Tag Archives: pulp fiction

Point and Shoot by Duane Swierczynski

“Wait, wait, wait.” Hardie said. “Water evacuation? Knocked unconscious? What happened to all that shit about a gentle splashdown.”

It’s been over a year since I read part II of the Charlie Hardie trilogy by pulpmaster Duane Swierczynski. The first novel in the series Fun and Games is the story of middle-aged, washed up former police consultant Charlie Hardie who’s split from his wife. Hardie’s latest gig is housesitting; it may not sound like much–no pension, profit sharing or career expansion, but hey, with a heavy burden of guilt, all Hardie wants these days is the quiet life. He’s looking forward to his job housesitting for a Hollywood music producer, but all hell breaks loose when he steps inside the Hollywood Hills home and encounters a terrified bit part actress, Lane Madden who claims that The Accident People–a secret team who specialize in Hollywood whack jobs are outside of the home and about to murder her….

Part II Hell and Gone finds Hardie incarcerated in a secret underground prison compound, site 7734, owned and operated by The Accident People. For those under lock and key in the facility, it’s hell on earth with no parole, daily brutality and an on-going mind-fuck.

point and shootNow that brings me to Part III, and for this Hardie/Swierczynski fan, the book was a long time coming, but well worth the wait. With a trilogy, there’s always the concern that the action will flag, but no, Swierczynski, who creates micro worlds of paranoia and violence loaded with sophisticated, adrenalin-high, pulp-action, Point and Shoot brings the Hardie trilogy to a phenomenal conclusion. Fans of the earlier two books will not be disappointed, and if you haven’t read any of the Charlie Hardie books, you need to start at the beginning.

For those who have read Fun and Games and Hell and Gone, some old, familiar characters are back in action–including Hardie’s arch-enemy, Mann  “with Charlie Hardie blinking neon in her brain,” hot on his trail, and thirsting for revenge. Mann is one of The Accident People –Hollywood Star Whackers who then stage grubby “narratives” to support the death scenes they create.  The Accident People are just one arm of The Cabal–power brokers whose tentacles of control and manipulation extend far beyond Hollywood. Hardie is the only person to cross The Accident People, dig into the structure of The Cabal and still live to tell the tale. Part III: Point and Shoot finds Hardie trapped in a secret satellite, in orbit 500 miles above the earth. He has a food and water supply, a list of duties to perform along and an order to kill anyone who shows up–not that that seems to be a likely scenario. There’s no communication with the outside world, and Hardie has been told that he must ‘behave’ or that his estranged wife and son, back in Philadelphia will have “an accident.” Just in case Hardie gets any big ideas, and in order to keep Hardie focused, he receives a daily transmission from a hidden camera inside his family’s home. Hardie, who’s gained a reputation of being unkillable, sees no choice but to behave, and he plugs along stoically and stubbornly, but then one day, he receives a visitor….

That’s as much of the plot as I will reveal. To those new to the trilogy, you will discover Duane Swierczynski’s unique style which blends non-stop action with humour. After all, here’s Hardie, this geezer, an unlikely hero, no spring chicken, who keeps on truckin’ with stubborn tenacity. Hardie is a loner, a one man-show, and this is one of the facets of his personality that has kept him alive. Reading the books in the Hardie trilogy is a unique experience in a literary Die-Hard sort of way.  If you want action, if you want distraction, then Swierczynski is the author for you. Honestly, no-one does this sort of pulp action better. Please someone out there make films from these books; they’re begging for movie adaptation.

“Whoah. You okay, man?”

You twist your head around to see a bearded guy standing there with a notebook in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Even upside down you can tell he’s a hipster douchebag, central California version. The chunky glasses, the greasy hair, the tight unbuttoned shirt. He’s in dire need of a shower and a hug.

“I’m doing just great,” you say.

“Where did you come from?”

“Space.”

The hipster douchebag, probably a fucking poet or something, doesn’t quit know how to respond to that, so he focuses on the big dude lying facedown in the sand next to you. He crouches down next to you both.

“What about him? Is he okay? wait a minute…are you guys wearing spacesuits? I thought you were just fucking around with me there.”

Can’t get anything past this guy.

“Can I show you something?” you ask, reaching for an imaginary pocket, and the moment his eyes track down to you hand you nail him. It feels good to take out some aggression on someone who totally doesn’t deserve it. By the follow-up rabbit punch he’s already out cold on the sand. Leaving you with two unconscious bodies on the beach. Let’s hope hipster douchebag has car keys.

