Curated by Steven Savile
When we were first mulling over the name of this bundle, Mean Streets, I had a very focused vision on what I thought it was going to be. I'd just finished working on the collaboration with Prodigy (the hip-hop artist from Mobb Deep's The Infamous fame, not the Firestarter) HNIC and was thinking very much edgy and dark stuff, hardcore, maybe not the poets of our generation but certainly a voice for a slice of society that's been disenfranchised by the system of living. It was a great starting place, the back alleys of Brooklyn Heights or Across Hundred and Tenth Street into Harlem, but they aren't the only mean streets. What we've got here, we're talking the pheromones of the city, the detritus of a nation. We're talking about the criminal elements that move and shake just below the surface, unseen but everyone is aware they're there… We're talking seminal TV shows like The Wire and The Shield. We're talking about outcasts forced to live hard or die harder. We're talking about the Lone Ranger or Shane riding into town and fix that shit even as it explodes all around them. We're talking primarily about heroes and villains where the cities they do battle in are as important as any character.
The first book I picked for this bundle, Stephen Gallagher's Down River, is one of those books that made me want to be a writer. Hell, I think I emulated if not outright copied elements of it for a dozen (unpublished and never to be published) stories. I make no bones about it, I adore this man's work. On any list of favourite authors I've written down from the age of 19 (when I first discovered his novel Rain) right up until today, Steve would be one of the first names down. You might not be familiar with his stuff. I could embarrass him by saying he wrote the Warrior's Gate and Terminus episodes of the classic Doctor Who era (Staring Tom Baker and Peter Davison respectively), or talk about the pure excitement in the Savile household reading copies of FEAR MAGAZINE in preparation for the release of his first creator-driven show Chimera, which was something of an event for a fanboy like me… I could mention The Eleventh Hour TV show with Captain Picard at the helm in the UK and Rufus Sewell playing Hood in the US, or the reimagining of Robinson Crusoe from a few years back, or that short lived Christian Slater vehicle, The Forgotten. If you're an anglophile I could mention some pretty devastating episodes of Silent Witness…
But instead, I'll tell you a little story about the first time I met Steve. It was at a dealer table at a convention, and I'd got a copy of a signed limited edition of his short story collection in my hand. We'd talked a lot before this, even exchanged old fashioned letters, and he'd been in my anthology Redbrick Eden which raised money for homelessness in the UK, but this was the first time we'd seen each other face-to-face… and what sentence preceded that auspicious event? Me saying 'Jesus Christ, thirty five fucking quid for a book, that's ridiculous!' and a voice behind me saying 'I know… it's rather embarrassing, but I didn't set the price…' as you can imagine… I did a very good impression of the Incredible Shrinking Man at that point. Suffice it to say, Steve is top man, and a terrific writer. I read Down River, the story of Johnny Mays, back in 1989 and I have never forgotten it. That should tell you something very important about just how good this guy is.
The second book I picked for the bundle was an easy choice, Ed Gorman. I've never had the pleasure of meeting Ed, but I consider him right there with John D. McDonald, Robert B. Parker and Mickey Spillaine's Mike Hammer when it comes to crime fiction. Ed is the very definition of a writer's writer. He's nothing short of brilliant. When I emigrated back in 1997 I spent a few days in Copenhagen with nothing to read, but found this wonderful little bookstore that had a single rack of English paperbacks. That was where I met Ed for the first time. It was his first Robert Payne novel, Blood Moon. I read it in a single sitting and ran around the city looking for anything else by the guy. I was hooked. That summer I read no less than fifty Ed Gorman novels, and every single one of them paid off. Seriously. There wasn't a single one of them I came away from thinking, well, that was okay. Ed leapt straight to the top of my oh my god I want to be him when I grow up charts… It was incredibly difficult to choose one of his books for this bundle, I wanted them all. I kept thinking Payne, hook you the same way I was hooked… but in the end, picked The Serpent's Kiss, which I think may very well be Ed's finest novel. It was a tough call, believe me, but in keeping with the notion of those gritty noiresque mean streets, it's the one that best matches my vision for this set – a small town being ripped apart at the seams by a serial killer.
