The first story I read by Eric Beetner was “Countdown” in the Spring 2010 issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir. It’s a look at the life-changing (or -ending) impacts that can take place in a very short period of time. I enjoyed the story quite a bit, enough to buy his novella Dig Two Graves and his short story collection A Bouquet of Bullets (which has some seriously cool cover art, designed by Beetner himself, and includes “Countdown”).
Beetner’s also the author of the Fight Card novels Split Decision and A Mouth Full of Blood (writing as Jack Tunney) and co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows to the Head and Borrowed Trouble. And he’s a self-professed film noir nerd and the father of two.
Eric graciously agreed to be the first guest for a feature I’m planning to make a staple here on Title 18, Four Questions With…
The Devil Doesn’t Want Me tells the story of Lars, a hitman who’s been searching for his would-be victim for almost two decades but loses his desire to complete the job. What attracted you to the theme of how time changes people?
I was nervous about writing a hit man story because it is in many ways very played out, so I wanted to look at it from a different angle. Lars is not a perfect killing machine. Not a young stud who beds the ladies. He’s middle aged, past his prime and he knows it. That was a more interesting character to me than a cold killer.
And we do change. As someone in my 40s, I am not the same person I was in my 20s. And I liked the idea of a man trying to run from being a killer, but also being forced to use his skills to keep himself and an innocent person alive.
The book description promises “a cross country trail of wreckage and mayhem.” Can you give us a taste of the situations Lars faces?
Well, I don’t want to spoil anything but: there is a showdown with a former student of his, some major carnage in Las Vegas, a nose ring gets ripped out, a foot is amputated, a naked girl nearly falls into a fake volcano, there’s a bank shootout, a guy gets a pen through his neck, a kitchen knife block is raided for weapons, balls are kicked, noses broken, and a magician is shot while he’s naked.
Mayhem enough for you?
If I need more mayhem than that, I also need inpatient treatment. Guilt Edged Mysteries, the newly revived Dutton imprint, is publishing The Devil Doesn’t Want Me. What’s it like to have your work released by the modern version of a classic pulp publisher?
Soooooooooo cool. It’s not just that I get to say I’m on the same imprint as Fredric Brown, Mickey Spillane and Lionel White, but it’s being a part of the heritage of pulp/noir fiction that I love so much. Guilt Edged is a crucial part of the history of Hard Boiled fiction. It was originally started to publish the harder edged novels of the day. I’m so glad they brought it back and so glad to be a part of it.
My first thought was that I needed to go out and collect up all the old Guilt Edged titles, but alas, those suckers are expensive. Another testament to the classic status of the titles. Brown’s The Fabulous Clipjoint, White’s Clean Break (which was the basis for the Kubrick film The Killing), the first seven Mike Hammer novels. This is no follin’ around.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently and what makes it so good?
Oh man, the best? I guess I need to stop saying Hell On Church Street by Jake Hinkson since that’s been out for a while. Oh, did I mention that again? So sorry. Let’s see…
A few obscure books I’ve read recently include one called Dark As Night by Mark T. Conard. I tripped over it and discovered a real gem. It’s hard to find but worth it if you like the above-mentioned wreckage and mayhem. Set in Philly with a fast-paced and not-for-the-timid edge to it. That was great. I think the fact that it came with no preconceptions at all made it a little bit better. Don’t you love discovering new books?
A weird little book called Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr. was a short little rural noir set in Vermont that was like a Barry Gifford novel written by Daniel Woodrell on vacation in the northeast.
And I’d be remiss in not mentioning the continued excellent work by my Snubnose Press colleagues including Piggyback by Tom Pitts, The Subtle Art of Brutality by Ryan Sayles, Karma Backlash by Chad Rohrbacher to name only the most recent titles. Snubnose puts out a ridiculously consistent slate of high-quality noir and crime fiction.
I know I’m looking forward to The Wowzer by Frank Wheeler Jr., The Three Day Affair by Michael Kardos, Whiplash River by Lou Berney, Big Maria by Johnny Shaw and Cash Out by Greg Bardsley. I’ll let you know how those go.