I love novellas. I just do. They are like the perfect form. They allow for more depth than the short story but require more discipline then the novel because there isn’t the room to sprawl. The best practitioners of the form can really wallop you with a story when given the chance. I say given the chance because there aren’t too many outlets for them. Or at least not as much as there should be. If given the chance read something by Brian Evenson (Baby Leg), Kyle Minor (A Day Meant to Do Less), Norman Partridge (Road Dogs), and particularly Tom Piccirilli. Although Pic doesn’t call them novellas, not the crime ones anyway, he calls them noirellas. Here’s the thing though. If you look at the length of some of the old pulp novels Tom Piccirilli is practically working in the old form.
Not too long ago I had a mini gorge on Tom Piccirilli novellas. All in a row I read The Nobody, The Last Deep Breath and Frayed and was blown away. First and foremost what’s on display here is Tom Piccirilli’s mastery. In just a few short pages he will reveal a hidden layer of a character, take the story in a new direction and turn the whole thing on its ear.
In Frayed the two main characters are like some sort of set of binary opposites that are looped to play out forever — Cain and Abel, good and evil, art and commerce, — always poised for battle and never the twain shall meet. And I’ll be damned if the asylum portrayed inside the pages isn’t one of the creepiest I’ve ever read.
The Last Deep Breath is a concentrated dose of all the things that Piccirilli does best in his crime fiction. The Last Deep Breath has all of the suspense and tension you could ask for as well as that should-be-copyrighted Piccirilli punch to the heart.
In The Nobody Piccirilli examines the haze of memory as the protag is the only survivor of a crime that left his wife and daughter dead and him not able to remember anything including their names. As he grasps for the missing pieces and hunts for the man who did this The Nobody becomes a revenge tale worthy of the title.
I find myself sometimes thinking that the novella is the ideal form for crime fiction and right now some of the best writing in crime fiction HAS to be happening at the novella level. Hopefully more publishers will give the form the chance to flourish. Right now these books (and others) are available as small press limited editions.
Frayed is available from Creeping Hemlock Press for $17.50.
The Last Deep Breath is available from Tasmaniac Publications for $14.
The Nobody is published by Tasmaniac also but is currently sold out so you’ll have to track down a copy (and you should).