Pics from Noir@Bar Toronto

Things have been stacked pretty deep in the week and a bit since Tanis Mallow and I hosted the first Noir at the Bar in Toronto since 2009. (More on all that later.) Still, we've got a clutch of pictures from the event, and I wanted to get a few up, so here they go. (Photos by Hailey Mallow and Deb Jones.)

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We were thrilled at the lineup we pulled together for our first go. From left, Owen Laukkanen, Frank De Blase, Tanis Mallow, Terrence McCauley, Hilary Davidson, me, John McFetridge, Jill Edmondson, and Howard Shrier. Missing from this group shot was Andrew Pyper (pictured reading below -- and isn't PJ O'Brien Irish Pub a gem?).

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 We bookended the night with readings by N@BTO veterans McFetridge (Black Rock)and Shrier (Miss Montreal).

Unpack that sentence a bit. Two ex-Montrealers reading books about Montreal in Toronto at Noir at the Bar Toronto while on the television downstairs, a room full of Leafs fans were watching the Habs go down to the Bruins in Game 5 of a series they ultimately won to face the Rangers in a conference final. Oh, and did I mention we had three New Yorkers reading as well? Like I said, things have been stacked pretty deep the last week or so. I don't write nights when the Habs are in the finals. I don't iron shirts either. Wasn't this supposed to be a post about hockey?

 

 

 

 

 

Clearly, I'm prone to confusion, which this next photo from our introductions demonstrates well enough. ("To my right, no my other right.")

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In true Noir at the Bar fashion, the event was bolstered by out-of-towners. Our New Yorkers were McCauley, De Blase, and Davidson. 

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Laukkanen scored extra points for distance, flying—you read that right, rail fans—all the way from Vancouver.

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Mallow made sure anyone looking for true grit was not left wanting when she gave us some of her inimitable darkness.

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And as if the packed bar weren't hot enough, Edmondson treated us to a #NSFW romp through the sheets, er pages, of crime fiction sleuths. (You can read that here, on Kevin Burton Smith's Thrilling Detective blog.)

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On a personal note, the evening was the first time I read from Stinking Rich in public. It got a laugh or two, which kinda made my night.

Looking forward to doing this all again later this summer. I can see how easy it would be to get hooked on N@B. With all due nods to Peter Rosovsky, Todd Robinson, Eric Beetner, Jedidiah Ayres, Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Scott Montgomery and so many others who've got this groove going. Yeah, I'm packing my bags.

Noir at the Bar

Photo: Tanis Mallow

Counting down to next week's Noir at the Bar Toronto, and loving how it's taking shape.

After catching a glimpse at Bouchercon last September, Tanis Mallow and I were convinced Toronto needed its own N@B. Given the raft of crime fiction authors in town, we knew we'd find six gritty voices pretty easy. In no time, our endeavour became fraught with the same considerations as picking a team for a game of road hockey. Only no one drops out after the first period to let the other kids play. As the line-up took shape, out-of-town authors threw their hats in the ring. For our first shot at this, I gotta say it's looking pretty strong. Bonus: we've got a great list of authors to invite out next game.

Next, we needed a venue. Sending a couple writers on a search for the right bar is a sure way to slow things down. Eventually we found The Fireplace Lounge above PJ O'Brien Irish Pub. With plenty of booths and dark wood and...well, it's Irish. 'Nuff said.

Over the next bunch of weeks, there was a bookseller to engage, a Twitter feed to set up, the Facebook page, a poster, an evite—you get the picture (by the way, that knife up there ain't Photoshopped—kudos, Tanis). Hats off to guys like Todd Robinson and Eric Beetner who make it look like a breeze in New York and LA.

Bottom line, if we weren't in this for the long haul, it would have been nuts to take it on.

Thing is, at the end of the day, this is all about a bunch of readers and writers getting together in a bar every few months for a little gritty fiction. What could be simpler than that?

If you're curious how it turns out or maybe looking for the next one, "like" our Facebook page, and we'll keep you in the loop.

 

 

 

 

Would Mark Twain thrive today?

I could start this riff by confessing how much of Mark Twain's oeuvre I have yet to read. Given the limb I'm about to go out on, that might even be wise. But without claiming any particular expertise in his writing nor in depth knowledge of Samuel Clemens's life, I feel compelled to convey an impression I have of his character. More to the point, how that character might react were he to find himself launched into today's publishing world.

My admiration of Twain's work spurred me to write in my teens and early twenties. His short stories and essays, especially. But over the decades since, it is more the stories about the man that have struck me.

