SF: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

I’ve been saying for a while that we need more stories that fall into the overlap between country noir and speculative fiction.  The hollers and dark dirt roads that host country noir yarns have their own rich tradition of myths and folk tales.  And speculative elements, perhaps especially horror, dovetail well with the bones of a country noir story—better than, certainly, romance or even mystery.  In his novel The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones combines supernatural horror and rez noir (a kissing cousin to country noir).  Four young Blackfeet Indians committed some great sin on an elk hunt years ago, and an angry spirit of sorts is looking for bloody restitution.

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Country Noir: The Sweet Goodbye by Ron Corbett

The mountains of North Carolina are my favorite country noir setting for the simple reason that they are home, and there is a rich tradition of country noir set in the Ozarks that we can probably credit to Daniel Woodrell, but it is always nice to get the chance to visit someplace new via fiction.  The Sweet Goodbye is set in the North Maine Woods in the vast, empty, northernmost reaches of the contiguous states.

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Short Review Roundup – Fiction edition, part 2

Welcome back to another short review roundup!  Today I feature a couple of novels.  One I will give short shrift because it is a sequel, and the first book in the series does all the heavy lifting of convincing a reader to pick up the next one.  The other is a fine book but a bit too far afield to write extensively about on this blog.  Both are worth picking up, notwithstanding the truncated reviews.

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Country Noir: Raylan: A Novel by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard has been inordinately successful getting his books adapted to the screen.  Justified, the TV show based on the character Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens from Pronto, Riding the Rap, and the short story Fire in the Hole (the last adapted for the Justified pilot), is as good as any Leonard adaption.  Seeing his characters with such incredible life breathed into him had to have spurred Leonard return to Givens with his novel Raylan (which was to be his last).

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Short Review Roundup: Elmore Leonard Edition

I have been on a bit of an Elmore Leonard kick here lately.  His work has everything I like about country noir, but in an easily digestible, popcorn style and form.  My gateway to Elmore Leonard was the great Justified (which I still need to buy on blu-ray, rewatch, and blog about extensively).  I was admittedly thrown off by my first Elmore Leonard novel, Raylan.  Raylan suffered from covering ground already covered by the show.  But it really suffered from eastern Kentucky not being Leonard’s turf.  His work is always better in Florida, I think.

Elmore Leonard, Miami Bookfair International, 1989 (Wikimedia Commons)
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Country Noir: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

“This is who I am.  I can’t change.  I don’t want to, really.  But for once I’m gonna put this devil inside me to good use.”

S.A. Cosby impressed me with Blacktop Wasteland.  He absolutely blew me away with Razorblade Tears.

A killer premise is always a good start.  Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee are plenty different.  Ike is black; Buddy Lee is white.  Ike built a business from the ground up and employs crews of workers; Buddy Lee’s work history is checkered at best.  Ike is a comfortable business and home owner; Buddy Lee lives in a dilapidated single-wide trailer with a window unit that pushes around lukewarm air.  Ike is happily married; Buddy Lee hasn’t been in a serious relationship since his son’s mom left him.  But they have a few things in common too.  Both did time in prison.  Both have ample capacity to deal out violence.  Neither could accept their son’s homosexuality.  Their sons who were married to each other.  Who were just murdered.

To paraphrase Solomon Kane, men will die for that.

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Fiction: Kill All Your Darlings by David Bell

I didn’t originally plan to write a post on Kill All Your Darlings.  It is positioned as a psychological thriller and set on a college campus.  Hardly the stuff of grit lit or country noir.  But it is set in Kentucky, and Bell leavens the thriller tropes with enough (well-crafted) literariness and inserts enough grit into character backgrounds to slink onto these pages.

Photo of the Western Kentucky campus by Bbadgett
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Country Noir: Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

When you really love a subgenre, you don’t want to read the same thing over and over again, but you do want to see tweaks and new takes on your cherished tropes.  Blacktop Wasteland falls right square in the country noir subgenre.  It distinguishes itself from the field not just with execution but with a protagonist who is a wheelman (and all the car chases the choice suggests) and African-American.

1971 Plymouth Duster pic by Kevauto
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Country Noir: My Father Like a River by Ron Rash

My Father Like a River includes two short stories: the title story and the longer The Trusty.  The Trusty was also published in Rash’s short story collection Nothing Gold Can Stay.  It’s as good now as it was when I read Nothing Gold Can Stay, but I’m disappointed to see a story I already own and have read.  As is usually the case with Rash, both stories take place in the mountains of NC.

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