne expects her new novel to come out in 2020. In the meantime you can buy her novelette, Missing, from Amazon now.

Stuff I Wish I’d Written … Jim Shaffer on Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time

An author with a blazing style, one of the head honchos over at the magnificent Flash Fiction Offensive, and here to eulogise Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time, welcome James “Jim” Shaffer to Messy Business.

Hi Jim, we’re talking about The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock. What’s the setup?

Great to be here, Jason. Think “rural Gothic” with hints of sulfurous noir bubbling to the surface like a bloated floater. Pollock riddles this saga with dubious, unhinged characters you wouldn’t sit next to during lunch, let alone want to meet your sister—pedophiles, murderers, a husband and wife team of sex-crazed serial killers; a corrupt, vengeful county sheriff, and mentally-disturbed preachers. So hold onto your hat.   

This mixed bag of hardened criminals and demented nut-cases takes us on a wild, circuitous ride across the Midwest, into the deep South, stretches down to Florida, back north to West Virginia: and finally returns to the story’s roots—the frightening backwoods town of Knockemstiff, Ohio—where Pollock himself was born in late 1954, and spent his formative years. 

Though first published by Doubleday in 2011, Pollock starts this devilish journey shortly after WWII—and drops his first poor characters, including a young boy named Arvin, in this backwater hell hole. While this novel is naturally fiction, Pollock uncharitably describes his hometown in the book’s prologue: “Four hundred or so people lived in Knockemstiff in 1957, nearly all of them connected by blood through one godforsaken calamity or another, be it lust or necessity or just plain ignorance.”  

Ignorance, isolation, and religious superstition set the opening tone. Just a blip on the map, Knockemstif sits on the plateau edge of the Appalachian Mountains, south of Columbus and east of Cincinnati—and not far north from the neighboring borders of West Virginia and Kentucky. If a town named Knockemstiff sounds odd, Jason, you may want to consider this: Not a living soul knows for sure how this community got its name.

Dark, Gothic noir with a religious bent coursing through it. Is the novel, as Flannery O’Connor would term such a beast, “Christ-haunted?” If so, in what way?

The Appalachian region Pollock depicts in the novel is certainly Christ-Haunted, as I interpret the term. Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, O’Connor was a Roman Catholic swimming in a sea of Protestants. Organized religion tends to promise troubled people answers, as well as “salvation” and a better “afterlife.” After losing the Civil War, people from the South suffered an identity crisis. Many had sacrificed, fought and died for a cause they believed was “just.” Haunted by the past, like millions have done for centuries, O’Connor and many southerners looked to God, religious rituals, their bibles and religious leaders for answers.

As a devout Catholic, O’Connor didn’t just attend Mass on Sundays—she attended every day. Her daily life was filled with “religious thought.” From 1956 through 1964, she wrote more than one hundred book reviews for two Catholic diocesan newspapers.

The first characters we meet in Pollock’s novel are Willard Russell—his wife Charlotte, and son Arvin Eugene. Recently returned from WWII, Willard’s also haunted by his past, what he’s seen in the war, and is struggling for answers. And seeking a bit of solitude and a place for self-reflection, Willard hauls them off to Knockemstiff.

The Russells rent a dilapidated farmhouse surrounded by dense forest, atop the town’s Baum Hill. Willard clears a patch of woods behind their house—except for one huge log … “the remains of a big red oak that had fallen years before.” He treats the fallen oak as an altar. And here at his newfound “prayer log” Willard spends countless hours on his knees crying out to God—

A god who never answers.

But the people of Knockemstiff, including the newly-arrived Willard aren’t anywhere near as educated as Flannery O’Connor. Desperate for God’s attention, Willard ups the ante: he starts pouring fresh animal blood over his prayer log altar, and erects wooden crosses where he hangs roadkill carcasses.

Against Charlotte’s wishes, Willard routinely drags young Arvin to the prayer log with him. Charlotte cautions Willard, “too much religion could be as bad as too little, maybe worse ….”

Yet compared to itinerant evangelist Roy Laferty, Willard seems almost sane. Seeking to test his faith, Laferty brazenly dumps a jar-full of spiders on his head. This preacher also becomes convinced that he can raise the dead. And to prove his point, he’s willing to commit murder. How do you think that brilliant scheme turns out?

I was raised in a spiritual home, at first in rural Pennsylvania. Not one as intense as Arvin’s, but in some ways similar. So although this book’s just started, I’m worried shitless about Arvin Eugene’s future.

Donald Ray Pollock

If the war has driven Willard’s increase in religiosity, then what drives Laferty’s?

Pollock’s plot arcs initially feel like a wide-haphazard circle. But actually he’s etching a well-controlled, fierce loop—that turns back on itself like a snake eating its tail—with ugly consequences. I described the preachers in this drama as mentally-disturbed: and Laferty’s one of two who churn our stomachs—but in completely different ways.

Pollock doesn’t reveal why or how Roy Laferty becomes a preacher, but in the churches where I grew up, he fits the tradition of the “visiting evangelist.” Evangelists travel from town-to-town; and church-to-church. Often they’ll pitch tents. Evangelists typically travel with an entourage that includes musical performers—and tend to get treated either like rock stars or circus sideshow freaks.

Roy’s faithful sidekick in this wandering freak show is his cousin Theodore, who strums a mean guitar. Lurking behind Roy in the semi-darkness, Theodore performs from a wheelchair, adding eerie background music to Roy’s firey sermons.

Why does Theodore play from a wheelchair?

Because attempting to prove his faith, Theodore once chugged a bottle of anti-freeze. Another brilliant scheme gone wrong.

Invited by the local church to inject a spirit of “revival” into its sluggish souls, Laferty punctuates a “hellfire and damnation” message with his shocking spider act—and sends the sleepy congregants jumping to their feet. Revival’s here! Hallelujah! The spirit of God is moving—

Never mind most of them are fleeing the scuddling spiders.

Roy’s not malicious … more like the village idiot, highly impressionable. But misery loves company, and Theodore’s got issues. So when delusional Roy announces God’s now given him the power to resurrect the dead? Theodore eggs him on.

While Roy Laferty’s getting played like a sacrificial lamb, devious preacher Preston Teagardin is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Knowing right from wrong, the thirty-ish, portly Teagardin is one twisted bastard. Though he’s got a teenage wife, this turd lusts for even younger flesh. Cloaked in the religious mantle of esteemed spiritual adviser, he lures, seduces, and fucks young impressionable girls in the front seat of his fancy sports car. And his wicked actions spawn hellacious consequences.

On one hand Pollock’s morphed a “morality tale”—a conflict between good and evil—with a heavy dose of Chaos Theory. Shit Happens. But in classic gothic fashion, his odyssey also ships us on quests for dark revenge. These twisted threads make me shout, “Hot damn. Hell, yeah!”

Because one man’s devil can prove another man’s saviour.

Is the small town flock drawn to the preachers’ religion, or is religion the sideshow to the magic tricks? What is the flock missing to draw them to such characters?

Isolation and religion prove deeply entwined in this novel, Jason. In the rural farming region where I was raised, the local rallying point was the country church—a place to socialize on one hand. And a place to practice long-held religious traditions on the other.

Likewise, before Pollock leads us on our dark romp through the Midwest, the South and Florida, we spend most of our time with Knockemstiff’s 400 inhabitants—or in Coal Creek, West Virginia—another rural outpost 75 miles southeast of our little hell hole. Even today, only 12 states have fewer inhabitants than West Virginia. And while Ohio’s population has bloomed to nearly 12 million people, with the majority living in the north, less than 2 million people live in West Virginia. By comparison, in 1950, nearly a million people called Cleveland, Ohio home.

