Tag Archives: noir

Red Night Zone by James Newman

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A neon ballerina hits the stage in the savage world of Bangkok. She’s grinding her body on stripper poles and trying to take the right kind of men back into hotel rooms, because from the gutter, she can see her million dollar dream glinting in the tropical night sky. She seduces a man out of a briefcase he says is loaded with everything he’s worth. Later her body is found with the head cut off inside her ragged apartment. The briefcase is gone from the scene of the crime. Private investigator, Joe Dylan, is hired to retrieve the missing briefcase from Bangkok’s seedy criminal underbelly.

The city is a savage jungle of sex, black magic, and murder—the Nirvana of debauchery. The clues lead Joe Dylan into the dark and dangerous quagmire known as Demon Dreams, a shadowy S&M brothel for high profile clients with unusual needs. The madam, a gorgeous transsexual, and her brother, a mute kick-boxer who sees demons, hold a grim secret that connects a string of murdered women and the missing briefcase.

James Newman has commented, “The Red Night Zone is an acid trip, where the loose ends don’t tie up. Or if they do then not the way one expects.

Red Night Zone is a voyeuristic pulp fiction that’s always on the verge of dissolving into madness but keeps it together. Newman is a literary risk taker. He gambles hard with his storyline and subject matter like a strung out Vegas junkie betting his wedding ring and bus ticket back home. There’s a dread looming over him, but he manages to say something funny about the way people die. Newman’s style is morbidly funny with a clean prose that reminds me of Stephen King. His journalistic portrayal of Bangkok and his insider knowledge of everything weird is homage to Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism. Red Night Zone is the second book out of his Bangkok series. You don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this one, but they’re better together like a pair of stripper breasts.

In the 1950’s Raymond Chandler gave pulp readers Philip Marlowe. James Newman gives us a private investigator for our generation, Joe Dylan. His book is available on Amazon.

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The Rip-Off by Jim Thompson



I was hesitant about reading The Rip Off because of everyone claiming how much it sucked. Well, after reading it I can definitely say it is only they who are doing the sucking. This book cracked me up! I had to do a fake cough several times to cover up my laughter. Thompson knows how to write dialogue. It’s witty, original, and occasionally outrageous. Likewise is the cast of desperate characters who are big enough to speak them.

The Rip Off is about a guy out in the country who is screwing around on his wife. He isn’t very bright, in fact he’s a moron. Well, sticking your thing into everything that walks is bound to get you in trouble and that’s exactly what happens. The dude get’s caught up with these crazy dames that don’t know if they want to screw him or kill him.
The biggest gripe against this book is that it’s lacking the blood and guts violence from his other novels. Ok, that I will give to you. There isn’t very much violence, it’s more of a flirtation with disaster. It’s refreshing to see Thompson write a hard-boiled comedy without dumping a bucket of blood on top.

The plot is a little so-so, but as Stephen King says about plot: “The good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.” What makes this book shine are the character interactions and risky situations.

Good pulp doesn’t have to be all gore.


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Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett


Nightmare Town is a collection of short stories from the originator of the hard-boiled crime genre, Dashiell Hammett. As a private eye for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco during the Prohibition Era, Hammett experienced shootouts, knifings, stakeouts, and cold-blooded murder for cash. These experiences convinced him of one thing: everyone is a suspect. He began writing short stories based on his detective work for pulp fiction magazines.

Nightmare Town is a book of high-quality stories punctuated by brilliant gems. This book shows Hammett as a versatile writer able to work in any area concerning crime. He can use the first or second person perspective and put readers in foggy city streets or little desert towns with a whole cast of psychologically-unique characters.

Several stories break away entirely from the detective backdrop. “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” centers on an escaped convict hunted across a barren countryside. He’s wounded and desperate, and nobody is going to take him in alive. This story has the life-or-death feeling of John Steinbeck. “His Brother’s Keeper” is told in the first person perspective of a young boxer who just can’t figure out the deadly plot closing in on his brother. “Afraid of a Gun” lays out the naked fear of a gangster with a phobia of guns.

