Luca Veste has gathered an impressive mix of US and UK talent for this collection – so impressive that you wonder what dirt he’s got on them. Off The Record features some big names from commercial crime fiction alongside a clutch of top flight cult authors, who you may not have heard of but will certainly enjoy.
With thirty-eight stories you would expect a few fillers but like the playlist the titles are taken from, it’s all good stuff. Neil White – yes that Neil White – kicks off with Stairway to Heaven, a tight piece of psychological fiction from within a prison cell, and things get progressively darker and meaner as the collection goes on.
Want to know the difference between a headshot with a .22 and a .38? It’s in here, courtesy of bona fide ex-con turned author Les Edgerton, who’s story Small Change also has a cameo from everyones favourite gravel-throated singer.
Wife cheating on you? Thomas R Brown’s Dock of the Bay has a readymade revenge scheme, guaranteed to work if you’ve got the balls to see it through. For the ladies, Charlie Wade’s excellent Take a Bow Sheila has a more demure solution. Involving pruning shears.
Noir fans are very well catered for in Off The Record, with Brit Pack stalwarts Paul D. Brazill and Col Bury lining up with literary outlaws from the other side, Steve Weddle, Matthew C Funk and Tommy Pluck – all working to their usual high standards. Pluck’s Free Bird is a beautifully constructed story about the strength it takes not to act; may bring a tear to your eye.
A couple of gems I have to mention – Eric Beetner’s California Dreamin’ is fabulous and you can hear the song as you’re reading it, that sense of sun cracked nastiness under a pretty melody, full of suspense and with a killer ending. Shadowboxer by Chris Rhatigan was another standout, deceptively simple – a man trying to outrun just-seen pursuers – but the writing is tense as hell.
Seriously? You’re tough.
Heath Lowrance’s I Wanna Be Your Dog is the nastiest story here – which is a compliment in this company – and really does justice to the grimy, driving quality of the song. Helen Fitzgerald’s Two Little Boys is probably the funniest, bringing out the homoerotic subtext you always suspected was there. Special mention to Ray Banks’ God Only Knows for a having a woman with a backside that looked like ‘two Volkswagen Beetles crashed in her leggings.’
The editor’s own contribution, Comfortably Numb, is typical Veste, a parable from the gutter told in a pitch perfect voice.
Off The Record is an incredibly strong collection, thirty-eight stories for pocket change and all proceeds going to childrens charities. You’d have to be a flint hearted piece of work not to buy it.