Here's a guy who worked wherever he could make a buck, on riverboats, as a miner, writing along the way, lecturing, doing stand-up comedy (before it was called that), investing in publishing, failing repeatedly, and never halting his production of this, that, and another piece of written work.

He wrote travel, tall tales, novels, novellas, poetry, autobiographical truths and untruths. He hustled himself on stage, had his work sold door-to-door like brushes. He tried anything to put himself in front of readers and earn a living. After declaring bankruptcy later in life, he toured the world as a speaker to earn enough to pay back his creditors even though he had no obligation to do so.

What I wonder is this: how would a guy like Mark Twain react to today's sea change in the world of publishing? Would he bemoan being expected to market his own work? Would he complain about paltry advances? Would he blame publishers or retailers or greedy readers for wanting his work for pennies on the dollar?

Probably.

Can you imagine Twain on Twitter?

He'd lash out with style, I imagine. He'd skewer them all. Then he'd bust his ass figuring out how to make the upheaval work in his favour. He'd be traditionally publishing, self-publishing, and have a finger in three different kickstarters at once.

A man who pens his autobiography well into his final years, but insists it not be published until after his death, isn't a man afraid of effort. Or of trying something new.

Twain spent his life crafting ways to deliver his thinking, his opinions, and his wit to an audience he clearly loved. I'm convinced he would have thrived in today's publishing environment. Not only by his words, but by his work and his entrepreneurial creativity as well.

What do you think? Would Twain be wailing at the darkness or would he light yet another candle? And what other literary greats would thrive in today's crazy strategic inflection point?

 

Writers' advice to their younger selves

Three Toronto authors tossed a few pearls at The Spoke Club last night. Bitterly cold outside, but the room was packed anyway.

Michael Winter, Stacey May Fowles, and Brian Francis were the panel for Open Book Toronto's Literary Salon. With Becky Toyne moderating, any sense of the dread panel rhythm (question-answer-counterpoint-thud) disappeared quickly. She redirected her own questions and got the authors opened up, baring bits of not-so-lonely soul to an audience of (mostly) newbie writers.

The theme was Advice for My Younger Self. Being one of the older guys in the audience, I took notes.

When to write? Winter locks himself in a cold room every morning, with the oddest companion (more on that later). For Fowles, it's a 15-hour showerless Saturday binge. Francis writes on the subway, again at lunch, wherever he can, because it's what he wants to do, who he wants to be.

A confessed curmudgeon, Winter shared his rules. Like, open your novel at the last page, not the first page, when you sit down to write. Finish the damn thing, and then go back to edit page one. Fowles takes the opposite approach, rewriting as she writes until she reaches the last line. Francis urged everyone to give ourselves permission to write absolute garbage in our first drafts.

As the panel wrapped up, Winter opened Fowles's book and read the last line. It was as if he was having a look to see whether it required more attention, given Fowles's progessive approach to her craft. She caught him doing it and he pronounced it, "a good last line."

But the best line of the night came early, when Winter explained his rational for writing from a computer hived off from the Internet. He described two rooms, one with a puppy and the other with a dog three days dead. Everyone would rather be in the room with the loving puppy. The Internet is a puppy, he said. But, the dead dog's your novel. Lock yourself in there and work on it.

Time to light another stick of incense. What with the garbage, the dead dog, and the shower I surely need, my garret's smelling foul.

If you'd like to read more of their pearls, check out Descant Magazine's post here.

"Pitch Perfect" on Out of the Gutter

Next month, Toronto Writers Co-op holds its sixth annual literary cabaret, and I needed something suitably short to read. The cabaret pairs each author with a musician. Ideally, the accompanist interacts with the story, affecting its delivery.

This year, my dear friend Mike Fitzgerald offered to join me on stage, playing a new instrument called Xth Sense which uses the performer's muscle sounds to produce music. While he soldered that into shape, I wrote a music-inspired piece called "Pitch Perfect".

I'd wanted to land something on Out of the Gutter since last year, and this piece seemed the right shade of dark. Happily, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts agreed.

You can read it here.

When we get a video of the performance, I'll let you hear how cool Mike's work sounds on-stage.

Bouchercon Blast

Pretty sure I can't blog about Bouchercon without coming off all giddy and fan-boy, but here goes anyway.

I was a Bouchercon virgin until last week. Now, I'm hooked. Who wouldn't be? On the way to Albany, I tweeted a Robin Spano article where she advised kids to just go for it at camp. Adults could feel just as intimidated, I said, heading to a conference of their peers.

