Welcome to Noir Journal 45. As some of you know, I make my living as a freelance writer. I've been very busy the past few months and a bunch of great reviews have come in. So here's a no-frills, gigantic book review issue of Noir Journal (Part 1). It's a "Work In Progress," and I'll add reviewer information, cover art, correct typos, etc., as I get the time. Meanwhile, read away--probably not all in one sitting. (And thanks to authors, publishers, and publicists for the review copies they've provided.)
Tumor, by Fialkov and Tuazon
Liar's Kiss, by Skillman and Soriano
Lake Charles, by Ed Linskey
Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov
The Quest for Anna Klein, by TH Cook
Setup on Front Street, by Mike Dennis
First a couple from Noir Journal's good friend, Irish noir author Sam Millar
Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon, Archaia (June 22, 2010)
Reviewed by Sam Millar
Occasionally, a book opens in your hands, and by the time you’ve read the first few pages, you know you’re holding something special. That something special is the critically acclaimed Tumor, from Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon, the Harvey Award-nominated creative team of Elk’s Run.
Tumor was the first graphic novel to make its debut exclusively on Kindle as an ebook, but thankfully it’s now made its way into original book form, beautifully packaged by publisher, Archaia, for which they are to be commended.
When Frank Armstrong, an elderly down-on-his luck PI, is sipping java at his neighborhood café, local heavy, Adrian, a harbinger who never brings good news, suddenly joins him. Frank is ‘asked’ by Adrian to journey with him to the Peking Noodle Factory, a run-down factory situated on a side of town where even the dogs wear bulletproof vests. There, he will have a sit down with brutal crime kingpin and nemesis, Gibson Atwater. Fatalistic Frank believes it’s probably a journey with a one-way ticket, and that he is probably being lured to his death: “This is the dead man’s walk. Being lead by a man like Adrian to meet with a man like Gibson in a place like this…”
However, to Frank’s relief, Atwater does not want to kill him - at least not yet. He wants Frank to find his missing daughter, Evelyn, who has mysteriously disappeared, possibly with a large chink of her father’s illicit profits to elope with her boyfriend. Ten grand - a small fortune to Frank - is finally agreed to, provided Frank can bring the girl back. For Frank, this new case carries with it a morbid redemption, as he hopes to redeem himself for failing to prevent his wife’s murder, many years ago. Suddenly, things are starting to look rosy in Frank Armstrong’s usually weed-covered garden. Of course, Frank should know better than to believe anything in his life could ever be rosy. And just to prove a point on how sadistic life really is for Frank, the symptoms of a late-stage brain tumor, eating into his gray matter, threaten to spiral his chaotic life into further chaos, causing him to slip in and out of reality from a hospital bed to the hard sidewalks of LA…
Tuazon’s depression-style black and white art is perfect for such a gritty story, switching from fine line to gray wash as Frank's foggy perceptive juxtapositions from one extreme to the other. With such a large ensemble of characters and situations, Tumor could very well have turned out to be nothing more than a jumbled disaster. Thankfully, in the skilful hands of Fialkov and Tuazon, this has not happened, and it’s to their credit they have managed such an achievement. With a nod to the classic noir film, D.O.A, Tumor’s own brand of darkness is a master class in sparse, gritty prose, infused with elegiac imagery which should appeal to an even larger audience beyond that of the crime noir genre. Don’t miss it. It’s a classic.
Liar’s Kiss, by Erik Skillman and Jhomar Soriano
Review by Sam Millar
Nick Archer is a private eye, but not the old-fashioned noble kind you’re used to seeing in Hollywood movies. He’s a sleazebag of the highest order, telling his rich client, Kincaid, that Abbey his beautiful wife is faithful while in fact she’s fooling around with Nick himself. Then Kincaid gets shot, and Abbey becomes chief suspected. Nick is her alibi, but she wants him to prove someone else did it instead of revealing her infidelity, so she won’t risk losing her dead husband’s money. Only problem being is that Nick has an agenda of his own, and connections to this case that go deeper than anyone realizes. The book’s tagline sums it all up perfectly: The way he investigates is a crime in itself…
Liar’s Kiss has all the ingredient of a noir gem: double-crossing liars, murder, sex, money, sex and blood. Did I mention sex? Lots of it. Jhomar’s starkly angled and to-the-bone rendering of characters is perfectly matched with Skillman’s wisecracking and compelling prose. The story itself is full of ambiguity, matched by the characters own bankrupt morality. Neither Archer nor Abbey comes across as likable, but that’s what makes them perfect noir contenders in an unattractive world of murky shadows and dog-eat-dog existence. Think Double Indemnity meets The Big Sleep.
Edgier than a bag full of cutthroat razors, and expertly paced with just the right amount of grittiness to make it authentically real, Liar’s Kiss is noir at its cynical and dangerous best, making it a must-have for any aficionado of the genre. And that’s no lie.
Lake Charles, by Ed Lynskey, Wildside Press (June 28, 2011)
Review by Poker Ben, AKA Ben Springer
Lake Charles by Ed Lynskey is Appalachian noir at its finest. Set in the backwoods of Tennessee during the late 1970’s, this book has a wonderful vintage feel to it.
Brendan Fishback, is a teenager caught in a whirlwind of trouble. After a wild night of partying, that included smoking a ton of weed, Brendan hooked up with a rich girl named Ashleigh. After taking the party to a motel room, Brendan wakes up the next morning to Ashleigh dead beside him. He calls for help, only to be accused of the murder himself. That’s only part of his trouble.
While on bail, Brendan, his sister Edna, and her husband Cobb, decide to spend the weekend at Lake Charles to fish, and jet ski, and mainly forget about Brendan’s troubles. But of course like all the great noir novels, things only get worse. While out jet skiing alone, Brendan’s sister Edna disappears. The deeper they look for Edna, the more trouble they uncover. The more they dig, the worse things get. Soon Edna’s disappearance doesn’t seem so random, and things seem to tie in with Ashleigh’s death more and more.
Ed Lynskey is a fantastic storyteller. From the first page I was sucked into the story. The vintage feel to the novel added a real layer of charm. I really cared for the characters. Though the action is almost nonstop, Lynskey’s prose is poetic, and very addictive. It keeps you flipping through the pages, wanting to know what happens next. This was my first Lynskey, but I will definitely seek out his other works. I’m hoping we might see a sequel. Highly recommended.