The one thing I’ve enjoyed in the past couple of years about the UK’s rising illiteracy rates is that publishers such as Five Leafs (publisher of Gun by Ray Banks and Killing Mum by Al Guthrie via their crime/mystery imprint, Crime Express) have revived the all too neglected literary form of the novella in order to attract reluctant readers. I’m not aware if the scheme has worked or not, but it has produced some fine, fast paced reading and has brought much needed attention to short form fiction.
Pulp Press began trickling out novella length titles around the same time as Crime Express with its debut, Killer Tease. However, it appears that the fledgling press is poised to make major headway into the novella market with six new titles announced for 2010, with Die Hard Mod by Charlie McQuaker leading the way.
Die Hard Mod is the story of a wee sensitive lad by the name of Steve. Good old Stevie lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland and pines for the simpler age of the late 1960’s where men wore too tight fitting corduroy suits and tooled around on Vespa’s while listening to the Who’s Quadrophenia. (The film, of which, is a particular source of inspiration for our darling.) Steve and his flatmate Doug draw attention from two local skinheads/drug dealers for selling a small amount of hash to some college students. The two thugs bust into Steve’s condo and dish out a thorough beating to Steve and trash his place. They do even worse to Doug.
After Doug’s body is discovered by the local police, Steve decides to head out of Belfast—both out of fear of either being arrested for Doug’s death and following him to the grave—for the greener shores of Brighton, England. Once in Brighton, Steve discovers far friendlier environs that happily welcome his retro lifestyle and he encounters several like minded individuals, including his wandering paramour, Jeanie and her new psychotic boyfriend.
First off, at 110 pages, Die Hard Mod is a lightning fast read. It’s the type of book that’s meant to be read in an hour or two, it does help that first time author McQuaker has a highly readable prose style and manages to infuse the sights and sounds of Brighton nightlife in each sentence. My only complaint about the book is what Pulp Press is emphasizing about its line, which is that Die Hard Mod is too short. I felt that quite a bit of tension was drained from certain scenes that would have only been improved with a few thousand extra words.
Don’t get me wrong, Die Hard Mod is a fine piece of writing and I’m looking forward to seeing what McQuaker produces in the future. I’m also excited by what Pulp Press will do as well. The small English publisher attractively packages their editions with retro pulp covers and they look like how I wish Hard Case Crime editions looked. In final verdict, Die Hard Mod is a sweet, sweaty little piece of raw crime fiction even if it is slightly lacking in its overall length.