Well, that ain't gonna last when it's a crime fiction conference. Especially not if you travel with a wingman like the inimitable Tanis Mallow. (Thanks, pal. You really made it for me.)

When Steve Steinbock urged me to "consider Bouchercon" last year, I knew it came from the heart. "Just go, if you can," he said.

Now it's been three days since it ended and I'm still a-buzz. Pretty sure the bourbon's worn off and I'm well-versed in caffeine, so that's not it. It's just a bundle of memories fighting for attention as they layer into my worn-out brain. Memories like...

Hard to find these in Canada....stealing Glock bullet casings from the firing range at the State Trooper Academy during Julia Pomeroy's tour. (Then fessing up and getting permission from our armed tour guide.)

...being called on-stage by Terrence McCauley to read from Todd Robinson's legendary Thuglit with like zero minutes notice. (And loving it.)

...meeting Erica Ruth Neubauer when we crashed Eric Campbell's Down&Out dinner and knowing immediately why Ruth and Jon Jordan would have her write reviews for Crimespree. Talk about an interesting background for someone in crime fiction.

...having Les Edgerton say he caught me crying as I read "The Hunt" on video.

...learning how incredibly funny Frank de Blase really is.

...imagining what would happen if Jack Getze's fuse gets lit one day.

...hearing Ed Kurtz go on about...

Those eyes....or rather...

...when he said...

...shit, it's all XXX-rated.

...being surprised when Tanis told me Ron Earl Phillips, Chris Irvin, Jen Conley, and Erik Arneson were meeting face-to-face for the first time! (Shotgun Honey runs so smooth it didn't seem possible.)

...seeing Sean Chercover in the wee hours again and again and again...

...seeing Absolutely Kate pretty much everywhere!

...hearing Andre Frieden's first-person take on North Korea.

...being convinced by Josh Stallings I can wear a Tommy Bahama shirt on Yonge Street. In Toronto. In February.

...getting all political (or not) late at night with Anonymous-9.

...hugging Cara Brookins just 'cause her energy's great.

...catching the very end of D.J. McIntosh's 3:00 a.m. interview.

...having Owen Laukkanen mention my manuscript during his panel. Man, Owen, how big is your heart?

...holding up the bar with Johnny Shaw and Glenn Gray long past last call.

...talking ghosts with Andrew Pyper.

...missing coffee with Charles Salzberg just so I can head to NYC and buy him a drink later this year.

...being told I need sleep by C.J. Carpenter. (Yeah, we're talking dark circles here.)

...and hearing Stacia Decker share her desire for an unbroken string of Bouchercons. And already knowing what she means.

'Cause I'll be in Long Beach next November, and counting the words until then. Thanks everyone for a truly special few days and for welcoming me into the cabal.

 

Reading "The Hunt"

John Miller puts on a terrific series of interviews as part of Exchanging Notes. They're insightful, occasionally irreverent, and always worth a listen. As a member of the Toronto Writers' Co-operative, I had an opportunity to read "The Hunt" as part of the warm-up act when John interviewed Douglas Gibson, considered by many to be a rock star of Canadian publishing.

The story wrote itself pretty much verbatim on a walk in the woods near my home. It was raining, but the tree cover in the ravine kept me dry, and I recorded the tale into my phone, as it came to me. It's a bit dark and is one of my personal favorites. At the reading, my own emotions caught me off guard when I hit the last couple pages, which made the experience all the more satisfying.

I'll be reading "The Ride" in the same venue a couple weeks from now and "Lucky for Me" at the library in The Junction in November. Check my events page for my next outing.

Joao and the cow

There's often a whiff of natural justice when a crime writer employs animals—wild or domestic—in a character's demise. Whether it's a gator scripted by Carl Hiaasen or a pig of Tim Dorsey's, the fauna are behaving as they should. The victims, not so much.

So why is it that in real life, it's the seemingly innocent who get flattened by random beasts?

Take poor Joao Maria de Souza. Lying there in his bed, next to his wife, fast asleep, and a cow falls through his roof.

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Now, I am not bereft of feeling for this man's family, and from the look of his roof (the one with the cow-sized hole in it) he probably worked hard for everything he had. I'm sure he deserved a good night's sleep much as anybody.

But you gotta know this guy wound up with one of best bar stories in heaven. I can hear him now, "Yeah, really. Saint Peter couldn't believe it either."

