Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, May 2013
This is a Black Lizard Original. It sits here on my desk as I write, a smooth cover in deep purple and black with strong, bright, white lettering. The cover draws one’s eye. You sense you might be in for a difficult, intense and very dark ride with this one. You would be right.
This author is known for his un-deviating, straight-shooting, portrayals of often subtly-twisted characters and stories. Readers who are attracted to hard-boiled uncompromising language, and tough, relentless writing, will find the stories in this collection disturbing and sometimes hard to believe. Yet each stands on a hard concrete foundation of reality and truth.
Some of the stories have been previously published and are decades old. Occasionally a reader may detect the aging prose, but rarely. Some of the stories are in first person, some in third. All are up close and personal. They detail murders, drug dealing, prostitution, corruption and other ills of our human experience. Any of them could be drawn directly from the experiences of the author. Here you will find stories of revenge, retribution and occasionally, an uplifting sense of satisfaction that the good guys won. “Ghostwriter,” is one of the most intriguing.
Andrew Vachss is a lawyer who has specialized for many years in child protection. His words have the solid ring of authenticity and truth. His uncompromising view is that child predators are unredeemable. If his stories here collected are to be believed, most should be shot, the rest locked away forever. This reviewer does not disagree. The book is difficult to read, it is far from a pleasant afternoon on the beach. The aberrant behavior displayed throughout is upsetting, yet there are those characters, in almost all the stories, that will lead a reader toward hope. Hope for human society.
A quick visit to the author’s web site is a direct clue to understanding the author’s context. He is represented in Chicago by an agency called Ten Angry Pitbulls, Inc. The collection was supplied to me free of charge in exchange for an opinion. No other effort to influence the outcome has been offered.
Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.
River City Publishing, August 2012
I adore a classic theme with a twist, my favourite motif is self-discovery. As I marvel at the courage and strength possessed by a character forging his own path, I feel proud and genuinely happy for the accomplishment. I tend to close these books feeling satisfied. Usually, the person that I’m admiring is a teen, or a young adult. Things change dramatically when the person embarking on this journey is a seventy-seven year old, WWII veteran.
Recently widowed and forced to leave his home in Texas to live with his daughter and her family in West Virginia, Bing has absolutely no idea that he is about to question beliefs held and enforced for a lifetime. He is not a fool. He knows he will be terribly home-sick. A chilly reception is the best that he can hope for. Well, that and indoor plumbing.
At a blush, Bing is just a grumpy old man, set in his ways. But, there are certain things about “old folks” that tend to be forgotten. First, they are tougher than nails. These folks were forced to grow up quickly and deal with real problems. There was no time to pontificate; work had to be done to keep food on the table during the bleakest of times. Ideas and thoughts weren’t questioned or challenged; people simply put their heads down to work for their families and homes, as well as to fight for their countries. Times may have been simpler, but not easier.
This is how Bing was raised. He had been taught to see things as black or white, wrong or right. That philosophy served him just fine for the past seventy-odd years, it would surely see him through. So, when he learns ‘the secret’ about his new friend Ellen, they can no longer be acquainted. It isn’t his doing, not his decision—it is simply The Way Things Are. Never mind that he misses her terribly, or that he desperately needs a friend.
Searching his meager belongings for a way to strengthen the tentative bond forming with his granddaughter; Bing uncovers a newspaper clipping that threatens to shatter all he has ever known. Questions asked during typically formative years become his internal struggles. Suddenly, he has to make choices. Rather than being told what is right or wrong, Bing will have to decide for himself; apparently, alone.
Ms. Manilla’s portrayal of the traditional, grumpy old curmudgeon is astonishingly real. With a seemingly simple plot, she reveals to the reader that sometimes, people are the way they are for good reason. Without feeling chastised, I felt humbled as I accompanied Bing on his transformative journey. As I read the final pages of this book, I wept. I shed tears of sorrow for missed opportunities, mixed with tears of happiness for new beginnings. If you’ve ever had a Bing in your life, well, this book’s for you.
Reviewed by jv poore, August 2013.