The Care and Training of Wild and Captive Hawks

“When a 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 hands bound.

The one that Saunders stood next to was named Lesko. He had a sack over his head.

“Instead, 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.”

Saunders paced 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.

Saunders 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.

“With 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–“

Saunders didn’t wait, but struck the boy hard across the mouth.

“The 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.

At last, 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.

“Stand,” said Saunders. Lesko obeyed.

Then Saunders strode over to his son, and cut the ropes that bound him as well.

“Stand,” said Saunders. Instead, the boy curled up in fear.

Saunders hauled the boy up to a half-standing posture and pointed at Lesko with the switchblade.

“I want 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.

“And as 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 want.”

Saunders let 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.

“The clock is starting now, gentlemen. Either way, the hawks will eat handsomely tonight.”

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.

Book Submissions Open until February 28, 2020

Shotgun Honey Books, an imprint of Down & Out Books, is now open for book submissions for our limited 2021 catalog of 4-6 books. We will be selective, looking for books in the crime genre that are unique whether they be coming of age (Hardway, Dillo, The Furious Way), road trips (A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, The Carrier), humor laden romps and stomps (The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, Fast Bang Booze) or detective and hard crime (Suburban Dick, Face Value, or A Place of Refuge).

We are looking primarily for short novels and novellas over 25 thousand and up to 60 thousand words. We will entertain collections, but with our limited catalog, it has to be solid.

Should we not fill our catalog for 2021 during this window, submissions will open the first Monday of every month until we do.


A 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 the compound.

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 bed.

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.

Bound 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 strike.

Dios, this is gonna hurt.

Joe and Mary-Jane

London, 9 November 1885

“’Ere, Joe, take your coat off.”

“I’m fine as I am.”

“You look unhappy. Let me cheer you up.”

“I’m fine.”

“Well relax. Get undressed. Hey, what are you doin’?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Stroking me belly.”

“So? Can’t I touch you now.”

“Yeah. But you’re usually more interested in me tits.”

“I loves your belly, Mary-Jane. I wanted it to carry me babies.”

“Well stop it now. Give us a kiss.”


“Hey, not so rough. That’s better. Now rub me lower down. You know…”

“I don’t feel like it.” 

“Why? What’s up?”

“You been goin’ with other blokes again, ain’t ya? I knows you ‘ave.”

“Rubbish, Joe, I’d never… Ow, that hurts. Let go.”

“I knows you ’ave.”

“Course I ain’t. I’d be crazy, what with what ‘appened to all them other girls.”

“What happened?”

“You know. They ‘ad their throats cut.”


“And what?”

“What else?”

“I don’t know.”

“Their bellies were slit.”

“Was they?”

“Yeah, they was. From ‘ere to ‘ere.”

“Stop it, Joe. You’re frightening me.”

“’Ere.. to ‘ere…”

“Joe, that ain’t funny. Put the knife down.” 

“The others woz a warning.”

“What d’ya mean, a warning?”

“But you never paid any attention, did ya. You kept seeing other men.”

“No I never, Joe.”

“And people talks about Mary-Jane, now. Mary-Jane, the whore whose legs are always apart. It’s all over Whitechapel.”

“No I never, Joe. Honest.”

“You did. And you should ‘ave listened to me warning.”


“Now it’s your turn.”

The Guardian

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.

The New Faces of Shotgun Honey, Submissions Open for Flash Fiction

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 him dirt.

“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, but couldn’t.

“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 asked.

“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 sulkily. 

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 fella did?”

“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 clanging.

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.

Notable Book Covers of 2019

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.

(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.

(Random House)
Design by Emily Osbourne

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.

(Open Letter Books)
Design by Anne Jordan & Mitch Goldstein

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.

Design by Jenna Stempel-Lobell, Art by Eiko Ojala

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.

Design by Jamie Keenan

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.

Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part Four)

Our final week of Favorite Reads of 2019 sends out the year with 13 additional books to add to your wish lists and New Year’s reading lists. I know my 2020 is going to be full of books.

This week we invite Scott Adlerberg, Sarah M. Chen and Paul J. Garth, and I tackle a list of my favorites as well.

Remember, most of the contributors for this series have wonderful books of their own that are always looking for good homes.

On with the books and thank you for making 2019 memorable.

