#BlogTour- Chuck Caruso- The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity

In a near-future Pacific Northwest, a made-to-order sex robot tests a married couple’s concept of fidelity; in the Tennessee hills of 19th-century America, an itinerant preacher forces others to prove their devotion to God – at gunpoint; and in a settlement town of the Old West, a former outlaw seeking to rescue his deceased brother’s family from a life of poverty discovers to his horror the true meaning of blood. In The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity, Edgar Allan Poe scholar Chuck Caruso combines his deep roots in the American Gothic with his own contemporary sense of macabre humour. These sixteen stories of dark fiction range from crime thrillers to western noir to grotesque horror. Each twisted tale displays Caruso’s unique blend of wry prose, feverish storytelling, and tragically-flawed characters discovering that even the most innocent encounter can lead to death. Or sex. Or both…

Yes, yes I know, short stories are not usually my thang, but with a showbiz name like Chuck Caruso, and the whiff of Poe that the author’s scholarly interest promised, I found the temptation of perversity a little difficult to resist…

The collection is a strange and successful mix of the contemporary and the historical, where Caruso traverses timelines by putting a traditional or futuristic spin on the age old themes of human frailty, and the extreme actions this can provoke, Consequently, these stories cover a lot of ground in terms of their themes ranging, amongst others, from a couple’s will to survive an apocalypse, a wife’s jealousy of her husband’s new sex robot, a man’s simmering resentment for his altogether more popular friend, a pest exterminator who calls on entirely the wrong customer, oh, and a bit of cannibalism too. I liked the way that Caruso unashamedly makes us wince, either in a knowing recognition of the horror that is about to be unleashed, or just simply because that is what the best and darkest writers do to jangle our nerves. There were some nice little nods to Poe in these stories, and before you start thinking that these may be a trifle too dark, there are some genuine moments of emotional complicity and cohesion amongst his characters, although some may not live to tell the tale…

Reading more about the author on the web, his writing also draws comparison to Elmore Leonard, which is another plus point for this reader, and boy oh boy, I was not disappointed in the tales set in the Old West, with their visceral themes of sex, death, revenge and bloodlust. Permeated with swift and violent retribution, I particularly enjoyed this selection of tales, oozing with atmosphere, a perfect rendition of time and location, and as authentic as the sawdust floors, sharp shooting and cathouse violence that we instantly recognise from the traditional western genre. The violence is uncompromising, meted out with little regard, and has all the earthy and primal feel of a time when men were men, however, stupid or gullible they prove to be at the sharp end of Caruso’s writing. There is also a real authenticity to Caruso’s dialogue, and inflections of speech in these tales in particular, and you can almost anticipate the sound of saliva hitting spittoon between their clipped and precise pronouncements. Loved it!

So all in all, a most satisfying collection of, yes, quite perverse tales, and although I did sway towards the western noir ones a little more, overall there was much to enjoy here with Caruso’s razor sharp, slightly strange, and at times darkly witty writing. Recommended.

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Author of The Lawn Job, a wicked, sexy crime thriller from Cloud Lodge Books, Ltd, Chuck Caruso’s crime and horror tales have also appeared in Cemetery Dance, Shroud, and Dark Discoveries, among other print magazines and anthologies. His western noir tales have been published by The Big Adios, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and The Western Online. His story “They’ll Call Me Whistlin’ Pete” was included in Kwik Krimes, Otto Penzler’s new best-of-the-web crime anthology.

 

Learn more about Chuck by visiting any of the following online interviews:

Author Interviews

Murder by the Book

Buy The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity (UK)

Buy The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity (US)

 

 (With thanks to William Campos at Cloud Lodge Books for the ARC)

 

#BlogTour- Orlando Ortega-Medina- Jerusalem Ablaze

image001In Jerusalem’s Old City a young priest and a dominatrix converse in the dying light; on Oregon’s windswept coast a fragile woman discovers a body washed up on the beach after a storm; and in Postwar Japan a young protege watches his master’s corpse burn, with bitter thoughts blazing in his mind. An eclectic collection of thirteen short stories…

I do love it when I am approached by publishers offering me books that take me outside of my comfort zone, as they so often provide some magical reading experiences. Jerusalem Ablaze is one such example, as I rarely read short stories of any description. So it was with a wonderfully blank mental slate that I dived into this intriguing collection…

Orlando Ortega-Medina has produced a remarkable volume of stories that are not only far reaching in terms of location, but also in the very recognisable aspects of human emotion he weaves into his character’s individual experiences. Across the stories, he addresses the themes of love, death, ageing, sexuality, family conflict and obsession with an intuitive and engaging style, that at times brings the reader up short to truly sit up, and think about what they have just read. For the purposes of this review, and so as not to mar your discovery of all the stories in this collection, I just wanted to write a few words on a couple of the stories that made me sit up and think too.

