Book Review: Twin Cities Noir: The Expanded Edition

Book Review: Twin Cities Noir: The Expanded Edition edited by Julie Schaper & Steven Horwitz

Like the previously reviewed USA Noir, this is a collection of grittier crime stories from Akashic Books with a regional focus.  In this case, the cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, and the surrounded metro area, plus one up north in Duluth (“Hi, I’m God” by Steve Thayer; a teenager drowns in Lake Superior…or does he?)

Twin Cities Noir

This is the “expanded edition” released in 2013 with three new stories, bringing it to a total of eighteen.   The new ones are conveniently all in the front in the “Star of the North” subsection, starting with John Jodzio’s “Someday All of This Will Probably Be Yours”  about a speed dating scam gone wrong.  The other sections are “Minnesota Nice”, “Uff Da” and “Funeral Hotdish.”

Each of the stories is set in a particular neighborhood, several of which I’m familiar with.  One scene takes place less than a block from where I live!  This makes it easy for me to picture the action in my mind.  This may not be as evocative for non-locals, but will please readers in the Twin Cities area.

Some standouts:  “Skyway Sleepless” written and drawn by Tom Kaczynski takes place in Minneapolis’ extensive skyway system.  The art uses the rectangular boxes of the skyway to indicate the maze-like architecture of the story, as people are found filling chalk outlines and no memory of how they got there.

“The Brewer’s Son” by Larry Millett is a period piece set in 1892 Saint Paul, and starring his series character, saloonkeeper and amateur detective Shadwell Rafferty, acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes.  The title character has been kidnapped, supposedly by the Black Hand, and Mr. Rafferty is called in by the concerned father.  This is noir, so expect some darkness.

Mary Logue’s story “Blasted” takes place in upscale Kenwood, as a police officer tells her daughter about a domestic dispute call that was the most frightening experience of her life.  The officer is still alive, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t good reason for fear.

The final story is “”Chili Dog” by Chris Everhart.  A small time crook stops in downtown Saint Paul for lunch, and things go very wrong for him.

As a crime story anthology, there’s a fair bit of violence, one story features domestic abuse, and there’ mention of suicide.

If you are local to Minnesota, or have lived here in the past, highly recommended.  The book’s pretty good if you’re not local, but you might miss some of the nuance.  Akashic may have a volume set in your area; check their catalog.   If you own the previous version, you might want to save money by going with the e-book, so you can check out the new stories without shelling out the big bucks.

Magazine Review: Out of the Gutter #7

Magazine Review: Out of the Gutter #7 (Winter 2010)

Back in the day, the low-cost entertainment option of choice was the pulp magazine.  It contained fast, exciting stories on cruddy paper–a lowbrow art form that is still fondly remembered by some.  “Out of the Gutter” tries to be somewhat in that tradition.

Out of the Gutter #7

This is the “U.S. vs. U.K.” issue, with alternate stories from American and British authors.  They’re handily arranged by the time it takes to read them, with the shortest stories up front, interspersed with somewhat relevant quotes and bits of non-fiction.

Unfortunately, while the cover promises “pulp fiction and degenerate literature,” the stories tend much more strongly to the degenerate side of the equation.   Lots of drugs, sex (yes, including rape), strong language and of course violence, with few likable characters to be seen.  It’s kind of like pouring habañero sauce on your jalapeños; too much burn and not enough nutrition underneath.

That said, there are a couple of good stories.  “Darkness Creeps” by Stephen D. Rogers is a good snapshot of a petty bureaucrat trying to fix a town one atrocity at a time.  “Real Estate” by Benedict J. Jones is about a finger man investigating drug dealers’ deaths.  And “Pleading and Bleeding” by Charlie Wade follows two police officers tracking down a serial killer with a thing for bankers.

The non-fiction is more varied.  A comparison of infamous murderers of the U.S. and U.K.,  a remixed comic about social etiquette, and a piece suggesting that the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Paine rather than Thomas Jefferson are a sample of these.

