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Spotlight on: PointBlank Press

Books Reviewed:
Street Raised by Pearce Hansen
...Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

Street Raised by Pearce Hansen Pearce Hansen, Street Raised

He pulled the straight shooter from his lips, torturing himself with anticipation as he watched a tiny tendril of crack smoke waver from the mouth end of the pipe. The scent of it excited him more than the sight of a naked woman as he watched the crack smoke dissipate into the air, a little piece of Heaven wasted. -- from Street Raised

Few crime fiction writers have actually lived through the same events they put their characters through. For most, writing noir is an opportunity to experience illegal behaviors from a safe distance, things they would never dare to replicate because they don't have to. Pearce Hansen is the rare breed: he has run the same streets and struggled through the same precarious existence his characters do. For Hansen, writing is a kind of catharsis: it helps keep the nightmares away.

From the bio included with Street Raised, we learn that Hansen was "functionally homeless at a young age," and that he did a lot of self-educating through reading a variety of books: "he counts Thucydides & Spillane, Dostoevski & H.P. Lovecraft, Dickens & Nietzsche among his dear dead friends."

Street Raised is his debut novel, but it is not the work of a beginner. Hansen has been honing craft in short-fiction circles (including the now-defunct Plots With Guns) for ten years, and it shows. The story of Speedy and the aftermath of his release from Pelican Bay State Prison (far too much happens for me to even attempt a summary) displays a sure hand that knows what a good story requires: relatable characters, detailed settings, a clearly defined arc, and a satisfying ending.

It is in the spaces between, though, where Hansen's experiences and innate knack for storytelling shine through: There is no distancing from these people; we get up close and personal with their ways of life. Street Raised is filled with situations that could only be described by one who has seen them happen up close. That immediacy translates onto the page, resulting in at least one character who is thoroughly disturbing. (If you thought Begbie from Trainspotting was troubled, just spend a few minutes with Ghost.)

But make no mistake, Street Raised is not a memoir; that doesn't suit Hansen's needs here at all. He simply brings the rawness, the grit, and the upfront humanity to a genre that has, over time, gotten far too glossy. Hansen's unflinching (and completely engrossing) take will change how you feel about other crime writers. Kudos to JT Lindroos and Allan Guthrie at PointBlank Press for offering a forum to a powerful new voice, and to Hansen for writing what is without a doubt the most affecting crime novel of the year.

...Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket

Inept, man-crazy, booze-loving, overweight (and, apparently, big-nosed) private investigator Helena Handbasket stumbles upon the solution to a case involving thirty million in diamonds and more murders than you can shake a stick at in Donna Moore's debut mystery spoof, ...Go to Helena Handbasket, out from Point Blank Press (run by JT Lindroos and edited by Kiss Her Goodbye author Allan Guthrie).

When Owen Banks crashes through her office door holding his brother's hands -- his severed hands -- Helena is reluctantly pleased because "business had been slower than a knee-capped snail with arthritis." Owen's brother, Robin Banks, is missing (except for his hands, of course) and Owen suspects foul play, specifically the involvement of Evan Stubezzi, the local crime lord. With very little to work with (both in clues and brains), Helena only takes the case, mostly because Owen is "a fine specimen of manhood."

From the start, author Donna Moore lets her readers know that ...Go to Helena Handbasket is not going to take itself seriously in the slightest. All of the characters' names involve puns, and I kept thinking Moore would eventually run out of silly names, but they just keep on coming. They're mostly good for a quick chuckle, since they aren't related to the characters' personalities, but you have to admire Moore's skill in mining every possible word for its humor potential.

The prologue is quite promising, with a serial killer wannabe purchasing Serial Killing for Dummies and calling his mother to find out the dark secrets of his childhood, a necessity if he is "to have any sort of future as a serial killer." There are a few surprises at the conclusion, but ...Go to Helena Handbasket is a disappointment as a novel. I wish Moore had taken her writing just a little more seriously, and had given us some characters to care about, or even respect. It is practically impossible to identify with Helena Handbasket because she is so utterly stupid. And she is surrounded by people you wouldn't even have crash your enemy's wedding.

I also would have liked a plot that offered some suspense, instead Helena continually being put into one implausible situation after another. Things improved around Chapter Four, when the plot began moving along nicely, but Moore tends to lose focus, or just drop it altogether, in favor of fitting in a wisecrack, or presenting a contrived situation for the sake of a cheap joke.

But Moore is obviously clever, and has a quick wit (she reportedly wrote this in a month). She could be the Terry Pratchett of the PI novel, just by simply putting the story first and the humor second. In this case, less is definitely more. There are enough jokes in ...Go to Helena Handbasket to provide for three or four similar novels. The book tries to be the Airplane! of private-eye novels, but unfortunately ends up being more like Mafia! instead -- by no means a classic, but still a pleasant time-passer.

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