Even during the 1950s, people in small communities like Knockemstiff didn’t have many job options—especially women. Choices about who to date or who to marry? Slim to none. And other than getting drunk—or getting laid if they were lucky, almost no “entertainment” choices whatsoever. 

Regardless of anyone’s beliefs, morals or spiritual values, “organized religion” typically steps in and fills some of these social vacuums. Laferty’s Traveling Wilburys bring their insane act to Coal Creek, West Virginia at the invitation of a local minister—and his “so-called flock” has no choice in the matter: other than to stay home. Only 58 people attend this event the evening Laferty unleashes his spiders.And in a near-unanimous rout, 57 members of this jury would have preferred Roy’s Freakshow never came to town. But the event sparks consequences.

With the exception of Arvin Eugene Russell, Pollock’s more concerned about “cause and effect,” the “abuse of power” and “pure chance” than people’s motivations or personal beliefs. He launches this book with a seven-page prologue that hits us hard and fast. Pollock unites Isolation, Ignorance, “Religious ideas” and Violence—and wields them like a four-pronged pitch fork.

Talk about Arvin Eugene Russell’s role in the story.

Pollock dumps Arvin in Knockemstiff when the lad is only four—too young to know that he’s been fucked. But by the time this kid turns nine, he’s starting to get the picture. Lucky for Arvin though, he’s got a lot more fries in his Happy Meal than Roy Laferty and Theodore.

Even before his exposure to the horrors of WWII, Pollock leads us to believe Willard harbors a violent streak. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” is not a verse you’ll find in the Willard Russell version of the bible. And Willard zealously strives to shape Arvin in his own image.

Because they have no “kin,” no blood relations in Knockemstiff, the Russells are viewed as “outsiders.” Arvin has no friends. No play dates. No invites to dinner. And no one ever visits the Russells. When Arvin comes home with a black eye after a fight on the school bus, Willard accuses Arvin of being soft. “Those boys might be bigger than you, but the next time one of ’em starts his shit, I want you to finish it.”

Willard’s not simply singing to the metaphorical choir … or his congregation of one lone son: he practices what he preaches. And revenge he teaches Arvin is a matter of “time and place.”

During a routine battle with the Devil at the prayer log, two local hunters stumble upon Willard and Arvin praying. The mouthy one, Lucas, says, “Hell, they havin’ them a little revival meeting…shit. I’m thinking now would be a good time to pay his old lady a visit. She probably laying over in bed right now keeping it warm for me.”

Arvin knows from Lucas’s tone this man has just insulted Charlotte and his father. But Willard does nothing. He just keeps on praying. After the prayer log bout, Willard grabs Arvin for a trip into town to buy gas for the truck. So Arvin’s puzzled when they zip past the station and into the parking lot at The Bull Pen, a shit-hole bar. Before the truck stops rolling, Willard jumps out—he’s in hot pursuit of rude, crude Lucas. His sidekick hunter escapes, tearing out in his car.

Willard beats Lucas so bad he spends the rest of his days with a coffee can looped around his neck to catch his perpetual drool.

Back inside the truck, Willard grabs a rag and wipes his bloody hands: “You remember what I told you the other day?”

“About them boys on the bus?” Arvin asks. Willard nods. “Well, that’s what I meant. You just got to pick the right time … they’s a lot of no-good sonofabitches out there.”

Willard adores Charlotte above all else. But Charlotte’s got a problem. And Willard wants God’s help. When God doesn’t answer? Willard doesn’t reserve his fists for only the unrighteous. As his frustrations mount, he takes to beating Arvin … and later sinks into remorse. While Willard apologizes, like many abusers, he lays a guilt trip on the boy: You’re not praying hard enough. Arvin eventually accepts the blows and harsh words “as part of the life they were living now.”

Knockemstiff, Ohio

Nearly every aspect of Willard’s daily life in Knockemstiff proves a bloody mess. Although the Russells live in a farmhouse, Willard works in a slaughterhouse, messily butchering hogs. While Arvin’s yet to make a career choice our boy’s pretty sure he doesn’t want “to kill pigs for a living.”

But one night necessity spurs Arvin to show a local adult his father’s secret altar. The fetid odor hits them first. Not knowing what to expect, Arvin’s companion steps back. “What the hell is that smell…?” Arvin points up. His guest aims a flashlight. And the torch alights Willard’s wooden crosses. Jolted by the dangling carcasses, teaming maggots, and the unholy bloody stench wafting from Willard’s prayer log, the bug-eyed yokel asks: “Goddamn it, boy, what the hell is this?”

“It’s a prayer log,” Arvin tells him.

“What? A prayer log?”

”But it don’t work,” forlorn Arvin wisely notes.

So as you may have guessed, Jason—

Arvin Eugene Russell doesn’t grow up to be a preacher.  But one thing’s certain: beleaguered Arvin’s learned how to deliver a message. And he doesn’t need spiders either.

Willard’s a ticking time bomb … and when that bomb explodes, and the dust finally settles, ten-year-old Arvin finds himself separated from his parents—and living a new life in Coal Creek, West Virginia.

Goodbye hell-hole Knockemstiff!

Or so he thinks for now.

‘Cause remember, Jason, “They’s a lot of no-good sonofabitches out there.”

So Arvin is groomed into violence, for want of a better term. How does he view the violence as the years go by? Is it nihilistic and in service of self-preservation? Or does he view it from a moralistic, religious viewpoint, that all those ‘sonsofabitches’ need a lesson?

Arvin considers The Bull Pen beating Willard unleashes on Lucas “the best day he ever spent with his father.” As part of Willard’s legacy, Arvin also receives his father’s Luger pistol when he turns fifteen. And the youngster buoyantly thinks it’s “the best present he ever got.”  He proves a natural with the pistol, shooting small game: that winds up on the supper table. His hunting partner Earskell naturally prefers a shotgun. And he’s surprised that Arvin can hit—let alone kill—moving critters with a handgun.

Arvin develops a “don’t fuck with me and mine—or else” philosophy. He doesn’t start shit. And he doesn’t go looking for trouble either. But like his father taught him: If someone starts shit? Arvin ain’t afraid to finish. It’s always a matter of the right “time and place.” While Arvin escapes Knockemstiff at age ten, people in rural Coal Creek are also afflicted by “misplaced” religious beliefs, isolation and ignorance—as well as abusers who prey on others, and the havoc their actions wreak.  

Throughout his high school years, hell-bent Arvin doles out vengeance with his fists. And ẚ la Roy Laferty,  he chooses on occasion to “spice up” his message. A bible-toting girl in Coal Creek is one of the few people Arvin cares about. And, more often than not, his intermittent violent acts involve avenging her. One day he stumbles upon three menacing boys telling this girl Lenora that they’d fuck her—but first they’d have to put a paper bag over her head.  Arvin wastes no time—and let’s his fists do the talking. But three-on-one? He doesn’t stand a chance. Revenge takes two months. But he gets each boy alone then lays a beat-down on them— And as a finishing flourish, tugs a paper bag over each boy’s head. 

