Fiction: Far from the Tree by Rob Parker, narrated by Warren Brown

When I say “country noir” in my blog subtitle, I am first and foremost talking about stories of my people—rural hillbillies from southern Appalachia.  But I am not just talking about that.  I can, have, and will read country noir set in the Ozarks, in the Texas Piney Woods, in the Rust Belt.  I have always contended those stories, and books telling versions of them, existed outside the U.S. as well.  I just haven’t known where to look.  I have also long contended that you can set a country noir in the city.  With Rob Parker’s Far from the Tree, I found a damn fine example of both.

The small town of Warrington, smack dab between Liverpool and Manchester in northern England, is roiled when a trench containing 27 bodies is discovered in a local forest.  Lead investigator Brenden Foley’s world is further rocked when he makes the first identification—his nephew.

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Fiction: City of Hate by Timothy S. Miller

A book like City of Hate might not have normally caught my eye, but author Timothy Miller offered to send me a copy.  I’m glad I jumped on the offer.  City of Hate is “city noir” that imports much of what I love about country noir.  The setting and the backdrop are inspired, even if the execution wasn’t perfectly to my liking.

I lived in Houston during my swing through Texas.  One of Houston’s nicknames is the “Big Heart,” earned by the open arms its residents met Hurricane Katrina victims.  You could still see “I ♥ Houston” bumper stickers around New Orleans when I was traveling there on a regular basis for work.  Dallas has a nickname of its own that highlights the inevitability of comparisons between the cities and their relative merits: City of Hate.  The moniker is inextricably tied to JFK’s Dallas assassination.  Which might seem a little unfair.  Lee Harvey Oswald only lived in Dallas for a year.  And, whatever conspiracy you might embrace, the bulk of the city certainly didn’t participate in the assassination.  But the stage was already set for the moniker to stick, not by the dull statistic that Nixon won Dallas by a bigger margin than any other city (as remarkable as the existence of such a stat is today) but by a made-for-TV moment where vicious, pearled Dallas society women frothed (read: spit) at Lyndon and Ladybird John in front of a national audience.

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Fiction: Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda

I had the intense pleasure of living in Houston for four years this past decade.  But my fondness for my time there did not prevent my pleasure reading this collection of noir tales exploring Houston’s fetid underbelly.

I loved it there, and Houston has a better crime rate than, say, Chicago or New Orleans, but this is still a place where the old-fashioned burglar bars on our house were a good idea, where a man was shot in an drive-by a block away from my house, where a body was found in nice, new apartments under construction that marked my neighborhood as “transitioning,” where bodies were occasionally fished out of the bayou that ran a block from our house (sometimes closer).

The copy and intro both include a wonderful, vicious Hunter S. Thompson quote describing Houston as a “cruel, crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money, and violence. It’s a shabby, sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops, and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West—which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch.”  It says something about Texas that the immediate response is to say “hell yeah!” and adopt the quote as a point of pride.

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