Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2018

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As 2019 beckons us into her titular embrace, I realize my literary to-be-read pile is something of a clean slate for the coming year. There are titles I know I want to read: my usual foray into the new Executioner novels, something by Stephen King, perhaps finish the last two Game of Thrones tomes, etc., What excites me most, however, are the books I have no idea about. The ones that are coming that I cannot foresee. Maybe that’s a bit too deep, but it’s got me on the edge of my seat. What will they be? Some will be culled from the authors below.

I read 22 books in 2018, ranging from the aforementioned Mack Bolan Executioner ebooks to non-fiction titles all about creating tighter sentences. Favorites that didn’t make my top five included Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (who would have thought it would grab me like that?), The Wise Man’s Fear (probably the best fantasy out there right now), and Clash of Kings (and I’m now trudging through the third one, but won’t be done before the new year). Let me glom on to that by saying Stephen King’s The Outsider got my motor running too.

Here’s the usual disclaimer – I read these books in 2018, but that doesn’t mean they came out this year. Some did, of course, but really these are just favorites I laid eyes on over ’18.

American Static by Tom PittsStatic-1.jpg

I hungered for a blast of literary danger and happened to pick up American Static at the right time. What starts as a deadly and compelling crime thriller; Tom’s dark, street-smart ride takes a grim twist, unfolding to reveal murderous political intrigue, a savage quest for the truth, and it happens to have a bit of romance, the sort that shares needles, but sweet nonetheless.

Snag your shock of Static here.

The Devil’s Necktie by John LansingNecktie-1

Author John Lansing has created a tough-as-they-come, but wholly believable character, in Jack Bertolino. I’ve read more than one of his adventures, and there are a few, including the latest book The Fourth Gunman. The Devil’s Necktie, the first book, was like a bomb going off. It came with everything us hardboiled mystery lovers crave: guns, intrigue, and the kind of writing most authors aspire to. Start with the first and stay for the rest of the series. Here’s hoping it lasts for a good long while.

Engage your Bertolino fixation here.

Mary Russell’s War by Laurie R. KingRussell-1

My dirty thirties were made all the more pure thanks to the wonderful Mary Russell series penned by Laurie R. King. For me, this is the continuation of Sherlock Holmes we all need. I see it as the only true canon next to Doyle’s original Holmes tales. Adding Mary to his retired life and continuing their shared adventures into my forties have been a true highlight of my middle life. I jumped back into the Holmes/Russell pool this year with Mary Russell’s War, which happens to be a great jumping-on point for anyone interesting in the high-thrill world of these two amazing actioneers.

Turn those pages here.

The Outlaw’s Ransom by Jennifer AshRansom

The Outlaw’s Ransom by Jennifer Ash is the first in a series of books written under the Folville Chronicles umbrella and it doesn’t disappoint, especially for Hood Heads (fans of Robin Hood lore). This is one hot romp of a tale from Ash and a surprise for me, as it landed outside of my normal assortment of books, which is undoubtedly why I found it memorable and something I’d strongly recommend to others.

Get your hands on it here. Or steal one from an entitled person and give it to someone with want.

Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteispoughkeepsieshufflecover

Poughkeepsie Shuffle deals with an ex-con named Jeff Nichols, a guy who jumps from a notorious jail back into the bristling criminal elements. But the thing is he’s a likable guy just trying to do right by the woman he loves. This book grabbed me from the get-go, Jeff grabbed me from the get-go, and I turned the pages hoping he’d make it out in one piece, or at least somewhat alive. In Dietrich’s gritty world of noir, there’s no guarantee the protagonist will come out on the breathable side of a coffin. But I had to know, which made this a great read.

Take a road trip to Poughkeepsie here.

 

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Deitrich Kalteis interview on punk and words

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Zero Avenue, set for release October 3rd, from ECW Press.

It’s always a delight to sit down with authors and talk shop. It’s especially cool when you get to sit down with one you admire. I got lucky with Dietrich Kalteis. His new book, Zero Avenue, is out Tuesday. The book features a gritty punk tale of crime and survival and takes no prisoners in its detail and scope. A great read. Look here to get your copy.

 

Whitehurst: How did you come up with this story? The writing feels so visceral one could almost imagine you had been there.