In a guest post at Reader Dad, Ortega- Medina talks about his experience of writing short stories, and makes reference to After The Storm, my particular favourite in the book, and the number of revisions he made to it, right up until the point of submission to his publisher. This story runs to about 18.5 pages, but to me encompassed the emotional breadth and detail of a book many times this length. Focussing on a woman’s chance discovery of something on a beach (no spoilers here), Ortega-Medina constructs a story that is heart-rending and thought provoking, on the breaks in communication, and loss of awareness that occurs in many personal relationships. The story is darkly strange but underscored by an innate feeling of truth and observation that takes hold of the reader, and even in the aftermath of reading reoccurs in one’s thoughts. Susan’s actions seem so totally alien and discomforting at first, but when seen through the eyes of others, are imbued with a real sense of poignancy. Also, the author’s depiction of this wild coastline where Susan and her husband dwell in their secluded lighthouse, is described with such clarity that you can sense the thrashing sea spray, the keening of the gulls, and the smell of the seaweed. Perfect compacted prose that reveals a world of emotion.

The intensity of Susan’s experience set against the broad, unending landscape of the natural world is mirrored in  Star Party, where the theme of human relationships is played out beneath a huge expanse of sky where people have gathered to star watch. I like the way that Ortega-Medina transposes the small but intense insecurities and problems of his protagonists against this broad canvas, which puts our relative importance in the universe in perspective, but never lessening the real concerns of his characters’ lives. Equally, in The Shovelist, the financial security of an old man and his wife is seen to be dependent on the coming of the snow, and his neighbour’s willingness to pay him to shovel their driveway, a fairly humdrum problem you would think, but one that in the author’s hands, explores community and the realisation of, and sympathy for,  other’s troubles.

As much as every story works in this collection as a self contained tale, the two part story of An Israel State of Mind had me wanting more. Narrating the events of a young man and his girlfriend’s trip to a kibbutz, I loved this tale of pent up emotion and unresolved love,  the exploration of difference and misunderstanding, all within the framework of a shared, and what should be a life affirming experience. I think it’s a real feat of Ortega-Medina’s writing that he so quickly enables the reader to connect on an emotional level with his characters in this story and others, when whole books can pass you by without this essential connection as a reader. I still want to know what happens to these characters beyond what is written here.

So as a non-widely read short story reader, I gained much from Jerusalem Ablaze, and it has honestly awakened an appreciation of the form for me. An alternately dark, emotional, tender, and violent contemporary collection that I enjoyed greatly. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Cloud Ledge Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

blog-tour-jerusalem-ablazetb

Piero Chiara- The Disappearance of Signora Giulia/ Alberto Barrera Tyszka- Crimes

51To0t8M8jL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Regular visitors to this blog will know that along with my other preferred sub genres of crime writing, I have a particular affection for those small, but perfectly formed, foreign crime in translation novels. It is with some delight that I’ve discovered this new line-up from Pushkin Press under their banner of Pushkin Vertigo, a series of releases bringing us some little classics from France, Austria, Spain, Japan and Italy with more to follow. My first stop is The Disappearance of Signora Giulia by Piero Chiara, one of the most celebrated writers of the post-war period. The winner of more than a dozen literary prizes, he is widely read and studied in Italy and this is his first book to be translated into English. A deceptively simple tale of a woman who has seemingly deserted the family home to disappear into thin air, leaving her husband, Esengrini- a prominent criminal lawyer- and daughter at a loss to understand or explain her disappearance. Enter steadfast Detective Sciancalepre who, over the passage of some time, cannot let this case go, being absolutely convinced that Giulia’s husband knows far more about his wife’s disappearance that he will admit to, with the added confusion of red herrings and blind alleys along the way. The interplay between Sciancalepre  and the cocksure, arrogant Esengrini is a real highlight of this taut tale, and despite its brevity, the reader is challenged as much as the detective to work out where Giulia has gone and who is the guilty party in her disappearance. Likewise, the character development, particularly of Giulia’s daughter, Emilia, as she grows into womanhood is neatly developed, moving on with her life despite the pall of sadness at the inexplicable loss of her mother. There is a slight anomaly in the narrative, which you may identify for yourselves, that proved a minor irritation, but that aside, any devotee of  noir crime will enjoy this little sojourn into domestic noir in pure Italian style.

51HBtXCx-bL__SX345_BO1,204,203,200_From the author of the brilliant The Sickness (shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), comes a new collection of 12 short stories, under the simple title of Crimes. What is most engaging about this collection is how Tyszka disseminates the theme of ‘crime’, to fit the moral, political and emotional themes that the stories encapsulate. He experiments with the idea of crime, and how it manifests itself in normal people’s lives and experiences, taking us from the raw human emotion of political dissent and demonstration, to the loss of a child, to the discovery of a disembodied hand, to a strange little tale of a man who bites dogs. Yes. You did read that correctly. Tyszka’s writing is full of subtle nuances, and quite often the raw strength of these tales lays in what he leaves unsaid, leaving significant reader participation at the close of several of the stories. He invites us to compile our own endings and resolutions, having given us the base of the narrative, which makes for an interactive and challenging reading experience. The stories are multi-faceted and surprising, whilst carefully incorporating some razor-sharp commentary on Latin America and its travails. His writing is crisp, uncomplicated, and inherently more powerful because of it, and the translation by Margaret Jull Costa is perfectly in step with his unique writing style. Something different, something challenging, but ultimately entirely rewarding.

