Because Songs Matter

[GUEST POST] RURAL NOIR: DIRTY BOOKS WITH A LOT OF TWANG

Well. We’ve arrived in Minnesota and caught Restauvant, Left Lane Cruiser and Radio Moscow at the opening night of the Deep Blues Festival. I am gonna have some guest posts for y’all over the next few days and I thought, “Why not start it off with someone from Minnesota?”.

Enter Neil Smith to add a little class the site. Hope y’all enjoy.

Thanks to Autosy4 for letting me stick my nose in over here and sniff around.  This is one of my fave sites, a necessary stop on an almost daily level to recharge with some high voltage twang.

When I surf on over to ninebullets.net, I’m absolutely certain that I’ll find something every time to help me groove while I’m working on a new novel.  Be it Slim Cessna, Seasick Steve, The Fox Hunt, Biram, John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives, or some good ol’ DBT, I’m telling you that this shit goes smoothly with crime fiction.  Especially when you’re reading some funky, red-clay covered, sweaty and sexy rural noir.

So I’m going to give you some surefire good reads to go along with the ripped speaker deep blues blasting out your ear pods.

Of course, I won’t mention my own novels, like Yellow Medicine and Hogdoggin’, both badass rural noirs following the exploits of dirty cop Billy Lafitte, who gets a second chance after Hurricane Katrina to start over again a thousand miles away in Southern Minnesota.  What does he do with it?  He goes right back to being a dirty cop.  And then it gets weird.  Malaysian wannabe terrorist trying to fund their terror plots with meth money, plus Billy’s love for a girl in a psychobilly band, leads him deeper and deeper into dangerous shit.  Not to mention that in the sequel, Hogdoggin’, he joins a cult biker club.

But no, let’s not talk about those, or about The Drummer (heavy metal drummer fakes his death to fool the IRS, and is discovered fifteen years later in New Orleans), or my first novel, Psychosomatic (First line: “Because Lydia didn’t have arms or legs, she shelled out three thousand bucks to a washed-up middleweight named Cap to give her ex-husband the beating of his life.”).  Really, that wouldn’t be fair, would it.

The first name on my list is Joe R. Lansdale, the brilliant and ridiculously funny author of the Hap and Leonard series, set in Lansdale’s home stomping grounds of East Texas.  Hap’s a good ol’ boy who can kick a few asses now and then, while Leonard is his gay black, Vietnam vet best friend.  Together, they burn down a crack house, go chasing sunken treasure, and generally stumble into situations where they get the living fuck beat out of them.  Highly entertaining.  Start with Savage Season and The Two-Bear Mambo and you’ll blaze through them up until the most recent, Vanilla Ride. But Lansdale is also know for his horror writing, including the story that spawned the movie Bubba Ho-Tep (editor’s note: Bubba Ho-Tep is a GREAT movie).  If you want a fantastic and creepy rural noir that contains perhaps the most skin-crawling image I’ve ever had to conjure up, try Freezer Burn.

Next, in a more serious (but just as warped) vein, would be Mississippi’s late great Larry Brown.  He died several years back at the height of his powers.  Young, only around 50.  But his novels are brutal enough to make you flinch.  I’d start with Father and Son, about an intensely angry man just out of prison in 1968 who goes right back to killing, then move on to Joe and Fay, and for an equally tasty snack, you have to take a look at where he shines most–in the short story.  His collections are Big Bad Love and Facing the Music.  I’m also a fan of his essays in Billy Ray’s Farm.

Back to the funny side of things, even if we’re talking about some dark, dark funny.  One of my all-time favorite authors, James Crumley recently passed away, leaving behind some of the wildest “gonzo noirs” I’ve ever read.  Everyone must start with his classic The Last Good Kiss, featuring an alcoholic bulldog and a detective wandering around the American West.  You’ll get the same melancholy noir/western/black comedy out of The Wrong Case, but I especially love the under appreciated later novels The Final Country and The Right Madness.  I mean, when you’ve got someone hanging herself, only to have the head pop off the body, the body fall on the detective, and them both rolling out the door while the detective is vomiting and laughing at the same time, well…hard to top.

Take a steamy trip down to Florida with Vicki Hendricks’s steamy redneck noir in Miami Purity, which begins with a woman killing her white trash boyfriend with a boombox to the face.  Or Iguana Love, which involves scuba diving, steroids, lots of sex, and, you guessed it, an iguana.  Vicki’s a good friend and a great, whacked-out writer.

