Skinner by Charlie Huston


Charlie Huston
Mulholland Books

Charlie Huston is a master of the medium.

In his Hank Thompson trilogy, Huston strips the flesh fromf mayhem-fiction as an ex-baseball player and ex-barfly becomes a force of nature as he rips across the US leaving blood stained streets and a salted earth in his wake.

In the Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death, Huston pens my 3rd favorite novel (following Of Mice and Men and Snowcrash). In this novel, Huston switches from a thrill-ride of bloody carnage to professional slacker Webster Fillmore who mops up human remains for Clean Team crime scene cleaners while avoiding his own emotional wounds.

The Joe Pitt series is about a vampire detective whose self- destructive streak is made mute by his immortality. It’s an innovative series and the best well-written alternative to the ebbing tide of vampire lore.

In Shotgun Rule, Huston creates a compelling look into the dysfunction and horror of suburban life in the 1980’s. I’d be a flat out liar if I didn’t admit to tearing up a few times during this novel about several friends who steal a bag of  crank and end up unleashing Hell upon their friends and family.

Charlie Huston has shown, over the course his novels that he is in no way a one trick pony. His control over plot twists, emotional gut punches, and character development, is far and away better than most of the novels kicking it on the book shelves of contemporary fiction. So it is with no surprise that his latest outing, Skinner, should be not only a rabid page-turner but a move from his already impressive body of work.

Skinner is a high-tech trans-global spy-thriller that grabs your full attention ties it to a chair and pulls a Clockwork Orange on it. Skinner, the character, works in the field of ‘asset protection’. He excels at protection and ensuring the that the cost of acquisition is greater than its value. For example, any attack on one of Skinner’s assets will be dealt with so severely it was never worth the initial attack. Thanks to this mission statement and Skinner’s repeated application of it, he isn’t typically messed with. Until his handlers decide he has become too good. Now, after several years in exile, Skinner is forced back into the game to protect a technophile while she hunts down the perpetrators of a cyber-assault on America.

Skinner’s reappearance and ‘old-school’ methods are a brilliant POV into the world and workings of Jae, the computer savant. Huston bridges the gap between spy-fiction and cutting edge techno thrillers in a manner that alienates no one. And this bridge holds allowing him to a freedom to integrate real-world tech with things that are only 5 minutes down the road. In an age of thinned out content and music which is ‘tinny, sleight, cranked up, always referencing the past…” Huston’s prose cut through the noise and punch into the future.

Someone had to do it.

I’m glad it was Charlie Huston.

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls
Lauren Beukes
Mulholland Books
Release Date: June 4, 2013


“Suffer you words, suffer your eyes, suffer your hands
Suffer your interpretation of what it is to be a man
I’ve got some skin
You want to look in”
Suggestions, Fugazi


For some it’s where the heart is. For others it’s where they hang their hat. And it has been said there is no place like it. But for Harper Curtis home is a decade-jumping abode demanding he pay rent by eliminating ‘The Shining Girls’. Curtis is a vile remorseless killer whose serpentine sense of self is akin to killer HH Holmes.

Kirby Mizrachi, the only survivor of Curtis’ time traveling murder spree, refuses to be anyone’s victim. Caustic and quick-witted, it is easy to immediately empathize with Kirby. Armed with keen intellect and a position as newspaper intern, she begins the hunt for her attacker.

The Shining Girls isn’t just a ‘clever’ sci-fi time traveler tale to be tossed away. Wrapped within author Lauren Beukes’ captivating prose is a look at the true horror of violence against women. The shining girls Curtis hunts are women whose potential as reformers, doctors, and history-makers literally make them shimmer with power. These powerful women are threats to both the House and to the misogynistic Curtis who feels compelled to erase them from history.