The best thing about the books of Swierczynski are that they may be works of the imagination but they are not that far-fetched that they seem impossible. We’ve probably all read a story in the paper that somehow doesn’t smell right. Duane Swierczynski writes pulp novels, but he does a great deal more than that; he mines the depths of the weirdest stories out there, and then with imagination and humour pushes the boundaries of fiction until the impossible, the conspiracy theories, the shadowy power-brokers, and our deepest fears and paranoias becomes strangely, and terrifyingly, possible.

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Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

Welcome to Duane’s World:

“People in the world were divided into a few simple categories. The large majority were drones, buzzing about their daily lives, completely unaware how their contributions fit into the larger hive. They could be frightened into collective action quite easily–a terrorist threat or environmental disaster or flu epidemic. Some of these were even real. But most were engineered by the queens, or put into action by the workers.”

As a fan of Duane Swierczynski, I’d intended to review one of his books for this blog all year. Earlier, I read and reviewed Fun and Games as well as Hell and Gone–the first two novels in a trilogy featuring housesitter Charlie Hardie. I’m waiting for the third installment, Point and Shoot which is due out in March.

Duane maintains a fan-friendly blog which can be found here. Apart from the fact that I like his books (enough to buy ’em and read ’em), I also like the way he’s accessible to his readers. Duane has a strong background in comics, and that talent is glaringly apparent in Severance Package–a fast-paced crime novel (with occasional illustrations from Dennis Calero) that explodes with the sort of action that led me to finish the book in one reading.

It’s no coincidence that Bruce Willis is mentioned on page 1. After all, you can’t think of a highrise in a lock down situation without Bruce simultaneously entering the scenario ready to save innocent bystanders from sudden violent death. Bruce Willis appears to be the average joe–not overtly muscle-bound, thinning on top, so he’s not the male model type, but rather the middle-aged man most middle-aged men can identify with. Jamie Debroux, the protagonist of Severance Package is another average sort of man who finds himself trying to survive in extraordinary circumstance. Bruce Willis is way ahead of Jamie when it comes to skills such as hand-to-hand combat with various loony types, but then again family man Jamie has just returned to work after having a month off for paternity leave.

The novel opens on a quiet sleepy Saturday morning in Philadelphia. Seven employees of Murphy, Knox & Associates: Jamie, Nichole, Molly, Amy, Ethan, Stuart & Roxanne are called in to attend a special “manager’s meeting” conducted by their rather difficult boss, David Murphy. Each of the seven employees are introduced in various hungover or sleep deprived conditions as they make their way, grumbling discontent, to a meeting they’d rather not attend. While all the employees would rather be anywhere other than the office on a Saturday, they all sense that there’s something different afoot that necessitates this special meeting. Unfortunately, most of the employees have no idea what the meeting is about. After David gives the go-ahead to start eating on cookies provided especially for the meeting, he makes a sinister announcement:

As of right now,” David said, “we’re on official lockdown.”

“What?”

“Oh, man.”

“I came in for this?”

“What’s going on, David?”

“Damn it.”

Jamie looked around the room. Lockdown? What the hell was “lockdown”?

“Beyond that,” David continued, “I’ve taken some additional measures. The elevators have been given a bypass code and will skip this floor for the next eight hours. No exceptions. Calling down to the front desk won’t help either.”

Jamie didn’t like the part about the front desk. He was fixated on the “next eight hours” bit. Eight hours? Trapped in here with the clique? He thought he’d be out of here by noon. Andrea was going to kill him.

“The phones,” David said, “have been disconnected-and not just in the computer room you can’t plug anything back in, and have the phones back up or anything. The lines for this floor have been severed in the subbasement, right where it connects to the Verizon router. Which you can’t get to, because of the elevators.”

Stuart laughed. “So much for a smoke break.”

“No offense, David,” said Nichole, “but if I need a smoke, I’m marching down thirty-six flights of fire stairs, lockdown or no lockdown.”
“No you aren’t.”

Nichole raised an eyebrow. “You going to come between a woman and her Marlboros?”

David tented his fingers under his bony chin. He was smiling. “The fire towers won’t be any good to you.”

“Why?” Jamie heard himself ask. Not that he smoked.

“Because the doors have been rigged with sarin bombs.”

