“Eighteen! Thirty-four! ‘Levendy-twelve!” Brucie shouted, following it with his irritating high-pitched giggle. Like he thought trying to mess Doc’s count up was the funniest thing since Chris Rock.
Doc ignored him and kept counting and dividing the bundles of cash. The other three of us glanced at each other and rolled our eyes at Brucie’s actions.
Brucie was a problem, but Doc said we needed five guys for the armored car job, and Tone vouched for Brucie. Said he was good with his fists and a decent shot. But he was also a pain in the ass from the jump. On everybody’s last nerve when we were together and causing us ten kinds of grief when he was acting on his own.
No thanks to Brucie the job was a success and we made it to our rendezvous at the warehouse without any major screw-ups. Now, to let Doc to finish counting and make the split so we could part ways with Brucie.
“Jeez Doc, you count slower than my four-year-old nephew,” Brucie said, pacing back and forth and practicing his quick-draw while gunning down imaginary cops with his chrome-plated revolver. The fact that Brucie hadn’t accidentally blown somebody away before now was miracle, the way he liked to wave his gun around.
Doc paused from the count and shot the rest of us a look that signaled his patience with Brucie was wearing thin. See, the thing Brucie never understood was that Doc was the lead dog on this sled team. Doc was the brains and we all did what he said. He didn’t talk a lot, or get loud, and because he was quiet Brucie treated Doc like he was weak and stupid. He was neither.
“Hey Brucie,” Tone said. “Why don’t you give it a rest? And maybe put that gun down.
Brucie shrugged and sat back down at the table with us.
“Sure, no problem,” he said, putting his gun on the table in front of him.
We watched as Doc continued to count and divide, but Brucie was like a big hyperactive kid. Couldn’t sit still for longer than a few seconds.
“I don’t understand what’s so hard about dividing some cash up five ways,” Brucie whined. “What’s the problem, Doc? Did you never learn to divide by five back in fourth grade? I guess it’s a good thing there aren’t six of us. We’d be here all week!”
That obnoxious giggle again as Doc paused his count and set the bundle of cash down.
“Actually, Brucie,” Doc said. “I’m pretty good at dividing by six. Take that revolver there for example.”
Doc reached over and picked up Brucie’s gun and pointed it at the tin ceiling of the warehouse.
“I know that there are six chambers in the cylinder. And, each one holds a bullet.”
Everybody except Doc flinched as the deafening shot echoed through the empty warehouse and a single pinpoint of light fell on the makeshift counting table.
“There’s one,” Doc said, grinning at Brucie who just sat there with his mouth hanging open.
“Four.” The tabletop was dotted with pinpoints of light.
Doc quickly lowered the revolver and leveled it at at Brucie’s face.
“And six,” Doc said, putting the pistol back down on the table and picking up the stack of cash he had been counting. He smiled and glanced around at the rest of us as the echoing gunshots faded.
“I guess he was right. I do have a problem dividing by five.”
it,” she said, smacking her gum and smiling at the cashier as she slid the huge
bottle of antifreeze toward him. He put down his crime novel. The night in the
store had been slow, but the book had just picked up. He was just about to find
She plunked her other things on the
counter: A travel magazine and passport photos, just taken.
He took her card and did as he was
told. He didn’t ask any questions. He’d seen her before, with that dyed red
hair that was still black at the roots. He didn’t think she owned a car, but,
he couldn’t be sure. Hell, he didn’t even know if she was buying the antifreeze
He’d seen people buy some weird
shit. Guys buying tampons and pregnancy tests. Women buying diet pills that
“That’s everything?” he asked,
wondering if she’d add a pack of cigarettes to the order, like she usually did.
Antifreeze, a travel magazine, passport photos, and cigarettes.
“I’ll take one of them packs of
Marlboro’s. Lights,” she said, and he thought the way she moved her face he
could see underneath her makeup, a bruise under her left eye. But then, her
head dipped back down and it was gone.