No bones about it: The Devil All The Time often seethes with violence. But the violence isn’t graphic like Casino or Goodfellas. Pollock doesn’t bathe us in blood splatter or whack us with broken bones. He doesn’t glorify or sensationalize violence either. But indeed we feel the aftershocks.  The criminal acts he portrays are the kind you hear about in the media all-too-often. And I find his criminal characters credible—especially if you remember the rural landscape, and the eras this tale unfolds in.  The husband and wife serial killing duo are sickly ritualistic hunters. Run into a pair like this? A gun in your hands is sure as hell a godsend— provided you get the chance to use it.  Arvin only uses the Luger when he feels he has no choice …. Tragically, however, Willard has successfully shaped his son in his own image. And while Arvin wonderfully gives a slew of devils their brimstone due, as a young man he discovers he’s now got hell to pay. The big question becomes: Can he survive this debt?

How does Lenora fit into Arvin’s life? Is she as vengeful as he? Does she just ride his wave, passive? Is it love?

I believe you’re hooked on Pollock’s story. If so, I’m glad. Hooking an audience is a large part of this presentation as is the temptation to continue talking. But my temptation advice comes from the Good Book–yield not!

If the discussion turns further toward Lenora and her connection to Arvin, we’ll venture into “big reveal” territory. I prefer not to do that. Don’t wanna be “that guy”.

Pollock’s book is definitely “stuff I wish I’d written”, but I also want to turn people on to the story. And like I did, let potential readers make some of their own discoveries.

All that remains is my praise for Pollock and his book that received an impressive international distribution, indicating a wide interest in rural Gothic Americana. Plus there’s “The Devil, The Movie” coming out in 2020! Sounds pretty cool.

Sounds mysterious. What part does the landscape play in the novel? Is it a character all on its own. Does it affect the characters?

Sounds mysterious, you say? Thrilled to hear you think so. Suggests my diabolic plot to tempt you with this book is working brilliantly, Jason.

Environments always affect us—and our way of thinking. Someone who spends their life in Montana and has never seen an ocean except on TV or at the movies won’t see life through the same lens as a lobsterman in coastal Maine. And if you’ve seen the movie The Horse Whisperer, someone from NYC who merely visits Montana can’t possibly comprehend the entire range of intricacies held by the local mindset: even though they see the landscape. My life here in England is naturally vastly different in many ways than my farming youth in rural Pennsylvania. 

The key role landscape plays in The Devil, as mentioned earlier, involves “Isolation.” One can drive for miles and still be isolated. But as routine as daily life can often be, people can still stumble and bumble about … and sometimes bump “into things.”

Likewise, in an apparent twist of fate, I bumped into Pollock and The Devil unwittingly. A friend sent me an audio book … and attached an intriguing note: “Just listen.” 

So, hell yeah, I listened—

Found myself surrounded by these backwoods crazies. It’s a trip you don’t wanna make while cruising country roads with your car windows down—or tucked in bed at midnight. Or at least I wouldn’t ….

Publisher Penguin books chose award-winning actor Mark Bramhall to dramatize The Devil. And Bramhall—who’s narrated some 400 audiobooks—spurs Knockemstiff to life: pegging the often slow curt speech … and grammar-shredded dialogue of Pollock’s Appalachian characters. Pollock’s books have been dubbed by some as Hillbilly Noir. And while Bramhall’s largely known for his theatrical performances, he’s also appeared in films, including the 2017 rural horror flick Anabelle: Creation—portraying the priest Father Massey. So he cunningly makes you feel how these characters live and think.

For anyone hoping to snatch a taste, I’ve included an audiobook sample below. But for all you TV-film fanatics, characters in the series Justified, set in moonshine-making rural Kentucky—talk in a fashion similar to Bramhall’s audio portrayal: including actor Timothy Olyphant. Billy Bob Thornton in the movie Sling Blade is another good example—though his accent’s more “drawn out.” Or check out Tom Hardy in the depression-era film, Lawless.

Meanwhile, nine mesmerizing hours and ten minutes later I found my spellbound self thinking: Damn. I wish I’d written this book. I grabbed a hard copy—that I’ve devoured four times since. 

Call me possessed, Jason! And I’m not the only one. The Devil has been translated into at least a dozen languages including French and German. 

Looks like the fun may not stop here either—

According to newsy sources, a movie based on the book is scheduled to release sometime in 2020. Sounds pretty cool. And yup, you can bet your soul I’m anxiously waiting to see the flick. But with Hollywood’s spotty adaptation record? I pray they don’t fuck this up.

Which leads me to think: Time I shut the fuck up. Talking The Devil All The Time—or to the Devil all the time—isn’t healthy or safe for anyone! But before I get the hell out of Dodge, Jason, thanks for letting me share my fire about this book. Pollock certainly gives the bad ol’ Devil his due.

Extended audio sample:


Jim, you’ve been great. What are you working on right now?

I’ve been working on a series of what I call “Frank Smith” stories. Two stories featuring this character were already published – “Desert Requiem” in the Hardboiled anthology from Dead Guns Press, and “All That the Case Is” in Blunder Woman Productions’ Wrong Turn anthology – my inspiration to keep these tales going.  Frank’s a hard guy to pin down. He unofficially helps people out of tough situations. But he’s never exactly the same guy twice. The thread of each story dictates Frank’s persona, whether he’s an investigator, simply the muscle, or possibly even the victim. So each story suggests a peculiar adventure: Who will Frank Smith be this time? I aim to link these stories in a road-trip novella, kicking it off with a completed but unpublished Frank Smith story set in NYC, “A Drink in Purgatory”.

Thanks, Jim, for a thorough and passionate run-through of what sounds like a great book.

You can buy Jim’s work HERE.

Here are a few of Jim Shaffer’s classic short stories :

It’s Not the Pale Moon at The Flash Fiction Offensive

The Dressmaker’s Dummy at The Flash Fiction Offensive

Stuff I Wish I’d Written … Matt Phillips on Sam Reaves’ Bury it Deep

Matt Phillips, the brilliant writer who brought us the classic Know Me from Smoke, Bad Luck City, and now Countdown, is here to talk Bury it Deep, the noir classic from 1993.

Hi Matt, what’s the book you want to talk about?

Bury it Deep by Sam Reaves. It’s an old book and you may not have read it…

I’ve not read the beast. Corrupt Chicago politics, Teamsters, and death by homicide – heady stuff. What’s the draw for you?

Sam’s prose is as good as anybody’s. But really I love the characters he creates. This book is one of a series that follows a cabbie in Chi-Town named Cooper MacLeish. Both Cooper and his reporter buddy are great noir characters but with nuanced intellect and sensibilities. There’s a bit of bohemian aimlessness to them, but they’re also peppered with enough PI guts to make the story amp up page-by-page. Take that and add in the Chicago corruption angle, working class politics, and some great relationship drama…This is a noir that should be counted among the classics.

What’s the set-up?

Without giving too much away: Cooper’s buddy, a local reporter, is slated to get some city hall intel from a mysterious source. Eventually, he asks Cooper to go with him to a meet and they get mixed up in a brutal murder. The book starts, though, with a haunting cat murder and a death threat. I loved the book from the outset—nothing like spitting in the eye of the ‘cozy’ genre to start a great noir novel.

Is there a 70s vibe to it in the sense that two Bohemian types living in a counter-culture are caught up in the world of high politics and skulduggery?

Yes—that’s it…to a degree. The story evokes the novels of George V. Higgins, but Sam Reaves has his own distinct style. Far less dialog-heavy, but Reaves has a similar ear for how people speak and a similar eye for how the world truly ‘works.’ The thing about this book is that it doesn’t matter what time period—the story is so well-done and detailed that, as a reader, you’re in that world. You believe what’s happening because the writing is that good…You’re there. And, like with so many good books, you can’t escape until you read the last damn page.

