Kristopher Triana conceives of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he takes it to an extreme most of us would never imagine possible. A Fine Evening In Hell is a tense, character-driven thriller that explores the lengths we’ll go to survive when life has taken a detour down a dark road into real-life terror. Heather and Evan couldn’t have dreamt just how awful their night would be when they snuck away to the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse for sex. Not only was the sex itself disappointing, but they soon find themselves caught in the middle of a dispute between criminals and the dirty cops hunting them down. Their attempt to find a secluded place for intimacy will lead them down a path with disastrous and deadly consequences. Triana does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life, fleshing each out, and making them feel as human as anyone. There are no two-dimensional throwaway characters and no bland ciphers onto whom the reader can project themselves. We’re meant to know these people, to love and hate them as the story dictates, and to feel an empathetic connection with them–even when we may not want to. Kristopher Triana displays a versatility of style that is astounding, bringing his understanding of horror and visceral human terror to the all-too-real conditions of this story, and forcing us to feel the chill of that Northeastern climate as we’re transported along with Heather.
Ash Ericmore’s Daddy confirms that the Smalls brothers came by it all honestly, everything from their knack for stumbling ass-backward into situations they’d have sooner avoided to their peculiar sense of nobility and morality. Between Mumma and Daddy, we’re forced to admit that the Smalls siblings turned out as well as could be reasonably expected. When film buff and criminal, Daddy Smalls, is offered a job driving a truck filled with drugs up North, he’s more than happy to oblige. It’s only after he learns that he’s transporting something entirely different that he’s driven to teach the buyer a lesson. Quick-witted, unflappable, and prepared for violence, Daddy will need to call on all of his resources–including that borderline supernatural luck that the whole Smalls clan benefits from–as he discovers himself face-to-face with a sadistic, monstrous, and perverse opponent in a house designed to prohibit escape. And yet again, somehow the Eastern Europeans are involved. They’re like cockroaches. If Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie had taken a stab at writing a script inspired by either the Saw or Collector series, this is approximately what Ash Ericmore has channeled in crafting this exciting installment in the ongoing Smalls adventures.
You can purchase all of the Smalls Family stories by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below:
It begins with an illegal street race in a virtually empty, forgotten corner of Virginia. With a thundering rumble of engines breaking the silence of the cool night, Beauregard “Bug” Montage pushes his Duster to victory. The winnings from this one race will be enough for Bug to keep his garage open for another month, but the arrival of a couple of fake police officers shatters any hope he had of keeping himself afloat. With bills piling up, his loan on the garage past due, unplanned expenses arising, and the business he and his cousin, Kelvin, used to count on diverted to a competitor’s garage, Bug finds himself in a desperate situation. He and his wife had both hoped he could put his former life behind him, where his skills as a mechanic and his skills behind the wheel had been instrumental in making him a wheelman as capable as his father before him. But when legitimate avenues fail him, Bug feels compelled to look for alternatives. The unexpected arrival of a former associate could be fortuitous, or it could lead to disaster, and greater trouble than Bug anticipates, but with the clock ticking, what choice does he have? S. A. Cosby provides a gripping narrative of high stakes and high speed, propelling the reader through a southern noir tale that never lets off the gas until it reaches the end of the road. Populated with characters who feel as real as anyone, Blacktop Wasteland is–at its heart–a study on identity and the conflict between who we are vs. who we want to be. It’s a story about the struggle of escaping one’s past and inherited behaviors, while the whole world seems dead set on forcing everything into that mold. Sure, this is a heist story, but there’s more to it than that. Blacktop Wasteland will not disappoint readers who are searching for a thrilling crime novel, or gearheads searching for a book that lovingly captures details of both the world under the hood and behind the wheel, but it should also appeal to those seeking an engrossing character study. Adam Lazarre-White’s narration couldn’t be more perfect if the book had been written with his voice in mind. He deftly tackles the emotion and depth of the characters while lending a smooth baritone delivery of the magnificent prose laid out by Cosby. I knew what to expect after listening to the equally fantastic audiobook for Razorblade Tears, and yet I was still stunned by just how amazing these two men managed to create something hauntingly beautiful when working together.