He wondered if he should ask for
some ID. He’d checked it before, knew she was over twenty-one. There was no
point. He knew her name. Clara Ann Reynolds. He even knew where she lived, how
tall she was, and that she wasn’t an organ donor. He decided against it.
“Getting cold out there,” he said,
by way of conversation, but also, he was trying to pry. Maybe her car was
acting up. Maybe he could learn something more about her.
She looked up, surprised he was
still there. “What?”
“Gettin’ cold. Your car?” He slid
the card through the machine. The name on the card didn’t match her real name.
He wondered if it was stolen, but he said nothing.
“Oh, I ain’t got a car,” she said,
He looked at her quizzically.
“The antifreeze? What’s that for
then?” He knew he shouldn’t ask. What if she got mad? What if she got so mad
she told his manager? But he couldn’t help it.
“It’s for my husband.”
His mind exploded. The bruise, the
upcoming travel, the undetectable poison.
“Your, your husband?” he stammered, not knowing where to go from there, not
knowing how to get her to elaborate on the now very evident fact that she was
planning to kill him.
“You know Ricky?”
He knew Ricky. He wasn’t the
tampon- or pregnancy-test buying type. He was the buy-your-own-damn-shit type.
He was the make-you-piss-your-pants type. Everyone knew Ricky.
“Yeah, I know him. He needs
antifreeze?” It came out as sort of a squeak, and he cursed his voice, wishing
he could figure out how to ask her exactly what she had planned. Wishing more,
that he’d asked her nothing at all.
“Yeah. He needs it.” The way she
said, it, he knew what she was thinking. A hundred grand in life insurance
money flashed behind her eyes and into his brain. He knew exactly what she
meant. He needed it, all right.
He slid the travel magazine into a
“Going on a trip?” he asked.
“Dunno. Maybe. Depends on if I can
help Ricky fix what needs fixin’ or not.”
He knew what she meant. He knew. But he just stood there, pale
and dumb. She took the plastic bag, hefted the jug of antifreeze, and slipped
out into the night. He went back to his book. Now there were two
murders to solve.
“I didn’t call any plumbers,” Louis barked at us
through the tiny slit made by the chain lock.
His breath smelled bad and that didn’t do anything for my mood. My head hurt and the aspirin I took in the
van wasn’t even touching it. I sighed and stepped back. I looked at Green Johnny and he kicked in the
door with maniacal glee. At least one of
us was in a good mood.
The apartment was a mess; a disaster of take-out
containers, empty beer cans, and candy wrappers. The garbage crunched under our
feet as our noses were assaulted by a spoiled bouquet of chocolate and sweat. Green Johnny set the tool box down and checked
the bedroom and bathroom to make sure we were all alone.
“God damn, Louis,” I said, “This place smells terrible. Least you could have done was tidy up a bit,
maybe taken a shower. It’s not like you didn’t know we were coming.”
Louis was standing in the center of the room between a
table covered with garbage and a small mound of crumpled cans. His early bravado had disappeared like a
“I-I didn’t call f-for a plumber” he stuttered.
I don’t blame the man for being scared. Greenie and I have been working collections
for the Boss for a while and people don’t like seeing us. I square the Boss’s ledgers with a flair for
the Old Testament. Green Johnny, well,
he’s easily suggestible.
“We’re clear, Priest,” Green Johnny said, flashing me
a thumbs up. I looked over at Louis.
“You know we’re not plumbers, but we can’t come up in
here dressed like hired killers. This
isn’t Reservoir Dogs.
Louis just stared at me.
“See, Louis, I’m going to level with you. That van was really fucking hot and we had to
wear these uncomfortable outfits all because you didn’t pay the Boss’s
tribute. 30% off the top and you can
continue to do…shit, what do you do again?
Greenie and I have a bet.
“I-I robbed a store.”