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Joe Ricker- Guest Post- The Truth In Talking

joe-rickerTo coincide with the publication of his collection of crime stories, Walkin’ After Midnight, Joe Ricker has written a guest post on the very nature of being a writer, and how like Fight Club, it’s sometimes best not to talk about it…

The Truth in Talking

“Larry Brown taught me about writing by not talking about writing. When I moved to Mississippi and started working at City Grocery, I had no idea it was the “writer” bar. After a determined endeavor to move beyond a busboy and bar-back, I finally became a bartender who was trying to become a writer. At least at City Grocery there was a higher level of prestige as a bartender in a bar that catered to writers. That I was trying to be a writer made it all the more tempting to want to talk about it.

But I never talked to Larry Brown about writing because Larry Brown never talked to me about writing. I wanted him to, wanted him to mention it, maybe say: “I heard you’re trying to be a writer.” He didn’t, and I’m glad he didn’t. I think about that now, the embarrassment I feel even reflecting on the times that I wanted to talk about trying to write. Back then, I was only putting words on paper. Too many people believe that makes them a writer; that printing off the pages filled with letters and words and paragraphs is writing. Nothing is further from the truth. Anybody can do that. Not everybody who tries to be a writer can be a writer or will be a writer.

Being a writer is making the words yours, not the pages that they’re slapped against. So it doesn’t bother me that Larry Brown and I never talked about writing. I talked about my fly rod and fishing for brook trout in New Hampshire mountain streams. He talked about bass fishing in the murky waters of Mississippi. We drank Budweiser at the copper bar that was more of a home to me than any other place I’ve lived. I took shots of chilled peppermint schnapps while he sipped his at room temperature. I told him about getting my ass kicked by the cops behind the bar one night. He found that amusing.

In an interview, Larry said about his writing that at the very least it was honest. The truth isn’t always pretty, but sometimes around an ugly truth there’s a beautiful lie. And that’s the power of fiction, in being a writer. I rarely find the type of honesty in talking that I do in writing. And all I’ve ever wanted of my writing was some kind of truth, an honesty that will take a firm hold, like something that can’t be pulled easily from the ground and cast away like other garden weeds. I want my words rooted in the reader’s mind, and I don’t think that can be done unless it’s honest. When I knew Larry Brown I was just a bartender, so I kept my mouth shut about writing and got that man his beer.”

Joe Ricker is a former bartender for Southern literary legends Larry Brown and Barry Hannah. He’s driven a cab and worked in the Maine timber industry. His short fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Rose & Thorn Journal, and The Hangover. Walkin’ After Midnight is his debut short story collection. He blogs at www.iceshack.wordpress.com and www.theopiate.wordpress.com 

 

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Raven’s review:

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this collection of dark and compelling stories, seeped in retribution and revenge. Ricker delves deep into the underbelly of New England, with the same adept focus on characterisation and sense of place as writers such as Frank Bill and Daniel Woodrell, that you will find yourself completely immersed in the lowdown dirty lives that Ricker presents. I particularly enjoyed Ecdysis (the Greek for shedding of skin) where a silent man seeks retribution on his mother’s killer, and Closer, which unnerves and disturbs in equal measure, with a central protagonist of a seemingly mild-mannered librarian, drawn into a dark world.

All of Ricker’s stories in this collection are spare and uncompromising, but bring to bear the contrasting moods and characteristics of the humanity contained within them. The stories are littered with despair, brutality, and essentially flawed characters (largely due to environment and circumstance), but there are also glimmers of poignancy and even love, which make them all the more hard-hitting, but also emotionally real.  If you like your crime with a good slice of gritty and violent noir, and are ready to embrace the dark side of Ricker’s imagination, then this is the book for you, but don’t expect any happy ever after…

PRAISE FOR WALKIN’ AFTER MIDNIGHT:

Joe Ricker is a hard-boiled poet in the tradition of Charles Bukowski. He writes of lonely, scarred men, damaged women, and of haunted places we all know. These shorts are served straight up with no chaser. Like the best of noir, it’s about people with few options and often no way out. Highly recommended.”

Ace Atkins, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Forsaken and The Redeemers

Tough yet lyrical, bristling with hard-won wisdom, these stories knock you out of any comfort zone you may have found and into the red. Ricker knows people, violence and landscape. He knows truth, too. And these stories beat their fists like drums.”

Tom Franklin, New York Times Bestselling Author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

(With thanks to Eva at 280Steps for the ARC)