Stay tuned below for a review and excerpt from Third Degree.
Authors: Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara, Charles Salzberg
Publisher: Down & Out Books
Released: October 5th, 2020
Received: Blog Tour
Warnings: Infidelity, hate groups (not condoned)
Third Degree is the result of the efforts of three different authors, Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara, and Charles Salzberg. Each one contributed a short story to this anthology, creating a novel full of thrilling reads with a noir aesthetic.
What I love about collections like this one is just how well the stories fit together. They may not be from the same world, the same series, or even the same authors, but they certainly all have the same feel.
Cut Loose All Those Who Drag You Down by Ross Klavan
Ross Klavan writes about one man, and the seriously bad string of luck that he has. Dick has been through quite a lot, much of it his own making. Yet the most recent circumstance is far from his own fault, as a friend (of sorts) brings all sorts of trouble down on his head.
“This has happened to me in every one of my eight marriages.”
Out of the three, this short story has feels the most dated. By that I mean – it felt like it belonged in a very specific time period, and it resonated through every single paragraph and line. Dick wasn’t an easy character to like, but that was hardly the point – the mess he got into was more important, and the quick pace made sure to keep everything moving at breakneck speeds.
Beaned by Tim O’Mara
A life of crime isn’t exactly new to Aggie, a small-time smuggler just trying to keep his life moving forward. Today, he was on the docket for transporting some maple-syrup and coffee beans. Not exactly a high stakes game. That is, until Aggie and his partner saw something they just couldn’t walk away from, not while maintaining their souls.
“After all the guns and shooting and dead people I’d seen over the past few days, I felt like I was in the spy biz, brother.”
Beaned is probably the highlight of the three, at least for me. Aggie is such an unexpectedly charming character, and his entire…experience is full of mystery, intrigue, and lots of surprises. Okay, there’s a fair bit of action as well, but that was to be expected. Overall, I really loved the noir themes, and how well they meshed with the more criminal elements of this adventure. It made for a great read, one that I wouldn’t have minded reading more of.
The Fifth Column by Charles Salzberg
Jake Harper is a young reporter with big dreams. Dreams made bigger and wilder by the events of Pearl Harbor. From that moment on, he wanted to work for a big newspaper. Well, Jake is about to learn that reporting sometimes takes guts, and the ability to refuse to walk away from a story that needs telling.
“Sometimes, kid, losing can be a blessing”
The Fifth Column was another fantastic read from this novel. I really adored Jake’s perspective, even while it probably felt the most dramatically different of the three. It was charming and riveting, with a strong historical twist. There’s a darker tone to the tale, much like the other two, and yet even that felt different in some ways. In short, it was the perfect conclusion to this particular collection. I can’t wait to see more from these three authors!
Excerpt from “The Fifth Column” by Charles Salzberg
I met with the managing editor, Bob Sheldon, and then he handed me over to Jack Sanders, the chief of the metro desk. Both nice guys. Both came from the same mold that gave us Dave Barrett and Bob Doering, my Litchfield bosses. I walked out of there thinking I’d done pretty good. As much as I hated to admit it, I think they were impressed with my having gradu- ated from Yale. “We don’t get many Ivy Leaguers wanting to work here,” the managing editor said. “I’d be happy to be the first,” I replied. And that was true.
That afternoon, it was the Herald Tribune’s turn and I didn’t think went quite as well. I could tell they were looking for someone a little older, a little more experienced. And I was sure my nerves showed, not especially what you want when you’re trying to impress someone and convince them you’re the right man for the job.
That morning, as I was leaving for my interviews, my aunt asked what I’d like for dinner. “I’m sure you could use a home- cooked meal,” she said, then started to probe me for my favor- ite foods.
“No, no, no,” I said. “I’m taking you out for dinner…”
“I appreciate it, Jakey, but you really don’t have to do that.” “Are you kidding? I want to do it. And believe it or not, they actually pay me for what I do at the paper. So, I’ve got money burning a hole in my pocket and what better way to spend it than taking my favorite aunt out to dinner. Just think about where you’d like to go. And do not, under any circumstances, make it one of the local luncheonettes. If I report back to my mom that that’s where I took you, she’d disown me.”