Scott Adlerberg

Author of Jack Waters and Graveyard Love

AMERICAN SPY by Lauren Wilkinson

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.

BLOOD SUGAR by Daniel Kraus

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.

Sarah M. Chen

Author of Cleaning Up Finn and Night of the Flood

NEVER LOOK BACK by Alison Gaylin

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. 


Relentless, gritty, and gut-wrenching with Aymar’s signature humor and heart. Set in the grim world of sex-trafficking, this thriller never feels gratuitous or heavy-handed. A powerful, brave read. 


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. 

Paul Garth

Contributing Editor for Shotgun Honey

SAFE by Ryan Gattis

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. 

BLACK MOUNTAIN by Laird Barron 

The book I imagined when I heard Laird Barron was writing a crime series. Intense, nihilistically bleak, and slyly humorous, Black Mountain has a hardboiled heart, but a head full of cosmic terror. 


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. 

SATANIC PANIC: POP-CULTURAL PARANOIA IN THE 1980S edited by Kier La-Janisse & Paul Corupe 

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.

Ron Earl Phillips

Publisher and Managing Editor of Shotgun Honey


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.

ONE SMALL SACRIFICE by Hilary Davidson

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.

TINY LOVE by Larry Brown

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.

Side Effects May Vary

The light was already red, but Lacey gunned the engine and prayed. At least if I get hit, I might get some good painkillers, she thought. Her Volkswagen lurched forward, shooting through the intersection unharmed. She left a chorus of horn blasts and middle fingers in her wake, ignored. She only had eyes on the black Audi two cars ahead. She’d almost lost sight of it once, but she was determined to stay on its tail. She had to.

Lacey glanced in the rear-view. Looked away. She couldn’t bear to look at her own face, the need and desperation were both too apparent.

In high school, she had been pretty: a blonde, vivacious cheerleader who would never be prom queen, but was liked my most. Her first college boyfriend introduced her to weed, then coke, then pharmaceuticals. He was long gone, but he was followed by a series of guys just like him. A decade of using wore down her good looks. The lines in her face, her narrow, shifty eyes, nails bitten bloody–her addiction was all too apparent.

But her plan would fix her up nicely. Get the case, keep what she wanted, and sell the rest. One of her friends, a medical assistant, told Lacey about how the drug reps carried tons of samples. Follow one, watch for an opportunity, and snatch the meds. Easy.

Lacey hooked a quick right into the parking garage. The Audi was parked on the incline to the second floor. Its brake lights were on, the engine still running. Lacey forced herself not to look as she rolled by. She pulled into the handicapped space closest to the door to the stairwell.

Just like C.J. used to do it. Go in fast, scare the shit out of her, then get gone. Lacey had ridden along with her ex numerous times. He escalated the violence quickly, keeping his marks off-balance, easily manipulated. C.J. was a strongarm master.

There she is. In her rear-view mirror, Lacey watched the Audi’s driver exit the car, then retrieve a case from the trunk. Still wearing her sunglasses, the drug rep extended the satchel’s handle and began walking to the stairwell, pulling the rolling  behind her. Lacey sprang from her car and walked up behind the woman.

Lacey flicked her wrist, and the asp baton she carried snicked out to its full length: sixteen inches of deadly flexible steel. The sound broke the woman’s reverie. She turned her head just as Lacey swung the baton, aiming at the woman’s right hand, the one holding the handle. Instead, the tip of the baton connected with her wrist. Surprisingly, the woman didn’t scream, despite the audible crack as her radial bone snapped. The woman cradled her damaged arm against her chest, moaning.

“Back up!” yelled Lacey, poking the baton toward the woman like a knife. The woman complied. She stepped back as Lacey fumbled with the case, dropping the handle twice before grabbing it successfully.

“Lacey?!” the woman gasped. “What the fuck, Lacey!” With her uninjured hand, she pulled off her sunglasses.

Squinting at the woman’s face, Lacey struggled to remember her. Senior year, cheer tryouts. Skinny bitch Amber with the fake tits. Fucking bitch. She knows me. She knows my parents.

“Why would you–you don’t understand…” Amber never finished her sentence. Lacey swung as hard as she could, hitting her in the temple. Her designer sunglasses went flying. The woman crumpled to the floor: it was like a switch flipped and she dropped, inert.

