Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part One)

2019 is almost gone, and it’s that time of the year we reflect back on the books we’ve read. I know the books I’ve read and those that still tower in my TBR pile all cattywampus next on and around my nightstand is sizable. I’m always willing to make that pile larger, so I’ve asked friends and writers to give me a short list books that were their favorites over the course of the year. Specifically, I asked for at least two books in our favorite genre, crime, and one book outside of the crime genre. It’s always a good thing to explore and expand your reading.

This isn’t a “Best of” list, reading is subjective after all. From the lists I’ve gotten so far, I can say I do highly recommend the books as well as the folks who have made the recommendations.

This is a weekly series throughout the month of December, so be sure to come back next Wednesday.


Angel Luis Colón

Author of Hell Chose Me, editor of ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!
and podcast host of The Bastard Title.

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha

This is a frustratingly good book, like, as a writer I felt ashamed as I read this because it was so damn good. As a reader? What a goddamn treat. Beautiful and heart-wrenching, Steph Cha writes the kind of crime fiction we need to see more of.

MY DARKEST PRAYER by S.A. Cosby

With a strong voice and prose reminiscent of some of the best noir has offered before, Cosby’s debut, MY DARKEST PRAYER, will satisfy those with that itch only hard-boiled fiction can provide. This is the proper kind of graduation for such a gifted short story writer and I cannot wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.

ONE SMALL SACRIFICE by Hilary Davidson

I’m an unabashed Davidson fanboy. Her mix of tight storytelling and wicked black humor scratches all the itches I have as a reader. The first of her Shadows of New York books is a twisty and suspenseful thriller that I think fans of the genre and those tired of its conventions can equally enjoy.

That about does it in the crime world, what about outside of the genre?

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: HOLLYWOOD MONSTERS AND THE LOST LEGACY OF MILICENT PATRICK by Mallory O’Meara

A wonderful account of the career and astounding legacy of Milicent Patrick, best known as the artist responsible for the monster design of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (as well as her contributions at Disney). LADY is a fantastic piece about erasure in the past that remains relevant here and now.


E.A. Aymar

Author of The Unrepentant and editor of The Night of the Flood

THE HIDDEN THINGS by Jamie Mason

Jamie Mason has this neat trick where she writes concise, careful, pretty prose without sacrificing the tension or suspense of the plot. Read the outstanding opening chapter of The Hidden Things to see what I mean, and then read the rest of the book for a tightly-written story about a stolen painting and the desperate people looking for it…and the people desperately trying to keep their truths from emerging.

¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS! edited by Angel Luis Colón

The ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! anthology is so many things – a powerful study of contemporary latinx voices; a wonderfully-curated collection of beautiful short fiction; a cry that should be resonating across our country. The market for anthologies is crowded nowadays, but this entry stands out in that field and deserves a wide audience (and all of the proceeds go to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico).

MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim

At this point, you’ve likely heard about Miracle Creek, even if it doesn’t fall neatly into a specific genre. Kim’s debut novel is absorbing and poignant on so many levels – as a story about immigrants adjusting to life in America, the complications of raising a child with special needs, the brutal effect of secrecy. By all measures, one of the best books of 2019, and one readers will long remember.


Eric Beetner

Author of All the Way Down and podcast co-host of Writer Types

THE GUILT WE CARRY by Samuel W. Gailey

The best crime stories take a salacious plot and wrap it in real characters. Gailey does this as well as anyone. A variation on my favorite little sub genre of noir – finding a bag of money – this book is elevated by truly compelling characters. To be this invested in the people is the mark of great fiction, period.

THE WOLF WANTS IN by Laura McHugh

Again, character is key -this time with families. When an author can make me relate to a family situation that is miles from my own, I know I’m in the hands of a great writer, and McHugh has done this in each of her three novels. Unpredictable as it spools out a mysterious past, I never feel manipulated by the author’s hand in a Laura McHugh book. I’m just swept away for the ride in the best possibly way.

GO ALL THE WAY by SW Lauden and Paul Myers

I was around since the inception of this book because of my friendship with Steve Lauden and I know it was a passion project for him. As a punk rock kid I’ve seen a lot of the music of my younger days fall by the wayside of my own evolving tastes, but power pop remains. It’s the catchy, driving beat of the best rock roll has to offer and these essays explore why it endures and gives real life examples of how music effects our lives. It’s not a history, it’s an appreciation and a series of unique insights into the power of music in our lives.


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.


Where the Long Road Ends

Her dreams died long before she did. They were on life support before I even met her. But that’s what this town does to you.

When I was a kid I heard an uncle say the U.S. tilted to the left and all the nuts ran downhill and landed in California. I knew the truth of it, why so many bad things happened here. Things like what happened to Carla.

See, West is the direction of change. It’s where you go to follow dreams. West is where you can start over, reinvent yourself. Go from Vicki Dummer to Carla Ravenwood overnight. But what happens when you make it all the way to Hollywood and your dreams don’t work out? You’ve reached the end of the line, sister. No where else to go but the deep blue sea.