Dietrich: I do remember the times well, and listening to the music again and talking to people who lived during those times helped a lot with reviving the vibe. What I liked about the punk rock scene back then was its edge and the ‘us against them’ outlook, how that indie ‘shake it up’ attitude threw a middle finger to the status quo. It made a sharp contrast to what some considered a sleepy backwater town at the time. For me, it made the perfect setting for a crime novel.

It was easy to identify with the characters and that ‘shake it up’ attitude. I guess I had a bit of that rebel soul back then, and I did know people growing up who were into the music scene and were a lot like the characters in the book. And I knew some guys who tried to rob a pot field and had rock salt shot at them. So yeah, I guess parts of this one were close to home.

 

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Author Dietrich Kalteis.

Whitehurst: Having dabbled in punk fandom in the 80s (DRI still gets me misty-eyed), I recognized a number of names, but not all of them. Are these all real bands and how much punk did you listen to in preparing for this book?

 

Dietrich: I always listen to music while I write, and I play what goes with what I’m working on. For Zero Avenue I got my hands on as much of the early Vancouver punk sound as I could find: D.O.A, the Subhumans, Pointed Sticks, the Dishrags, Payolas, Braineaters, Young Canadians, the Modernettes, the Reactors. I added some early Toronto bands on my playlists, bands like the Viletones, the Demics, the Diodes, the Cardboard Brains, the Mods, and the Ugly. And also Teenage Head and the Forgotten Rebels from Hamilton. I rounded it out with bands from the U.S. like the Ramones and the Stooges. And there were the Clash and the Sex Pistols from the U.K., and lots more.

Frankie’s band Waves of Nausea is, of course, made up. So is Middle Finger. And I threw some real-life personalities in the shadows among the characters I made up.

Whitehurst: What, if anything, didn’t make it into the book that you would have liked to explore further? I loved how the Vancouver punk scene could easily have been the San Francisco punk scene or anywhere for that matter, as the struggle for discord was apparently the same no matter where you happened to live.

Dietrich: There are some great books on the subject that filled in a lot of the details: Guilty of Everything by John Armstrong, Perfect Youth by Sam Sutherland, I, Shithead and Talk-Action=Zero, both by Joe Keithley helped relive those times. And there was Bloodied but Unbowed, an awesome documentary by Susanne Tabata. It’s jam-packed with clips, music and tales from that first wave of Vancouver’s punk scene. Then there were some firsthand tales. In fact, there was so much that could have been included, that I felt I had to be careful of what I did include so as not to slow the pace of the story.

There were many interesting details that I could have expanded on, from the self-published fanzines like Snotrag that kept a finger on the punk subculture, to the DIY recordings and local record labels that sprang up. One thing that I would have like to explore more was how the local scene seemed to line more with what was happening down the coast in San Francisco and L.A. than it did with what was happening in the punk scene in other parts of this country.

Whitehurst: You have written crime stories set in a number of settings, San Francisco at the turn of the last century and Vancouver at the start of the punk movement, what era do you have your sights set on next for your next book?

Dietrich: Poughkeepsie Shuffle is complete except for some copy edits and is due out next year. It takes place in Toronto in the mid-eighties and centers on Jeff Nichols, a guy fresh out of the infamous Don Jail. He gets mixed up in a gun-smuggling ring operating from a used car lot. The outfit brings guns in from upstate New York, and Jeff’s a guy who’s willing to bend the rules to get on the fast track to riches, a guy who doesn’t let the lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score in the future.

The story’s set at a time when I lived there, and I knew it well. On recent trips back I’ve been amazed by how much the city has expanded and grown since those days, so there’s a little nostalgia in there for me.

Right now I’m working on a story set in the dust bowl days of Kansas. It a story about a couple coping with drought, dust storms and debt. And they’ve got some interesting, although not legal ways, of saving their farm from the banks.

Whitehurst: Imagining a gritty, beat-up HBO mini series of this book, who would you picture as the leads, particularly Frankie and Marty?

Dietrich: When I’m writing, I always picture my stories like movie scenes and my characters like actors. For Frankie del Rey I saw her as a punked-up Krysten Ritter with a touch of Patti Smith’s edge. Lose the French accent and Vincent Cassel could play Marty Sayles. That guy’s got the look for it. And for Johnny Falco, I think a young Johnny Depp would be right.

Bio: Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning, The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes and Zero Avenue. Nearly fifty of his short stories have been published internationally, and he lives with his family in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Visit his website here.