What’s the book’s political atmosphere? Is there tension between a political elite and working class ambitions? Is it working class politicians absorbed into a corrupt system? What do Cooper and the reporter want from the city’s politics?

The plot of this one is oddly familiar (in a real-world kind of way), at least to those of us living in the good ‘ol US of A. Local Teamsters are involved. There’s a mysterious recording that a lot of people are dead-set against releasing. And, of course, some pretty shady stuff related to a mayoral election. It’s really about how politics—I think—can’t help but corrupt even those who start out with good intentions. More than that, it’s about normal guys (a run-of-the-mill reporter and a cabbie) coming through for their city and going after the truth. Like with most noir, there are heightened tensions between the working class and the political elite. The result is murder (more than one)—and these guys, like a helluva lot of us, don’t want much from politicians: All they want is the DAMN truth.

Are the protagonists susceptible to corruption? Do they fight inner demons?

Funny, I’d say they’re incorruptible. But they’re also horribly imperfect—that, to me, is what makes them likeable as characters. It’s what makes them real. Like any great noir book, this one deals a lot with paradox. How can two outcast characters be so incorruptible as to pursue the truth about folks who maintain a facade of incorruptibility? Even when these two characters are full of flaws and mistakes and imperfections themselves? I think the answer lies in the fact that people who seem ‘put together’ or ‘perfect’ or ‘always on,’ are full of shit. Often times, their very impression/existence is a lie. Give me Cooper MacLeish, a smart cabbie with tons of failure in his life, over a ‘perfect’ cop or PI any day. Give me somebody real that I can get behind. I’ve got no time or inclination to read about perfect people who never fuck up. That’s not what novels are for…The noir story should get at the heart of what life really is: It’s complicated, hard, incomplete, unwieldy, exhilarating, disappointing—it’s amazing and horrifying all at once.

Is the antagonist front and centre, or a ghost-like background presence? What’s their worldview?

Like a lot of great mysteries, it’s not clear who or what the protagonist is at the start—that’s one of the great things about this book. The reader goes on a journey of discovery with the main characters and, little by little, the truth is revealed. It’s truly a knot that tangles and tangles and tangles until…it finally comes unraveled. Look, the book is very much about power and how it works. The antagonist(s) here don’t shy from corruption or violence. Are you seeing a thread here? All the great elements of noir and crime fiction, I think. That’s why this is one I wish like hell I’d written.

Cooper will have seen all the worst, and maybe some of the best of humanity in the back of his cabs. Is his cabbie experience layered into the story along with his life’s failures? Does it add to any cynicism he has?

Yep, that’s exactly right. Add to that a love interest who doesn’t want him to drive anymore because he keeps running into violence. I imagine being a cabbie is a lot like being a bartender in a tough bar, but worse. You see everybody, from all strata of society. Of course, nowadays I suppose Cooper would have to be an Uber driver (or is Chicago one of those who has regulated Uber?). But I still think it’s a similar thing. You pick somebody up downtown and you can’t really know what they’re up to. Could be a coed out for a Martini or a drug mule carrying money for a cartel … I mean, really, that’s true. Part of the thing for Cooper, though, is that he could really do anything with his intellect and ability. I’m not sure being a cabbie makes him cynical—rather, he chooses that profession because of who he is. For some reason, it suits him…

The love interest in your own classic, Know Me From Smoke, is integral to your novel. What’s the love interest in Bury it Deep like? Is she as crucial to the plot?

Yes! In Bury it Deep, Cooper has this lady named Diana who is essentially the good angel on his shoulder. She wants him to go back to school, to quit driving a cab because he’ll eventually get shot. That relationship tugs at the heart of who Copper is—to me, Diana serves as a barometer for him. He’s constantly wheeling back and forth between what he should be and what he is. A lot like what happens with Royal and Stella in my book. Sam Reaves does us all one better though. His reporter protagonist falls for a femme fatale type. Not only does Reaves toy with that trope, but he also builds a nuanced romantic relationship for each of his main characters. It’s top stuff, believe me. Now that I think about it, reminds me a lot of Newton Thornburg’s books. In any case, Sam Reaves is one of the masters of the genre.

Mel, the journalist, is after his big story. What does the book say about the profession and the media as a whole?

I think the book says that journalists—no matter where they work or their beat—have to be dedicated to finding the truth. There are a number of times when this guy can give it up. He can walk away and be done with it, but the truth is what really matters to him. Sure, he’s a ‘regular’ reporter trying for that big, big story every journalist wants…But this guy knows there’s something hidden, that he has to keep scrapping. Somewhere, on the other end, there’s a whole web of corruption he needs to expose. And here’s the thing: If he walks away, nobody will be the wiser. Nobody is going to know. Being a journalist, according to my reading of Bury it Deep, is about doing what’s right—and it’s about doing what’s right even when nobody will know. You have to be gutsy, but you have to be ethical. Again, yet another example of Reaves’ ability to craft a nuanced character…

Sam Reaves

Does the character’s past, his failures, push him further on his chase for the story?

I’m not sure it’s his past that pushes him so much as his general intellectual curiosity, his sense of ethics and what’s right, and a more general attraction—quite frankly—to adventure and violence. Some people are simply drawn to and through interesting stories…Copper is one such character. This, for me, goes back to crafting a nuanced character—Reaves creates such a character in Cooper and, as a reader, I’m carried through the story largely by that. It’s not about what’s happening, but who it’s happening to/with…All great books, I think, are really about character. The events/plot are simply a testing ground for character. As novelists/writers, we should always be asking one question: Who are we?

When did you first read Bury it Deep? Is it the book which triggered you to write?

I came across Bury it Deep by pure chance. My first time at Bouchercon, last year, I was sitting in the lounge and sipping coffee. Wondering what the hell to do, to be honest. A guy sits down next to me and introduces himself—turns out, it’s Sam Reaves. He was absolutely gracious, kind, and passionate about crime fiction. Later that weekend, I was in the book room and Bury it Deep caught my eye…I started reading it on the plane ride home—and I finished it over the next couple days. I guess I came across the book the same way I’ve come across a lot of the books I love—pure luck.

So what did trigger you to write?

That’s an interesting question—and the truth is, I just know that I always thought about telling stories. And I was always talking to myself as a kid, making things up, creating characters. I do remember some distinct moments that made me ‘feel’ like a writer. In tenth grade, a girl I knew said she had to write a poem for English class. I asked if I could try—I wrote something vaguely smacking of Metallica, but it was rhythmic and used lots of word play. She said that she wished she could write the way I did. She used the poem for her assignment, so I suppose that also started my life of crime. I should say, I also remember two teachers encouraging me in the Language Arts. One, in eighth grade, said I was a talented reader and writer. Another, in my freshman year of high school, gave me a compliment after I did a reading from Shakespeare for the class. It was his way of saying—I know this now—that I maybe understood the character and play in a way that my classmates didn’t…And when I was a senior in high school, my dad read a heist story I wrote. He pointed at the pages and said, “This, you should do this…And you’ll be alright.” Here I am, working my ass off at a day job and trying to write novels at night. And to little fanfare and acclaim! But what the hell, right? Thanks, dad!

Your dad sounds alright. Do you believe a protagonist has to be likeable?

