Editor: Vern Smith
Run Amok Books
Jacked is an anthology edited by Vern Smith,packed with the good stuff. It proves that crime fiction is in fine shape with these writers, as many of them have not published widely and are not on the same list of eight or ten writers who normally inhabit crime fiction anthologies. Two names leap out at me because I know their work: Eric Beetner, who's everywhere, and Meagan Lucas.
Beetner is in fine form here, with an entry titled First Timers, a story that turns on its ear the typical car theft story. Ashton and Clark steal a car, sure, take it for a joyride, sure, but find out too late Gene''s locked in the trunk. They let him out, and the stakes get higher.
A gunshot cut through the room. Gene yelped and went down clutching his leg. I looked around the room and saw a smoking gun in the hands of one of the men. Ashton and I froze. I dropped the blood-stained screwdriver. Two men rushed Gene, disarmed him, and put their feet down on his back, pinning him in place.
"Who the fuck are you two?" the gunman asked.
Beetner's plot is a nifty and simple one. Pile the trouble on and turn the tables at least twice. It's a good strong story, the prose effortless and punchy, like the best pulp stories.
Meagan Lucas, author of Songbirds and Stray Dogs, a fine novel from Main Street Rag, weighs in with a story of a poor woman and her children, Picking the Carcass, in which the woman is given a last chance to move up in the world via an extremely unlikely source. The beginning heralds a writer with a gimlet eye, right down to the shows the children watch and the diet of a family used to SNAP benefits without much fresh food. It's a quiet story that maxes out in details that a more flamboyant writer would overshoot, in this case quite literally. "She picked up the shotgun and held it against the skin of the dog's belly, whispered "I'm so sorry, BIg Guy," and pulled the trigger. Droplets peppered her face, but she didn't care. It hadn't sounded right." Quiet yet apt.
These stories are the highlights for me in an anthology packed to the gills with good stuff. Vern Smith harvested a handy crop of writers in this one, with barely an unworthy story. Other excellent pieces from Zephaniah Sole and Andrew Miller round out this anthology, the first, I believe, from Run Amok Books. I hope to hear more from them in the near future, and thank them for gathering a crime fiction anthology that doesn't rest on contributions from the usual suspects.