Lacey grabbed the case and threw it in her car. The contents spilled out over the seats and onto the floorboard. Lacey swept foil packets and boxes of medication out of the way as she scrambled behind the wheel. A stack of pamphlets caught her eye: Anticholinergics–Tame That Overactive Bladder! Her mouth went dry as she looked at the medication samples. Hydrin. Avodart. Vesicare. Nothing worth stealing, just urological meds. She glanced over at Amber. Her eyes were open and glazed, a surprised expression on her face. She had pissed herself, Lacey noticed. Blinking back hot, sudden tears, Lacey backed out and drove away.

Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part Three)

With just two weeks left in the year, we bring together a third group of writers and friends to recommend their favorite reads of 2019. It’s been a great bunch of titles that have added to my already towering TBR collection. So many potential gift selections for the book lover who celebrate the holiday seasons. And if they don’t, we might as well just make a book holiday and gift them anyway.

I want to thank those who have contributor so far, and welcome new contributors Nikki Dolson, Dharma Kelleher, S. W. Lauden, and Alex Segura.

Lets get to the books.

Nikki Dolson

Author of All Violent Things

THE STORIES YOU TELL by Kristen Lepionka

I fell out of love with the private detective in fiction until I met Roxane Weary. Three books in to this excellent series and I am hooked again. Lepionka can write a goddamn story and I am here for every tale of Roxane Weary. The Stories You Tell is a great damn ride.

A BROKEN WOMAN by Dharma Kelleher

Give me all the Jinx Ballou stories. Kelleher draws you in and punches you in the feels. This was my first Jinx book. I’m glad there two more waiting for me to read.


Space nuns! Humankind out on the edges of known space. I could tell you so much more but if nuns in space doesn’t get you interested then this isn’t the book for you. (THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU. TRUST ME.)

Dharma Kelleher

Author of Chaser, Extreme Prejudice, and A Broken Woman

REMEMBER by Patricia Shanae Smith

This was my favorite book this year. Not only is it a fantastic suspense novel, but its exploration of PTSD was brilliant. 


This was everything an entertaining crime drama should be—exciting, fun, and gritty. 

CARVED IN BONE by Michael Nava

While framed in the context of an investigation into a man’s death, this novel at its heart is a deep dive into the Castro District’s gay male culture on the verge of the AIDS epidemic.

S. W. Lauden

Author of Go All the Way, Bad Citizen Corporation, and Crossed Bones

RECURSION by Blake Crouch

This choice won’t surprise anybody who’s heard me raving about Blake Crouch on the Writer Types podcast. Crouch’s last two thrillers (“Recursion” and “Dark Matter”) are right in line with my current tastes in crime fiction—the characters are complex, the mind-bending plots are dense, and the writing is excellent.

ALL THE WAY DOWN by Eric Beetner

Speaking of the Writer Types podcast…I may have retired from the show in October, but I left an even bigger fan of Eric Beetner’s writing than I was going in. Beetner is a prolific purveyor of top notch pulp who consistently gets more bang per sentence than most crime writers publishing today. This tightly-plotted thriller is no exception with it’s engaging characters and breakneck pace. 

FACE IT: A MEMOIR by Debbie Harry

I’m a sucker for rock & roll reads (this is one of about 20 I devoured this year), but Debbie Harry’s story is truly fascinating. There was so much I didn’t know about her early days in Manhattan, including run-ins with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd and the New York Dolls—way before she got famous with Blondie. The casual tone makes it feel like she’s confiding a few great stories over drinks. Definitely a book to check out if you love punk rock, power pop or new wave.

Alex Segura

Author of Blackout and Miami Midnight


A new Lisa Lutz book is always an event – and her latest standalone, The Swallows, is a provocative and timely look at the gender dynamics at a New England Prep school – dark, alluring, haunting and frightening in the way only teenage drama can, Lutz shows that she’s one of the sharpest and most versatile crime writers working today.

THE BETTER SISTER by Alafair Burke

Burke is the modern master of domestic suspense, and she’s at the top of her game with The Sister – a twist-laden and tightly-plotted tale that demands to be read in one sitting. A compelling beach read that’s loaded with timely, sharp social commentary, The Better Sister was impossible to ignore and even harder to put down.