Animals tend to show up a fair bit in my own fiction, and they're not always friendly. Or hungry. What they are, most of the time, is oblivious to the intentions of the human world they inhabit. They're just animals, doing what seems right to them at the moment.

Like "Rickie's Pig", or Hiaasen's gator, or just a squirrel looking for a warm place to sleep.

Or a cow out for a walk on some guy's roof.

 

THE HARD BOUNCE by Todd Robinson

Reading THE HARD BOUNCE is like perching yourself on the corner stool in an unfamiliar bar filled with habitués coughing up taut one-liners. To your right is the storyteller. He's got your ear and he's not letting go until his tale is done. You keep buying his drinks 'cause the story's that damn good. To your left, running down the wood to the door that swings open every chapter or two, are his pals (and worse) who chime in with colour commentary whenever the urge hits.

Your narrator is Boo Malone, a bouncer with a little extra on the ball, a healthy dose of insecurity, and an angry streak that blots out superficial pain. He tells the story straight. He has doubts when he and his partner get hired to find a runaway, but cash is king and how hard can it be to ferret out a rich kid among the street punks that hang near The Cellar? After all, Boston's "got a class line as sharp as a glass scalpel and wider than a sorority pledge's legs."

When the trail leads to a particularly brutal brand of sexual exploitation, you get as angry as Boo and nothing he metes out is going to feel wrong. Bad, yes, but hardly wrong.

THE HARD BOUNCE is a harshly good read. The nasty bits are never gratuitous and they're more than fodder for your vigilante bone. Todd Robinson peels back the curtain on multiple netherworlds and graces each with characters true to their ilk. Boo's own background allows him to reveal the humanity in even the worst of the scum he encounters. You raise a glass, offer a toast of good riddance, and read on.

The non-stop barroom humor is the perfect foil for the violence in Boo's story. In the middle of a brawl, he and his partner trade barbs about their masculinity and compare notes on the impact of homemade stun guns vs. getting hoofed in the gonads.

Like any good storyteller, Boo has you lapping it up, bitter bits and all, believing every word. He foreshadows some twists and delivers others like a sucker punch to the gut. He pulls back from the fire and sheds a tear with you, then wipes his nose, makes you laugh, and says, "And then there was Twitch." And you wanna know. You just gotta know what happens next.

This is not a run and chase 'em thriller. Sure, the movie they make from it will be edge-of-your-seat worthy. But what Robinson does is so much better than that. He tells his complex tale in the laconic voice of a man whose personal rage is held in by thick skin and scars. He lets his listener share in the bighearted tough guy reaction to the pain and detritis that surrounds him. It's hard to imagine how a different narrator could spin so dark a story with more empathy.

Boo, I mean Robinson, holds your ear right to the end. And leaves you thinking you you'll have to stop by this bar next time you're in town, buy him a few drinks, and ask what new story he's got to tell.

Got up on Shotgun Honey

 

Shotgun Honey offers up sharp objects three times a week. At 700-words or less, the stories are beyond compressed. They're tight, taught, honed, and hammered home.

 

Today, they ran one of mine, "Rickie's Pig". Puts me (and the hog) in good company.

And if that little ditty makes you crave a little more bacon, there's always this true life tale from a few months back.

Admittedly, I've got a thing for animals. Not pets. Just beasts with wrinkly skin, scales, fur and such.

Murder Most Mayoral

Writing crime fiction in a place like Toronto the Good gets harder every day. How the hell's a guy supposed to compete with the headlines?

Guess it's a good thing a lot of my work is set in the country.

For my take on how local politics has inspired crime fiction before the current municipal train wreck, have a peek at my article on Toronto Standard.

As for what I think of crime, punishment, and youthful misbehaviour, there's this bit about an old pal of mine.

Apolitically yours...

Sex, drugs, and writing with teens in the house

This week, Deryn Collier asked me to guest blog at her site where she's running a series about parents who write. I fessed up to the added pressure I feel with my productivity continually assessed by a pair of teenage mouths who demand to be fed.

There are no shortcuts in writing. Its a road so littered with potholes, sometimes it feels like that old wooden labyrinth game...but with all those little wooden walls ripped out.

And when you've got teenaged children banging the door open at 4:00 asking, "Sooooo, whatcha do today?"... Well, there's only so many times you can talk about writer's block.

Back to the salt mines. Here's my post chez Deryn Collier: "Writing with teens in the house".

And by the by, Deryn's debut, CONFINED SPACE, has been shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award. Check it out.