David isn’t joking. Murphy, Knox & Associates is some sort of front for a secret anti-terrorist organisation, or at least that’s one version of the ‘secret cover’ operation, and now the job is over, it’s time to fire the employees. But instead of unemployment cheques, it’s termination in the worst sense. David’s employees are given the choice of a bullet to the head or poisoned mimosas. But nothing is as it appears, and everyone seems to have some different identity. Suddenly office drones turn into Black-ops assassins, and with almost everyone pulling out weapons (or improvising with what’s at hand), soon it’s not clear just who the good guys and the bad guys are, or if there are any good guys on the 36th floor.

Jamie’s job…mission impossible here…is to stay alive for 8 hours:

But Jamie wasn’t a cop or a soldier. He was a public relations guy who thought he was working for a financial services company, and did so because of decent pay and medical benefits. He didn’t sign on for anything else.

Severance Package is violent, so don’t expect anything less than the sick-escapist fun of office politics taken to the ultimate level. Duane Swierczysnki sets up the tight Hollywoodesque scenario of eight people locked in an area trying to avoid death–even though that plan doesn’t exactly always work out. The story doesn’t tip toe around brutality and as the action is written tinged with an edge of the surreal, the novel shows its pulp origins on almost every page with the result that the plot moves subtly but strongly into pulp fiction territory. I recently recommended this author to anyone stuck in a noisy environment where reading is constantly interrupted by outside forces. While reading Severance Package, everything else was just background noise.

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Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler

“It’s a hard world to be good in.”

With the title Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, how could I resist reading this novel by American author, former English professor, Victor Gischler? I read this wild roller-coaster ride of a novel in one sitting and enjoyed every page. Yes, I know, it won’t win the Pulitzer, but who cares?

The glorious front cover includes a quote from author James Rollins: “Part Christopher Moore, part Quentin Tarantino, Victor Gischler is a raving badass genius.” I’d say Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse is Duane Swierczynski on a trip through Mad-Max territory.

As the title suggests, this is a post-apocalypse novel set in the near future. The protagonist is Mortimer Tate, a 38-year-old insurance salesman. Correct that. Former insurance agent. And here’s how civilization ended:

No single thing had doomed Mortimer’s planet. Rather it had been a confluence of disasters. Some dramatic and sudden, others a slow silent decay.

The worldwide flu epidemic had come and gone with fewer deaths than predicted. Humanity emerged from that long winter and smiled nervously at one another. A sigh of relief, a bullet dodged.

That April the big one hit.

So long feared, it finally happened. The earth awoke, humped up its spine along the San Andreas. The destruction from L.A. to San Francisco defied comprehension. The earthquake sent rumbles across the Pacific, tsunamis pounding Asia. F.E.M.A. immediately declared its inadequacy and turned over operations to the military. The death toll numbered in the millions, and nothing–not food nor fuel–made it through West Coast seaports. The shortages were rapidly felt across the Midwest. Supermarkets emptied, and no trucks arrived to supply them.

Wall Street panicked.

Nine days later a Saudi terrorist detonated a nuclear bomb in a large tote bag on the steps of the Capitol building. Both houses of Congress were in session. The president and the vice president and most of the cabinet were obliterated.

The secretary of the interior was found and sworn in. This didn’t sit well with a four-star general who had other ideas. Civil war.

Economic spasms reached the European and Asian markets.

Israel dropped nukes on Cairo, Tehran and targets in Syria.

Pakistan and India went at it.

China and Russia went at it.

The world went at it.

It was pretty much downhill from there.

When the book begins, our hero Mortimer Tate is holed up in a well-stocked cabin on the top of a Tennessee mountain. He retreated to this remote site with a pile of supplies nine years ago as a way of refusing to sign his divorce papers. In the meantime, civilization went to hell in a handbasket, and since the portable batteries for his radio ran out the first year, Mortimer has no way of knowing what is going on in the world beyond his refuge. Mortimer is getting bored and lonely when 3 stragglers from the outside world invade his zone. As a result, Mortimer decides to head back, check out what is going on and find his wife, Anne.

Big mistake.

Mortimer discovers that the situation is worse, and far more dangerous, than he could have imagined. Some people have banded together to form roving tribes of marauders. Other people band together in isolated, bizarre utopian groups. Still others have turned to cannibalism. But there’s a burgeoning form of society in a chain of Joey Armageddon Sassy-A-Go-Go clubs strung out across America. Joey Armageddon’s oases of fun and pleasure are basically economic trade zones. The clubs feature home-made hooch (Freddy’s Piss Yellow, Freddy’s Piss Vinegar Vodka, Major Dundee’s Slow-Motion Gin), its own currency (Armageddon dollars–a piece of metal with a “primitive stamping” of a mushroom cloud on one side), and go-go girls. The club lights and music are powered by chained prisoners who are forced to pedal stationary bicycles that generate power (remember those Roman galley slaves? It’s the same sort of philosophy here). With rare goods to trade for Armageddon dollars, Mortimer becomes a card-carrying, platinum member of Joey Armageddon’s go-go clubs. 