“Greenie, I owe you a steak. I thought our boy Louis here liked to dabble
in the ‘ole plug and tug. Now, if you’ll just give us 40% —that’s 30% for the
Boss and 10% for our trouble—we’ll let you get back to your shithole existence.”
“I d-didn’t get a-any m-money.”
“I’m sorry, what?” My temples pounded.
“I r-robbed a c-candy s-store. S’alls I g-got was c-candy.”
“Priest, did he just say what I think he said?”
“I think he did.
Toss the place. He’s gotta be
I knocked a few candy wrappers off of a chair and
watched Louis as Green Johnny searched for the cash. After ten minutes of banging and cursing, he
was still empty handed.
I wiped the sweat off my forehead with the rough
cotton sleeve of the overalls. My headache was turning into a migraine.
“Aw, hell. We’ll
just take our cut out of the candy. Louis, where’s the candy?”
He looked around the apartment at all of the candy
wrappers, despair clinging to him like body odor.
“Greenie, you remember your nephew’s birthday party?”
I said, rubbing my temples. “How all those kids hit that piñata until its guts bled
Without answering me, Greenie opened the tool box and
took out some rope and threw me some zip-ties. Louis tried to run but he
slipped on the garbage. We pounced on him and zip-tied his hands behind his
“Just remember, Louis, you did this to yourself,” I
Green Johnny held him still while I harnessed him with
the rope. We slung one end of the rope
over the crossbeam in his ceiling and tried to pull him up. The beam shattered into splinters and Louis
fell with a thunk. He looked up at us, his eyes wet and
“We’re just looking for our 40%, s’not personal,” I
said, as Greenie handed me a crowbar from the toolbox.
We beat him until our arms ached, each whack in cadence
with the pounding in my head.
Louis was a shitty piñata; what came out of him didn’t
look like candy at all.
falconer catches a wild hawk, there is no need to train the bird to kill.”
His name was
Saunders and he looked almost like a hawk himself, in brown houndstooth jacket
and hunting cap, rumpled beige shirt, and yellow riding boots. There were two
chairs nailed to the floor of the mews, and two men tied to them, with their
The one that
Saunders stood next to was named Lesko. He had a sack over his head.
you must train him not to eat.” Saunders flicked his riding crop in the area
where Lesko’s mouth must have been under the sack, prodding with the hard
leather end. “Not to stuff his greedy beak as soon as he strikes the prey.
To trust that a better meal is coming from the hand of his master.”
around Lesko’s chair, eyeing him critically from the side. “At times,
punishments may be necessary.” At that, the riding crop rapped Lesko’s
left hand, where a healed-over stump told of a single finger that had been
removed. “But if the bird repeats his disobedience, then the time may come
when he must be…” Here, Saunders leaned down and placed his mouth almost
against the side of Lesko’s head. “…Set free.”
A row of
hooded hawks dozed above, swaying gently in their jesses, keeping quiet in the
close, hot, dark place. Now and then, one fluffed its feathers and jostled its
neighbor, then settled back down to sleep.
straightened his body and buttoned his jacket, walking slowly back the other
way toward the other man. This one was younger. Unlike Lesko, his face was uncovered.
Unlike Lesko, he was trembling: two wide eyes following Saunders’s progress
around the room.
hawks reared in captivity, sometimes there is the opposite problem. A bird so
accustomed to getting his meat from his master’s hand may grow lazy and not
even bother to strike at rabbits and ducks anymore…” The riding crop
rapped smartly against the young man’s head. “And so becomes just as
useless as the thief.”
The young man
swallowed and goggled his eyes. “But Dad–“
didn’t wait, but struck the boy hard across the mouth.
solution,” continued Saunders indifferently, “is that one must be
brought up, and one must be brought down. The question is: how to do it?”
The next sound
was the snap of a switchblade. Saunders walked slowly around the mews, circling
both men several times as he seemed to consider, the birds above now muttering
in agitation at the nearby movement.