Does a protagonist need to be likeable? Yes—I think that’s the case, but that doesn’t mean they have to be good or moral or ethical. A great protagonist can be a crook with a sense of humor or a con-man with a charming personality. Or a woman out to snag somebody in some vicious trap. Hell, it doesn’t matter if your protagonist is kind or heroic—all that matters is if a reader can identify with that character or if a reader can invest themselves in what happens to that character. As people, we love to slip into the skin of other people…Even if they’re crooks.

I loved Know Me From Smoke. I’m looking forward to Countdown (thanks for the paperback). What’s next?

Well, I’m proud to say I have another pulp crime novel that’s just been accepted for publication. Can’t offer any hard details, but it’s a brutal one that follows a character I introduce in Countdown. I’m not sure if my books are getting more pulpy over the years, but I do feel I’m getting better as a writer with each book. It’s a real pleasure to be creating a body of work. Other than that, I’ve got another noir novel I’m halfway through on a first draft and an existential noir novella I’m half done with…Just grinding away on the page.

Matt, I can’t wait to tuck in. You’ve been a top guest. Any final words about Bury it Deep, Sam Reaves, and life in general?

Thanks for having me, Jason. Been a helluva pleasure. Famous last words? Why not? I guess I’ll say that I love discovering new writers. It was by pure chance that I discovered Sam Reaves and Bury it Deep. Sometimes, great books find us, you know? I’m about to dig into Pablo D’Stair’s Man Standing Behind. Also got Paul Heatley’s new one, Bad Bastards, headed my way through the mail. If there’s one thing I know, it’s this: There are so many great writers out there. I want to encourage people to branch out, try somebody new—give another writer the chance to surprise you. I don’t care if it’s an older book or a recent release…Give a few of us a shot—you won’t be disappointed.

You can buy Bury it Deep HERE.

You can buy Matt Phillips’ books HERE.

Matt Phillips’ blog is right HERE.

Here are some short stories by Matt Phillips, appetisers for the bigger beasts:

Thoman’s Word published at Shotgun Honey

Role Player published by Gut-Shots/Flash Fiction Offensive

Noir Fiction: Where the Nature of Evil Unravels published at Writer’s Thread

Tess Makovesky on Joel Lane’s From Blue to Black

Tess Makovesky is a fantastic British author whose sly, wicked sense of humour courses through her crime novels. Her Gravy Train is one of my favourite books of last year.

She’s here to talk about Joel Lane’s noir novel, From Blue to Black, which was published back in 2000.

Hi Tess, which book are we talking about?

I’ve just finished re-reading (for the first time in almost twenty years) the noir gem From Blue to Blackby Birmingham author Joel Lane (who sadly died a couple of years ago).

What’s the premise?

The book is set in Birmingham’s alternative music scene in the early 1990s and centres around bass-player David, who joins local indie band Triangle when one of their other members drops out. He falls in love with Triangle’s talented lead singer Karl, but as the band begins to take off, their relationship, and Karl’s mental health, suffer a corresponding tailspin into chaos. Or, as the book’s cover puts it (much more lyrically), “‘From Blue to Black’ is a story of passion, blood and alcohol, broken strings and broken lives – a piercing voyage through our recent musical and political past that cuts to the bone.”

It’s difficult to evoke music through the page without sounding like a Melody Maker journo. How does From Blue to Black manage it?

Hmm, good question. And in a way, I think Joel Lane does make it sound like a Melody Maker journalist – but I also think that was entirely deliberate. The descriptions of the music are less about the emotional response to it (from, say, a listener’s point of view), and more about the techniques of producing tracks and songs and even specific sounds. Which is entirely in keeping with the book’s narrator being a professional musician, and a very technically-minded one at that. So there’s quite a bit of prose that details gigs and recording sessions and drink-fuelled writing sessions in backstreet pubs, all of which comes across as utterly authentic and adds to the raw power of the book.

Joel Lane

Is Karl’s technical-mindedness a key characteristic? Is he in the music world for the fame and fortune, or is music something he just has to do?

Both David and Karl are what you might call musical purists, in it for the sound they want to create rather than any kind of fame. It’s their shared love of style and technique that brings the two of them together, but it also masks the cracks in their relationship and in the whole fabric of the band. Karl is a deeply flawed creative who loves to make music. But he also suffers from terrible stage fright and it’s the conflict between wanting to get his music ‘out there’ and being terrified of performing that helps fuel his eventual breakdown. He reminds me in many ways of Brideshead Revisited’s Sebastian Flyte – or how Sebastian Flyte might turn out if he was transported to the rock-and-roll era.

Where does Karl’s stage fright come from? What kind of performer is he – is he Freddie Mercury, is he The Fall’s Mark E Smith?

I’ve never seen The Fall perform so I went and checked out a couple of video clips on YouTube and yes – Karl is very much at that end of the spectrum. Cold snarling rage rather than Mercury’s flamboyant, almost joyous performances. At least that’s the impression I get. As to his stage fright, I think it’s partly his own personality, his shyness versus his need to get his art ‘out there’ for everyone to see, which causes massive internal conflict (and is probably recognisable to a certain extent to many creative types). But this isn’t the only factor. Karl also suffers from flashbacks and general messed-up-ness thanks to a traumatic event in his teens. I can’t tell you what it is because it’s revealed towards the end of the book and forms an important part of the plot – as well as delivering a terrific, kick-in-the-pants kind of twist. But it’s enough to affect Karl for the rest of his life. And his coping mechanisms – including way too much alcohol, drugs, and withdrawal from everyday life, really don’t help either.

Karl has dominated the conversation so far, but isn’t it David who tells the story? Is David a strong character in his own right?

The whole book is told in first-person point of view from David’s standpoint and he’s the central element, the glue that holds all of the other pieces – and characters – together. He’s not a typical “hero” – he’s a bit weak at times and prefers to let people get on with their own lives rather than getting too involved or too close to anyone. Interestingly, I’m not sure we ever find out why that is, unlike Karl whose motives are much clearer by the end of the book. But David’s essentially a decent guy – drinks too much, sleeps around a bit, but never seems wholly comfortable with the whole sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll scene in the way Karl and some of the minor characters clearly are. And it’s that decency that could well be his downfall. He’s basically too nice to have the drive required both to succeed in the music business, and quite possibly to cope with the volatile Karl.

If I have a gripe with the book it’s that I don’t think there’s quite enough backstory for David. It would be brilliant to know just a little more about him – what makes him tick, why he acts the way he does. He’s quite a passive character and while that gives Karl all the space he needs to shine through the pages, it means David is more of an enigma than I’d like him to be. Then again, this really is the story of Karl as seen through David’s eyes.-

Joel Lane

Does Karl want to be helped, or does he embrace the ‘unhinged reality’ as a means of escape from his demons?

I don’t think he does want help. He certainly doesn’t ask for it, and at one point he literally runs away rather than accept that he might need it. Whether that’s because he doesn’t want people fussing over him, or whether it’s because he thinks he’s not worthy of helping, I’m not sure, even after reading the book twice. Maybe a bit of both. The bombshell Joel Lane drops near the end of the book would certainly make both possible. As to embracing the unhinged reality, Karl takes refuge in drink and – eventually – hard drugs to escape. But they bring demons of their own, so it isn’t the most successful means of getting away from his problems. But that’s typical of noir, isn’t it? That characters (people) find it hard to understand themselves, or to know what they need for the best. They make all those wrong choices, even when presented with the opportunity to make the right ones, and that’s the desperate, achingly enduring appeal of the genre. Because it’s exactly like real life…

You typically think of noir as guns, femme fatales, money. Is From Black to Blue marketed as noir?