This is Beukes’ third novel and it is right at home amidst the speculative fiction of Margret Atwood and Harlan Ellison. The science doesn’t receive much explanation and folks looking for time-travel rationale will have to contend themselves with ‘just because’ and ‘it has something to do with making historical circles’. Here, time travel becomes allegorical as Bukes uses it to take us through decades of women being erased through history: The Shining Girls is about a survivor coming to terms with living and giving voice to those who were not as fortunate.

The most impressive part of The Shining Girls is the subplot structuring Kirby’s tutelage as an investigative journalist. Here we see what makes her character shine. The moments where Kirby pours through news clippings, finds a spot in the boy’s club of sports reporting, and asks victims for their stories prove to be the most compelling and create a blanket of realism that give Beukes’ the freedom to leave more sci-fi aspects dangling. Kirby is bold and sarcastic without ever making her feel like a caricature.

The speculative fiction of The Shining Girls is a refreshing alternative to the market of sci-fi trilogies fighting for space on a summer reading list. Beukes prose is vibrant and compelling. The premise is brutal and unsettling. The novel may not provide any answers, but like good journalism its job is to enlighten and provide voice to the voiceless.

Lauren Buekes Homepage / The Shining Girls Official Page

Read a free excerpt of Chapter One

Review: Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski


Point and Shoot by Duane Swierczynski
Mulholland Books
“Unkillable” Charlie Hardie is the most abused protagonist in the annuls of adrenaline pumping hyper-violent Mayhem Fiction (a genre I just coined for this review). In Fun & Games and its sequel Hell & Gone, Hardie, unknowingly evokes the ire of the Accident People, a group bent on the black-ops puppetry of murder and world domination and, in the space of 608 pages, he is shot repeatedly, stabbed, sprayed with death mace, body bagged, caged in a secret maximum security prison, and fired off into space. Yeah, things are pretty tough for Charlie Hardie who just wants save his family from the numerous barbs and arrows of the Accident People.

In this final installment, Point & Shoot, Swiercyznski demands that we suspend our disbelief long enough to bring Hardie home. By which I mean bring him back to earth. Literally. After all, the last we saw of Hardie, he was babysitting a satellite in low-earth orbit from inside it. I’d love to hint at how Hardie gets down, but that’d be telling. I do promise that if you can sit back and enjoy the implausible, you will see a master storyteller tie up dozens of loose ends like a stripper with a cherry stem.

What I appreciate about Mayhem Fiction is that it reads like a blood-soaked Looney-tunes episode; characters are demolished and torn asunder, but manage to survive because, hell, it’s fiction and they never really existed. What Swierczynski does in Point & Shoot, is expand the narrative a bit resolving arcs and sub-plots which most other authors would allow to flap wildly in the breeze. In most cases I’m content to go from A to D and skip rationale for an author’s best violence, but Duane isn’t prepared to let us leave Hardie that easily. Instead, we find out things that, if I told you now, men in masks would drag me from my slumber and beat me mercilessly. The one I will share is a particularly heartwarming scene where Hardie empathetically converses with a massive irradiated cockroach. It works and it is wonderful.

If you’ve read the previous books, this is the finale you couldn’t see coming: I’m quite convinced that most of the events were chosen via those paper fortune telling games elementary kids play. If you are just now checking out the trilogy, strap yourself in for 800 pages of raucous and improbable nonstop character abuse and thrills to make every other adrenaline pulp adventure seem like young adult fiction.

More Mayhem Fiction: 

Charlie Huston’s Caught Stealing Trilogy
Duane Swierczynski The Blonde and The Wheelman
Joe R Lansdale The Complete Drive-in
Victor Gischler Shotgun Opera
Seth Harwood Jack Wakes Up