Saunders paused by Lesko and made a quick jerk with the hand that held the
knife. The ropes that bound Lesko to the chair suddenly dropped away, leaving
his hands bound and his head hooded. Lesko growled and shifted in his chair.
said Saunders. Lesko obeyed.
strode over to his son, and cut the ropes that bound him as well.
said Saunders. Instead, the boy curled up in fear.
hauled the boy up to a half-standing posture and pointed at Lesko with the
you to saw his head off, son. To prove to me that you have the killer instinct
that I need. Can you do that for me?”
The boy only
whimpered, then crumpled as Saunders released his hold.
for you, Lesko, my old friend–” Saunders walked quickly to the other side
of the mews and partly lifted the sack on his head. The older man gasped wide
and breathed deep, his eyes glowing red in rage. “I want you to wait two
minutes before you take this sack off. Then you’re free to do whatever you
the sack fall over Lesko’s face again, and then threw the switchblade into the
center of the mews. He took a pocketwatch out of his jacket and set it running.
clock is starting now, gentlemen. Either way, the hawks will eat handsomely
As the second
hand swept around the watch face, the hawks screeched and worried, fully awake
now, as though they could smell the blood in the air already.
common misconception about machetes is that they are razor-sharp. Historically
used as agricultural tools more often than weapons, a machete tempered for farm
labor will not hold a finely honed edge.
Accordingly, brute force must supplant finesse.
Consider a stalk of
sugarcane. A lateral chop fails, because
the dense, vertical fibers act like plant-based Kevlar, and a blade swung
sideways propels forward with only the strength of a man’s arms and
shoulders. If he comes at that cane from
a steep angle, however, he commands the power of his whole body, a technique
enabling a competent machetero to reach an enemy’s heart, not with a stabbing
thrust, but with a diagonal slash entering between the neck and shoulder, then
driving through the clavicle and upper sternum. Unlike the loud stuttering of a
Kalashnikov, the machete’s whispered swish allows its user to breach a
perimeter silently, making him the more valuable man when stealth is desired.
My first was garbage.
A purist might argue any post-1950
machete is a mass-produced piece of mierda, but when Miguel Otero began my
training, I learned even an inferior weapon can be effective in the hands of a
skilled man. I was no man back then, merely a surfer-streaked gringo crossing
the border ahead of juvie, my stepfather, and a dealer seeking cash from the
product he’d advanced.
Six years later, when
cancer ended Miguel’s life, I inherited my mentor’s position, along with his
burnished, Collins-made beauty, the tool I have used for a decade as the Reyes
cartel’s head machetero.
Across the room from the chair in
which I sit, the Collins leans against the wall point-up. That stupid boy should have left it
point-down. “Seconds lost in bending to grasp the non-business end will
cost you your life one day,” I have told him, but Javier is not the natural I
was at his age, and I fear he will never be a machetero.
In my years working for Señor
Reyes, I have never stepped foot inside his hacienda. He keeps family separate from business, so
the white stucco walls of the hacienda protect an enclave of domesticity within
Those walls keep out
the rough men who toil for mi empleador, but are less effective at keeping his
daughters within their boundaries.
Nathaly, the eldest, barely deigns to acknowledge our existence on her
vacations home from Northwestern University, and little Esli’s passion is
horses, not boys, but Adriela, the middle child, haunts the dreams of every
servidor here, whether he carries a machete, AK-47, curry comb, or bags of
fertilizer for Señora Reyes’ rose garden.
Her father’s frequent
trips away provide Adriela opportunities to freely stroll the compound,
heartbreakingly demure in a peasant blouse and long, swirling skirt one day,
exquisitely tempting in tight denim jeans the next.
Inept at more than the handling
of a machete, Javier unwisely met her brazen gaze once, misreading Adriela’s
general desire to torment us all with her budding erotic skills, foolishly
believing the flirtatious performance was for his singular delectation.
Her burst of cruel
laughter in response to his pathetic assertion of interest humiliated my
useless protégé. Adriela’s flashing eyes
alone can bring a grown man to his knees.
