Crouching down behind the upturned pool table, you cower as the bullets rain down all around you. This isn’t what you had expected when your friend called to say if you wanted to ‘shoot some pool’ after lunch. You remember to make a mental note to cross him off of your xmas card list. Suddenly the gunshots end as abruptly as they began, the sound of car tyres squealing as your assailants race away. Gradually you stand up and survey the carnage. As you slowly turn around you notice the wall behind you is riddled with bullet holes. Standing back you notice that they appear to be arranged into a pattern of some kind. Yes, if you squint, and tilt your head a little, bizarrely the holes all seem to spell out some words: it looks like…a blurb…
“RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER AMERICAN CRUELTIES is a unique collection of quirky, Tarantinoesque crime novellas, representing three very different sub-genres. In the first story, “Easy-Peezy,” a band of elderly Old West bank robbers return to their wicked ways robbing banks in the 1930s John Dillinger era. The second story, “Riding Shotgun,” is a bitter tale about a man pushed to the limits of human endurance and forced to take up arms to protect those he loves. The third tale, “$crilla,” is an urban crime fantasy in which a fledgling hip-hop group kidnaps a record mogul in the hopes of finally making the kind of loot they’ve always dreamed of.”
Have you always wondered what would happen if Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen and Quentin Tarantino, after a nice little dinner, maybe a snifter or two of a favoured beverage of their choosing, decided that they should all get together and write a book?
No, me neither, but just imagine that you have. Indulge me here, Beardy Blog Fans.
What’s that, you say? You have always wondered what would happen if Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen and Quentin Tarantino, after a nice little dinner, maybe a snifter or two of a favoured beverage of their choosing, decided that they should all get together and write a book? Hey, guess what, me too *cough*.
Well…..WONDER NO MORE! Because here in Andy Rausch’s Riding Shotgun And Other American Cruelties (hereon referred to as just Riding Shotgun, because, urgh, long title time once again 😉 ), this is how you could imagine said book would have turned out.
Riding Shotgun is actually a trio of novellas, each of which portrays an element of the criminal underbelly of US life.
In the first, Easy-Peezy, we follow the exploits of retired gunslinger Emmett Dalton. Emmett Dalton was a real life bank robber, part of the notorious Dalton Gang who murdered, plundered, robbed and generally made a right nuisance of themselves in the Old West from 1890 – 1892 :
They came to grief in 1892 after a disastrous attempt to rob two banks at once in Coffeyville, Kansas. Emmett, getting all greedy an’ all, thought that this was a splendid idea, but it ended up with two of his brothers getting killed and with his arrest and subsequent 14 year incarceration. In fact, Emmett was shot 23 times and survived. If he was a statue people would be flocking to rub his head, or other part of him, for luck. He was, to quote Wikipedia: …shot through the right arm, below the shoulder, through the left – right, in some accounts – hip and groin, and received 18-23 buckshot in his back.
After he was pardoned he went straight, becoming a real estate agent, and actor and author. He died in 1937 aged 66.
That was the real Emmett Dalton. In Easy-Peezy things end rather differently. You see, Emmett Dalton, at 62, is a man who misses the old life. In 1933, when this story is set, the new guard are coming through. People like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde are becoming notorious and infamous and Emmett wants one last fling to show these new kids how it was really done. To do this he rounds up his old bank robbin’ mate Jimmy McDaniels and his fellow retired outlaw, Tom Pickett, and together the trio decide to rob as many banks as they can along the way to Kansas where Emmett has some unresolved business.
I’m not going to say anymore about the story as there is a lot to discover here. It is very funny in places, especially once they get to Tom’s place and Emmett discovers that Jimmy failed to mention one or two things about him. The dialogue is sharp and witty and you even begin to like these criminals, after a fashion. You need to remind yourself that these really are not nice men at all. Emmett murders on a whim and all just to get money and to satisfy an urge that should have long since been extinguished. There is undoubtedly a lot of nods to the real life gangs of the day; they meet Dillinger at one point, and places like Joplin, Missouri, where Tom lives have relevence to Bonnie and Clyde; in fact I could probably spend a lot of time Googling the places and people in this story.
Easy-Peezy is the story that I feel that Martin Scorsese could have written. I could imagine him writing this one and directing the movie as the characters and dialogue, the period setting, all scream Scorsese to me (and maybe Francis Ford Coppola).