It isn’t your typical pulp noir, certainly, but I believe it fits well into the noir genre overall. I looked up the definition of noir online and the Oxford English Dictionary mentions cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity. And From Blue to Black majors on at least two of those – the characters aren’t villains but they really aren’t ‘good guys’ either, and there’s a definite air of fatalism as events slide further and further out of control. Although the book cover doesn’t mention the word ‘noir’ specifically, the blurb and various quotes involve words like ‘jet-black’, ‘disconcerting’, ‘desperation’ and ‘despair’. Without giving too much away, the ending isn’t a particularly happy one and any hope the characters might have had is soon washed away on a tide of broken dreams. And yet the book isn’t a total tragedy; there is still life at the end of it, even if it isn’t the life the characters hoped for. This is really well illustrated by the lyrics from one of Triangle’s songs (also written by Joel Lane), which gave the book its title: The train runs empty down the track Fades with the night From blue to black Wave goodbye to the future It’s never coming back. I do know that Joel Lane himself was passionate about noir, with an extensive, even encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre, and saw himself mainly as a noir writer. From Blue to Black is a great example of how the tenets of noir can be taken and stretched to fit other scenarios that they weren’t necessarily invented for.

Is the novel a variation of the Jekyll and Hyde story? Is Karl the protagonist and the antagonist at the same time?

I’d never really thought of it like that. I guess there are elements of Jekyll and Hyde, but only in the same way that we all have elements of good and bad in us. Mostly, we hide the bad but sometimes it takes over and that’s rather the same with Karl, David and the other characters in the book. However, it’s more subtle than a sudden raging transformation into Hyde or Hulk. Instead the book charts Karl’s gradual descent towards breakdown, with episodes of strangeness, depression, or self-isolation. And what Joel Lane does so well is to make Karl and the others less like characters in a book, and more like complex, richly-imagined and surprisingly real people. Like real-life people they do stupid things, lose their tempers, argue, make up again, love each other and generally rub along with life. And like real people they’re not there to move the plot along or be a cipher for a particular theme or aspect of humanity. They’re just, well, people.

Joel Lane’s The Blue Mask

The novel is set in Birmingham. I know you love Birmingham, but it sounds like the story’s setting mirrors the bleak mental state Karl is in. What’s your take?

I spent over twenty years living in Birmingham and know it pretty well – but I’m not blind to the fact that whilst some parts of the city are surprisingly leafy and prosperous, others are pretty bleak. From Blue to Black is set in various locations around the city including at least one of the greener suburbs (Moseley), and several others that are less salubrious (local clubs and bars, Spaghetti Junction, decaying industrial landscapes in the Black Country). Where Joel Lane excels is in finding the grit and surrealism in even the pleasantest places – and in using them, as you say, to mirror the bleak storyline. The descriptions are remarkably poetic. They grabbed me from the very first paragraph – this one, about Moseley: “A bloodshot moon hung over the tall houses in Salisbury Road, giving faint doubles to the shadows of trees. Across the road, the lights of a housing estate floated in empty air.” Of course, it helps that I was living in Moseley at the time and recognised many of the landmarks. But even when the book moves to places I’m less familiar with, the poetry remains. As does the extraordinary palette of colours, or rather, mostly, the lack of them. Much of the book uses settings that seem bleached of colour, or that reflect the blue and black of the title. Every now and again there’s a sudden flare of vivid colour, often in red or orange – that bloodshot moon, a sunset, a house on fire – to break the monotone. It’s a striking effect, and not one I’ve ever come across before.

Do such descriptions come out of the characters? Some editors think they should – does the descriptiveness take you out of the story even as you admire it?

For me, not really, for a number of reasons. One, the book is in first person point of view so you’re seeing the world through David’s eyes. Then the descriptions, although poetic, aren’t overly long – there’s no sense of the Dan Brown school of using every adjective you can think of, or of the descriptions going on for pages at a time. Two or three lines is about what Joel Lane gives us most of the time, but because it’s such powerful imagery he packs a lot of information into that short space. Where I did find things took me outside the story occasionally was in the track listings of the various gigs the band did. They got rather repetitive and didn’t always seem to add to the story. Once or twice is fine, to give a flavour of what Triangle were playing and how they adapted it to suit different venues/sound systems/audiences, but there were a few too many paragraphs in the vein of “Then we played at…” for my own taste. In the end, though, I think this is down to the reader’s individual preference. I love descriptions of locations, especially if they’re as pared down and evocative as this, but I’ve seen reviews of From Blue to Black that describe it as the most boring book ever. Then again, I’ve seen other reviews that say it “stayed with” the reader longer than anything else they’d read. I’m firmly in the latter camp, but I can see that it wouldn’t be popular with everyone.

Tess Makovesky

Can you imagine what the music sounds like? What’s banging about your head when the tunes kick in?

Oddly enough I don’t really hear the music while I’m reading. Partly I think that’s because I find it hard to mix music with reading or writing anyway. When I write I prefer total silence – or at least nothing that’s going to distract me, like music or voices. And when I read, I’m lost inside the book and very unaware of anything else around me. Plus I think I have a very visual way of responding to what I’m reading – I see the scenes very clearly, but am less aware of sounds, smells and touch. On top of that I’m not actually a big fan of indie/alternative music from the 1990s, so I’ve got very little to fall back on when I try to imagine what it might sound like. If I think of anything it’s probably Joy Division – one of the few bands I know anything about – or perhaps Nirvana, a band that Joel Lane himself mentions in the book a couple of times. None of that affects my enjoyment of the book, though. I’m happy to read the lyrics as a kind of urban poetry, with their own rhythm and “music”, without stopping to think what the guitars, drums and vocals would sound like if I was listening to them in real life.

The book sounds dark. Does a streak of bleak humour run through it?

Very much so. Dare I say, perhaps less than in my own writing, but it’s there. Every so often there’s a wry, dry little comment or line of dialogue, often throwaway, that you could miss if you blink. Often it’s a quiet dig at human foibles or at the more ridiculous side of the music business (‘their haircuts alone were enough to get them signed to Creation.’). There’s also an occasional Brummie in-joke, including someone referring to the band as “Troy Engle”. You kind of have to have lived there, or know what Brummies sound like, to get that one. None of it is laugh-out-loud but it helps to relieve the tension from time to time, and give the reader a quick, sideways smile of understanding. Overall, though, From Blue to Black isn’t a funny book. Most of the narrative is pure noir. And that’s why I envy it, and Joel Lane, for being able to write it, because I struggle to write such dark fiction without the humour creeping in.

Your book, Gravy Train, made me laugh throughout, but some of the stakes terrified me. Do you think humour can dilute a noir novel?

This is a tough one. My first reaction was ‘yes’ but then I paused and thought again. Humour certainly changes the tone of any novel and if there’s too much of it, it probably does dilute the darkness. But it can also be a great way of softening up your audience so that the eventual blow is unexpected and all the more powerful. Tolkien was a master of this technique – he understood that readers mostly can’t stay at the same level of tension throughout a long book. So he interspersed the scary bits with more pastoral or humorous scenes, which made the darker stuff all the more poignant and horrifying. Horror movies often do the same. You’re pottering along, enjoying some minor plot point about the family cat, and then blam!

In the case of From Blue to Black the humour is subtle and scattered through the pages so it’s never enough to water down the bleakness. And in my own writing I like to think my humour is dark enough to point up the hopelessness rather than detracting from it. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I…?

Who do you picture as Karl in a TV series/film?