The stories range from crimes of passion to bone splintering violence. In every instance, there are tightly-drawn plots unfolding at an exciting pace. The dialogue is original and enjoyable. Hammett’s prose is economical, achieving the greatest impact and solidity with the least number of words possible. He tells complex mysteries in a barebones style.

Nightmare Town is a great book because it gives lowbrow subject matter a literary-grade treatment. For all the pulp, noir, and crime readers out there, get back to your roots with these hard-boiled masterpieces.

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POP. 1280 by Jim Thompson

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I decided to keep the pulp fiction train going with another classic. POP. 1280 by Jim Thompson is a story takes place in a small, racially segregated, god fearing town called Potts County. Nick Corey, the High Sheriff, is known to the townsfolk and his wife as the easygoing moronic lawman that’s too cowardly to arrest anybody. What nobody knows is that hidden underneath his goofy exterior lays a mercilessly sinister and manipulative personality. One day Nick gets tired of the corruption in the town and decides to do a little vigilante work which opens a can of worms. Nick’s other problem is that he can’t quite keep it in his pants. Eventually the juggling act is set to blow up in everyone’s face.

Besides being a classic pulp that beautifully weaves murder, sex, and betrayal, POP. 1280 is a biting satire of American culture. There are several scenes in which lawmen debate the issue of “Nigger” politics and law with an air of total sincerity. The hypocrisy of Christian brotherhood is hilariously depicted when a character is literally assaulted with a bible. Thompson cracks the mask of the good American citizen which then breaks away, piece by piece, to reveal the true American character: animalistic and absolutely shameless. But Thompson doesn’t get on a high horse. His critique of society is almost a concession to the amorality at the core of our being.

You want some pulp? Here it is. Pop 1280 takes no prisoners and makes zero apologies. It’s crude, vulgar, and sadistic as hell. For a tiny pocket book of merely 215 pages, it’ll grab you by the throat and drag you through the woods. It’s funny. I laughed out loud multiple times. The murders are always personal. Like all of Thompson’s writing, this one is deeply psychological. It puts you in the passenger seat alongside a charming psychopath. What a ride…what a ride. Who are we going to run over next? The suspense is killing me.


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The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett


The last three books I reviewed were a little heavy on the brain so I decided to read something purely for fun. Fun for me is old school noir. The genre is fascinating because the writing in some cases is both masterful and cheesy. The masterpiece of cheese I picked up was The Dain Curse by the granddaddy of hardboiled crime, Dashiell Hammett. The story is about a detective who is called in to solve the case of missing diamonds. It starts off pretty slow and I’m expecting a straightforward detective read. Our guy meets Gabrielle, a beautiful young woman with an addiction for the occult and morphine, and suddenly it’s like this straitlaced book decided to drop a couple hits of acid and fill body bags like Christmas stockings.

The plot gets crazy. New characters and plot twists are fired at you with inhuman speed. Hammett pushes the story to the point of disintegration then pulls it off incredibly every time. The tough guy talk and longwinded confessions by the villains were all there. Everyone had a gun in his book. I think even a dog accidently shot a key witness. Yet with all this madness going about, Hammett keeps a straight face the entire time which makes it hilarious. Mind you this book isn’t a comedy, just like old kung-fu flicks weren’t made to be funny—and yet, there they are. Even the racism is so over the top that I couldn’t help laughing out loud.

I couldn’t see the hand that was exploring my inside coat-pocket, nor the arm that came down over my shoulder; but they smelled of the kitchen, so I knew they were brown.”

I literally dropped my taco and felt guilty for stealing this wonderful book, especially since I had just received my welfare check.

This book may come off a little bizarre to some of the noir purists, and rightfully so. As for me, I see the early roots of pulp in this blood soaked gem. It’s sort of a hybrid between vintage crime and pulp. Hammett is better known for his work, The Maltese Falcon. I can honestly say I enjoyed this one better.



