Monday, August 15, 2011


Hi folks,
A treat today--two reviews by my friend Carl Brush. One on my new novel, JUST LIKE THAT, and another on YELLOW MEDICINE, a brilliant noir novel by Anthony Neil Smith. Carl doesn't normally read noir, but I'd recommended YELLOW MEDICINE to him as a great example of another writer's techniques in writing flashbacks. Here's Carl's take on both:



If you ever wondered what noir fiction was, you’ll find the definition
in Anthony Neil Smith’s e-/paperback-book, Yellow Medicine. Start with the protagonist. Deputy sheriff Billy Lafitte is not just flawed. He’s a doofus. Impulsive. Doesn’t think ahead. When he’s intent on bonking someone, he usually fails to check behind him to see if someone else is about to bonk him. All this costs people injury, money, even lives. Still, you root for him. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe because always trying somehow to do the right thing even though he goes about it in every possible wrong--legal or illegal--way imaginable.
The action centers around some terrorists who are moving in on the meth trade in rural Minnesota. Lafitte considers both the geography and the drug traffic his territory. He’s got paid informants inside the labs, tries to keep things under control even if he roams outside of what’s strictly legal to do so. He’s had the same kind of history in his previous law enforcement gig on Gulf Coast. He crossed a few too many lines during Katrina, taking payoffs from the rich and delivering them to the poor. Even blowing away a gangbanger in the process. All this costs him wife, kids, job. He gets a second chance via a brother-in-law sheriff in Minnesota and he ‘s doing his best to make the best of it. Trouble is, his best isn’t so hot.
Instead of teaming up with colleagues to take the terrorists out (He doesn’t know they’re Al Quaeda at first.) He tries to take care of everything in his characteristically improvisational and lame-brained manner. Add to this the fact that he has a penchant for jumping the bones of every female he can--whether they’re witnesses or criminals or whatever--and you have a bundle of dangerous messes. Add to that a vengeful FBI guy who is convinced that Billy is not just a bungler but a terrorist himself, and you have witch’s brew. There’s so much violence and blood--beheadings, burnings, dismemberments (by the terrorists as well as by Billy)—and grotesque sex that “noir” doesn’t begin to describe how dark the tale
gets. Not quite a horror story, but close.
I’m not sure I can say I liked Yellow Medicine, but I was fascinated throughout. And Smith’s flashback techniques are masterful, which is one of the main reasons Les Edgerton recommended it to me and that aspect paid off because I used some of them them as a model in my rewrite of my The Second Vendetta (I’ll let you know when you can look for it on Kindle, etc.) Not only that, I just started reading the Yellow Medicine sequel--Hotdoggin’.
Poor Billy Lafitte. But this time, I have a feeling that vengeful FBI guy is going to get his, and it’s going to be oh, so ugly.

And then, Carl's take on my novel:
writer working
carl r brush
    Since Les Edgerton is not only a mentor but a friend of mine, let there be no pretense of objectivity here. Writer Working regulars know that I usually link up to a bio the first time I mention a writer’s name in one of these commentaries. Here, though, you have to read the book. That’s the bio that matters. Just Like That is, he says, more than 80% autobiographical, though he gives only a peek at what is and isn’t fiction in the intro.
    What is real is a look into the criminal world.  Not just a peep show, either.

Just Like that opens with a couple of ex-cons on a road trip.  they travel from Indiana to Louisiana in a picaresque adventure, flexing their freedom, fighting and stealing as they go. Nothing serious, just to get along. Here’s where we start to understand a little of what goes on between the ears of outlaws. Actually, we begin to realize that we don’t understand at all. We get a brief look, like at a passing train. We don’t understand because they don’t either, and they don’t spend much time reflecting about it. Early on, Jake goes into a convenience store for the same reason everyone else does--pick up a few supplies. A couple of fairly insignificant things happen, and he suddenly adjourns to his car, where he grabs his pistol, walks back in, robs the place. Even threatens to blow a little boy’s kneecap if he doesn’t obey his mother. Why? He doesn’t know. He could use the cash, sure, but there’s not much of that. He has no plan about before, after, or during. Just does it.
    I’m reminded of the character Richie Nix in Elmore Leonard’s Killshot (see Writer working, July 25) who shoots and robs on impulse. Something rang true to me about Richie. Les’s Jake, drawn from his own experience, seems to confirm that truth. Most of these crimes are the product of unplanned, indiscriminate action. Look for plot, planning, goals, you’re looking for something you won’t find.
    Just Like That doesn’t stay on the road, though. It migrates to the most unpicaresque environment imaginable--the penitentiary. Jake has recidivist buds there, and they engage in a number of survivalist actions that, unlike most of their actions “on the bricks [outside], do take some planning and plotting. Enthralling reading. Lean and mean, unscented and unflowered prose.
    The characters--especially Jake--do engage in some reflection here. He even reads and rereads Moby Dick. He delivers a couple very instructive rants about how much you can trust the veracity of Hollywood’s version of prison life (Hint: Not at all.) [There are a couple of puzzling repetitions of these. Bad editing? Making sure the reader gets the point? Dunno.]
Jakes musings also include lots of contemplation of relationships--hetero-, homo-, undefinable-sexual.
  Two of the points I hadn’t thought about--a big reason for the dearth of true inside info--MSNBC’s wall-to-wall Lockup included--about prisons are, first, so many hard-core inmates are semi-literate that they couldn’t write true accounts if they wanted to. Which they don’t. Second, they’re never going to tell a camera or a reporter what they tell their colleagues. They’ll proclaim their innocence to the ends of the earth if you ask them. If their cellmate asks them? Fuckin’ A I did it, and a lot more. and it was fun.
    And so is Just Like That fun. And scary. To be able to run around the world with that kind of abandon. Even us regular citizens love the idea. If we had the guts. Or the idiocy. Or whatever it takes. Just Like That does have what it takes.
    Kindle book. Amazon. Don’t have a Kindle? You can download it to your PC or Mac. Les will tell you how on his Lesedgertononwriting blog. And/or  he’ll personally instruct you at your house. And bring the beer. Of course, as he reminds us, he does write fiction.

Writer Working signing off. You’re on your own.


Carl Brush said...

My god, Les, where did you find this guy? Best pieces I've read on yours or any other blog this year. Kidding. Kidding.
Seriously, I'm humbled, honored--all those academy award terms--to occupy some space on your website.
Thanks, and cheers,

Les Edgerton said...

Where did I find this guy? That's easy. Saw him downtown at the bus station, panhandling. Took him home, cleaned him up, locked him in the basement, gave him a couple of books to read and said, "You can't come out until you write a review of these." He did and was I surprised!

Just another case of a kidnapping gone "right"... There's something to that Stockholm Syndrome...