When they realize that, when they see there is nowhere else to go, they end up broken and spent. Lying in the sand on Santa Monica beach, a bullet hole in their head and a pretty little gun tucked into their hand.

Then their dreams roll out with the tide. Join the billion other broken dreams like the grains of sand under their bodies as the grow cold.

Too many little girls and beautiful boys end up on the sand like her. Or in alleyways kissing pavement, one room apartments swinging from a rope, bathtubs bleeding out. But with Carla it was different. She wouldn’t give up on her dreams. She was going to be a star. She was going to be rich.

When it became clear I couldn’t give her those things, she moved on to someone who could.

I got her auditions, but she didn’t have the talent. I gave her money, but I didn’t have enough of it to hand out. The thing about L.A. is the haves and have nots get a clear view of each other. We put our rich folks in the hills looking down on the rest of us. When you stand in the gutter you can see the stars and if you’re not strong enough to handle the view, it can kill you.

I told her I loved her but it was only so much dialogue and she wanted a different script. She fell for the promises that float on the air like the scent of jasmine. Then she got the big promise, the one whispered right in her ear. And the promises of a movie producer are free to give away. And they give them away, brother, they do.

Eight months she was gone, and when she came back to me she was spent and soulless. With a pair of binoculars you could see her in the back row of the chorus line in the one picture she made. Drained of her dream she was a different girl.

And I was different too. My wound hadn’t healed over.

She never begged, never pleaded to come back into my life. Maybe if she had I wouldn’t have felt so used. She turned up, expected back in and no questions asked. But I had questions.

When she finally spilled what went on with Mr. Bigshot, my ego couldn’t take any more. Lucky for me when she left, she’d forgotten her pretty little gun. Lucky, too, she liked the beach at sunset. Tomorrow would be the day it all happened, she’d tell herself. But those dreams, like the stars in a city built of light, were getting harder and harder to see.

I let her watch the sun sink into the ocean. I let her dream about tomorrow. Then I ended her today, sent her off into the long, dark forever.

I put the gun in her hand, left her feet in the surf, and walked away. But not West. That road had run out.


Debut of Writer Types with Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden: Episode 1

Something pretty cool happened. What? The debut of a new podcast produced by Shotgun Honey alums Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden. It features interviews, reviews, banter, and a reading from the Shotgun Honey archives. This episode Eric and Steve talk to Megan Abbott, Lou Berney, Steph Post. The dynamic duo (not Eric and Steve, or Batman and Robin) Dan and Kate Malmon with Crimespree Magazine and from balmy Minnesota look back at 2016 with a top 5 list, and a look forward at 2017 releases. This episode’s reading is from Nick Kolakowski reading “Whoops!” Plus there are some bookstore shout-outs from Gary Phillips, S.G. Redling, and Jay Stringer. They even let Shotgun Honey’s imprint publisher Down & Out Books head honcho Eric Campbell give insight into publishing.

Listen to it now (or save for later) at:

 


Up on the Rooftop

Turns out a snowman is no place to hide. Bullets go right through. Mr. Halvorsen learned that one the hard way.

This was the day before Christmas Eve when I was nine. The Halvorsens were our neighbors. My bedroom looked out onto their house and when I was a teenager I’d spend a lot of time watching and waiting for Marjorie to walk past her window in her underwear, but this was before that. All I had on my mind two days before the big day were presents.

Now, don’t ask me why Mr. H decided to pull this stunt a day before the day Santa Claus is supposed to come around, but I guess he had his reasons. Maybe he could only rent the suit on an off day since all the other dads intent on giving their kids the thrill of a lifetime with a visit from the actual Santa Claus had reserved the red outfit in advance. That’s just me speculating.


Safety

The kid was a pain in the ass, but that’s what a little brother is for.

Mark knew the kid worshipped him. What he couldn’t figure was how to parlay that into an all access pass to his sister’s panties.

Marcia let Stevie hang around way too much and Mark suspected it was because she knew the kid’s pro-level skill at cock blocking. Mark figured he had a sure bet to get Marcia alone that time he rolled up on his motorcycle, but as they were about to leave the brat behind, Marcia gave up her seat and let Stevie have a ride first.

Being kind to Stevie made Mark look good, at least. Good enough for a lay? Remained to be seen.

“Hop on, boy. I’m gonna teach you how to ride a motorbike.”

Little redheaded bastard wouldn’t stop bouncing up and down and Mark swore he could feel a tiny ten-year-old prick digging into his back. Mission accomplished: cock blocked.

When Marcia expressed interest in learning how to shoot, Mark happily obliged. His first thought was that there was no way Stevie would be invited out to the lake if there was live ammunition involved.

Mark was wrong.

Well, fuck that kid. Mark was gonna get nice and intimate with Marcia anyway. He told Stevie to stand fifty feet back by the tree line.

“Aw, I can’t see nothing,” the boy complained.

“I told you Stevie, this ain’t kid stuff.” Mark did his best to sound authoritative. Protecting the kid had to earn him pussy points with Marcia, right? Just to double down he threw the kid a bone. “Know what? Why don’t you go set up the cans.”