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Black Friday by David Goodis



I’m hooked on that noir. My last review was Jim Thompson’s After Dark, My Sweet, and while I try to vary my reviews by genre I couldn’t resist following up with more another work of vintage crime. Black Friday is the first book I’ve read from David Goodis. Now I must admit after reading the deeply psychological work of Jim Thompson, Goodis felt dry and somewhat stiff. For a moment I had wondered if Black Lizard press finally dropped that dreaded bomb of disappointment. By the halfway point I glad to have discovered another master of the craft. Black Friday is a story about Hart, a desperate man running from the law for an unforgivable crime. He finds a man in the street dying of a gunshot wound. From there is taken in by the gang who murdered the man. The cops are looking for everyone involved and so they’re trapped in the hideout together. Hart must keep his nerves sharp if he wants to keep alive in a crowded little house with violent men and vicious women.

This is one of the more explicitly violent old school noirs I’ve read. Goodis has a detached style that zooms in on the brutality with a shocking swiftness. If I had to describe this book in one word I’d use, “economical.” Goodis pulls the maximum worth out of the fewest amounts of scenes, dialogue, and characters. The majority of the book takes place in single setting, and yet the book never becomes dull. The confrontation between the characters keeps the tension strong with a threat violence looming over them at all times. There is also enough sex to throw in a scandalous edge. Black Friday is like a game of chicken where the loser gets fried and whoever goes too far only guts himself.

Black Friday is another short novel which read more like a long short story. Goodis’ detached style does take a little while to get used to, but it feels almost as if he’s baiting the reader to lower his guard before throwing a sack over his head. This is a claustrophobic tale that can be appreciated by crime fans of either the classic works or the modern style. Who can resist the combination of classic noir story telling with the level of violence used today? I already have my next Goodis title lined up.



After dark, my sweet by Jim Thompson



Jim Thompson is quickly becoming my favorite noir writer with books like my latest read, After Dark, My Sweet. It’s a story about Williams Collins, an escapee from a mental institution who tries to blend into a small town as a normal person. He’s a very kind man who is too easily persuaded and is subject to violent episodes. Quickly he becomes entangled with a wickedly alcoholic woman named Fay Anderson who pulls him into a sinister plot with her partner in crime, a crocked ex-cop named Uncle Bud. Collins easily sees that he’s being setup to be the fall man in their plot, but his desperate loneliness compels him to stay in tragic company. Fay and Uncle Bud figure him for a prime sucker until they find themselves trapped in their own web and it becomes a deadly game of cut-throat.

Thompson creates a deeply intimate connection between the reader and Collins. We get to feel the inner working of his paranoia, desires, and morality. The characters are deeply flawed people who are surviving by any means necessary. Fear and sex are used for bargaining chips in a game of poker with no cards. It’s interesting to begin psychoanalyzing the characters in an attempt to predict their next move and play their motives. Thompson creates a bond between the reader and Collins in which his existence becomes shared. You don’t want him to get killed because it would mean your death too.

 This book is short read of only a 133 pages. It’s amazing how much Thompson can accomplish in such a short time and still make it feel complete. The violence in his work is balanced by the gentle and charming nature of Collins who in the end is both a victim and aggressor.  The suspense is worked supremely like a symphony raising and falling with dramatic affect. Murderous sexual tension is never in short supply. O’ how the fragility of people makes for such rewarding entertainment! Jim Thompson is considered a master from the school of hardcore American noir. This is the second book I’ve read by him and I’ll be reviewing another of his books soon.


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A noir short story: In the bag

I didn’t know where I woke up. The bed sheets smelt like wet cigarettes and old beer. A small room with fading pink wallpaper appeared as my bloodshot eyes focused. I was in some roach motel I didn’t recognize. The Bag! Cold panic hit me like ice water.

