"The two things I inherited from my old man when he died were in an old shoe box under the bed; his Marine Corps ring and his nickel plated .45."
Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em is a collection that spans lots of the wonderful aspects of American life that I love to read about in crime fiction. There are drive-ins and casinos, hitch-hikers and hotels, prison cells and cops, Vietnam hangovers and drug-dealers, hold-ups and bleeders. There’s also a good variety of voice, style and length which means you never quite know where you’re going to end up next.
What I think Chris Leek is extremely good at is nailing a character in a very short space of time and, where it’s appropriate, making you care. Many of these pieces are superbly rounded and leave a powerful emotional reaction. Some of the endings are incredibly satisfying and left me having to pause to draw breath and allow my reaction to take shape.
He also has a real turn of phrase, using few words to tell you all you need to know:
"He was a man who liked to work with his hands. They had worked on me from time-to-time. On my mother too."
And Mr Leek’s take on revenge can also be very sweet indeed.
Among my favourites here are Jacks, Queen’s and Evens; He Ain’t Heavy; My Father’s House; and Always On The Ride. They all had a solid impact and left a big exit wound.
I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through this collection and think you will too. It’s always good, often great and there are flashes of real brilliance. I’ll be looking for more.