Stories about outsiders have always appealed to me. Many of the classic Western and private eye heroes are cut off to a certain extent from society and although they may form connections with other people, in the end they ride away alone or walk off by themselves down some mean, empty street (with wet pavement because it just rained, of course . . . and somebody up in one of the buildings is playing a saxophone . . .). Shane doesn’t come back, and Sam Spade rides down in the elevator by himself.
So it’s not surprising that I’d be interested in reading a book called LONERS. It’s a collection of short stories by Mark SaFranko, an author I hadn’t encountered before, and it’s published by Murder Slim Press, a fairly new British publisher. Some of the stories are original to this volume, while the others were first published in ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE and various literary magazines. Despite coming from a British publisher, the stories are all very American, some set in big cities, others in small towns. While most of them concern desperate, lonely people at the end of their rope, and crimes are committed in several of them, I wouldn’t really call them crime stories. They’re more mainstream, literary stories, despite the presence of cops, hookers, gangsters, and at least one serial killer. I guess they’d qualify as noir, though, because they’re dark and bleak as hell.
My favorites are “At the Hacienda” and “Acts of Revenge” because their narrators are writers. (There’s a strong autobiographical element running through several of the stories.) SaFranko writes very well, with the ability to capture characters in a few brief strokes, and his dialogue rings true. I also like the fact that several of these stories have enough plot packed into them that they could have been novels, something that author Seymour Shubin comments on in his introduction. Shubin’s right about that.
I don’t usually comment much about the production values of a book, but I think LONERS deserves some plaudits along those lines as well. Too many books these days are full of typos, from major publishers and small presses alike, but not this one. The cover is all right, but I really like the interior art by Steve Hussy that leads off each story. Fine work all around.
LONERS won’t be to everyone’s taste. The lack of resolution in a few of the stories might bother some people. It bothered me a little. But overall, this is a very good collection.