Episode 34 – Gun Machine by Warren Ellis


Read Chapter Two of Gun Machine courtesy of Mulholland Books
Read my review on Gun Machine Somebody Got Murdered – The Clash
I Have The Gun – Crime and the City Solution
Nicotine – Paul Chaplain
Been Smoking Too Long  – Nick Drake
Down To My Last Cigarette – Bill Walker
Heart Of Glass – Blondie
Personality Crisis  – New York Dolls
The Black Angel’s Death Song – The Velvet Underground
Indian Run – Spindrift
Thunderbird – Sonny Burges
Reindeer Are Wild – Thee Headcoats
Ghost Dance – Patti Smith Group
Apache Tears  – Johnny Cash
Drums – Floyd Red Crow Westerman
I Got My Eyes On You – Robert Belfour
Reap What You Sow w/ Mose Vinson – Joe Hill Louis
Death Bells – R.L. Burnside
If the Rabbit Had a Gun – Memphis Slim
The Bullet – The Barker Band

Incidental Music:
The Great Annihilator – The Swans
The Big Gundown – Ennio Morricone

Thanks to Miss Hannah Tess for the cover art.

See also: Episode 13 – Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan

Something Nice – Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Gun Machine
Warren Ellis
Mulholland Books

There aren’t many writers producing as often, as wild, or as consistent, as Warren Ellis. For those familiar with his work on the comics Red, Transmetropolitan, X-Men, Fell, The Authority, and/or Plantetary, Ellis creates the sort of everyman characters that readers can easily identify with. His worlds are full of filth and disease, but carry a thread of hope and the knowledge that no matter how much life sucks, there is someone out there fighting the good fight.

In his first prose excursion, Crooked Little Vein, Ellis took the reader on a tour of the darkest recesses of sexual depravity through a brilliant McGuffin: The Real Constitution of the USA…not that bogus one your dumb-ass History teacher prattles on about, but the one with secret Amendments that your conspiracy theorist neighbor knows as certainty.

In Ellis’ second novel, Gun Machine, he weaves the story of Detective John Tallow, a burnt out cop who stumbles upon an apartment full of guns. Hundreds of guns. And each one a fine piece American engineering which has served to kill exactly one person and been kept as a trophy. Of course, each gun creates an open, unsolved homicide and the NYPD is ready to let it all hang around Tallow and sink him into an early and dishonorable retirement.

But, like all of Ellis’ anti-heroes, Tallow responds with a raised middle finger and new-found determination. Teaming up with two CSI agents – each with their own anti-social tendencies – Tallow begins hunting for a killer whose collection may just bring about something far more vicious and nefarious than a few hundred dead individuals.

Gun Machine is not without its faults. There is a lack of sub-plot and certain connections are a bit tenuous, but ultimately readers will be metaphorically blown away. The opening chapter alone is remorseless and sets a tone that redefines gallows humor. It is sharp, short, and shocking, it’ll stick with you throughout the book as a constant realistic reminder as how and why Tallow decides to rededicate himself to being a cop. By mid-book, the story becomes so intoxicating it’ll leave you with a literary hang-over. Ellis’ flawless blending of  historic fact and fiction sent me running to the computer so many times, I just decided to trust it all as Truth to avoid interruptions. Yeah, there are bumps, but if you hit them fast enough, you can still enjoy the ride.

And to be honest, those faults only exist because I wanted more Tallow and his ferocious CSI agents.

From the secret lair of The Gun Machine book trailer VIA

Thanks to FOX, part of that wish will become a reality later in 2013 when Gun Machine becomes a televised cop drama.

In trying to figure how Gun Machine will work as a series, I can only assume that each week Detective Tallow will, with the help of his filthy attack CSI, unravel the story of each weapon. Of course the overarching narrative will be tracking down The Hunter while trying to stay employed and on the case. I just hope they keep him as the lone literate misanthrope whose afraid of getting to know anyone and happy to remain at arm’s length. I’m sure they’ll have to give him the standard ex-wife or girlfriend-with –a-past/conflicting-agenda, but an anti-social anti-hero would be good for the kids at home.

On a side note, Reg E. Cathey is slated to read the audiobook. You may know him from The Wire, Oz, Se7en, amongst others.