The leather travel bag was sitting in the armchair. I sighed in relief.

There was a pack of smokes on the nightstand. I reached over for them—it was empty. Lousy luck is all I’ve had since I took on this assignment. The thing that drove me bat shit was that I didn’t even know who hired me or what I was even supposed to go. All it took was two things at my office to get this wild goose chase started, a note and a bag. Oh, yeah, the attached 50K of crispy hundred dollar bills might have done something to motivate me too. There was a note scratched with some fancy writing. Whoever scribbled it had spent a fair amount of time with a book shoved in their face. The ends of the letters curled like the eyelashes of a troubled dame. I assumed it was a woman, probably a librarian, or a man who secretly wore women’s clothes. There are plenty of freaks and weirdos to go around in this town. Nothing surprises me anymore. But the message threw me for a curveball.

“Blubber Island”

Was this some sort of joke? But five-hundred c-notes don’t bullshit anyone in my line of work. Whoever dropped this off wanted the assignment to be done without error. ‘Then why the absurd message?’ I wondered. For a second I suspected it might be too good to be true. I put my ear against the bag. Not a sound, anyways it was too light to be a bomb, and who in their right mind would toast fifty thousand of their own cash? It be a lot cheaper to just hand me the dough and let me drink myself to death, if greasing me was their intention. The bag itself was an ordinary black leather travel bag except the metal zipper had been melted shut. The only way to open it was with a knife. This mystery client must be in some big time danger. Whoever it was didn’t risk a phone call or quick chat. Even the message was enigmatic as the hieroglyphics on King Tut’s tomb. What or who the hell was “Blubber Island”? I was reading the note when suddenly the phone rang.

“Shizy, private eye,” I spoke into the receiver still looking at the note in my hand. There was a long second of nothing and then he spoke.

“Yeah, Hi…”

Male, Caucasian, in his late twenties with a serious drug habit. I waited for him to continue.

“You got a gun?” the junkie asked.

“I got two. Who are you, punk?”

A dead line.

I reached into the desk drawer and pulled out my 357 snub nose revolver. Somebody was watching me. I could feel eyes slithering all over arms and face. I peeked through the blinds. The sun was sinking down on a city crowded with people going about. The sky turned shades of deep purple and color of blood oranges. The junkie who made the call could be baiting me to rush outside straight into an ambush. But staying in here was pointless if they already knew where I was. I took it as a tip off for the time being. One thing was for sure, I needed to get the hell out of there before someone came looking for me.

My senses were on fire. I put on my coat and hat before grabbing the bag, gun, and loot. The air I breathed felt like cold threads being pulled into my lungs. I flicked off the lights. Soft blades of light, from the streetlamps outside, cut into my office. For a moment I leaned against the wall. ‘What are you doing, man? You’re going to stick your neck out for 50K. Why not throw the suitcase outside the window and write it off as a rejected proposal?’ I pictured my body lying on a cold metal table in autopsy room. Morticians in blue scrubs wearing white masks walked around me while I stared down at myself with eyes like two dead goldfish.

The doorknob on the front door jiggled.