Mortimer hooks up with a man named Bill– a latter-day cowboy, a man who dons a cowboy outfit, complete with a black cowboy hat, an ankle length duster, and a pair of pistols. Bill is one of the few good guys left:

“I don’t know why I did it at first,” admitted Bill. “I always liked westerns, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, you know? Think about what a cowboy is, what he represents. The new order rolling across the prairie, right? Even when he was slaughtering buffalo and red indians, he still left civilization in his wake, towns and railroads and all that. I guess maybe I thought we needed cowboys again. Maybe not. Hell, I don’t know. Probably sounds stupid.”

Bill and Mortimer team up together to find Mortimer’s missing wife, Anne, who’s rumoured to be in Chattanooga. Once they leave the semi-safe Armageddon zone with its almost pathetic pretensions of civilization and order, Bill and Mortimer discover just how awful the world has become. It’s non-stop action all the way as the two men pick up stripper Sheila as the third member of the group, and together they travel to Chattanooga to find Anne. There’s no petrol available–although there are rumours that refineries may be working again, so Bill, Mortimer and Sheila find a range of ways (most of them dangerous and unwise) to travel to their chosen destination.  You couldn’t pay me to ride on the Muscle Express.

Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse was bought on a whim, but this won’t be the only novel I read by this author. The novel is firmly rooted in pulp, and in spite of the fact that some of the action does stretch the imagination, this is a very visual tale. As I read, I found myself wondering just what would happen, what would become of ‘civilisation’ if the world ended? After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we got a glimpse of the potential problems the world would face with the collapse of civilisation: police shooting unarmed black Americans (and then hiding their actions), rumours of rape and murder, allegations of euthanasia of aged patients, animals abandoned, looting, & thousands of people stranded the Superdome. Even the governor made statements about the deputized troops sent to the area who would shoot and kill (with their “Locked and loaded M-16s”). What would happen to the world if a disaster such as Katrina were repeated but on a much broader, more destructive scale and then extended over years?

I read the novel, I decided that Gischler was probably spot on with some of his predictions.

This brings me to one of the complaints I read about the book. Some reviewers found it sexist. Women are bought and sold, kept in bikinis, and they also titillate the male customers of the Joey Armageddon’s Sassy-a-Go-Go chain. But since the novel is set post-Apocalypse, somehow I don’t think PC values would survive through the New World Order. Gischler seems to have a lot of fun imagining just what would survive the Apocalypse, and it is funny to note than humankind quickly resurrects strip joints, slavery and rotgut booze–after all, these are the rudimentary necessities, right? This is a savage, violent world in which people cling to each other to survive but the shared values of most of the loosely-formed groups are based on very practical principles. In Gischler’s world, there’s no time for sensitivity, but still time for humour. But lest readers should think that all the female characters exist as sex objects, here’s Tyler Kane:

A slender figure appeared atop the crates in front of them, looked down on the two passengers in the theater seats. The newcomer’s face wasn’t clear at first, a dark silhouette against the morning sun. Mortimer held up a hand, shaded his eyes to get a look. A woman.

“Don’t puke on my train,” she said.

Mortimer looked down, closed his eyes. It took too much energy to hold his head up. “Your train?”

“I’m Tyler Kane. I’m the train captain.”

She hopped down from the crates, and Mortimer got a better look at her. Athletically thin, hard body like a track star. She wore black leather pants and a matching jacket too light for the cold, a white turtleneck underneath. A nickel-plated revolver sprung from her waistband. Her hair was burgundy red, cut close on the sides and spiked on top. A black patch covered her left eye, and a thin white scar leaked from under the patch and ran straight down to the edge of her angular jawline. Her one eye was bright and blue as an arctic lake. She had the palest skin Mortimer had ever seen on someone still alive.

“You’re paying passengers, so you don’t have to do anything except stay out of the way,” Tyler said. “If we’re attacked, be prepared to repel boarders. If you vomit, stick your head over the side. Any questions?

And guess what? This is in production. Here’s a clip:

Go Go Girls of the Apocalypse

Can’t wait.

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Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem from Jonathan Woods

“Who can explain my trailer trash urges?”

If someone ever asks you what pulp is, just hand them a copy of Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem by Jonathan Woods. They may never speak to you again, but at least they will know exactly what pulp fiction is. And hell, you can always get new friends.