Rarely do we see a debut this polished, confident, and layered. Kim’s Miracle Creek is a jaw-dropping first novel that touches on family, hope, and desperation that’s also part murder mystery. Suspenseful, relevant, and complex, I was blown away by this book and had to read it twice.

Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.

5 Questions with…
Chris McGinley

Chris McGinley’s new collection of short stories, Coal Black, is more than just a great collection of brutal crime stories; it’s a deep exploration of the social ties and crises confronting people in eastern Kentucky. From petty thieves to poachers to cops, he imbues his characters with nuanced life… even when they face grisly deaths. McGinley sat down with Nick Kolakowski to talk about the book, his inspirations, and what he’s reading.

Q. Where do you draw the inspiration for your stories? Are the characters and situations based on real-life people you know?

Hey Nick, thanks for having me. My inspiration comes mostly from other writers, other stories, and from the dynamics of rural regions generally. That is to say, it derives from the collective stories of people in Appalachia, and from people in rural regions, though I don’t live in one myself.

With the proliferation of news outlets and other electronic media, the stories of these people, these regions, are more accessible than they have been in the past—and of course there are books about these areas, too. Even colorless reports like those of the Appalachian Regional Commission provide me with ideas.

And as I said, authors and other storytellers give me inspiration, the writers of the so-called Romantic tradition in American literature—Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Irving—are all hugely influential for me. Like a good many crime writers, however, I don’t really know any criminal types. These characters are inventions in large part.

Q. The book has a real feel for the current issues gripping eastern Kentucky, from drugs to mining. How does your own background factor into what you write? 

Coming from a middle-class family, I’ve been blessed with access to formal education and to employment opportunities that don’t involve corporate exploitation and the cycles of poverty that plague large segments of Appalachia. Frankly, I’ve never had to deal with those problems, and in the end I could never truly understand them. But the stories interest me, the sadness of so much of it, and the fact that it continues to go on, and that people endure.

Q. “Kin to Me” is one of my favorite stories in the book—it features complicated characters, an intriguingly weird premise, and probably the most interesting MacGuffin I’ve seen recently in crime fiction. What was your inspiration for it? As I read it, I kept thinking of Otzi, the famous Ice Man of the Alps…

Funny you should mention Otzi, Nick. I always cover Otzi in seventh grade social studies. (I’m a middle school teacher.) It’s the first true murder mystery, right?  But the idea is that the main character in that story is somehow a part of the legacy of the violence of the region’s past, even prehistoric violence. The Man, as I call the bog body from this story, is a symbol of all this—the exploitation, the violence, the Past with an upper case “p,” if you will. I wanted to trace a history of sadness, of violence and exploitation, that suggests an even earlier origin than that which we commonly think of when we think of Appalachia, or other rural regions. And I wanted to render a character who felt it all and decided to stand up in the only way he could. As for Otzi, and the bog bodies of Iron Age Europe, those guys are always on my mind! 

Q. What stories in this collection are closest to your heart, and why?  

The story that means most to me is “The Quilt.” I’ve never quilted and I’m not a woman, but the idea of some shared craft among women, who often bear more of the burden in impoverished regions, is something incredibly tender and resonant in a different kind of way than other shared things. There’s a sense of one generation passing down something to others, something that’s been lost because of external conditions, but not entirely. I think the end is hopeful. I think the main character experiences something like apotheosis . . . wait . . . that’s the right word, isn’t it?

Q. Who’s your inspiration in terms of crime fiction? Who are you reading right now?

 As far as crime fiction goes, I’ve recently finished some stuff that probably qualifies as “literary crime fiction.” Anyway, I guess that’s what they call it.

Ian Pears’ THE INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST is an excellent “crime” novel, as is THE GIVEN DAY by Dennis Lehane, which is an historical novel as much as a crime novel. Then there’s Ron Rash’s THE RISEN and SERENA, both of which I read recently. These are most assuredly crime novels, but they wouldn’t be found in the mystery section of the bookstore.  

I just finished a towering novel, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, by Davis Grubbs. But my favorite crime novels of recent years are all three Donna Tartt novels, and if we can go back as far as the 80s, Patrick Suskind’s odd work, PERFUME. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s ONCE UPON A RIVER is a great new novel.