Setting the stage and whetting the appetite for his upcoming novel, Addicted To the Dead, Shane McKenzie’s Like A Brother provides readers with a tantalizing glimpse of a world where the dead don’t stay dead and organized crime is going strong–perhaps stronger than ever before. We join Donnie, a member of Sal’s crew, just after another crime family interrupted a funeral and spirited away Calico and the object of the funeral, Beauty. Sal is planning to attack, and take back the people who were taken from him. But his enemies aren’t done yet. Barely surviving the bloodbath that ensues, Donnie struggles to reach his family and the families of the others who’d just been murdered, but he might be too late. Will Donnie have the strength to take revenge and perform the rescue that Sal’s crew had intended before they were all but wiped out? Will he ever see his friend–his almost brother–Calico again? McKenzie introduces us to a world of casual, excessive violence and a thriving black market built on the nourishment provided by an unsavory meat supply with unique characteristics. After reading this story, you’ll surely be addicted as well.
You can pick this up for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
Una McCormack brings a new voice to the Firefly series of novels. She seamlessly slips into the supplemental literature with Carnival just as effectively as those previously written by James Lovegrove and Tim Lebbon. McCormack’s foray into the Firefly universe introduces us to a future analog of Las Vegas in Neapolis, an oasis of luxury and fortune in the middle of the desolate, desert world of Bethel. Hired for a legitimate security job, Mal and the crew are expected to escort a shipment of valuable minerals to the dock where they’re to be loaded up and shipped off-world. As one should expect, things don’t go according to plan, and the shipment is hijacked. We’re treated to numerous, more intimate stories within the larger tale of Carnival, as small groups of Serenity’s crew experience adventures, both exciting and illuminating. Readers are likely thrilled to learn more about Simon’s life before he rescued River from The Alliance, exploring some of his time studying to be a surgeon. We also witness more of Shepherd Book’s secret talents from the past he prefers to keep shrouded in mystery. There’s high stakes gambling, human trafficking, political and social upheaval, and all the wit and charm you’d expect from the Firefly characters getting mixed up in these things. James Anderson Foster again brings the narrative to life with his excellent grasp of the nuance and cadence of the characters. I’d be hard-pressed to listen to a Firefly audiobook that wasn’t narrated by Foster unless it had the full-cast providing their character narrations, but he’s the next best thing.
If you’ve been following my reviews at all, you know how much I adore Ash Ericmore’s writing and especially the sordid tales associated with the Smalls Family. To say I was pleased when Ericmore indicated there would be more to come after he’d concluded the stories of the seven Smalls brothers with Candyboy’s agricultural escapades would be an extreme understatement. With Valentine, we’re fully introduced to their cousin Marian. Babysitting Backy for Adam (Bliss) becomes quite the adventure when a group of Scottish criminals force their way into the house and leave with Valentine’s charge, hoping to take something of importance to Adam. Unfortunately for them, Valentine is no less prone to violence and impulsive behavior than the other Smalls we’ve met. Physical torture, superhero antics, excessive violence, a reptile ruckus, and a big rig brouhaha ensues as Valentine tracks down the twice-stolen baby, hoping to return him home before Adam is any the wiser. As with Ericmore’s other criminal capers, this story is non-stop, full-tilt excitement from the first line to the conclusion. You can’t be disappointed when you’re delving into the world of the Smalls clan, it’s simply not an option.
You can purchase this title as well as the other Smalls Family stories from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
The Foreword provided by Patrick C. Harrison III accurately captures the most impactful component of Chris Miller’s stories collected in Shattered Skies, suspense. There is an underlying sense of suspense to these tales, sometimes bordering on dread and other times sweeping the reader away with excitement, but ever-present just the same. Combining that anticipation and tension with masterful storytelling, Miller has assembled an amazing cross-section of what he’s capable of as a writer. Instead of delving into each of the stories, as I often do, I’m choosing to focus on the handful that left the most lasting impression on me. This is not to say that anything is lacking in the others, just that I’m going to be spoiling things in small ways, and I’d prefer to avoid doing so with everything in this collection. Kicking everything off with 10-35 At First United Bank, Miller thrusts readers into an all-too-plausible sort of horror as an elderly bank security guard finds himself caught up in circumstances he can’t control as he desperately tries to save the lives of those he loves. The bank heist trope receives a refreshingly sincere treatment that’s sure to be heartbreaking for readers. Behind Blue Eyes was a story I’d already thoroughly enjoyed when I read And Hell Followed, an anthology of the end times. Miller’s portrait of a world going progressively more mad with each pressure wave of the horns blasting to signify the end is something that propels us toward a conclusion that feels simultaneously unfair and fitting. This one is a story