I was that man two nights ago,
worshipping at the fragrant altar of la concha de Adriela, as I have for months
whenever Señor Reyes is away and my angel slips out in darkness to my private
quarters. Because her father likes to arrive home with fanfare, in his
helicopter or lead Humvee of a caravan, Adriela always had warning to leave my
But someone spat
poison in the ear of mi jefe—and I don’t doubt the perfidious little shit’s
identity—for Reyes returned that night with the stealth of a machetero.
as I am to this chair, I can only watch when Javier enters and bends to pick up
the machete across the room. Approaching with a smirk, he raises my precious
Collins, then spreads his feet in a solid stance. Stupid boy, he swings the
blade back for a lateral slash that will not do the job. At least not in one
Jake always liked these cool
afternoons. Yes, they were possible even
in a Louisiana
fall which sometimes had trouble emerging from the sweltering summer. Like this
November afternoon when the outside chill seeping into the house made
Jake put a flannel shirt over his wife-beater. He breathed in the scent of
sweet, dry leaves. Pecan probably. He wondered if he would see him today, the
pecan man. Earlier in the day, he had seen the man, walking along the lane in
raggedy clothes, clutching a ball of burlap.
Did he know about the stash?
He took a quick look outside and remembered a scene from last year. Mr. Lester had been his father’s best friend and had been right by his side when he died of stomach cancer. On the day of the funeral, after all the neighbors had gone, he noticed Mr. Lester sitting on a rusty metal lawn chair. It was a warm October day, with sunshine that seemed to increase in brightness. Nothing was said for a long time until Jake heard Mr. Lester get up. He placed his hand on Jake’s shoulder.
“That was the hardest thing I ever done. Carrying yo’ daddy to be buried.”
And then he started to walk to his own house.
It was then he knew that his father’s “ title” had been passed to him—Guardian of the Treasure. When Jake was 18, his daddy told him about how he and Mr. Lester robbed a bank in Texas almost 30 years ago. Big haul. Jake’s momma knew and took the secret to her grave. The trick, his daddy said, is to keep moving the stash, even though it could be a pain in the ass, especially if it’s buried, and to just live normal. Not too fancy. If you got a new truck or gun, just say you were saving for it if anyone asked. Jake’s daddy never told him if he ever had to do anything to anyone who might have discovered the secret. There were stories on the local news every now and then, however, about a body being found in a field that made Jake wonder.
For the rest of the afternoon, Jake sat on the porch waiting for the pecan man. He watched the sun burst through the clouds every so often and the few pick-up trucks that rambled down the lane. He got up to get some water, a sandwich, to take a piss, but he always came back to the porch for the pecan man.
When Jake woke up, it was almost five. He rubbed his eyes and was about to go inside when he saw him. There, walking along the lane was the pecan man.
He let the man walk out of his sight and only then did he slip on his jacket. The pecan man had just turned to the left, just across the lane from the barn. He remembered that an old abandoned house used to stand there, bu tit had been torn down years ago. No one had bought the land, but there were several big pecan trees there. Anyone could basically go there and help themselves to pecans—-and maybe to the money now buried under one of the trees.
The pecan man had his back to Jake. He was on his knees shoving handfuls of something into one of the burlap sacks, and then he fell flat on the ground. He rolled over and with his bloodshot eyes, he saw Jake with the branch. The next blow hit him in the mouth, and when the man spat, Jake saw blood and what might have been a tooth. The branch then thudded repeatedly against the man’s head.
Panting, hands on his knees, Jake looked around and noticed that no soil had been disturbed. He kicked at the sack and pecans rolled out, probably picked to sell for a little money to the locals for pies and pralines. Jake would take them to the house, get his truck, dump the body after dark, and keep watching.
Since 2011, Shotgun Honey has been honored to have a variety of talented writers helm what we fondly call the “Gauntlet.” A right of passage for every story that graces our site, where the story is reviewed individually by three submission editors and requires a majority vote.
