Tag Archives: Crime Fiction

Thomas Roche Story Hell On Wheels to be Broadcast on BBC

My short story “Hell on Wheels,” which appeared in Maxim Jakubowski’s The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4Xtra (the re-branded BBC Radio 7) on November 12th 2011 as part of their Pulp Fiction series. It will be broadcast online, but won’t be podcast — so if you want to hear it, you’ll need to listen then.

The Rare Coin Score

The Rare Coin Score is the ninth of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels, written under the name Richard Stark. The Rare Coin Score is, to my mind, the absolute pinnacle of a heist novel.

It represents what Donald E. Westlake did exceedingly well: it aspires to be nothing more than it is, merely the tightest, nastiest crime novel possible, with enough rich detail and unexpected twists to just plain blast off the page. In doing so, it thoroughly transcends the genre and becomes one of the existential touchstones of 20th America. And yes, I’m saying that with a straight face.

As Luc Sante said of Westlake’s Parker books: “These books practically read themselves.”

This is one of the best damn heist novels you’ll ever read. Period, end of story.

Recoil by Jim Thompson

The Corgi UK edition, uploaded by Flickr user severance_23.

Having read the bulk of Jim Thompson’s novels in a big rush over the course of a few months, I think I made it pretty fast into the C-list Thompson. This is C or C-minus-list Thompson. It’s a bit hard to follow, mostly uninteresting, and generally feels like a huge waste of time. Strikingly confused and mediocre, it’s just a big fat go-ahead-and-miss-it.

That said, Thompson as a writer is still fascinating on every level; even when he blows it completely (as he did here) I am fascinated by his psychology. Evaluating some of these books as novels, I just get bored and confused, but the pleasures of a completist are many. The class lements in his works are still always intriguing, for instance, and I think have been very influential on how pop culture thinks about noir — even if most of what Thompson believed about class, money, work and opportunity has been perverted or watered down in later works by lesser authors and downright fetishists.

It’s always sort of interesting to get another piece of Thompson’s damaged psyche to fit in like a puzzle-piece, even when the book completely blows. It’s never quite a waste of time reading a disappointing Thompson book — more like a shaggy dog story that tells you something about the teller.

Richard Stark’s ‘The Outfit’ (1963)

I really loved the first two books in the Parker series by Donald E. Westlake (writing as Richard Stark). I also enjoyed several of the later books. But for some reason I never read this third volume — which is sort of pivotal in the arc of the early series.

I gotta say, I was more than a little disappointed. Ultimately, I found this entry sort of scattered and uneven. It was even kinda bland, plot-wise.

Don’t get me wrong: Every time Parker is the viewpoint character, I enjoyed myself. I want to marry that mean-ass son of a bitch. He is one of the greatest criminal antiheroes in literature. But in The Outfit it felt to me like there’s a lot of wandering around from character to character as Westlake makes sure I “get” that the Outfit is being “hit.” I’d already pretty much got that from having read later books in the series, and in any event it’s telegraphed early in the book.

Some of the individual scenes are totally incredible, and some of the writing is among the most gorgeous noir writing ever. There are magnificent moments  where we see pieces of American life in the early ’60s that are utterly fascinating and intoxicating to me. There are a few great characterizations of Parker’s associates, and instances where Parker’s own nasty personality is revealed.

But the plot kinda had me checking my watch. I think it’s a mix of a mild Sophomore Slump in the series and my having read several of the later books before I read this one.

Like I said, I loved later books in the series so I’ll keep reading the ones I missed.

But if I were you? I’d make sure I read these puppies in order.