To keep you busy for years to come, I’d suggest Southern Louisiana via James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, starting with The Neon Rain and stretching through nearly twenty more until you get to the aftermath of Katrina in The Tin Roof Blowdown, and Dave’s Montana fishing vacation in Sawn Peak.  If you like one, you’ll like them all, as Burke has a particular lush style that leans heavy on the description of Southern weather, bayous, and the land, while also displaying his unique take on dialogue.  It’s an art.  A bloody, inspired art.

And let’s not forget the master: Harry Crews.  Not officially a noir writer, but I doubt many Southern Gothic tales of crime and misery in the new American South could have been written without him.  Start with The Gospel Singer and soak in the sensuality of backwoods religion.  Try Scar Lover for one of the weirdest love stories this side of Wild at Heart.  And then there’s Body, which moves the hicks off the mountain and into Miami Beach and women’s bodybuilding.  He will creep you out.  And that’s part of the pleasure of reading Crews.

I could go on and on, but a lot of these you either know or will stumble into along the way (Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Dorthy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Jayne Anne Phillips’s Lark and Termite, Scott Phillips’s Cottonwood, Jim Thompson’s Killer Inside Me, Flannery O’Connor, and old Gold Medal titles from Harry Whittington and John Faulkner, brother of William), but I can’t leave you without mentioning a writer so good that once you discover his work, you’ll mete his name out only to those people in your life you trust most.  You’ll become a disciple.  And that writer is Daniel Woodrell.  He came screaming out of Missouri Ozark country with jaw-dropping novels like Tomato Red, The Death of Sweet Mister, and his most recent Winter’s Bone.  Find them.  Devour them.  You need them.  And all the while in the background, you’ll hear the haunted strains of all those dark fire and brimstone bands you find here on Nine Bullets.

Hope that keeps your library card or local bookstore busy this summer.  But take a break from the pages to head on out to some concerts and soak it all in like New Orleans humidity.  But one thing I’ve learned from being raised in Mississippi, hanging around Southeast Louisiana, and now living all the way up here in Southwest Minnesota’s farm country–the accents may be different, but rural is rural.  We all understand each others’ stories easier that way.

9 Comments

  1. Joe R Joe R
    July 17, 2009    

    Amen on Daniel Woodrell! You didn’t mention my favorite of his books, “Give Us a Kiss.” And why is it out of print?

  2. chris in michigan chris in michigan
    July 20, 2009    

    awesome post. thanks !

  3. July 21, 2009    

    Great post, Neil. And a big Amen! on all those books and writers.

    By the way, you ever heard Tony Joe White’s song ‘The Gospel Singer’? The tune is more or less a summary of the novel, and is a damn good one.

  4. July 21, 2009    

    FWIW: Another author from Florida that would fall in this category is Tim Dorsey.

  5. N N
    July 22, 2009    

    I’ve heard a lot about Dorsey and how nuts he is, but haven’t read one. Might have to check him out. Another old timer to check out: Charles Willeford. His Hoke Mosley books set in Miami are ridiculously great.

    And my buddy Victor Gischler’s GUN MONKEYS is set in Florida, too. He’s from Orlando originally.

    Kent: Never heard that song. Sounds worth the search.

    Wish I could just keep going. Outside of the rural noirs, you’ve got James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Ken Bruen, Charlie Huston, Sean Doolittle, Allan Guthrie, Richard Stark, the list goes on…

  6. July 23, 2009    

    I never heard of Woodrell before. But I searched by library catalog and found two here in my building. Which is strange, considering I’m the one who would have ordered “Winter’s Bone”. Since we also have “Give Us a Kiss” I’ll try that out first.

    I’ve never read a Larry Brown novel because it sounds like he’ll creep me out or depress me.

    Another one on the rural end is that cop series by James Sallis set near Memphis.

  7. August 5, 2009    

    Reading Winter´s Bone right now and it´s awesome. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. July 7, 2014    

    Rural Noir is a joke within a joke. It is written about by urban folk who don’t get it. My grandfather wrote about Tennessee. These are just urban junkies making a buck.

  9. July 7, 2014    

    It is like the draft dodgers writing about the war. They are just making it up to compensate for the failings to live it.

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