I tend not to picture characters all that strongly when I’m reading, but if I was pushed I’d say someone who can do quiet intensity, even suffering, without necessarily having the flashy good looks of a big star. David Tennant would be a strong possibility but is perhaps a bit too well known. Others that spring to mind are John Simm or Stephen Graham, or perhaps a young Liverpool actor called Tom Hughes. I’ve seen in a couple of very different roles and he was excellent in both so he clearly has the necessary range – and he’d be closer to Karl’s age during the book, too.

You’ve just finished a new novel. Can you talk about it? If so, what is it, what’s the style?

Hmm, I think “finished” is a little optimistic! But yes, I have indeed written the first draft of a new book, Embers of Bridges, which is similar in many ways to my most recent novel Gravy Train. Both are set in Birmingham, both feature petty criminals, and both are what you might call ‘comédie noir’. In the new book the central theme is loyalty and honour among thieves – or lack of it. Brummie van driver Mickey has been mates with Gaz since primary school. Along with their pals Charlie and Pete, and Gaz’s younger sister Trudy, they formed the Live Hard Die Young gang and spend their spare time robbing newsagents, off-licences and jewellery stores. Until things start to unravel, with job after job going wrong and the gang members falling out with each other. Gaz drags Mickey into one last job on a warehouse in the famous Jewellery Quarter, and suggests a bizarre getaway on a canal boat. But when one of them makes a shocking discovery, it leads to a dark – and watery – conclusion for both of them! As with Gravy Train I had a lot of fun writing it, but it still needs hammering into shape and I’m working on that (with a very large hammer) as we speak.

I loved Gravy Train, so I’m looking forward to this one. Sounds like you’re a pantser?

Hey, thanks for the kind comments – it makes all the hard work worthwhile when people enjoy my books! And yes, guilty as charged on the ‘seat of the pants’ stuff. I tried planning a book out once, and used up so much of my creative energy on a complete list of every chapter and its contents that I had none left to actually write the thing! So now I tend to plunge straight in. I do need a few things to be in place first, though. Most important is the main character(s), plus a rough idea of what the main plot will be. In Gravy Train that idea was a bag of stolen money changing hands many times before it ended up in the local canal, while in Raise the Blade it was the concept of people finding the victims of a serial killer and using the knowledge for their own ends. I also need at least a vague feel for the ending I’m aiming for. And I find it hard to get going unless I have a title, or a working title at least. These days I try to use Pink Floyd lyrics for my titles (‘Raise the Blade’ is from Brain Damage; ‘Gravy Train’ from Have a Cigar, and the new book ‘Embers of Bridges’ is from High Hopes). So before I start any major work on a book you can usually find me poring over track listings on the internet, looking up something that will suit the tone of the book. So far, Messrs Gilmour, Wright and Waters haven’t let me down!

Tess, you’ve been great. Any final words?

Only to say thanks, Jason for such a fascinating, in-depth set of questions, which really got me scratching my head. Thanks too to the late Joel Lane for writing such a fantastic book – and to everyone on here for putting up with me rambling on for so long! And if by any chance you want to look for my own books, you can find all the details at my website at

You can get a feel for Tess’ style with a few of her short stories. Try these out:

The Floor’s the Limit (published by Flash Fiction Offensive).

Bang to Rights (published by Punk Noir Magazine).

Trick of the Trade (published by Spelk Fiction).

Stuff I Wish I’d Written … Travis Richardson on Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280

Travis Richardson writes hard-edged noir, as you can see from his work at places such as Shotgun Honey and Flash Fiction Offensive. He is a Derringer finalist and loves a bit of Jim Thompson. Welcome, Travis.

Which book are we talking about?

Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson

Dark, nihilistic noir. What’s the appeal for you?

I like that the story goes beyond noir. It has social commentary about small town values and a lot of twisted humor. You get the perspective of the sheriff of Pottsville who seems to be the stupidest man in the county, but slowly you start to see a darker, hidden intelligence.

What does the sheriff aim his intelligence at? What’s his world view?

It seems that Sheriff Nick Corey just wants to get re-elected, but he is a master of manipulating people who think they are smarter than him. His world view is that he is superior to everybody else.

For what purpose does he want the office?

He would tell you it’s the only job he knows to do – without the sheriff’s position he’d be homeless. But really the position gives him the power to see all that happens in the county, the authority to carry a gun, and the feeling of immunity when he uses it.

Travis Richardson

Does Corey epitomize Thompson’s view of the police? Of authority overall?

That’s a great question. Thompson’s father had been a sheriff in Anadarko, Oklahoma, and moved his family out of town under the cover of night after he was accused of corruption. He did not see his father for a couple of years as he went into hiding in Mexico. Later in life when Thompson was in his twenties working alone on the top of an oil derrick, a deputy drove up and told him he could kill the soon-to-be-novelist and nobody would accuse the deputy. That incident chilled Thompson and became the genesis of The Killer Inside Me. Overall I think Thompson saw the law/authority as people having unchecked (or immense) power that could easily lead to corruption (and inflation of sociopathic egos).

That is frightening. You mentioned the novel’s social commentary. How do the 1280 people of Pottsville treat and react to Corey?

They see him as an imbecile, but are fine with the sheriff because he won’t get in their way if they do something outside of the law. The population of Pottsville operates like a mob. Unfounded rumors can lead to violence and quick mistrust, which Nick uses. The people are also racist, and while amoral, Nick interferes during the beating of black man by making an absurd argument about using city property for abuse while allowing the victim to escape. Nick knows the messed up values of the population. He doesn’t try to change them, but manipulates the people in the moment and doles out punishment later. In some ways the book comes across as an absurd farce, but all of this is happening today. (Social media outrage, people believing outright lies, etc.)

The book was published in 1964, the same year as the Civil Rights Act. Is the movement weaved into Pop. 1280?

Great question. It’s not. Pottsville is so isolated (Potts County is the smallest in Texas) and the people are set in their ways with strong prejudices, which they don’t mind voicing out loud. Even though Nick Corey uses the people’s sentiments to get to his ends, while being intelligent enough not to believe it, he is also a cold-blooded killer with a growing god complex. He will kill the people he saves if they become trouble for him later on. The book exploits the ugliness of small towns, but it is through the eyes of an even darker (and misleading) narrator.

Jim Thompson led an interesting life, including procuring high grade drugs and marijuana for guests at the Texas hotel where he worked as a bellboy. You could say he had an amoral view of life. Is Corey (and Lou Ford from The Killer Inside Me) an extreme extension of the author?

Hmm. I’m not sure. For one thing Thompson was an alcoholic and I could be wrong, but I don’t think either Luke Ford or Corey drink much, if at all. They are surrounded by booze and others drink it to their peril. It’s as if they want a sober mind to have the edge on everybody around them. Thompson never seemed to have that edge in life. He scrambled to keep his head above water, working any job he could find – and his books, while admired, were never bestsellers. He even got screwed over by Stanley Kubrick when he wrote the screenplays for The Killing and Paths of Glory. If anything, Corey and Ford, are antithetical to Thompson: they get what they want and have control. Thompson had neither. Perhaps he wanted those qualities, but felt you needed to be a sociopath to have them.

Jim Thompson

Corey’s clearly amoral in what seems an amoral town. Does he have any redeeming characteristics?

As a reader, it’s fun to see him expose all of the small town prejudices and for a while it seems like he has a moral code under his bumpkin veneer. But by the end he’s lost any morality as his ego inflates to the point he believes he’s above man’s laws. He’s like a trickster god/spirit in fables, but without supernatural abilities.