Gun Machine will also be the subject of January’s podcast.

Thisisgunmachine –  a tumblr in support of the novel – the internet home of the author
Mulholland Books – Publisher of fine reading material

Some cool ‘behind the scenes’ images from the book trailer.

The Bibliodiscoteque podcast for Transmetropolitan

Something Nice – Birds of Prey ’77


Birds of Prey is a great book.

Swierzcynski is currently rocking it out and Simone just flat out owned every single panel during her extensive run. Considering that DC has done some dumb Elseworld stuff and tried to connect it into continuity like an Orangutan surgically stitching a wound I demand DC gives us this Elseworld. A Mod Batgirl? A Punk Black Canary? I don’t know anything about the artist ‘Rory’ and didn’t spend too much time fishing around the site, but hot damn! It has the tension already built in (unless you are a punk history revisionist and everyone always got along). It has two characters people care about. It is drawn so cool I demand that this book exist. If not, I demand that this Rory kid just take the designs and make his own Indie Comic – Perhaps Juliet and Juliet or two girls from different subcultures wronged by the same criminal bastard.

Seriously. Go pitch this to Steve Niles. Now. Go.

Speaking of Duane Swierczynski, Looks like the last book in the Charlie Hardie series is going to be delayed until 2013. But dry those eyes, folks! Not only is his Birds of Prey series rounding it’s dirty dozen, but he will be doing what sounds like a really unique take on the Godzilla mythos. Read an interview about all of its Kaiju greatness!

Episode 21 – Duane Swierczynski


Yuengling Lager, grievous eye injuries, and not being able to rely on any character surviving to the final page: These are the main ingredients to most books by Duane Swierczynski.

Swierczynski’s work is a literary barfight: Don’t start it unless you plan to finish it. Seriously, I’ve spent entire day-offs and cross-continent flights unable to tear myself away. In fact, I pity most readers who have to stop between chapters.

This winter (for my soon to be snowbound friends) pick-up one of Swierczynski’s novels and pray to be snowed in.

I suggest starting with either the story of the mute-Irish getaway driver in The Wheelman or Severance Package, the tale of company men (and women) who find that their company has decided to close shop and kill everyone employed. Once you’ve graduated through Swierczynski’s earlier works, you can then dive into his latest tale, and basis for this show, the Charlie Hardie Trilogy Fun & Games, Hell & Gone, and 2012’s finale Point & Shoot.

Here’s a free look at a prequel comic for Fun & Games



Rage Well,

Episode 21 – Duane Swiercyznski

Action Woman – The Litter
Red Hands – The Builders and The Butchers
She’s Gotta Be Boss – A-Bones
Woman Of Mass Desruction – The Woolly Bandits
Skull and crossbones  – Sparkle Moore
Kinda Evil Gal – Screamin’ Rebel Angels
I’m Bad – Rocket to Memphis
Rip My Heart Out (Music Alley) – The Pistol Whipper Snappers
Right In The Eye – The Muffs
Nothings Gonna Bring Me Down – Ryan Cain and The Chaotics
Tough Lover – Nick Curran and the Lowlifes
They Know Everything About You – Sgt. Bilko’s Krazy Combo
Cage – Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside
Inside – Looking Out  – The Animals
Raw Deal – Wild Rooster
Left For Dead – Supercharged Suicide
Conditions of My Parole – Pusifier
Promise Not A Threat – Kings Of Nuthin’
I Wanna Destroy You – Uncle Tupelo     
Fuck The Cops – Guz


Something Nice – More on Duane Swierczynski

The cover for Duane Swierczynski's Hell & Gone from Mulholland Publishing
The cover from Duane Swiercznski's Point & Shoot from Mulholland Press

I reviewed Fun & Games awhile back basically saying that it was an action packed thrill ride super charged with twists turns surprises and violence so epic and grandiose that commas couldn’t even slow the action down so I just removed them all.

