One of the things the local English teachers work very hard to get across to the students is that just because the "voice" of the novel, or poem, says something happened or is true or feels a certain way does not mean that the author feels the same way. As we get close to our visit from Dave Zeltserman -- he'll be at Kingdom Books on Thursday June 25, at 7 p.m. -- I keep reminding myself that he's a nice guy. Just because he can imagine and WRITE like this doesn't mean his world is that twisted.
It's a good thing to remembers. Because in SMALL CRIMES, Zeltserman's 2008 crime novel (published in Britain but now available in the US), every scrap of self-justifying evil that could possibly take root is growing. Fast.
The book opens with a hopeful scene: Our narrator Joe Denton, once a cop, is about to leave prison. He's apologetic for his crimes; he plays checkers with the warden; his years locked up for arson, attempted murder, and maiming a district attorney seem to have cleaned him and made him fit for civilization.
The thing is, Joe never did anything with full intent to create damage and destruction. Things just seemed to happen to him. And now, released to live with his parents (who are reluctant to have him home) and accosted by a pretty girl who seems to get off on his having once been "bad," it looks as though life is about to give him a soft, sweet time under parole and probation.
Once the pretty young woman's motive comes clear, so do Joe's habits. One small action after another, sometimes with really really good motives, he's going down. Oh, so far down. Let me know if you recognize anybody you know, as you keep reading. Frankly, I couldn't put the book down, even though my stomach clenched, my head started to ache, and I started thinking about going to a self-help group, fast.
Here's a sample from around the middle of the book:
He was breathing heavily, his breath stale and oppressive, a bit like rotting garbage. I had to force myself to keep from stepping away from him. Then the moment passed. His eyes came back to life and his smile loosened into something more recognizable. He shook his head as if to indicate that I was nuts, and then sat back in the chair and crossed his legs. ... "So, Joe, how are you going to take care of this?"
As I looked at him I knew he meant what he said. He casually took his revolver out of its holster and rested it on his knee. I knew I was a breath away from being a dead man.
Fellow crime writer Ken Bruen called this novel "pure magic of the blackest kind," and Ed Gorman, longtime editor and reviewer, labeled it "one of the finest dark suspense novels I've read in the past few years."
I can tell I'll be reading it again, to try to figure out how on earth Zeltserman DOES this. But it's not a one-shot skill -- with three other top-notch noir novels already in print, six releases under contract for the next two years, a film option, and more, Zeltserman obviously knows what he's doing. Come meet him at Kingdom Books. We'll serve strawberry shortcake and keep the lights on. Seating is limited and so are the copies of the books (this one, plus BAD THOUGHTS and PARIAH), so let us know if you're coming: email@example.com or 802-751-8374. And if you just can't get to northeastern Vermont for this one, but would like a signed copy of one or more of Zeltserman's books, let us know that, too, along with how you'd like yours inscribed.