Stevie jumped and ran with an empty six pack of mismatched beer empties, all easily scavenged from the banks of the lake. When the six targets were placed in a crooked row, Stevie retreated to his safe distance and Mark began the lesson.

“Now, first things first, you gotta know if your safety is engaged or not. See this switch?”

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pointing out landmarks on the gun as he held his hands out in front of them. Marcia smiled and wiggled her ass as he cinched up close to her, letting her feel his breath in her ear.

“The important thing is to squeeze the trigger, not to pull it. Go gentle.” He rest his finger against the trigger, teased the metal, making sure Marcia could see his delicate touch.

“You sure do know how to use those fingers,” she said.

“Do I ever.”

Mission proceed: no blockage in sight.

“Can I hold it?” Marcia asked.

“We’re still talking about the gun, right?” Mark laughed. Marcia smiled. Stevie stepped onto a tree stump for a better view.

Marcia pushed harder with her hips against Mark’s crotch, a surge of heat coming through her jean shorts. He let go of the pistol and she wrapped two hands around it. He imagined what else those hands could do.

Mark turned over his shoulder and shouted to Stevie, subtly defying him to ruin this moment.

“Now pay attention here, boy. I’m gonna teach you how to do some real shooting.”

The first shot erupted. A wet spray coated the side of Mark’s face. As he turned back around Marcia’s body began to slump to the ground and he got a moving glimpse of her open skull.

He swore to God he showed her the safety switch. He knew he did. Still she managed to . . .

A light rain of blood and hailstones of skull fell to earth around them. He didn’t know how she’d done it, but the dumb blonde had shot half her head away.

Deaf in one ear, coated in her blood and with a rapidly fading erection, Mark stood in shock as Marcia’s body hit the soft soil. The gun came to a rest on a patch of moss. Six cans stood mirroring Mark’s motionless stunned silence.

He broke from his trance and turned. Stevie stood wide-eyed on his tree stump.

“Okay, boy, listen up. I’m gonna teach you how to dig a real deep hole.”


A Measure Of Time

It takes 23.3 seconds to empty a 30-round magazine in my Colt M4 Carbine. How do I know that? Because I emptied one last night. And I’m here to tell you what happens in those 23.3 seconds.

How did I get an M4? None of your fucking business.

So, first few seconds is all about the noise. Three seconds gone and you’ve already spit out four bullets that are rocket-powering the distance between you and the target, in this case four guys you’d rather see dead than see Megan Fox go down on your dick.

The sound is almost enough to make you take your finger off the trigger, but no, you stick with it.

You hit four seconds, five and the bullets reach the mark. Those first couple of shots are really just finding the target, nothing to get too upset about when they do more damage to the cinderblock wall than the four bodies you’re aiming at. Now you’ve got the gun erupting in your hand and the added sound of the impacts coming back to you off the wall, PLUS the echo of the blast caps bouncing all around the alley. Chaos. Fucking chaos.

But you stick with it.

Six to ten seconds and you start to sweep the barrel of the M4 to the right. Don’t know why it goes left to right, but it does. Somehow in the midst of trying to aim, blocking out the sound, looking for bullet hits on the targets, you manage to wonder if lefty’s do it from left to right.

Eleven seconds and your first bullet hits the mark. Now, at this point it’s impossible to tell if this is one that left the chamber at eight seconds, nine perhaps. All that matters is the sight of his shoulder being punched back and a splash of red leaping up into the spotlight of the club’s marquee.

You pass halfway – up to fifteen seconds of solid shooting. Your finger starts to cramp. Ears are ringing, but you don’t notice because all of a sudden there is a lot to look at on the other side of the alley. The first guy has started to fall and is blooming red all across his chest. His hands are flailing up like he’s calling a touchdown.

The guy next to him made the sorry mistake of trying to duck when the shots first started. He also tried to run, but all he managed to do was bump his forehead into the ass of the third guy in line. That left him bent over perfectly in your line of fire.

The first guy’s blood spurts were cute by comparison. This is when, again in the screaming mayhem of the moment, you start to feel a little bad.

It’s night because it’s always night when this shit goes down. The marquee does a decent job of lighting the space between buildings, but the muzzle flash of the M4 pumps a strobe light into the alley and watching a guy’s melon come apart in stop-motion is mesmerizing. First shot goes in under his eye, next one across his forehead, third takes out a chunk of bone over his temple. It ain’t pretty but it’s goddamn beautiful, if you know what I mean.

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen seconds and you’ve shot more than 20 rounds and the third out of four guys goes down. They start to pile up, one falling into the legs of another, destroying what little chance he had of running away.

This third guy, the fat one, takes something like six bullets to the chest. They all thud in and make a sound that comes back to you across the alley like pounding nails into a phonebook. He’s thick, but for some reason, probably it’s that everyone is falling away, you notice the marks of exit wounds on the alley wall behind him. Red dots and concrete dust.

Just when you think you’ve been shooting for five seconds or maybe ten minutes – it’s over. All out.

Guy number four is down and you don’t even remember hitting him.

Now you know. Get your own damn M4.