It started with Kent Gowran, Sabrina Ogden and myself, and has shuffled with following generous and talented folks: Chad Rorbacher, Joe Myers, Erik Arneson, Chris Irvin, Jen Conley, Angel Luis Colón, Nick Kolakowski, Renee Pickup and Hector Acosta.
Nick Kolakowski stepped down at the start of the year, transitioning to a role as associate editor for Shotgun Honey Books, an imprint of Down & Out Books. Nick is the author of the Love & Bullets Hookup series, as well as the dystopian novel Maxine Unleashes Doomsday. We hope to see more work from him the future as I recommend all his works.
Renee Ascher Pickup also stepped down in 2019 to focus on the diverse publishing efforts of Bronzeville Books, which we here at Shotgun Honey greatly endorse. She brings a unique view and voice to every project she is associated with, and we’ll miss her contribution.
This lease the talented Hector Acosta to read all those submissions. Because we didn’t want to weight of the world upon Hector’s shoulders, and there was a bit of catch up to do, in December we closed submissions. And now our pantry is bare.
I am happy to announce that Flash Fiction submissions are open once again, and who is going to man the “Gauntlet?”
Joining us for 2020, I would like to welcome Nikki Dolson and Paul J. Garth. Nikki Dolson is the author of All Things Violent and Love and Other Criminal Behavior. And Paul J. Garth is a short story author who’s work can be found on Shotgun Honey, most recently with “Eulogy”, and in various collections and web magazines. Both present diverse POVs from various areas of the US, and Hector likes them. As the senior man, that’s important.
We’re looking for new stories, diverse voices, and interesting twists. Are you ready for the new “Gauntlet”?
Cal was a one-damn-thing-at-a-time
kind of guy, and at the moment the one thing was making sure no whiskey missed
his glass. That accomplished, he looked
at Lanny and said, “Do what, now?” Lanny
had brought the bottle, and they were sharing it on the back porch. The porch light would draw bugs, so Lanny was
shadowy on the other side of the table.
He was also a little blurry, something Cal attributed to drink.
Lanny repeated his question. About what would Cal do to somebody who did
“Too wide!” Cal complained after
pondering a moment. “Too many… uh…
varbles.” He took another sip. “I mean…
Stranger? Friend? Kin?
And what kind of dirt did he do me?
Mean to say, did he step on my toe, or shoot my dog?”
“Say he’s your best friend,” said
Lanny. “Say he did shoot your dog.”
“Then I’d kill the bastard!” Cal smacked the table for emphasis, and
everything jumped into the air. But the
lid was on the bottle, so it could have been worse. “Shoot my dog? Damn right I’d kill him, whoever he is. Where is my dog, anyway? Rooster!
Rooster!” He tried to whistle,
“Interesting you’d say so,” Lanny
said, leaning back in his chair, “because I got a situation with a fella.”
“Did he shoot your dog?”
“Ain’t got a dog.”
“Everybody ought to have a dog. I got a… Where is that little son of a bitch,
anyway?” He wheezed with laughter.
“What the hell is funny?” Lanny
“I called Rooster a son of a bitch,
and he is! I mean like, literally!” Cal nearly doubled over.
“You’re shitfaced,” said Lanny,
which, while possibly true, was uncalled-for, and Cal stopped laughing. “I ain’t the one who’s blurry,” he said
Lanny set his glass down even though
it wasn’t empty yet. “Fella I’m talking
about,” he said, “did something just as bad as shooting my dog.”
“You said you ain’t got a dog.”
Lanny sighed and scooted his chair
round to face Cal. “What he did,” he
said, slowly and deliberately, “is as bad as if I had a dog and he shot it.”
“Oh,” Cal said. “I get you.”
Cal saw that his own glass was
empty. Had it spilled when he banged the
table? Well anyway, a glass is no good
to anybody empty. He reached for the
bottle. Lanny grabbed it up. “Just listen a minute.”