I'm throwing in a curveball on number three, Clive Barker's Cabal, which is in many regards a perfect horror novel, the story of Boone and the Nightbreed. So how can this be 'mean streets' you ask? Boone's an outsider, he doesn't fit in anywhere but he's heard of this place, Midian, where the monsters are welcome. Midian itself is a powerful feature of the novel, really taking centre stage along with its monstrous cast. It's very much a novel of its time and could be read as an allegory, the monsters having a different kind of blood that marks them as outsiders, they're tainted, and there's a killer hunting them, looking to wipe them out. It's not hard to see this as a novel of fear and revulsion from the community at large against the gay community and the killer that was the all-terrifying AIDS back in what we can call less-enlightened days. But that's selling Cabal incredibly short. It's so much more than that. It's an incredibly tight novel, unlike the sprawling fantasies that came directly before and after it, and yet it has more imagination in it, and more visceral fear than both of them combined. There aren't any meaner streets in the world than those of Midian… believe me. And with the long awaited Scarlet Gospels finally appearing next month this is the perfect introduction to the great imaginer of my generation.
Sean Black's long been a favourite of mine, and, I confess, has become a friend thanks to the joys of the internet. I was on a Jack Reacher kick, and looking around for anything and everything that would satisfy that Lone Ranger need when a friend of mine, Jeremy Dunns, mentioned Sean's Ryan Lock series. I'd just bought a dozen Robert Crais novels and devoured them, one a night, during a lazy summer vacation and was trying to decide what next, when I saw the first Ryan Lock novel, Lockdown, pop up on the 'also boughts' on my Kindle and thought, what the hell, it's not hideously expensive, I'll give it a shot. Now, it must have been around midnight and I was looking to read maybe 2-3 chapters before going to sleep. I didn't go to sleep that night. I kept on reading and reading and reading… compulsively… bought the second and third the next day… then had to wait a year for the fourth to appear. What's great about them is they're all perfect entry points into the series. Book four though… that's how me and Sean first met. It's another me and my big mouth thing… I was chatting with Matt Hilton, another great exponent of the Lone Ranger genre of crime fighting, and happened to say how fucking furious I was about a scene in the book I'd just read… naming the author and the scene… and why I wanted to throw the Kindle out of the window. I made a very good case for why I thought it was a terrible call as a writer… and who popped up to say he agreed with all my points… but…? Yeah, Sean. See, me, I've got social skills… heh. Trust me, this guy's compulsively readable, and it's a massive honour to have the very latest Ryan Lock novel in this bundle, believe me.
The next one… I don't have any cute-meet story… but I can tell you how Tony Black came to my attention. It's not what you'd expect. James Grant, the lead singer of one of my favourite 80s bands, Love & Money, served as go-between. He never actually said, hey, Steve, meet Tony, though we're both friends of James'. Actually, I was watching the video for James' song My Father's Coat (which you can see here) and as you'll note in the description it stars tartan noir superstar Tony Black… yep, Tony Black, author of some of the very best Scottish crime of the last decade—and you don't get meaner than the streets of Edinburgh, where Truth Lies Bleeding is set. Want to know how good this guy is? Irvine Welsh (remember Trainspotting?) has called him his "favourite British crime writer". That's some high praise. His streets are the very definition of mean, but he shines a stark light on the sins of the city, and no crime goes unpunished in his world. You're in for a treat. Me, every time I go back to Edinburgh (which is only about an hour from where I grew up) I look over my shoulder. That's down to these tartan noir chaps.
Bill Pronzini's novel Carmody's Run might well be considered the template for a generation of Jack Reachers and Joe Pullers. Pronzini's most well known creation is the Nameless Detective series, but before that there was Carmody, a sometimes detective who also works as a freelance bodyguard and smuggler, operating off the Mediterranean island of Majorca. We're talking streets riddled with thieves, smugglers, murderers, and other desperate men. As Kirkus said, in Carmody's world, "The women are sexy, the villains blackhearted ("The best kind of day—one filled with bright green money and bright red blood"), and the action fast and fleshed out with some shading of Carmody's stony character."