of guilt and remorse over the way little things can have a profound and lasting impact on our lives, amplified in the recollection. An attempt to relax with a house full of family transforms into a confrontation with a looming and mysterious terror enveloping the protagonist’s world in Horror On Lonesome Lane. Discovering what awaits on the other side has rarely seemed this awful and sinister. Road Kill Gods provides us with a glimpse into what might be required of us to hold nature at bay as we carelessly and callously slaughter our way through our lives. Unwilling to accept the price to be paid, will our protagonist release a wave of horror upon the whole world? As a child, there was no one in my family with whom I spent more of my time than my grandfather. In my case, it was my maternal grandfather rather than my paternal, but that doesn’t change the way Miller devastated me when I was reading Farewell. I was lucky enough to be in my 20s before my maternal grandfather passed away, and I can only imagine how much worse it would’ve been if he’d gone when I was much younger. Farewell is a touching and heartbreaking story, but it’s also a story of how tragedy can sometimes bring families closer and establish new roles for us as we seek to fill the void left in someone’s absence. A Magnificent View brings us back to the same event from Behind Blue Eyes, or a similar enough event that we can assume they might be the same. Forced to witness the world collapsing into chaos from miles above the surface, a lone astronaut measures his life by oxygen percentage, knowing that he might still be the last survivor of the human race when all is said and done. Wrapping up this collection with the M. Ennenbach co-authored Neon Sky was an excellent choice. We experience another story that, at its core, is about family and the risks we’ll take to save them. We’re gifted with another tale of a heist gone wrong, this one in a near-future cyberpunk dystopia. Fast-paced and endlessly exciting, Neon Sky is a fascinating juxtaposition from the somber tone of 10-35 At First United Bank. Miller and Ennenbach deliver a thrill ride populated by police drones, horrifying machines that keep the city functioning, an army of mafia killers, hackers, and confusing firearms.
Shattered Skies is a finalist on the ballot for the 2022 Splatterpunk Awards to take place at KillerCon Austin in August of 2022.
There is no question why S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears made it to many national publications’ best of 2021 lists. This novel rests near the top of my list of best titles published in 2021 as well, especially when I focus on non-horror titles. 2021 was a good year for crime and suspense literature. Stephen King released Billy Summers, Kristopher Triana released And the Devil Cried, and S. A. Cosby released the absolute masterpiece Razorblade Tears. Neither Ike nor Buddy Lee were great fathers when their sons were alive. Between recurring stints in prison and their prejudices about the fact that the boys were gay, in large part informed by antiquated perspectives on what it meant to be a man, the two men had driven substantial wedges between themselves and the sons they loved with reservations. It was only after the two young men were murdered that either father allowed themselves to embrace the sons they’d shown far too little affection when they were alive. Isiah and Derek, the interracial married sons, are like ghosts at the periphery of the tale Cosby weaves for us. They haunt the two men we come to admire, despite all of their faults, at the core of this novel. Had Ike and Buddy Lee been able to overcome their ingrained bigotry while the boys had been alive, the two would have met years before the funeral, but that was not who the two men were. It turns out that the meeting of these two vastly different–yet strangely similar–men would be a fateful occasion that would lead to more bloodshed than either of the men could anticipate. As the police investigation into Isiah and Derek’s deaths stalls out, Buddy Lee approaches Ike with a proposition that the two of them might have better luck taking matters into their own hands. Unraveling the mystery behind the brutal murder of the boys will force the two ex-cons to confront their pasts, their preconceived notions, and their concepts of love as the trail leads them through Hell and back before bringing them closer to home than they could’ve imagined. The regret and retribution at the core of this book are at turns heartbreaking and viscerally satisfying. Most important, Cosby doesn’t shoehorn in any ersatz redemption for Ike and Buddy Lee because both men are so damaged and broken that redemption, in the sense that many writers would define it, simply wouldn’t make sense. That is not to say there’s no redemption here; there is redemption in these pages, but it’s the hollow sort that arises from the transformations coming far too late for it to make any difference. Witty dialogue, well-crafted characters, and realistic portrayals of race relations, homophobia, and the difficulty associated with escaping a criminal past fill this novel with so much depth and honesty that it would be impossible to convey in a review. All I can say is that anyone delving into this book will come out the other end with an understanding that they didn’t have when going in. Adam Lazarre-White’s narration for the audiobook is phenomenal. The additional character he brings to both Ike and Buddy Lee with his delivery of their dialogue is something that weighs heavily in favor of the audiobook edition of this novel because there’s such life and depth added to the characters with that extra texture.