 

Rooting for bad guys

Noir takes many forms. Crime, sex, passion, and hurt are part of the canon. So are endings that aren't predictably rosy. But mostly it's the flawed characters that draw me in. No surprise, then, that I plumb that vein in my own writing.

My stories typically track the POV of a criminal, often a petty one. Getting readers to root for him can be a challenge. Your average thick-as-a-brick backwoods illiterate may not share your understanding of right and wrong. His is a line not so much etched in stone as scrawled in charcoal on a rock by the fire pit. It moves. It's arbitrary. And it ain't often straight.

But people are human. All of us. None are truly evil. Or always good. We tend to land somewhere in the middle. A lot of folk are kind, gentle, easy-going. Others are nasty and prone to violence. But no one's pure. Shine the light at the right angle and you'll find the cracks in pretty much everyone.

That's why a career criminal with multiple prison escapes like Roger Caron could write books that found a soft spot for readers and won him literary awards. He told his story from his own perspective. He knew what drove him, was honest about it, and made people care.

Another book from the seventies that marked me was called "The Fire Eater" or something close to that. It was about a teenager who runs away with the circus, and learns the art of fire breathing. A classic ruse, but the book dug into carny life, exposed a lot of grit, and showed that even the most wayward life held meaning and value. (By the way, if anyone can tell me the real name and author, I'd love a chance to read it again.)

Like any pursuit, there are purists when it comes to defining noir, and there are genre-benders. For me, as long as a story tracks the underbelly and doesn't hew to a perfect line between good and evil, it's close enough.

I guess what interests me the most, whether reading or writing, is the opportunity to strip off a few layers and get at the real story. It keeps life interesting. And writing worthwhile.

What stories have you read that gave you a chance to see inside the heart of someone you're unlikely to meet on the straight and narrow?

Getting paid

Today's mail brought my first royalty cheque for writing crime fiction. Here is what it looks like to get paid.

Earning a living with words isn't new to me. What is new is getting paid for writing fiction. Someone, Todd Robinson, editor of Thuglit, decided to part with money so he could share my story with people who like to read crime fiction. That's not just cool. It matters.

As the universe would have it, today is also the day Chuck Wendig got some rant going in his Twitter feed about whether or not writers should care about money.

This one does. I care about getting published, about supporting my writing habit organically, and about finding readers who get enough of a kick out of the words I lay down to pay a couple bucks for the pleasure. (Even more importantly, to spend their time reading me.)

Mostly, I care about some kind of signal that all these hours cooped up in the smallest office I've ever occupied are not for naught. For that, here's the best thank you I can offer to Todd. Check out his new novel, THE HARD BOUNCE. And keep reading good noir.

 

Criminal Exuberance

It's getting harder to write crime fiction of the comic noir variety what with all the gonzo headlines we get these days.

Crime, like many pursuits, can be broken down into three main parts: planning, execution, and escape.

Of the three, one might reasonably argue escape is the most important. After all, if your plan is drawn in crayon and your execution is, let's say, amateurish, all you really need to do is get away. There's always tomorrow to take another shot at the big time. 

This past week, a band of five All Star bank burglars were branded "Sophisticated" by the national press. Perhaps. Give them full points for planning. They identified a target branch, moved their gear into vacant office space upstairs, and worked through the night—several nights, apparently—without getting caught.

Using acetylene oxygen blowtorches, sledge hammers, and concrete saws, they cut through two feet of reinforced floor and into the bank's vault. They even disabled electronic security systems. Brilliant work. Worthy of Hollywood. Execution? Top notch. 

But Act Three was rather like a Guy Ritchie flick.

The cops arrived in the middle of the night, scratched their heads, and wondered why a secondary alarm was sounding. The building was secure. No broken glass or movement inside.

The Sophisticates were nowhere to be found. Vanished. Disappeared into the wind.

Enter the dog. The sniffer. The K9 Unit, in cop-speak. Let's call him "Storm".

Storm wanders around the property and...WOOF. Our criminal masterminds? Hiding in the trees nearby.

Picture it: five sterling examples of the best burglars dirty money can buy, hanging in the branches like the Beagle Boys of Scrooge McDuck fame. Trapped by a dog, like so much skunk weed in a carry-on. 

Great plan. Superior execution. Caught red handed outside the bank, near a railroad track, waiting.

Let's try that again.

Near a railroad track.

Waiting.

Sorry boys, 2 out of 3 scores, let's see, ZERO. You forgot "Escape".

