Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Five Top for 2010: Chris F. Holm

Chris F. Holm is one helluva writer—go buy his short story collection, 8 Pounds, you will not regret it. Best 99 cents you’ll spend. He also has renamed this series Five Top, which I, must admit, I like more than Top Five.  

When Chris asked me to put together a list of my top five stories of 2010, I was psyched.  I mean, who wouldn't be?  I, you know, read stuff, and obviously (as anybody who wants to write for a living is wont to think) I must have Big Important Things to say about said stuff.  But when I sat down to actually put together a list, I found it was a hell of a lot harder than I anticipated.  The more I combed through my collection and poked around online, the more I was reminded of the tremendous shorts I've read this year.  And though I've narrowed my list to five, I've got to say, the process was brutal.  I mean, no Patti Abbott?  No Kieran Shea?  Or how 'bout that Gowran story in the first Needle?  Any of them could've just as easily made this list, and they're just the tip of the iceberg.  I may have to write a couple more lists, just to soothe my soul -- and to do justice to the folks who brought it hard this year.  But Chris asked for five, and five it shall be.  So, without further ado, I give you my list of Five Top Stories of 2010.  (See what I did there?  "Five Top" instead of "Top Five"?  Clever, no?  Oh, wait -- this probably qualifies as "further ado."  Anyways, here's my list.)

"Kid Eddie" by David Cranmer (writing as Edward A. Grainger)
The Western Online

Look, I like Westerns fine.  But I'm not, like a lot of folks who're a fan of the genre, a Western fetishist.  Which is to say it takes more than a barkeep with a handlebar mustache, a charming lady of ill-repute, and a shootout at high noon to get me excited about a story.  So when I say Grainger's Cash Laramie stories are some of the best I've read in years, there's no implicit "if you like that sort of thing."  They're just flat-out fantastic -- a marvelous blend of crime and Western, with a modern sensibility (and cultural sensitivity) that breathes fresh life into the latter genre.  I could've picked any of Grainger's tales for this list, but I chose "Kid Eddie" because the namesake character is so beautifully drawn, he stuck with me long after I finished the story.

"For the Children" by Stephen Blackmoore
Needle #2

I could wax rhapsodic about why I loved this story so much, but honestly, nothing I could say would be half the enticement to read it as its stunning opening paragraphs.  It's an opener I wish I'd written:

They take pictures.

Latanya Miller, African-American, fourteen years old.

Walking home from school.  Wrong moment, wrong spot.

White SUV screeches by.  Flash and chatter of a Tec-9.  Car disappears around the corner, smoke blowing from the window.  Leaving Latanya Miller bleeding out on the sidewalk.  Screaming for help, screaming from the pain.  And her classmates rush to her side, cellphones at the ready.

And they take pictures.

(Seriously, how beautiful and devastating was that?  You know you need to read the rest now.  And you won't be sorry when you do -- this Blackmoore guy's got chops.)

"Beat on the Brat" by Nigel Bird
The Drowning Machine

The thing about punk rock is, the kids who get it -- really get it -- will tell you it saved their lives.  And if I had to bet, I'd say Nigel Bird really gets it.  This tale, a loving homage to the Ramones, walks a razor's edge.  It's at turns brutal and bittersweet -- not to mention all kinds of stylish.  I'd not heard of Mr. Bird before I read this story, but you'd better believe once I read "Beat on the Brat" I sought out everything I could from him.  I dare you to read it and not do the same.

"Fetish" by Hilary Davidson
Beat to a Pulp

If there's a knock on Hilary Davidson's writing, it's that her stories are so damned riveting you don't notice until the second time through how pretty her sentences are.  Like many, my first exposure to Hilary's writing was her Beat to a Pulp debut "Insatiable" (which went on to win the Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web), so it seems fitting it's her return to Beat to a Pulp I've chosen here.  "Fetish" reads like the flip-side of the "Insatiable" coin; while "Insatiable" was, at heart, about a character governed by perverse sexual appetites, "Fetish" is a tale of someone who's learned to leverage such appetites to her own gain.  And both stories are told with such mastery, it's only a matter of time before Davidson becomes a household name.

