Month: August 2014

CHARLIE’S ANGLE

Charlie's AngleHow much would you risk to maintain your integrity? John Paul McKinney’s novel, Charlie’s Angle, explores concepts of integrity and commitment within the boundaries of a clever, original, character-driven story. I don’t want to oversell the theme, because this isn’t an afternoon television show with a lesson attached. McKinney’s novel is good adult drama.

Charlie Brannigan is a principal in a small-town Wisconsin high school. He faces two challenges that inform each other. His wife suffers from a serious illness, so Charlie needs his job. And, Catherine Newsome, a prominent member of the school board, has asked for the resignation of one of Charlie’s teachers. Catherine’s son Tommy flunked math. Tommy is a star athlete, and the failing grade has consequences. The stakes escalate when Charlie discovers that the stars of the team engaged in hazing ceremony.

Integrity is easy when the cost is small. And the Newsome family has clout. McKinney’s tale inserts the essence of power ypolitics into the nuts and bolts of his plot. Couple this with a deep understanding of human behavior and the attending motivations, and you have a drama worth reading. McKinney is a fine author, and this is a wonderful novel.

The story’s setting is important. If you grew up in a small town, you’ll recognize Waumeka. Between Charlie and his town, a kind heart runs through the spine of this tale, which helps balance the disturbing and realistic political machinations that occur. Charlie is a good guy—a principal with principles—and you find yourself rooting for him. (Five stars out of five)

Note: I just learned that Charlie’s Angel took third place for literary fiction in the CIPA Awards (Colorado Independent Publishers Association). Kudos to Mr. McKinney!

The Bitch Pit

BPWe normally review novellas and novels at Rabbit Hole. But Chris Pimental’s The Bitch Pit is a special piece of short dark fiction that deserves note.

Bert Rickshaw makes his money selling expired pharmaceuticals to a corrupt third-world government. A change of regimes leaves him with competition—the Texan. And together, the narrator and his rival are headed for the nastiest entertainment south of the equator—the legendary Bitch Pit.

This story is dark. Shining a light on this tale illuminates nothing. Suffice it to say that the plot involves fighting dogs, mothers and babies, and rich, corrupt vermin. The narrator is no hero, though you may find yourself rooting for him out of habit.

What elevates this tale is Pimental’s incredible descriptions. The story takes place underground. The sense of claustrophobia was palpable. I broke sweat reading the story. And there is a weird sort of justice in the denouement to offset the nasty taste in the back of the throat that comes from stepping into the author’s world.

The Bitch Pit is not for everyone. Hard-boiled noir operates with a certain set of assumptions about life. I won’t argue that those assumptions are more realistic than, say, middle-class American assumptions. I will argue, however, that Pimental’s story presents a distilled version of a different world, and that we are generally sheltered from that world. And useful knowledge can be gained at the sharp edges of common experience.

This story has our highest recommendation. (Five stars out of five)