Billy Summers is, in my opinion, the best book Stephen King’s written in a great many years. It also stands out as being one of the best non-horror books of 2021, probably of the past few years at the very least. I’m not one of those to denigrate King just because he’s King; there’s a reason he’s perhaps the best-selling horror author of all time. He knows what he’s doing, even if I sometimes question his ability to stick the landing concerning his endings. Botched endings aside, most of his oeuvre is pretty well stellar, and even the material that hasn’t aged well is still worth diving into. With Billy Summers, while there are passing references to supernatural forces within the world (commentary on The Overlook Hotel), King has made what I consider to be his most pronounced deviation from the realm of horror and the supernatural. Beneath the surface, this novel has a lot to say about the subjective nature of morality, the fluidity of identity and self-identity, the importance of memory, and the relationships we develop in our lives. None of that overshadows the surface-level compelling narrative of Billy and Alice. Billy is an almost unnaturally skilled killer. While he’s an expert with firearms, he’s written with such humanity and depth that he never crosses the line into being a caricature of the action heroes from film and television. Highly literate, prone to in-depth analysis of both himself and those around him, and always planning, Billy has nevertheless immersed himself within a character he refers to as his “dumb self” when interacting with the criminals for whom he acts as a shooter. Providing his employers with a false sense of confidence derived from apparent superiority has allowed Billy to avoid being perceived as a threat, and it’s potentially kept him alive through the years. When Billy accepts what he imagines to be one last job, he’s provided with a long-term identity that brings to the surface a dream he’d never expected to pursue. As time passes and Billy immerses himself deeper within the fictional identity, he begins noticing some disturbing signs that everything might not be as smooth as expected when the time comes to complete the job. Thankfully for Billy, he’s much smarter and more capable than the people who hired him. As Murphy’s Law takes over and anything that can go wrong does go wrong, Billy finds himself in a complex paternal relationship with a damaged young woman. As they help one another heal, Billy learns that he’s still got one last job to complete, and it’s far more dangerous than the one he’d signed up for. The pacing is superb, and the balance of character study with narrative as we find ourselves led by King to the conclusion of the tale is about as perfect as one could hope to experience. Paul Sparks expertly tackles the audiobook narration, thoroughly capturing the different sides of Billy as he slips from identity to identity throughout the story. He additionally captures the secondary characters well enough that there’s never any doubt who we’re hearing in the dialogue. Sparks exhibits fantastic cadence as he guides us along the path King has carved for us to follow.
The release of Kristopher Triana’s And the Devil Cried is one of those examples of strangely serendipitous timing. It serves as an odd juxtaposition with Stephen King’s Billy Summers. Both stories are about men who became involved with organized crime after committing a murder during their youth and enlisting with the military. That is, of course, where the similarities end, as the characters themselves couldn’t be more different. Triana excels in crafting unlikeable characters. His true skill is in developing these characters who manage to be entirely captivating precisely because of how unlikeable they are. Jackie is a prime example of that. Committing his first murder at the age of 17 for no better reason than greed and bitterness over the good fortune of the victim, Jackie never strives to be a better person. After his time in the Army, Jackie never adjusts to civilian life, and he gets arrested for an attempted armed robbery. The story picks up as he’s being released and reacquainting himself with bad people he met while on the inside. As the story unfolds, you find yourself wishing he’d never been released, but there wouldn’t be much of a book if that were the case. Misogynistic, abusive, sexist, violent, bigoted, and fundamentally heartless, there’s not much about Jackie that resembles a human being, and that’s what makes him an excellent protagonist for this particular story. While this isn’t one of Triana’s extreme horror or splatterpunk tales, he brings those sensibilities to the pulp crime genre with a character so devoid of decency that he’s almost a caricature of what one might expect a hardened criminal to be. There are components of this story that are difficult to read. I’d suggest those are notably Jackie’s treatment of homosexuals in prison and his unabashed fixation on young girls, but it’s worth sticking it out to the end. Triana showcases a talent for writing hardboiled pulp crime that transcends the genre conventions. It’s a little bit Scarface, a little bit The Godfather, and all Triana. While it’s not my favorite of his books, it’s well worth reading and it displays a side of Triana as an author that I’d never witnessed previously. It’s encouraging to see him stepping outside of his comfort zone and exploring new ground, and that makes me curious about what he’ll have in store for us next.