“I can drink and listen at the same
time.” He reached again for the bottle,
but Lanny held it away.
“Don’t you want to know what the
“What fella?” Lanny was starting to get on Cal’s
nerves. It was technically Lanny’s
bottle, but you don’t just snatch up a bottle out of a man’s hand when he
reaches for it.
“The fella I’m talking about. The one who didn’t shoot my dog because I
ain’t got one.”
“What are you talking about? You gonna give me another drink or what?”
“But you know what I do have?
A wife. I got a wife.”
Cal obviously knew that. Lanny knew he knew that. What was he going on about? “Nobody shot Yolanda,” he mumbled. He still wasn’t following, but at the mention
of Yolanda a muffled fire bell somewhere way in the back of his mind started
Lanny began to laugh, but it wasn’t
a happy laugh. “No,” he said. “You didn’t shoot her, did you? You didn’t shoot your best friend’s wife.”
Deep in his gut Cal felt a
tightening, followed by a sudden rush of warmth in his throat that he swallowed
down with some difficulty. He noticed
that Lanny wasn’t blurry anymore. He
also noticed that Lanny was holding a pistol.
“What would you do?” Lanny asked, his face a shadow.
Cal knew he needed to think fast,
but despite the sharpening of his surroundings, he found he couldn’t think at
all. Then, suddenly and surprisingly, he
found that didn’t even want to. He
shrugged elaborately and slouched in his chair.
“Ain’t got a wife.”Well, he
thought as he watched the pistol rise, at
least he didn’t shoot my dog.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and while I agree with that sentiment, I do judge books by their covers. As the primary designer for all of Shotgun Honey’s releases, I’ve developed an admiration for cover design, and the various methods a designer will take to produce a truly inspirational cover. In this pursuit, I follow websites like The Casual Optimist, Spine Magazine and Paste. I’m always on the look out.
MAXINE UNLEASES DOOMSDAY (Down and Out Books)
Design by Zack McCain
One thing you want a book cover to do is pop, stand out, and create an immediate response. The visceral response I got when I saw this cover made me a bit jealous, because I really wish had the artistic chops to pull off a cover like this.
A good graphic can make or break a cover, combine that with a primary color, the cover will jump out to the consumer. It’s simple, but strong. I like also the use of hand-written typography that pairs well with the artwork of the swallow.
Simple is a term that can be taken negatively, but it is also an aesthetic that allows artist to not overburden or overwork the design, and most of all over think. In this re-print of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, the design is derived from the title, creating interest by breaking up and overlapping text to create texture and interest. I’m a bit envious because with the way our books are published, text can’t be full bleed, but the inclusion of the title and author in smaller block might be the solution to my conundrum.
I’m a digital designer, and so what I work with often requires manipulating stock materials. A cover like this could be replicated digitally, but it’s not. It follows a trend of covers being created from paper art. There’s an intrinsic value to that, because I could see the art being hung and displayed. An ability to view actively how light plays with the physical object. The flowing typography works, but it is the art that makes it shine.
I don’t know if it is the difference in aesthetics between the US and the UK, but I often am drawn to the UK version of covers. David Bowman’s paperback release of Big Bang is a nice paper collage, which could be digitally rendered, but is effectively put together in a deconstructive manner.
There are more I could choose, and in the coming year I may do something better to curate those outstanding covers of 2020.
Marie Mitchell, a black woman from New York City works for the FBI during the 1980s. Obviously, she stands out, and it’s her uniqueness along with her competence, that alerts the CIA to her so that they wind up recruiting her for a job in West Africa. American Spy is a character study, a political novel, a love story, and a story about memory and history. It deals with race and gender both in the United States and Africa, and it does all this while telling an espionage tale. What does it mean to be an American, a black American, a woman who is a black American, a woman who is a black American who takes a job to bring down an African leader devoted to building a black nation that can be free of western imperialist control? American Spy is a rich, layered book and a lovely, propulsive read.
