The tagline for indie publisher 280 Steps says it all: We Do Crime Fiction. With a slogan like that, they’re a perfect partner for us and 280 Steps is one of our sponsors for New Talent November 2014.
The Philip Marlowe reference baked into the company name – it comes from Raymond Chandler’s classic Farewell, My Lovely – hints at the indie publisher’s hardboiled sensibilities. 280 Steps combines a fresh look with the gritty feel of a dog-eared dime novel, offering the gamut of noir, mysteries and thrillers.
The publisher is in step with both established writers and new voices in crime fiction, such as Christopher Irvin, Eric Beetner, Josh K Stevens, Rob Kitchin and Eryk Pruitt. But in addition, they’ve got another criminal sweet spot covered: a lineup of re-issued pulp classics. This company’s mantle includes crime fiction luminaries in sore need of re-discovery, such as Harry Whittington and Joel Townsley Rogers.
Once familiar with the 280 Steps library, their fetching retro cover art will have you browsing for more. Here’s a line-up of titles to whet your criminal appetite:
Stumped by Rob Kitchin
Life is short, so nothing makes us groan more than noir that takes itself too seriously. University professor and crime novelist Rob Kitchin knows this well and with Stumped, a screwball noir set in Ireland, he’s got your number. 280 Steps’ playful cover art delights even before you crack it open, but let’s step into the works. Grant and Mary, just arrived in Ireland, are not detectives, so when their mutual friend Sinead disappears in a new country, they are in a wilderness of trouble, and they keep stepping in cow pies. Their enquiries are ruffling feathers within the criminal world but also a player in the local political race. To make things worse, one of the people they encounter in their ad hoc investigation winds up dead, so now the local bumpkin detective is after them too. Trainspotting meets Desperately Seeking Susan from multiple narrative perspectives as the couple clashes with a number of colorful locals in the Irish countryside and shady city types, as Sinead’s severed fingers keep showing up. Danny Boyle, have you optioned this yet?
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The Carrier by Preston Lang
On his way to the biggest pickup of his career, drug courier Cyril deviates from routine by first picking up a stranger in a bar named Willow. Yes, she’s an attractive female, and yes it’s a bad idea. The next stop in this breach of criminal protocol is his motel room, and after a fervent bout of passion, that’s just where the alluring dame pulls a gun on Cyril. If that seems a little predictable, things are about to get a lot more interesting, and Lang, in this debut crime novel, has plenty in store for readers. As the couple decides to join forces in a relationship that consists of a series of betrayals, they learn others want to join the fun along the way. As they begin a road trip across America in a quest for the mysterious big score, another odd couple of criminals begin pursuing them as well. Lang delivers outrageous scenes with a poker face as the characters veer headlong into unpredictable confrontations along the way.
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The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers
Here’s your chance to discover Joel Townsley Rogers, a master of the pulp genre. The Red Right Hand is being resurrected in ebook form for the first time since Rogers penned it for New Detective Magazine in 1945. It’s a mystery related in the first person by a brain surgeon named Harry Riddle. The story is strange enough: a young engaged couple picks up a stranger on the road. The car crashes as the tramp murders the husband-to-be, Inis St Erme. After the crash, the hitchhiker vanishes with Inis’ severed right hand. Somehow the killer makes his way into Dr Riddle’s house. As our narrator continues relating the strange convolutions of this story, you begin to wonder who is this brain surgeon narrating the macabre tale in the first place. The issue of the narrator’s reliability creeps towards the center of this murky meta mystery, which is one part Turn of the Screw and two parts Chiller Theatre.
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The Shooting Gallery by Hugh C Rae
When a sports car comes to a screeching halt outside a hospital in a small town outside Glasgow, it can only mean trouble. The driver disappears into the nearby woods, leaving a young man in the passenger seat, dead from an heroine overdose. When the news spreads it’s startling enough for the quiet suburb where things like this just don’t happen, and it turns out the victim was the son of its most prominent citizen. Led by Superintendent McCaig, the hunt begins for the pusher responsible. Originally published in 1972, this is another book 280 Steps has revived and its author wrote over 70 novels. This received an Edgar nomination.
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A Night for Screaming by Harry Whittington
One of the highlights from 280 Steps’ line of pulp classic re-issues is Harry Whittington’s A Night For Screaming. Ex-cop Mitch Walker, now himself on the lam, takes refuge in small-town Kansas, aiming to blend in as a local farmhand. Wrongfully accused of murder, his former partner Fred Palmer is nevertheless hot on his trail. And just as his past is catching up with him, Mitch becomes embroiled in local conflict. His boss, local big shot farmer Barton M. Cassel, is none too happy with the attentions Mitch receives from his beautiful wife Eve. Just as things heat up on the farm, Mitch’s ex-partner and now pursuer Fred Palmer pulls into the small town.
Originally published in 1960, Whittington’s taut, implacable prose has all the elements that are synonymous with noir: Ambiguous heroes, tough dames, and an existential fatalism that runs through each suspenseful plot twist. Wrapped in gorgeously evocative cover art, it’s a must read for anyone who enjoys crime fiction or is even considering writing one.
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