This all went down just one day after two serious bad guys managed to escape from a jail north of Montreal.

In this case, it's the escape that was film-worthy. Two prisoners swinging from a rope slung from a hijacked helicopter forced to land on the prison roof. Sounds like something Bruce Willis might star in. He could play the escapee who later told a radio station, "They put me in prison for nothing."

Execution? Solid. Escape? Full points. Then what?

“What, what?” you ask.

What next?

Well, guys, we brought you some beers and, heck, we're in cottage country. How hard can it be to invade a chalet, tell the owners to get lost, pop a brewskie or two, and come up with a plan? 

I mean, who FLIES out of prison without a clue what they're going to do after they land? 

C'mon guys. Exactly how long were you in jail dreaming that one up?

This week in crime land? Two stunning examples of criminal exuberance. Let's just say there's room for improvement.

THE BITCH by Les Edgerton

AWARDSTHE BITCH in Les Edgerton’s novel is not who or what you might expect from the title, but it’s a serious bitch nonetheless. It hounds Jake, Edgerton’s matter-of-fact narrator, from chapter one to the very last page. And along the way, Edgerton makes sure we get to know the bitch real well.

For the most part, the story takes place outside of prison, on the bricks, but the joint casts its shadow large from the moment Jake’s former cellmate calls him out of the blue. Walker Joy is a cruel oxymoronic name for a guy who brings a shit storm into Jake’s life—a good life he’ll do anything to protect.

In a jocular passionate voice, Jake leads the reader step by rational step into dark corners completely foreign to your average "civilian". The horrific decisions Jake has to make would be much less believable if it weren't for Edgerton's masterful hand. Given what’s at stake, there’s hardly a moment when you can argue with the path Jake takes—even as the grotesque results pile deeper by the page.

This is the kind of book you're going to reach for at 3:30 in the morning because whatever crap is disturbing your sleep won't stand a chance against the terror looming in the next chapter.

THE BITCH doesn't rely on bad luck or cheap device to create drama. Nothing pops out of the closet when it oughn't. Jake plays the cards he's dealt. It's a lousy hand and he does all he can to make it better. He's got optimism, criminal skill, and solid execution. He even gets a couple good breaks. But the deeper he goes, the more the bitch laughs in his face.

And where THE BITCH takes him ain't funny at all. Even if it makes tragic good sense.

 

Voicing a 22-year-old

I read Hunter S. Thompson's THE RUM DIARY this past weekend, fulfilling a wish from last summer when Johnny Depp's protrayal briefly splashed across the newspaper entertainment section. My teenage son and I have been dying to pick up the DVD and I refused until I'd read the book. Teenagers having less patience, he gave it to me as a Christmas gift.

THE RUM DIARY traces the evaporation of hope experienced by thirty-year-old journalist Paul Kemp, as voiced by Hunter writing in his early twenties. It's easy to see why it wasn't published until Hunter had earned his audience with his underbelly oeuvre. It's hard to find a page where a cigarette isn't lit or an ice cube rattled. Apart from a handful of scenes, there's not so much dramatic tension as a crescendo of despair. A foggy sense of impending doom that regularly dissipates like one more grease-fed hangover.

But it's the voice that captured me from page one.

Hunter drafted it as a young man for whom thirty represents the "hump" after which bleakness reigns. It's as if the salesmen from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross were dumped into a 50s era San Juan newspaper. Life is done, cynicism is a religion, and the only way out is down.

What Hunter did was project middle-aged angst onto thirty-year-old men because from the perspective of a twenty-two-year-old, that made sense. Here he is musing about Yeamon, a character five or six years younger, who still dreams of success:

"This is what I told myself on those hot afternoons in San Juan when I was thirty years old and my shirt stuck damply to my back and I felt myself on that big and lonely hump, with my hardnose years behind me and all the rest downhill. They were eerie days, and my fatalistic view of Yeamon was not so much conviction as necessity, because if I granted him even the slightest optimism I would have to admit a lot of unhappy things about myself."

For me, more often than not voicing twenty-two-year-old characters through a rear view mirror, it was interesting to see Hunter hit some notes perfectly and then play others sharp, missing a beat. It's like when I forget that the language of a young adult in the 80s needs a lift to ring true today.

It will be even more interesting to see how my teenage son, whose name is the Germanic form of Hunter, reads a couple hundred pages of debauchery. And whether THE RUM DIARY's existentialist musings connect to a boy for whom adulthood is just coming into focus.