Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series)

In this fourth book from Joe R. Lansdale's popular crime-fiction series featuring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, Bad Chili, we find the two best friends discussing Leonard's latest breakup with his on-again/off-again boyfriend, Raoul (and how Raoul had hooked up with a leather-clad biker) when the pair are attacked by a rabid squirrel.

Hap gets the worse end of the deal: the rabies. Since his insurance won't cover the shots as an outpatient, he finds himself spending eight days in the hospital, where the only good thing that happens is his meeting a cute nurse named Brett.

Leonard doesn't even stop in for a single visit, and when Hap asks a friend to check on him, he finds out that the biker has been killed and that Leonard is the prime suspect. Leonard admits to everything he is accused of — except for the murder itself; he was too busy running for his life from the biker's other biker buddies.

Bad Chili is shelved in the mystery section, which makes some sense given that there's a crime or two to be solved and since Lansdale won an Edgar Award for his novel The Bottoms. (One portion of the pair's investigation concerns a series of secret videos, something Lansdale would revisit 15 years later in Leather Maiden.)

But the main appeal of Bad Chili is not the mystery, which you'll likely forget about until it's brought up, but the characters and their relationships to one another. (Speaking of characters, there's one mean son of a bitch in here like I haven't seen since "The Night They Missed the Horror Show.")

I feel that Joe's novels should be on a special shelf reserved for writers who can portray Southerners accurately but without being hyperbolic or insulting. I know people just like the ones in Bad Chili; I grew up with them, and Lansdale is the only writer I've seen really get them right.

Lansdale's humor is dark and deep-fried. I especially like how he captures the pretend-gay jokes between close guy friends. But there were many times that I laughed out loud at a single turn of phrase; Lansdale's country homilies are familiar yet original and sometimes outrageous.

And he has an inimitable way with a simile... or a metaphor... whichever one starts with "like." Like this one from Bad Chili: It was late April and unseasonably hot, like two rats in caps and sweaters fucking in a wool sock under a sun lamp. (I think it's a simile, but I always forget. I know my "who" from my "whom," though, and a hawk from a handsaw, so don't feel too bad for me.)

For those who prefer audiobooks, reader Phil Gigante does marvelous work with this series. By that I mean that he is invisible as both Hap and Leonard. Gigante seems to understand their needs just from the dialogue. This is more evidence that Lansdale's writing is deceptively skilled: it flows like water, but it's obviously very carefully crafted.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Blogger: Kempton Mooney, author of The Committee

Today I have the honor of welcoming author Kempton Mooney to the pages of Somebody Dies. Mooney is the author of the recent novel, The Committee, available currently at the Amazon Kindle store for 99 cents.

There are apartment buildings in New York that function like small towns. Towns some people live in all their lives while others cannot wait to get out. Developers see opportunity, and so do the criminals.

The Committee is set in such a building. It is claustrophobic and broken and makes its mark on the people who pass through it. The setting, like any, is a reflection of its inhabitants. Its atmosphere shapes them, and its walls narrow their perspective until they cannot see past.

The building itself has a history like any character. It has been burned and flooded, and the old-timers like to sit around and remember the interesting bits: the gambling, the gangs, the fights.

Newcomers like to learn the stories but become impatient once they know them. The newcomers do not need to relive the tales over and over. They want to have other things to do, important problems to solve, a murderer to catch. They want to make their own stories.

The old-timers are different. Some worry, but it is almost so that they have something to do. The newcomers can see this future ahead of them, and their fear sets them against each other. Where they are, they realize, is a place they are not ready to be yet. The building is a destination. It is a place to die.

The crisis for all the characters starts with the building. It is a tool in some's hands, and others must react to it. The building claims the first life. From the beginning it is wielded against its tenants.

But even with warnings of the trouble ahead, no one wants to leave. No one wants to be forced. Each individual wants to make a choice and demonstrate some measure of power. The question to be answered is do they have what it takes to fight for it.

Kempton Mooney is the author of The Committee and several non-fiction books on art theft. He lives in New York where he has worked in the publishing industry for the past ten years. For more information, you can visit his website,, for an assortment of stories, essays, audio recordings, and plenty of opinion.

The Committee is a novel of murder, deceit, and greed in New York City.

“A cocktail of noir and classic mystery with a cast that sticks in your head. You'll look over your shoulder for days.” —Des Hammond, Creative Loathing

“A world of palpable mistrust and paranoia, a world of flawed and forgotten souls drawn from the greats. The streets are the ones you have walked down, the people are those you have passed, and Mooney shows you how they live.” —Alex Friedman, editor of Shot in San Francisco
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