This anthology of American crime crams in everything you’d expect from hardboiled pulp fiction. The action spans sudden death in a double-wide, to unexpected aid from an undercover cop. It encompasses righteous vengeance, unprovoked violence and what happens to careless crims with loose lips. Yet it’s far from hopeless: among the mobsters, lowlives, hard luck losers and no-hope gang-bangers there lurks the glimmer of redemption, the potential for forgiveness. This is a solid contemporary crime collection, and it speaks with many accomplished and authoritative voices to paint a sometimes bleak, consistently violent picture of the backstreets of modern America.
Several of these tales are far bigger than their succinct appearance suggests. They may be short stories, but they’re also compelling vignettes, a slice of life from a much larger landscape. ‘Saint Francis’ by Robin Wyatt Dunn is one such story: what happens to a wiseguy lieutenant who tries to retire but the old boss won’t give up his jaw-breaking ways. Similarly, ‘Tomorrow’s Sun’ by Christopher Davis is a complete tale in itself but one which starts in the middle. The reader is left to draw his or her own inferences about what happens before and after we meet a man on the run, dodging State Troopers with an APB that’s got his name on it.
‘How This Ends’ by Jeremy Estes paints a chilling picture of fraternal influence. A young man’s existence seems destined to be dominated by his brutal brother; the futility of his defiance is skilfully rendered in the final three sentences.
There’s also a couple of ‘Under The Gun’ interviews. The first is with writer Bill Baber, talking about his short, sharp stabs and the trouble with making the transition from flash fiction to a full-length novel. It’s followed by Baber’s ‘Dancer’s Revenge’, a taut tale of gambling debts and bloody back-stabbing, told with grit and authenticity.
Then T Fox Dunham talks bluntly about being ‘an arrogant smart ass’, and how he enjoys the liberation of writing literary crime-noir. His contribution to the collection is an outright romp; gritty, witty and neatly delivered.
Perhaps my favourite story is ‘Dark Ride’ by J David Jaggers. It has the ring of old-fashioned noir, a bitter blend of temptation, seduction and blood-soaked consequences. He absolutely nails the dull drudgery of daily life, and the siren song of illicit activity.
Inevitably, not all of the stories in this anthology rang my bell. But although they have a similar ‘voice’ throughout, the writing styles and subject matter varies from each author’s perspective. Out of 14 stories, I enjoyed a dozen of them and discovered three or four ‘must read’ new writers. That’s good value – and a solid couple of hours’ entertainment.
Downside? The manuscript needed tighter editing for typos and grammar. It’s not awful, but the apostrophes get a bit frisky here and there.
A second Dead Guns magazine is promised in a few months – I’ll be looking out for it.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Dead Guns magazines, Volume #1, is available as an ebook
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