Dead Heat with the Reaper by William E Wallace

3 Mins read

All Due Respect is steadily building a solid reputation stateside as an indie publisher releasing the kind of gritty, hardboiled and noirish crime fiction that we enjoy. Alongside its quarterly short fiction magazine the company has been publishing novels, short story collections and novellas, and its roster of writers reads like a who’s who of the American modern pulp scene. Crime Fiction Lover has certainly taken notice and All Due Respect – The AnthologyLove You to a Pulp, Uncle Dust, and others have all gained favourable reviews.

Dead Heat with the Reaper features two novellas, Legacy and The Creep, by William E Wallace. He is a retired private investigator and military intelligence specialist with a decade in print, including short stories in Spinetingler Magazine and Crime Factory.

Legacy centres on retired steel mill worker Frank Trask. Before retirement he was a hard working, blue collar man but since the death of his wife he’s lost his purpose in his life. One day bleeds into the next, each one filled with TV dinners and hours spent in the local bar, bullshitting with his fellow retirees. A collapse outside his residence lands him in hospital where the doctors have some bad news for him. His liver cirrhosis is chronic, and his death could be tomorrow or next week – certainly sometime soon. Putting his affairs in order, in fact looking through his bank statements for the first time in years, he discovers he has over $400,000. But with no close family, to whom should he leave it?

The Creep in question is Alan Baldocchi, the newest resident in the Claymore apartment building, a run down block in the poor part of town. Baldocchi had his term in Afghanistan cut short after the tank he was a gunner in was blown up by an IED. He has been left disfigured by scars over most of his upper torso, arms and head, as well as survivor guilt and PTSD. He believes that other people view him as a monster, and indeed he has only been in the Claymore building a few days before the local gang starts taunting him by calling him Freddy Krueger.

One gang member mistakes his reticence and social awkwardness for weakness and tries to mug him when he’s been out drinking. Baldocchi is no easy mark however, and breaks the man’s skull. Already fuming after losing face during an earlier incident in which he was intimidated by Baldocchi, the gang leader Marcel determines he must be taught a lesson, and what better way to do it than hurting the only other resident who has shown him some kindness, the nurse Susan Carnes?

Both novellas are about hard men facing their deaths. For Trask the news is a shock, but for Baldocchi almost the answer to a wish. Both are unexpectedly presented with a final chance to do some good, and perhaps unexpectedly for this genre, both do. Rather like Tom Pitts, Wallace wraps the goodness in the grit and the stories, though they are full of mean and vicious people, are far from depressing.

The author is perfectly suited to writing stories of this length. There is no room for digression in a novella and he shows he is quickly able to identify the heart of the story and focus upon it. He grounds the story in a strong setting – that of Oakland, California – and quickly builds up character before arriving at a conclusion.

Each story takes about an hour or so to read and, if anything, they’re a bit short and will leave you wanting more. The price reflects this, though. Indeed given the quality of writing on offer, Dead Heat with the Reaper can be considered a bargain.

If Dead Heat with the Reaper puts you in the mood for some more American indie crime, then we suggest Rough Riders by Charlie Stella.

All Due Respect

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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