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Chasers: My Year in Novellas: 4 of top 10 are PM Releases

by Jedidiah Ayres
Ransom Notes: The BN Mystery Blog
December 2011

I love love love having a pile of books always waiting for me to read, but with ever-dwindling time slots to devote to it, some of those doorstop novels look like a month-long slog. Thank goodness for novellas, I say. They’re a great shot of B12, (or pick a whiskey here if you prefer that metaphor) to perk me up and keep me fresh for the big project, cause nothing helps my reading rate like finishing books.
 
Here’s a few novellas I found to be just the thing for me in 2011.
 
By the Nails of the Warpriest and Old Ghosts by Nik Korpon. Korpon’s first novel Stay God was released last December and each of these novellas in 2011. Dude’s been busy, and I don’t mind. Nails is a speculative dystopian iller and Ghosts is a tight little crime story of trouble not left far enough behind. Both pack an impressive emotional punch so quick you won’t have time to get your guard up.
 
California and Gun by Ray Banks. Both have recently been made available as eBooks, which is good news for Americans—cause this Brit Grit is too good not to spread. Gun is about a low-level street criminal’s really bad day running an errand for his boss and California is both the starting point and the destination for a recently released con who wants to retrieve the loot he’s had stashed and start a new life. Best laid plans, eh?
 
Come Closer by Sara Gran. Strange things are going on with Amanda. Dark thoughts and wild urges that seem entirely out of character are coming up with increasing regularity. Is she losing her mind? Is she… possessed? Maybe pushing the word-count of a novella, but certainly a one-sitting read. One, very scary, tense read.
 
Every Shallow Cut
 by Tom Piccirilli. The most startlingly complete and complex character study I read this year was also one of the briefest. Piccirilli’s story of a man riding the razor’s edge all the way across the country, after losing his marriage, his home and his livelihood in one fell swoop. He loads up his car with the last of his earthly possessions and hits the road looking for his breaking point. Three travel days later in a pawn shop outside Denver, he buys a gun.
 
Low Bite by Sin Soracco. This tale of life behind bars in a women’s prison is raw and unsentimental, but few books this year gave me as much pure pleasure. A narrative thread about a scam and a murder emerges, but the real appeal here is the anecdotal structure—all this color, humor and savagery crammed into 130 pages? Yup.
 
A Moment of Doubt
 by Jim Nisbet. This hot-shot of nasty riffs on writing, technology and sex focuses on a parallel writer named Nisbet attempting to finish another one of his detective Martin Windrow (The Damned Don't Die) novels, hustle the rent and use a computer program to formulate a best-seller. It’s all over the place, but the Windrow segments are surprisingly tense (for a semi-comic piece), the erotic passages are over the top and it’s all rounded out with an unhealthy chunk of what I could only call retro-tech porn.
 
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
 By Horace McCoy. As a man hears his death sentence read aloud by the judge, he tells us his story in flashback—how he came to meet the girl, befriend her and then kill her. The desperation oozes from every page of this depression-era classic
 
Thirst by Andrei Gelasimov. Kostya lost his face while he served as a tank crew-member in the Chechen war. Now he’s a reclusive carpenter, rarely showing his face outside of his apartment (except to scare the neighbor boy into going to bed, now and then, as a favor to the child’s single mother), but when his surviving comrades show up and drag him away to help them search for another soldier who is missing, the trip offers new perspectives on his past and new prospects for the future.
 
The Underbelly by Gary Phillips. Magrady is a dispossessed Viet Nam vet down and out in Los Angeles without a place in the world, but don’t think for a second that he’s done fighting. When one of his friends becomes just another missing person no one will miss, Magrady slips into combat mode for the concrete jungle. Phillips’ style is an incendiary mix of blaxsploitation rhythms and militant actions, it’s a hardboiled, hard-core street epic in a single, sweet, chewable capsule.
 
The Wrong Thing by Barry Graham. Speaking of an epic condensed, Graham sings the ballad of The Kid, a criminal cipher of the urban Southwest underground, from birth to death, with all the love, hate, crime and punishment in between in sparse, elegant sentences that strip it to the bone, and completes the tale in 130 pages.

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