This is how you compile a collection, round up thirteen of the leanest, meanest pulp hacks working right now and tell them to make it hardboiled. They will bring their A-game, guaranteed.
The latest instalment of Beat to a Pulp features names you’ll already be familiar with from their work at noir meccas like Shotgun Honey, Needle Mag and Dirty Noir, and if some are new to you prepare to be impressed.
Despite the ‘hardboiled’ tag these stories are diverse in background and tone, ranging from pachinko parlours to golf courses, morgues to fleapit motels, making for a cohesive but unpredictable reading experience. And it is the sheer unpredictability which makes this such an impressive collection. Many stories take their start from short fiction tropes like the unfaithful wife or the brick of coke, but each time you think you know how it will end you are wrong-footed and lead somewhere much more interesting.
Throughout the pace is brisk and the writing tight; there is hardly a wasted word in the whole collection.
It would be unfair to pick favourites when the standard is so high and difficult to separate them anyway. A few images will stay with me though, the shrunken head in the birdcage in Kent Gowran’s A Small Thing in the Devil’s Punchbowl, a whiskey douche for a ruined eyeball in John Hornor Jacobs’ The Death Fantastique, and as a boxing fan since the womb Benoit Lelievre’s Second Round Dive was a real gem. That said there is not a weak story here, every one of them will send you looking for more of the author’s work.
Kudos to David Cranmer and Scott D. Parker, who deserve all the plaudits they’re getting for Beat to a Pulp Hardboiled. They have curated one of the strongest collections I’ve read this year and given readers a taste of the good stuff that’s out there.
Beat to a Pulp Hardboiled is available now