Tom Piccirilli is one of the quiet gems of both crime and the supernatural. I've been a fan of his very dark fiction of a long time; the guy has a poet's soul. That makes the nastier aspects of his work all the more dazzling, because when you can describe the macabre so incredibly viscerally, with so much poetry, the horrors stay with you much longer. Over the last couple of years Pic's made a name for himself in the crime world with books like The Last Kind Words, but I first read him a decade before, when he was making his breakthrough with novels for Leisure's horror line, including Hexes which was one mind-fuck of a novel, to be blunt. But something happened around the time Pic wrote A Choir of Lost Children. He went from being good to being brilliant. Nightjack is right there with his best.
Now, I'm going to break from character here and basically tell you why you need to buy this bundle, and just how it can make a difference in a man's life. Several years ago Pic put this post on Facebook: "tWO WORDS, BITCCHES: brain tumor! gOING IN FOR FIVE HOURS OF SURGERY ON mONDAY TO REMOVE A TENNIS BAL-SIZED GROWTH. tHEN icu FOR RADIATION AND CHEMO FOR A FEW WEEKS. NO AY DO I JUST GET CANCER, NO MOFOS, I GET BRAIN CANCER!"
Well, Pic beat it. Survived the surgeries, the radiation and chemo and came up cancer free. It was brilliant news for everyone who knows and likes him as a guy, for his wife and family, I mean he's a young guy, this kind of thing is beyond being a bitch, but he won.
Only he didn't. Less than two weeks ago Pic's wife announced that the brain tumor had returned and with it the nightmare of medical bills. I don't mind saying that despite adoring Pic's writing I think he's a pretty fantastic guy and every single bundle we sell goes towards making some cash for him in a time of desperate need. So there's that.
Back into character… Maynard Sims… or Len and Mick to me, being a couple of my oldest friends, are pretty important characters in the career of Young Sav. Way back, they bought a story of mine, Painting Blue Murders, which may have been my second or third sale, I'm not 100% sure. I'd written it as a competition entry for The Horror Writer's Association and won (I think) second prize… which was to be Tuckerized by Robert Walker, which is why if you ever pick up his novel Blind Instinct, you'll encounter a one-legged leacherous copper's narc, Steve Savile, from Stockholm… yeah, be careful what you wish for hah! Len and Mick published it in their magazine Enigmatic Tales, then went and bought a chapbook from me, containing what is still one of my favourite stories, Remember Me Yesterday. So, yeah, we go back… way back. But to most people their inclusion here will be a bit of a surprise as they're better known for creeping dread and ghostly tales, but they're versatile writers to say the least, and over the last couple of years have turned their hands to crime, and using their dark imaginations to really offer up that famous Brit Grit.
This next one, I can't quite believe I'm getting to introduce the Father of Rambo, but that's exactly what David Morrell is, amongst so many other things. I'm not going to talk about First Blood. I'm going to digress, because I can. When I was fifteen years old my dad came into my bedroom with a battered—and I mean falling apart, glue gone, pages poking out of the binding—copy of a book he'd just finished reading. Dad wasn't one for lending me books. The first time he'd tried it had been with Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, as he wanted to impress upon this Star Wars loving geek kid that money was important and for God's sake give up those hair-brained ideas about being a writer… the second had been The Totem by David Morrell, and he'd had a lot more luck with that one. He'd brought it in and put it on my desk, simply saying "I think you might like this one." Not if he'd enjoyed it, not any sales pitch as to why it was better than thinking and growing into a corporate Fat Cat. Just I think you might like this one. So I did what all stubborn kids do, I didn't read it. I was stuck reading Henry IV part one and Great Expectations for school, some Nevil Schute and another book about naval warship in trouble that I forget. Suffice it to say, with exams and my English teacher leaning on me to turn out for the First Eleven Cricket team and the Second Eleven (because I my age I could play in the juniors) I wasn't getting time to study let alone read for fun… and somehow the book ended up at the bottom of my bookcase, ignored.