It’s huge fun and a great opener for the book.
The second story, the titular Riding Shotgun, sees writer Joe Gibson return home to find four men in his home, his wife tied to a chair with a gun to her head. On top of all of this his daughter is missing, nowhere to be seen, supposedly “safe”. These men want Joe to do something rather drastic; they want him to take out Mafia boss Carlo Ventimiglia. If he doesn’t, then he will never see his wife and daughter again. If he succeeds his daughter will be returned to him.
Things turn to brown sticky do-do, and begin to escalate, pretty quickly after this. Again, I won’t say much more here, but Joe goes full tilt avenging angel on their assess. This story is very bloody and extremely violent throughout. I see this as the Coen Brothers entry in the book; it’s has a complex plot, it’s full of quirky characters, it’s violent and it’s very darkly humorous. Whereas Easy-Peezy was slightly believable in that its characters were already murdering scumbags to begin with, RS stretches this a little, imo. Ok, Gibson goes through an intensely traumatic experience, and is driven by revenge and the desire to get his little girl back, but his transformation from mild-mannered writer and family man to full on gun-toting, take-no-prisoners, vigilante is, well, is a big old stretch. But does that really matter? Hmmm, not really, at least not for me. This story rattles along at such a pace that you do get lost in the story and the ridiculousness of the scenario fades into the background. At least until you finish it and then you go “Reallllly?” 😉
Once again, Rausch has crafted a clever and compelling novella. The dialogue is strong, the plot is great, though very dark, and he keeps the action coming. You even find yourself once again rooting for the bad guy – well, not all of them, but one in particular. The ending is bittersweet, but it fits the tone of the book well.
The final novella is $crilla. This is most definitely the Quentin Tarantino story. It screams him, although the story itself is dedicated to Elmore Leonard, so I’m guessing that there is more than a healthy dollop of his influence here too (I’m rather ashamed to admit that I have never read one of his novels, though I am aware of the several film adaptations of his works, so I can see the connection).
$crilla tells the story of Charlie Grimes, an ex-cop with a defibrillator sewn into his chest to restart his dodgy ticker which has a tendency to stop. Tricky. Hailing from Chicago, Grimes finds himself in LA and quickly attracting the attentions of Candace, an Exec at a Gangsta Rap record label called Pronto records. After a bit of a one night stand she returns to him with a proposition; to find her boss Davis Cartright, a bone fide scumbag if I have ever read one. Seriously, the dude is a sleaze bag of the highest order, but Candace wants to know what has happened to him and tasks Charlie with the job, which he accepts. If it was me, I’d leave the nasty bastard to his fate, but I’m not in this book now, am I?
Enter our two antagonists: Loop and Bugs, two gangsta rappers who are extremely disgruntled with the aforementioned Davis Cartright and decide to do something about it. Oh, and they are also extremely stupid. They are talked into a kidnapping by another equally crazy named guy, a bodyguard named Booby. He says that they can kidnap him, get him to sign over $5,000,000 – an amount that he says he won’t even miss – and then release him.
The dollar signs light up in the boy’s eyes and a plan is hatched. Simple, huh? Yeah, no.