If Corey is the protagonist, who’s his antagonist? What’s their motive?

Corey has several antagonists including: Pimps who berate Corey because their payoffs entitle them. A condescending neighboring sheriff who believes he can teach the slow-witted Corey through humiliation – with a literal ass-kicking. A do-gooder running for sheriff to end corruption in Pottsville. A hateful wife who uses Corey’s position and “ignorance” to carry on an affair with her supposed half-witted brother. A wife-beating drunk who causes trouble in town and beats Corey’s mistress out of self-loathing. Two mistresses who don’t know about each other, but both have explosive personalities that could undo Corey if they find out.

There are several competing conflicts flying around that Corey has to juggle and with each victory he feels more powerful.

How does the do-gooder come off? The town and its sheriff sound so venal you’d think the principled man would be someone to root for. Or does he rub you up the wrong way?

Not well. He’s hardly seen as Corey tells the district attorney/store owner that he’ll defend his opponent’s honor against all the vicious rumors going. When pressed about what they are, Corey says he’ll not repeat them. The populace speculates, each rumor worse than the next, and soon the do-gooder is run out of town. Corey acts as if he’s defending him the entire time.

Erik Pruitt called your work “bleak, uncompromising and funny.” How deep has Thompson hooked his claws into your writing?

He has to a degree. Definitely the twisted humor, overall darkness, and social commentary – without preaching (i.e., show people’s ugly prejudices without stating it is wrong.) I identify with him being an Okie and working several manual jobs before writing. The one thing I can’t do well is write sociopaths and psychopaths like he can. I usually write people with consciences, who make bad or detrimental choices. Often they are screw-ups, tripping over themselves, or misguided in a moment of emotion. Thompson wrote several characters who are, or believe, they are in control (perhaps projecting his desire for a quality he didn’t have?) I feel Thompson’s overall character psychology is stronger than mine and it is something to aspire towards. Also, some of his books build up to a strong finale, but the concluding sentences are more philosophical than a punctuated climax. I don’t have the nerve to try to pull that off.

How important is humour when reading and writing noir? Can you give an example from Pop. 1280?

It’s a fun thing to add, but not necessary. It’s also tricky to do right because it can derail the tone of a story. Humor can also add or alleviate tension in a scene. One way to is have a straight character, stressed out of his mind in an absurd situation, each choice more frustrating for the character, but funny for the reader. Another is to have a character with funny lines or perspectives that are out there. Corey’s first person narration is long-winded, but funny in his euphemisms and sideways approaches to issues. An example might be the district attorney/storekeeper asking Corey why he doesn’t act honest and courageous if he wants to win an election.

I shook my head, and said I couldn’t “I just plain can’t, Robert Lee, and that’s a fact.”

“No?” He leaned back in his chair. “And just why can’t you, pray tell?”

“For a couple of reasons,” I said. “For one thing, I ain’t real brave and hard-workin [I hit return instead of apostrophe.] “For one thing, I ain’t real brave and hard-workin’ and honest. For another, the voters don’t want me to be.”

And just how do you figure that?”

“They elected me, didn’t they? They keep electing me.”

Later in the same scene with Robert Lee, Corey talks about what a great man his opponent Sam Gaddis is.

“I know Sam’s as good a man as they come. That’s why I can’t understand how all these stories about him got started.”

“Well, that’s fine. I–what?” He stared at me startled. “What stories?”

“You mean you ain’t heard?” I said.

“Of course, I haven’t! Now just what are these stories?”

I made as if I was about to tell him, and then I stopped and shook my head. “If you ain’t heard ’em, you sure ain’t gonna hear ’em from me. No, siree!”

He took a quick look around and leaned forward, voice lowered. “Tell me, Nick. I swear I won’t repeat a word you say.”

Nick continues to refuse to say anything and Robert Lee starts asking around, setting off the rumors. It’s absurd and silly and yet it works with violence in between.

Does the proposed film adaptation of the book excite or scare you?

Mostly excited. Yorgos Lanthimos wrote and directed one of the weirdest and disturbing domestic dramas with Dogtooth. It is about parents keeping their adult children isolated in a permanent state of arrested development. They have no concept of the outside world. The movie was bizarre, with dark humor throughout. He created that environment in a matter of minutes. I feel he’d be able to get the social commentary of Pop. 1280 along with the multiple plot points that Corey has to deal with. There is a lot that Thompson wrote about in Pottsville that is appropriate in today’s political climate.

There are some books like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian that I wouldn’t want to see on film, the savagery is too much. The theme is evil consuming everything until only the worst survives. I didn’t care for the movie, The Killer Inside Of Me as it dwelled on the violence of Luke Ford and not the person he’d been – helping out neighbors, patient arrests, etc. – before the psychopath emerges. But don’t think anybody needs to remake TKIM either. Let stay it as a book.

Yorgos Lanthimos

What do you think Thompson would make of the world as it is now?

He’d shake his head and wonder how Texan sensibilities made it to the national stage – pomp over substance, grand statements without evidence, using emotion and prejudice to sway a nation. He might even say I warned you about this evil.

Your short story collection, Bloodshot and Bruised, has had high praise from top Crime writers Jordan Harper, Hilary Davidson and Eryk Pruitt. Do you have plans to write longer works?

I hope so. I have 5-6 manuscripts that are in various stages and outlines for more. Hoping I can have something finished and in good shape by the end of the year.

That’s a ton. How do you keep each straight when you’re writing? Do they bleed into each other?

I try to make the stories distinct and different from each other. Often with unique characters that can’t be interchanged, tones specific to that book, and locations that are different. I have quartet of noir novellas set in the West Texas town of Tarwater. While the town may be a grade above Pottsville, it’s not by much. Three are finished, but the finale is killing me. The opening is strong and I know the end, but the middle is a mess. I wrote the sequel to my first novella LOST IN CLOVER – set in Kansas with a man getting over survivor’s guilt – called POLICING CLOVER, but hesitated sending it out as there was a lot of police work which I’m afraid of getting wrong. I started to change the location to Oklahoma, based on my home town, and start fresh. I began a Western last year where a marshal tries to bring justice for a transvestite murdered by a celebrated murderer. (This has Pop. 1280 themes.)

I’ve written a few comic stories. One is set in the near future after a big earthquake hits LA and a C-list actor wakes up from a coma to become a messiah. I started a second person account of a sidekick to an 80s super-slick cop, making fun of action tropes.

I also started to reconfigure a my first detective novel from third to first-person. I wanted to avoid this, but it might need to be this way to work right.

Finally, I made a 15 page outline to extend a short story into a Don Winslow-esque thriller. The problem is that the story might need to be told in 2 parts. In between, I write short stories. My wife is pushing me to focus on one novel this year. Hopefully I can.

Much to look forward to, then. Here’s to your wife keeping you on the straight and narrow.

Travis, you’ve been a great guest. Any last words on Pop. 1280?

These were great, insightful questions. I’d say, that Thompson isn’t for everyone, but between the brutal scenes, uncomfortable dialogue, and overall chaos, is an exploration of truth. And it isn’t pretty.

Thank you, Jason. These were very thoughtful questions. I enjoyed digging deep for the answers.

Read on:

The Jim Thompson revival.

5 Questions with Travis Richardson5 Questions with Travis Richardson

Here are some Travis Richardson short stories to bite into:

Here’s to Bad Decisions: Red’s Longneck Hooch at Shotgun Honey

A Misunderstanding at Flash Fiction Offensive

You can buy Travis Richardson’s work at Amazons US and UK.

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