If you aren’t into pulp or if you aren’t prepared for explosive pulp-Woods-style then you will have a WTF moment when you pick up Bad Juju and start reading these Tales of Madness and Mayhem. I am currently also reading Zola’s Debacle–a madness and mayhem of a different sort. Debacle is a phenomenal book, btw, but there’s a sense of slow dread  building. Bad Juju is the perfect antidote and vice versa.

When I read the first few pages of Bad Juju, I knew this was going to be a book I really enjoyed. For pulp lovers, the dialogue between Woods’ weird assortment of characters in these nineteen bold & nasty stories is a lot of fun. You have to love a book which includes a character who freely admits:   “I’ve always been attracted to volatile women, ” right before he’s dragged into a very messy domestic situation with a murderous housewife who combats moral quibbling with “Fuck you and the dictionary you rode in on.” After those sort of statements, well anything goes. And it does.  Some of the stories dive-bomb the reader with high-octave action while others have a slow-burn quality. The common thread here is that setting, circumstance and action dominate with character-types in “ultra deep do-do” who fight to survive in a range of hostile landscapes.

These are stories set in the sweaty tropics, unnamed Latin American countries, and sometimes in the trash holes of America. Characters include one-eyed sicko paramilitary types, obnoxious american tourists who should have stayed home, ex-exotic dancers, illiterate waiters, pissed off girlfriends, coke dealers, women who don’t waste time wearing underwear, a private loony-bin lodger, and compulsive gamblers. And naturally characters such as these don’t belong in friggin’ Disneyland, so we find them  in seedy bars, rancid motels, and tawdry nightclubs–joints with names like: The Stoned Iguana, Snack Bar Gogol, Snuffer’s, and Black Velvet.

Woods’ stories are unashamedly pulp. There’s no attempt to be anything other than that, and while the stories include pistol whippings, kicks to the gonads and free handjobs, in true Pulp creed nothing is taken too seriously here. In An Orphan’s Tale, for example, a spunky fifteen-year-old “Jezebel” is kidnapped by a middle-aged man. Just who is the victim becomes a matter of argument as their flight continues. Here’s the orphan talking to her kidnapper:

“Your career’s ruined, Mr. Nesbitt. You’ll never teach choir again. Or bible studies. In fact I bet they put you in prison and throw away the key.”

You just have to sit back and enjoy these tales. And I did. I even laughed out loud at the sheer nastiness of some of them.

Woods has the genre down pat. Some of the stories are just flash glimpses into hellish existences while others I could see fleshed into full-fledged novels in a Hard-Case-Crime-way. These tales run the gamut and a couple include slices of horror and the surreal–two genres which are territory I usually don’t tangle with.  Perhaps that explains why I found these stories slightly less appealing.  There’s even a ghost pulp story set in Venice, so the subject range here is huge. Of the collection my favourites include: Incident in the Tropics, And Then What Happened? Here’s an excerpt from And Then What Happened?:

She doesn’t really mean that, I think. Though Inez is hard to read. She picked me up two weeks ago in the vegetable department at Piggly Wiggly where I’m checking out the baby eggplants and radicchio for the grill. Right after we fuck that first time in the bed of my pickup, she tells me she’s going to shoot her husband. She has a long list of grievances.

I’ve always been attracted to volatile women. I like the edgy feeling of never knowing where you stand.

I’m calling Bad Juju Gutter Pulp, so don’t expect anything more or less than unrestrained language. There were a couple of times the use of simile goes overboard (two similes which describe the same thing in one short paragraph or in two sequential paragraphs), but apart from that, the use of language for pulp style is incredible. Where else would you find a Palm tree described as “scrofulous”  ? This is unrestrained, full throttle pulp. PC never happened, so with these tales, be prepared:

It was the nadir of the afternoon of the next day. Three-thirty. everyone was asleep at their desks or sales counters. Only rich lesbians on the make cruised the mall department stores at that hour seeking desperate housewives with whom to perform lewd sex acts.

Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem comes from New Pulp Press–a publisher I’d never heard of before picking up this book. It’s great to see so many speciality publishers popping up, but a sad fact that a large book shop I visited yesterday had no showing whatsoever of the smaller presses (No Canal by Lee Rourke, No Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi).  Come to think about it, I couldn’t even find a couple of the New York Review Book Classics I was looking for. I’d like to think that the internet gives at least a fighting chance to some of these small publishers, and I suppose that’s where blogging comes in.

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