Based on this issue, I would not recommend this magazine, but it was certainly an interesting read.

Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments

Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments by Barbara Postema

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Narrative Structure in Comics

This is a scholarly work on the subject of “Comics” which here includes comic books, comic strips, graphic novels and sundry related items.  The emphasis is on the formal elements of comics, the structure which is used to create narrative.  Definition of terms and the historical development of comics as an art form are relegated to appendices.

Ms. Postema’s thesis is focused on the concept of “gaps”, which allow and require the implied reader to fill in those gaps and create the narrative.  The combination of pictures and gaps and often words creates an intertextuality that makes the reader a part of the creative process.

There are numerous illustrations in both color and black & white, while other examples are merely described and the student will have to look them up for themselves.   The fragments on the cover are from  Shutterbug Follies by Jason Little, which is also discussed in some detail (including spoilers!) in the text.  By a happy coincidence, this work is being reprinted on GoComics for free.

There’s a considerable bibliography of both scholarly works and fine comics, and a helpful index.    This is, as stated before, a scholarly work that would most likely be used in college courses dealing with comics.  Bright high school students with an interest in the deeper aspects of comics should be able to handle it.  Id’d also recommend it to comics fans who enjoy examining formal narrative structure.

Open Thread: Coming Attractions

School has started again, and it is kicking my butt.  So reading for reviews is going to be slowing down for the next couple of weeks.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

However, I thought  you might like to see some of what’s coming up in the next month or so.  Here’s books I’ve received from authors and publishers on the premise I would read and review them–not necessarily in the order they will appear.

  • The Stone Lions by Gwen Dandridge.  A children’s fantasy novel set in Moorish Andalusia, which doubles as a text on symmetry.
  • Torsten by Joshua Kalin.  Historical fiction about three friends who sail with Christopher Columbus.
  • USA Noir edited by Johnny Temple.   An anthology of noir short stories, a “best of” collection.
  • Narrative Structure In Comics: Making Sense of Fragments by Barbara Postema.  A scholarly work about how comics work.
  • The Sky Devil by L. Ron Hubbard.  Three pulp stories of manly adventure.  Due to some difficulty with the shipment, Galaxy Press kindly also sent along the audio version, so I’ll be reviewing that as well.
  • The Thirty-Ninth Man by Dale Swanson.  Back to historical fiction, this time about the 1862 Dakota Uprising.

Plus anything else I come across I have time to post about.  If all else fails, I’ll be digging through my old journals for reviews I did before I had a blog.

Anything on this list you’re looking forward to?  Are you a publisher or author who would like to send books for me to review?  Let me know in the comments!

Comic Book Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1 (Seven Against the Dark)

Comic Book Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1 (Seven Against the Dark) by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves & Oclair Albert


When DC Comics rebooted their mainline universe in 2011, this left them free to rearrange the past of that universe .  To fill in part of that timeline, we have this title.

After a brief moment at the fall of Camelot, we see the town of Little Spring, a relatively peaceful village that just so happens to be host to seven ill-assorted strangers.  It’s a close call as to whether these strangers or the encroaching army of the Questing Queen is more of a danger.  Nevertheless, it falls to this ragtag band of misfits to defend Little Spring until it can be relieved by Alba Sarum.

The “heroes” of this story don’t much like each other, and several of them aren’t very heroic at all.  But like it or not, they have to work together…or do they?

This is one of the more successful reimaginings of the New 52.  Paul Cornell does good banter, and blends what we “know” of various characters with new information in interesting ways.  Several mysteries are set up, only a couple of which actually get movement in this volume, which contains the first seven issues of the series.  Also, kudos to Mr. Cornell for a relatively diverse cast, and not pretending it was only white able-bodied men who did anything important in the Middle Ages.

There’s quite a bit of gory violence, and some dark themes–I would recommend this for older teens and up.



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