My eyes darted towards the noise. I froze. Through the frosted window panel was a shadow of a figure wearing a hat. From the outline I could tell it was large man. The shadow loomed there staring into my darkened office without the slightest movement. Slowly I reached into my coat pocket for the steel. Was this the guy they sent to cut my throat? It was too late to turn back now. Even if I handed over the bag I’ve already become too much of a liability. I’d kill me to if I were him. There was only two ways out of the office. I could go out the window, but that would mean an eight story suicide. The other was through the waiting shadow. I was stuck in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Sweat was breaking out all over my face. I was trapped. The thought of blasting him through window came to mind. I pointed my gun at the figure. My finger was squeezing on the trigger—I stopped. What if I blew the head off a cop? I lowered my gun. My only option was to play the rotten hand good enough to save my skin. Quietly I moved through the dark until I was ducking by the window. Was I hallucinating? The shadow seemed to grow larger. The aura of death came over me. The blood in my veins turned cold as blunted lead slug. Across the street from my window a lone utility pole stood. The door begun to shake violently, all the while the shadow remained still. I lifted up the blinds and fired outside the window. The transformer on the power pole exploded in a blinding shower of sparks killing every light in the building. Suddenly, I heard the sound of breaking glass and the door smash in. In the perfect darkness, for a brief moment, I saw the glint of a knife appear out of nothing. I swung my gun and fired. In the muzzle flash a shapeless black form moved towards me like a panther. I managed to squeeze off another round when I felt a blade cut open the side of my face and someone smash into me. We grappled on the floor. I felt an arm and grabbed for its wrist. With my other hand I gripped a shirt collar. I twisted my body and hurled the assailant through the window. Broken glass trickled onto the street. When I looked outside there was a man lying dead with a switchblade clutched in his death grip.

I grabbed a bottle of whisky from my bookshelf and took a long drink. He would have had my number if it wasn’t for junkie’s anonymous call. I made my way out of the office and into the hall. There wasn’t a bit of light in the building. Luckily, I knew the place so well I could walk it with my eyes closed. ‘Turn right, walk about thirty feet, and the stairwell is on the left,’ were the directions in my head. I descended the stairs taking care not to break an ankle. Going down I realized this was the first time I had taken the stairs. There was no point in taking the long walk up or down because of the elevator. I’d push a button and twenty seconds later the doors open up. How long does it take going by stairs? This long walk feels like I’m going to end up in the subway. The air suddenly weighed a hundred pounds. What the hell is going on here? My head is getting drowsy. I can’t help it. I’m losing conciseness. Pulling the bag to me— I blackout.

That’s the last thing I remember before waking up in this strange room. From the looks of it everything is still here. My gun, the money, the bag, nothing is gone. Even my empty packet of cigarettes is still here. My throat was dry. I got up for a glass of water with the gun in my hand. I filled up the cheap plastic tumbler next to the ice bucket and drank down some stale tasting tap water. In the mirror the ugly gash on my face stood out. The cut was deep and there was a lot of dried blood on my face. I looked like the movie poster to a slasher film. This was insane. Was it even worth the 50K anymore? I wondered. That’s when I heard a sound. A faint scratching was coming from behind me.  I spun around ready to blast. That’s when I realized where it was coming from, the bag. I stepped towards it cautiously. There was something definitely moving inside the bag. I would have noticed this before. I can be dumb, but not that dumb. That’s when I heard the muffled cry of a tiny animal. I didn’t have a choice. Using my trusty switchblade I punctured the leather bag and cut it open. Two big green eyes appeared from within the bag. A black kitten jumped out. I admit she got the drop on me. Without meaning to talk to her I said, “This doesn’t make any sense.” We stared at each other for a while then she gave an excruciatingly long meow. Her white collar said her name was “Ninja.” For an all-black cat the name was fitting. At least something made sense.

I took her with me. Someone had to feed her.


Bangkok Express is a bloody good ride

Indie pulp writer James A. Newman gives us a guided tour into the criminal underground of Bangkok, Thailand in Bangkok Express. It’s a tropical pulp fiction with an international cast of characters caught in a spider web of corruption–with coldblooded murder for cash at the center. Newman’s depiction of Bangkok makes the city come alive in all its beautiful savagery. It is a strange place that is both burning with poverty and drowning with dirty money. There’s no such thing as corruption in Bangkok. You either swim with the sharks or get eaten by piranhas. No money means no mercy. Bangkok, baby, hope you’re ready.

The book opens up with one of the most uniquely depicted murder scenes I’ve ever read. Newman portrays the act of murder in a way that I can only refer to as a work of art. It’s a style in which panic, adrenaline, fear, and confusion exist in a vacuum. From the first chapter, I knew I was hooked on this savage tale. This book is definitely a fast-paced thriller, and the only time you ever get to relax is in some sleazy sex mall with Thai ladyboys offering a cheap walk on the wild side. Or perhaps you would care for a comfy couch and a little heroine? Fear in Loathing in Bangkok, why not? This book definitely has that Hunter Thompson “gonzo” quality.

