by Eric Nelson
King Shot Press (2015)
Available at Amazon.com
Spring sprang and with it came a dozen or so new releases from the upstart imprint of Broken River Books, King Shot Press. After receiving review copies of a couple of the titles, I decided to try out the short story collection of Eric Nelson called Leverage to get an idea of what KSP was offering. Turns out they're selling some raw-boned talent.
Where Broken River seems to go for the kind of subversive side of pulp fiction, King Shot appears to take a literary bent. The stories range in setting and time-frame, but there's a grit to them, like if a Rockwell painting had a drinking problem. That said, its strongest story happens to be its first.
I can't say if "Gulf Coast Deep Game" is enough to warrant buying the whole collection, but it is a damned good portrait of a family, specifically the patriarch. I thought Nelson did a pitch perfect job with this one,
"The Walt Whitman House" takes us out of the gulf and into Jersey territory with a couple of young men looking to strike out on their own on the streets when things with the brother of one of them doesn't go so smoothly. Not quite The Wire, but very engrossing little story ... especially when they find the dynamite.
One of the stories that had a bit of a Hitchcock vibe with me, even if just a little bit, was "He's a Nice Old Man." This one had a young man staying in the apartment of his brother and wife while his brother's away, and having to contend with an increasingly unsettling landlord. It may have been one of the more predictable stories in this collection, but also one of the more fun for its execution.
If there's a story that captures any and all of this book's dark humor, it has to be "A Drink Among Friends." A couple of not too close acquaintances in a small town bar meet up over beers, where one comes clean about a rather startling piece of his history that really causes his friend to look at him in a whole new light. It could be considered a rather grim tale, until you get to the very last line and then that darkly tinged sense of humor kicks in.
And that's the thing about Leverage, it pulls you one way through each of the stories, but each one winds up pushing you in a completely different direction before all is said and done. Nelson has a nice handle of choosing just the right line, as well as just carving out some engaging stories. Whatever else he has in store for readers down the road, it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye out for him. He's real good here, and wouldn't surprise me to see him get even better.