"Nothing Personal" by Steve Weddle
Crime Factory #1

Oscar Martello is not a man you want to fuck with, and in "Nothing Personal," Weddle shows you why.  This story's a smorgasbord of things Weddle does well: roiling, uncomfortable tension; creative violence that never fails to surprise; characters that never feel like characters so much as living, breathing (though sometimes not for long) people.

And yet, a confession: this short is just the second best I've read from Weddle this year.  The best was a yet-unpublished story called "Purple Hulls."  In fact, "Purple Hulls" was maybe the best thing I've read all year full stop.  Why am I taunting you all by telling you this?  Because if you're here, you're a fan of short crime fiction.  Some of you even publish it.  And I'm here to tell you, you oughta go bang on Mr. Weddle's door and not stop till he finds that story a home.  (Metaphorically speaking, of course; you don't want to wake the neighbors.  And after reading what Martello did to folks who showed up at his house in the dead of night, maybe sticking to a polite e-mail is a good idea.)

So there you have it: five of my top stories from 2010.  Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a couple more lists to make...

Chris wrote his first story at the age of six. It got him sent to the principal's office. He'd like to think that right then is when he decided to become a writer. Since then, Chris' stories have appeared in a slew of publications, including Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Needle Magazine, and Thuglit. He's been a Derringer Award finalist and a Spinetingler Award winner, and he's also written a novel or two, which are currently out on submission. You can visit Chris on the web at


  1. Well this made my day. I’m working on the latest Cash Laramie crime/western and having doubts as us writers often do. Seeing this recognition from a writer I greatly admire gave the needed morale booster to keep going.

    Thanks, Chris.

  2. Just read two of them. Great choices and can't wait to read the rest.

  3. As a western fan, I'd put the Cash Laramie stories at the head the list, too. Nice to see David on yours.

  4. I'm a huge fan of Oscar Martello, and just reading his name makes me giddy!

  5. Wow. Thank you, sir. I am humbled to be in such fine company.

  6. Holy crackers. David and Blackmoore and Nigel and Death-March Davidson? What fantastic company.
    BTAP and CrimeFactory and Drowning Machine are amazingly well represented here. Such great stuff out here on web. And great, generous people. Thanks again.

  7. Yeah, what Steve said doubled and redoubled in spades. Except we gotta throw Weddle into his own remarks also. What with editing, formatting and all the other things he does for Needle and his penchant for helping most anyone who asks for a class job of editing or suggestions about plot and promoting other peoples writing far more than he ever promotes his own, we kinda forget what a tear ass, shoot out the lights writer he is. This list rocks. I've read every one of these stories and they don't come any finer. Thanks for the excellent selections Mr. Holm

  8. gee whizz, a smackerel of christmas spirit and, as it's my birthday tomorrow, what could be better. and even David has doubts - that helps, too. a delightful 5 to be part of, the magnificent 7 with 2 down. thanks and all the best to you for the New Year. and * Pounds was my best 72 pence bargain of the year (you need to put your pirces up Chris!)

  9. ps good luck with those novel submissions, Chris

  10. That's a great selection of stories, Chris. I was not aware of Cranmer's western, and enjoy a good western more than a little, so as soon as I hit 'post' here I'm going to check it out.

  11. Thanks to Chris R. for getting writers to do these top 5 lists because it introduces us to new material we might have otherwise missed in the vast lands of the internet.

    Chris, you've made this my go-to site for finding well written crime fiction. Thanks!

  12. Hear hear, Mark. Chris' Top Five series has been fantastic, and just the latest in a string of reasons DBK has proved invaluable to folks who love great short crime fic. I was delighted to be asked to participate, and to highlight the work of some truly spectacular authors (not to mention the kick-ass publications putting their stuff out into the world.)

  13. Every one is brilliant. That Blackmore story is pretty magnificent.