I especially enjoyed the brand of characters that were caught up in the mix. Together they formed just the right formula for everything to go to hell in a hand basket. Put a couple million British pounds up for grabs, and let the backstabbing begin. In some ways, Bangkok Express is a bit of a demented comedy. There’s some character dialogue that really captures the essence of dark humor that pulp fiction is loved for. How Newman’s characters manage a good laugh with a gun shoved in their faces is commendable. Although the plot can get a little tricky with so many players off completing their piece of the puzzle, the story stays tight and never becomes messy (that is until somebody’s brain gets a bullet massage).

I’d recommend this book to all you crime lovers out there. All the sick minds that can appreciate murder with a little bit of irony sprinkled over it and a splash of tropical paradise. The book does push the cheese factor on a few occasions, but I guess things just have their own way of unfolding in Bangkok. Newman lives in Thailand; he’s seen (and done) some stuff that we can only guess. It’s that firsthand experience that gives Bangkok Express that genuine gritty authenticity. Sniff hard enough and you can suck in the smells of diesel fumes and fresh mangos, and have the pink glare of neon lights softly stinging your eyes. According to his bio on bangkokbooks.com, he’s currently working on another book while awaiting the apocalypse. Now that’s the kind of attitude that produces books worth reading.

James A. Newman

Bangkok Express can be found at bangkokbooks.com and amazon.com. His books are available in paperback and for e-format. He has also written other pulp works Bangkok City, Lizard City, and his short story collection Thailand After Dark.

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“Hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world” Japanese cyberpunk with a noir twist

Prepare to trip balls.

Murakami Haruki’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is imagination dynamite. The story opens up with a sci-fi, noir attitude told from a Japanese perspective. My immediate impression was, “This is gonna cool,” and it was. Haruki throws a bit of everything into the pot: surrealism, mystery, metaphysics, magical realism, to name a few. The story itself is one of the most strangely unique I have ever read. I think Haruki enjoys messing with our heads. He’s aware of the tired-out clichés and sets you up to believe you know exactly where the book is heading, then busts your bubble and blows your mind. For a book that was written back in 1985, it reads like a bestseller hot off the press. If Franz Kafka was into cyberpunk, occasionally took hard drugs, and reincarnated as a Japanese man, he’d probably write something like this.

The story is such a bizarre odyssey that I wouldn’t dare spoil any of it for you. I can’t even tell you the general plot–it’ll ruin the surprise. I’ve read some reviews of this book, and all I can say is that I’m glad I read the book first and avoided the spoilers. It does have some hardcore cyberpunk elements and Johnny Mnemonic did come to mind–but was much more than that. The book has an amazing sense of duality. When you first come across this, you’ll wonder what the hell is going on. As the story progresses, Murakami weaves a dangerously magical world that breaks the spine of traditional modern writing. It’s a gritty fairy tale that you’ll fall into like a deep well. His use of Gutter Surrealism is masterful. This review is vague, and I apologize. But once you begin Hard boiled Wonderland and the End of the Word, you will see my intentions were sincere. Murakami drives his imagination like a stolen car in this book. I suggest you get in and enjoy the ride.

The end of this book stunned me. It was the type of conclusion that sort of breaks your heart and leaves you with the feeling that a longtime friend and lover had disappeared from the planet. I’ve taken reconciliation in the fact that Murakami’s other works contain the same magical nature I was introduced to in Hard Boiled Wonderland. I loved this book and I hope this review inspires you to read it too. Despite Murakami’s international acclaim, he remains largely unknown to American readers. This I cannot accept. Magic Realism of this caliber should be shared to everyone. Let’s all trip out together.

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