Sure we’ve all got our favorite series and authors, but I want to know if you’ve got any publishers whose books you’ll pick up just on the strength of their track record?(Seriously, if you do, I'd love to know about 'em as they must be doing something right.)
I’ve had a few. Black Lizard, Serpent’s Tail, Hard Case Crime – I’ll always take a good close look at what they’re offering, and I've got my ever watchful eye on Tyrus and New Pulp Press but man, my current publisher crush has got to be PM Press’s Switchblade line.
After last year’s blunt-instrument assault Pike by Benjamin Whitmer, (plus Sin Soracco’s Low Bite and Jim Nisbet’s A Moment of Doubt – both PM, but not of the Gary Phillips/Andrea Gibbons shepherded Switchblade line), I adjusted my radar for whatever else they had coming down the (cough) pike. So when Barry Graham’s The Wrong Thing showed up, you better believe it went straight to the top of my TBR pile. And am I glad it did.
The Wrong Thing is the story of The Kid, a lost-cause, outcast turned criminal in the American South West. It's a stripped-down outlaw ballad delivered in terse, but lyrical passages, and though The Kid doesn’t live to a ripe old age, I’m terribly impressed that the story of his life fits so well into the compact boundary of just over a hundred pages. Seems to me that when you know how to use words effectively you just don’t have to use as many, (another analogy would make Barry Graham a one-bullet-one-kill sniper and your average popular thriller writer a tommy-gun-wielding-thug spraying an excess of lead for the same result).
The other virtue Graham’s book should most be praised for is keeping me entirely in the dark about the story’s direction. Yeah, you can't help but feel tragedy around the corner, but I never knew where it was coming from (or headed), and for that reason, the book's big events snuck up on me and caught me unaware so that I could feel their full effect.
Keep me off balance and you’ll knock me down with a feather. Thanks, Barry.
Summer Brenner’s I-5 also had that virtue in spades. The saga of Anya - a Russian girl who thinks she’s taking on legitimate work in the United States only to find she’s been duped into life as a sex worker for global organized crime, (did you ever read Peter Landesman’s New York Times Magazine piece The Girls Next Door? No? Do it). We learn Anya’s story in layers, and we learn her character in actions that are never quite what we expect them to be. She kept me guessing all the way through this hallucinatory shadow-world tour. Neither a wilting victim nor a femme fatale, she’s hardboiled and wiley enough to be a survivor, but the complexity of her psychology can’t be condensed to a casting call bullet-point.
I remember The Wrong Thing and I-5 in episodes. Both books feature multiple scenes of out-of-left-field suspense, humor, horror and humanity that stand out in such sharp and refreshing contrast to the barrage of swollen, by-rote thrillers glutting the shelves, that it’d be more than a little negligent of me not to spread the word where I can – PM Press’s Switchblade line is some sharp crime fiction, folks. Get on that.
(Next on my list from them is Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon)
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.
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