Won’t somebody stand up to the scourge of gentrification striking our cities? One man does, in hipster central, otherwise known as Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but he does happen to be a deranged killer. Well, everyone has their reasons, and perhaps those resistant to the way a neighborhood evolves and forces out people living there for decades aren’t entirely wrong. As a lifelong New Yorker, Richie Narvaez knows his terrain well, and he uses his knowledge to present a very varied and interesting cast of characters. To go with it all, he’s quite amusing. Hipster Death Rattle is a classic case of an author using the mystery form to tell a fast-paced entertaining story while delivering pungent social commentary.
The plotting of a terrible crime lies at the core of this novel, but it also has a whiff of horror. Besides that, it’s what you might call a Halloween YA novel, about a group of damaged kids who form their own family around a grown-up man who’s the most damaged of them all. From page to page, I found myself laughing, squirming with discomfort, or feeling the sadness in the characters. Through it all, we have the young teen narrator’s voice, a voice not quite like any other I’ve encountered in fiction. Will he win the fight with himself and retain his humanity, or will he give in to the influences who’d be happy to have him help wreak destruction on others? This is a book filled with mounting tension and comedy of the bleakest sort – a combination hard to resist.
Alison Gaylin is one of my favorite writers of psychological suspense. This latest book, about a podcaster researching a teenage serial killer couple from the 1970s, skillfully weaves together several storylines from multiple POVs. Gripping from beginning to end.
I read a lot of nonfiction in 2019 but this coming-of-age memoir is at the top of my list. I found myself recommending it countless times to those interested in true crime or memoir. It’s less about the actual crime than it is about an Upper East Side teenage girl’s obsession with her tennis coach who was later revealed to be a child predator. Disturbing, painfully honest, and beautifully written.
A punk rock heist novel set right before the 2008 economic collapse about a professional safecracker who rips off a cartel, but also a novel about grief, life, the things we do for family, and how trapped you are by where you come from. The best crime novel I read all year, who cares that it technically came out two years ago? Like the playlist that fronts the novel, this book is timeless, angry, and lean. An absolute stunner.
Mosley writes PIs better than anyone and Down the River Unto the Sea is his bang-on-the-table-goddamn-triumph. Corrupt cops (like, seriously, seriously bad), scheming politicos, racial tensions, all the tangles of family, and the single most chilling Tough Guy sidekick I’ve ever read (seriously, don’t ever mess with a dude named Melquarth Frost) – they all get spun up into a tight mystery that puts our hero in way over his head. If you’re burnt out on the PI genre, this one will singlehandedly restore your interest.
One of the most beautiful books I own, this collection of essays, each presented with several black and white photographs, explores the intersection between a changing pop culture and an insurgent spiritual reawakening, and the horrific consequences of their collision. Somehow fun and horrifying all at once (not to mention timely) this book is a beautiful and insightful reminder of how fear can be used for control.
Cosby debut is immediately engaging as Nathan Waymaker rides the line between good and bad as he attempt to uncover the truths behind the death of a local minister who had seedier past. Full of memorable characters, sex and violence overlapping a compelling mystery, My Darkest Prayer is nuanced and deft writing.
Since Davidson’s debut in 2011, I’ve enjoyed her ability to ability to write stories about characters and places, and the mysteries between. One Small Sacrifice is no different, as Det. Sheryn Sterling discovers she must solve a murder before understanding the disappearance of a local doctor, and how the man in the middle of both cases, Alex Traynor, connects the pieces.
This posthumous collection of short stories by the late working class writer Larry Brown not only collects his stories, but gives you an understanding of Brown’s personal growth as a writer. Not formally trained, Brown wrote story after story until he was finally published in the 1980s, his first story published in Easyrider. That story though not the best, shows the foundation for telling lean stories with a depth that outnumbers their word counts.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these recommendations over the last four weeks and find some new voices you may have overlooked. Have a great new year and read lots of books and stories.