Well, the synopsis for the second and third books in the series are out and, honestly, I have no clue if they are legitimate or not. Swierczynski’s writing requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief, but the payoff is always worth it. Trust me. I burned through his bibliography this summer faster than a wildfire through a state park.

If these are the real plots I am impressed. I can honestly say that they will be like nothing else you have ever read and will push pulp action to the limits.

I guess there might be spoilers, so proceed with caution:

From Hell & Gone (Book 2)

Left for dead after an epic shootout that blew the lid off a billion-dollar conspiracy, ex-cop Charlie Hardie quickly realizes that when you’re dealing with The Accident People, things can get worse. Drugged, bound and transported by strange operatives of unknown origin, Hardie awakens to find himself captive in a secret prison that houses the most dangerous criminals on earth.

And then things get really bad. Because this isn’t just any prison. It’s a Kafkaesque nightmare that comes springloaded with a brutal catch-22: Hardie’s the warden. And any attempt to escape triggers a “death mechanism” that will kill everyone down here–including a group of innocent guards. Faced with an unworkable paradox, and knowing that his wife and son could be next on the Accident People’s hit list, Hardie has only one choice: fight his way to the heart of this hell hole and make a deal with the Devil himself.

From Point & Shoot (Book 3)

Charlie Hardie finds himself in a steel box, tubes and wires attached to his body, trapped inside a satellite parked in orbit 500 miles above the Earth. He’s got a year’s supply of food, air, water, and no communication back to Earth, and must complete his 12 months’ duty or his wife and son will have an “accident.”

Soon Hardie realize he’s sitting in veritable zero-G vault containing the most dangerous secrets in the world. And if his wife and son will ever be safe, Hardie’s going to have to use those secrets as leverage against his faceless captors and force a crash-landing in one of the grittiest of urban hellholes. After years of exile, Hardie’s arming up….and setting his sights on getting back home.

Something Nice – The Wheelman Cometh

Sometimes I hit literary speed bumps. There are the novels that look great on the shelf, but after kicking the tires a bit and taking it around the block for a few chapters it tends to bottom out on literary pot holes or simply runs out of gas. It is the lemons that usually send me running back to certain authors who I can trust to get me there in style: Ken Bruen. Christa Faust, Max Allan Collins. Megan Abbott. Lawrence Block. Donald Westlake.

I consider these authors the ‘E’ class luxury machines of the literary world who, as their pages pass by seem to do so in slow motion. The cadence and rhythm of their words echo through the dark empty streets of the imagination. They are reliable, sleek, and get great mileage from the written word.

Today, I am adding another author to this car lot of excellence: Duane Swierczynski. I got to know his stuff mostly through his work on Cable over at Marvel Comics and his implausibly beautiful novel Severance Package. Last night however I decided that, to prepare myself for his forthcoming crime trilogy from Mulholland Books (read an interview between Swierczyncki and Ed Brubaker of Criminal fame), I would reread The Wheelman to get me in the mood.

Swierczynski’s work provides a fine mix between Ken Bruen’s level of violence and James Ellroy’s snappy narrative asides. In The Wheelman, a mute Irish getaway driver rips apart Philadelphia seeking out the Russian mobsters who stole his money and left him for dead. The book screams from one incident to the next without seatbelts and devoid of airbags. It is gritty, violent, and pure escapist fun. Those looking for depth will be left sucking fumes. Incidentally, Swierczynski’s descriptions of Philly’s streets and traffic patterns are more accurate than Google Maps. Should you ever wish to visit the City of Brotherly Love or simply lie and say you have, his novels are second only to the Lonely Planet Guides.

This year, Swierczynski is releasing the first two books of a proposed trilogy. The first is Fun & Games. The second is released at the tail end of the year amidst a plethora of other potentially potent pulps. My recommendation is start early so you don’t get lapped.

Pic Via