This story is all about the shady, underworld of the gangsta rapper. Or so I imagine, seeing as I have no clue as to anything about this world; my idea of rapping is the one I do with paper, scissors and sellotape at xmas, although admittedly that can often result in violence – usually at the expense of the paper, not another human being. Once again, Andy Rausch has populated his story with outlandish and likeably unlikable characters who do extreme things for money. The dialogue in $crilla may not be to everyone’s liking. There are Tarantino levels of usage of the N-word, f-word, and variations thereof, which may not sit comfortably with everyone. But the dialogue appears very natural and it suits the characters very well. Take this exchange for example as the boys come up with their plan:
Booby was driving the Escalade, and Loop and Bugs were in the back. “What the fuck we gonna do now?” asked Loop. “No shit,” said Bugs. “We just bought a goddamn mansion. How we gonna pay for that shit?” “Maybe we could sign with another label.” “Maybe, but that’s gonna take time. We’ll lose the house before that.” “You think?” “Yeah, man, I do.” “How much we got in the bank?” “$ 45,000.” “That’s it?” “That’s it.” “That’s fucked up.” “I wish there was something we could do.” And that’s when Booby spoke up. “Y’all really wanna do something?” Bugs asked, “You got something in mind?” “Well,” said Booby, “you could kidnap the white boy.” “Who?” “Davis Cartright.” “And what, hold him for ransom?” “Nah, man, just make him sign over five million dollars.” “He got that much?” asked Loop. “Shit, nigga, he got hundreds of millions,” said Bugs. “Yeah, I seen it in Forbes,” said Booby. “He’s worth over 300 million dollars.” “So what’s five mil’ to a guy like that?” asked Loop. “Exactly,” said Booby. “Small potatoes, nigga.” “You really think we could do that?” “With my help, sure.” Bugs and Loop respected their bodyguard’s street smarts. Booby used to run with the gangs and he’d done a dime up at Lompoc for bank robbery. Booby knew what the fuck he was talking about. “How would that work?” asked Loop. “We just roll up on the motherfucker and we snatch his punk ass,” said Booby. “Then what?” “Then we coerce him to go to the bank and get us five million dollars.” “What’s that?” asked Loop. “What?” “Coerce.” “It means we beat the shit outta that nigga.” Bugs nodded. Beating the shit out of Davis Cartright sounded real good. “Do we let him know who we are?” asked Loop. “Shit no,” said Bugs. “We cover our faces with pantyhose.” “How about a mask?” asked Loop. “What’s the difference?” “I don’t like pantyhose.” “Why’s that?” “One time I robbed a liquor store over on Sepulveda with pantyhose on. I didn’t like that shit.” “How come?” “I’m pretty sure the bitch I got the pantyhose from had crabs.” “So you got crabs? On your face?” “Itched like a motherfucker. That’s why I shaved my beard.”
This is a typical exchange between these three; there’s much bickering and swearing. Loop starts to have doubts. He is a Christian man who has his own unique relationship with The Lord:
“I been prayin’ about this, and I don’t think this is what our Lord Jesus Christ would want.”
“You been talkin’ to Jesus?”
“I talk to Jesus every day except on Saturday.”
“Why not Saturday?”
“I get busy on Saturday, forget to talk to him’s all.”
“On account of partying and whatnot?”
“Right,” said Loop.
“And what’s that nigga Jesus say about all this?”
“It’s mostly one-sided conversations.”
“He don’t speak to you?”
“Then how you know he’s there?”
“I just know it,” said Loop. “I can feel him.”
“And how did your buddy Jesus Christ feel about you kidnapping the dude in the first place?”
“He wasn’t too happy about it.”
“You don’t say.”
“I don’t think he liked it.”
Loop and Bugs are not the brightest sparks in the box, as you can probably tell. Booby is the brains, such as they are, in this outfit. However, once they kidnap Cartright things don’t really go to plan and a new plan begin to evolve. What is that plan? Read the story to find out; it’s much more fun that way 😉
Add to all this Charlie Grimes’s investigation as he closes in on the three goons, and you have a fun, funny, if very violent, black comedy of errors.
Riding Shotgun And Other American Cruelties is a collection of extremely violent, darkly comic, and hugely enjoyable tales of the criminal underbelly of the United States of America. They are stories of greed, revenge and of the extremes some people may go to to get what they want. They won’t be to everyone’s tastes – the dialogue may offend some, as could the levels of casual violence towards other characters – but if you enjoy the films of Scorsese, Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, amongst many others, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. They are fast paced, well written and genuinely great fun.
Go on, take a risk, you may even enjoy it.
My sincerest thanks to Rachel Gibley (Rachel’s Random Resources) and to Andy Rausch for my copy of Riding Shotgun.
This may be the end of the Blog Tour, but you’d be crazy not to go back and check out what the other bloggers have had to say about Riding Shotgun. Don’t make me come after you with a crazy assed assortment of weapons and force you to look, now! 😉
About Andy Rausch – Andy is a a freelance film journalist, author, and celebrity interviewer. He has published more than twenty books on the subject of popular culture, including The Films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Making Movies with Orson Welles (with Gary Graver), and The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood (with Charles E. Pratt, Jr.). His work has appeared in Shock Cinema, both Screem and Scream magazines, Senses of Cinema, Diabolique, Creative Screenwriting, Film Threat, Bright Lights Film Journal, and Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture. He has written several works of fiction including Mad World, Elvis Presley: CIA Assassin, Riding Shotgun and Other American Cruelties, and the short story collection Death Rattles. He has also worked as a screenwriter, producer, and actor on numerous straight-to-video horror films.