Weirdly, I didn't pick up another Morrell for fifteen years… and I know it was fifteen years because it was my 30th birthday. At the party my mate Patric and I stood in the corner not mingling, just chatting about stuff, and he started to tell me this incredible story he'd been reading—which just happens to be the novel presented here, Brotherhood of the Rose—and after about fifteen minutes of spoilers he finally says, "Hell, I'll just lend you the book when I'm done…" He couldn't remember the name of the author, so it wasn't until another very battered paperback turned up on my desk at work the next day that I realized with a wry smile that David Morrell was coming back into my life. It felt like a sign, twice people had brought these battered books and said I'd love them, how many times did I need the universe to hit me over the head with it?
Sometimes the universe is smart like that.
David Morrell was an author I needed to be reading.
He's also an author you need to be reading, so if you haven't encountered him yet, all I can say is I am jealous. There's nothing like discovering a truly magnificent novel for the first time.
Which only leaves David Niall Wilson, who is one of my oldest friends in this game, a terrifically talented chap, and co-writer with yours truly on a weird western, Hallowed Ground, which came about because of a typo, where my novella Hollow Earth, was referred to constantly as Hallowed Earth then Hollow Ground by both Dave and the publisher, and through some quirk of fate it turned out that Hallowed Ground was one of our favourite songs – though mine was by The Alarm and his was by Depeche Mode… so it was only natural we sit down to write something of that name… of course I thought we were writing a novel set in central park with a modern day snake oil salesman/preacher guy, Dave thought we were writing in the Old West… funny how we always seemed to see the same things completely differently, but that made for a great time collaborating as it became an adventure. And as with the best collabs, what came out was something that neither one of us would have written on our own. Sins of the Flash has had a tortured history, but it's one wonderful novel, and that cover, seriously, how beautiful is that?
I feel weird about introducing myself, so instead I'm going to use a very short piece one of the bundle members wrote for the book – but was never published – Tom Piccirilli.
"Okay, so I admit it...
I came late to the party.
While you were all down at the beach doing the right thing, waving welcoming banners to the new wave of British writers hitting our shores, I was off reading Gold Medal mysteries from the fifties and drooling over copies of Harry Whittington's LOVE CULT and Charles Williams' THE DIAMOND BIKINI.
My priorities may have been a bit skewed, but listen, I finally pulled my head out of the dim recesses of the hole-in-the-wall second-hand bookshops and started spending more time perusing the specialty stores that carry real fire. We're talking about scorching books published by Headline, Silver Salamander Press, Razorblade, Vista, the Do Not Press, the late Tanjen, and Gargadillo. I'm here to join the meet-and-greet for the likes of Simon Clark, Graham Joyce, Mark Chadbourn, Tim Lebbon, and the whole slew of others.
Most definitely including Steve Savile.
Laughing Boy's Shadow is a novel without boundaries, one that spans genres and sub-genres. I mean, which space on the shelf do you fit into when you write about how the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz cuts somebody's eyeballs out? Witness the breakdown of reality and sanity. Here you'll find outright horror merged to offbeat mystery, dark fantasy married with the bend of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Manly Wade Wellman, and Lovecraft.
The supernatural madness Declan Thomas Shea journeys into begins with a car accident in which he strikes an old man...
Or does he?
The doctors claim it was just a lamppost, but hell, we all know that something freaky is going on. Soon mental uncertainty turns into a hallucinatory atmosphere of mental uncertainty. Are we watching the descent into insanity, or the drop off an edge into a place even more horrifying?
Laughing Boy's Shadow explores those deep crevices of the soul and recesses of darkness where so many fear to venture, showing us the gross and the grotesque, the fantastic and the evocative, even while holding high the magic and championing the exploration of wild fantasies and still more savage sins.
So you think you've got a firm grip on the world?
An unshakeably stable life?
A perfectly realized line between the dark and the light?
Turn the page and let Steve Savile show you just how wrong you are."
Hopefully what you've noticed by now is that while these streets are all mean, while they are laced with crime and horror, there's a huge spectrum of stories here, moments of the paranormal or outré, moments of ball-clenching fear, moments of dazzling imagination, and truly a diverse selection of dangerous territories…
The initial titles in the bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
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StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.