Cal McDonald Detective Tales
Steve Niles
Illustrated by Kelley Jones

Publisher: Bloody Pulp Books
May 2011, Price: $5
Review by Darkeva

I’d polished off a bottle of Jim Beam, two bottles of Listerine,
some Robitussin, and a package of Excedrin PM.
I shoplifted all of it.

~ Cal McDonald

Cal McDonald Detective Tales Volume I by Steve Niles (illustrated by the amazing Kelley Jones) is a limited edition pulp paperback published by Bloody Pulp Books, who are doing some fantastic work with their books.

Most people know Niles from the praiseworthy graphic novel (and eventual film) 30 Days of Night (especially those vampire fans who prefer their bloodsuckers to, oh, I don’t know, bite? And not sparkle? And eat humans without trying to romance them?) Knowing that I’d be reading something from the great mind who also gave us Batman: Gotham County Line and Simon Dark among others, I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out his newest offering.

This book is a short one, clocking in at just shy of 90 pages, but the two stories within are both equally compelling and interesting, and the illustrations by Jones only serve to make them come alive more – they’re gritty, black and white, and contribute a graphic element that serves to add to the narrative.

The first tale, “The ‘Y’ Incision” tells the story of a guy who invades morgues and brings corpses to life. Cal starts out homeless, in desperate need of the drugs he’s addicted to, and running away from the innumerable enemies he’s made. He investigates a case with the help of his trusty undead sidekick, Mo’lock, and although he actually manages to lose money by taking on the case in the end, he doesn’t mind. Cal’s voice is what made this stand out for me right away. Equal parts Mickey Spillane with a dash of Raymond Chandler thrown in, it’s his reactions and observations, all told in the immediate first person, that make this a captivating read.

The second story, “Nocturnal Invasions,” is a play on nocturnal emissions. Well, the title, not the story itself, although that’s a matter of debate. I found it to be the more entertaining of the two as Cal spends the story hooking up with a vampire chick even though it’s against his rules. And at first, I thought this was the girlfriend he alluded to in the previous story, who was taken away from him and turned into a vampire (this is a different vamp, although just as sultry), and as much as he knows that what he’s doing is wrong, it’s not in his nature to stop things, so the story ends on a satisfying note.

They’re both fun stories, and a nice mixture of detective noir with horror (which, if you’re looking for more of, you should try the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey, which, although they’re technically classified as urban fantasy are grittier than most of the other books you’ll find lining those shelves). Cal is a crooked cop in the truest sense and doesn’t operate with any moral code, which just makes him more fun. He’s unapologetic and does whatever he wants to, which, apart from making him a badass, also makes him fun to watch. He’s like the car crash that you can’t tear your eyes from. In recent years I’ve come to admire the move in this type of fiction, whether in graphic novels, books, or television shows, to more realistic characters who aren’t the goodie goodie trying to save the world from monsters because it’s their duty or no one else will. Cal does what he has to do to survive, period. He has enough of his own problems to worry about let alone that of others. But he does have some good in him, or perhaps it’s just that he seems like the lesser of two evils when compared to the things he goes up against, not to mention the fact that he wants to stop them that makes him sympathetic and likeable.

And I must say, as someone who gets more books than I can count over the span of a month, Niles’ presentation is unique. I suppose it helps that the book is so thin, but it fit inside a Ziploc bag marked “evidence,” which I thought took the book to a whole new level before I even opened it. Definitely well worth the read, and it comes in a limited edition at a price that can’t be beat. Do yourself a favor and order it.

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