“You choose, Jakey. After all, you’re the guest.”
I got back to my aunt’s around 3:30. She was out, so I decided to catch a quick nap. I was beat, having been up before five that morning, meaning I got maybe three fitful hours of sleep. And even the excitement of being back in the big city didn’t keep my eyelids from drooping. And I had no trouble falling asleep, despite the sound of traffic outside the window.
I was awakened by the sound of Aunt Sonia unlocking the door. I looked at the clock. It was 5:30 p.m. I got up, straightened myself out, and staggered into the living room just as she was headed to the kitchen carrying two large paper bags filled with groceries.
“Remember,” I said, “we’re going out for dinner.”
“Are you sure, Jakey,” she said as I followed close at her heels into the kitchen.
“One-hundred percent sure. Here, let me help you put those things away.” She smiled. “You won’t know where to put them,” she said as she placed both bags down on the kitchen table.
“You think with all the time I spent here as a kid I don’t know where the milk, eggs, bread, flour, and everything else goes? And even if I didn’t, I’m a reporter, remember? I think I can figure it out.”
“I’m sorry, Jakey. I guess I can’t get the little kid out of my mind. I’ll put this bag away, you put away the other.”
“So, what’s new around here, Aunt Sonia?” I asked as I ferried eggs and milk to the icebox.
“I mean, it’s not the same old Yorkville, is it?”
“I’m not sure what you mean, Jakey.”
“You do read the papers, don’t you? We’re at war with Germany, Italy, and Japan. This is Yorkville. It’s crawling with German-Americans, right?”
“I really don’t see much of a difference,” she said, stowing away the last of the groceries in the cabinet next to the stove. I got the feeling this was a subject she was not interested in dis- cussing, which made it all the more appealing to me. Maybe that accounts for my going into journalism.
“There’s got to be a little tension, doesn’t there? I mean, wasn’t there that big Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden a few years ago?”
“I don’t really pay much attention to the news, Jakey. Of course, I read everything your mother sends me that you wrote. But the news, well, it’s very upsetting.” She shook her head back and forth slowly.
“That’s putting it mildly,” I said as I pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table.
“Have you decided where we’re going?” Aunt Sonia said. I could see she was still uncomfortable talking about anything having to do with the war. And then it hit me. Her son, my cousin Bobby, who was several years older than me, pushing thirty, in fact, recently enlisted and was now somewhere in Eu- rope. No wonder she was reluctant to talk about it.
“I thought the Heidelberg might be fun. I remember you taking me there as a kid. It was like one big party. I remember someone was at the piano playing these songs I’d never heard before. And this very strange music…”
She smiled. “Oom-pah music. And you were so cute. You got up and started swaying back and forth.”
My face got warm. “I don’t remember anything of the sort,” I said, embarrassed at the thought of doing something so attention-grabbing.
“You can ask your mother if you don’t believe me. But just let me change and freshen up and we’ll get going.”
Excerpt from “Cut Loose All Those Who Drag You Down” by Ross Klavan
There are people who don’t like to hear that I’ve been married eight times, but for myself, I don’t trust anyone who’s only been married once.
Ex-Doctor Solly had only gone to the altar a single time, but he made up for it by having an obsession with hookers and by sleeping with at least three of his patients, which is a very bad thing to do especially for a shrink, hence the “ex” in ex-doctor. Women either can’t get enough of him or they immediately sense they’re standing beside Satan and they take off. But Ex-Doctor Solly has been married this one time and that was to the last woman that I’d married and why she agreed to that, frankly, to this day, I’ve never figured out.
They’d even had a kid together. She’d never wanted kids, not with me. And Ex-Doctor Solly? To him, having a child sort of balanced out with finding a tumor who wanted toys. Maybe she had the kid to get at me. Maybe she married him to get at me. Maybe it had nothing to do with me. But here’s Ex-Doctor Solly, heaving for breath with his skinny ass in my chair and graced by the holy light of Netflix flashing across his face.
“Jesus, gimme a fucking drink already, what are you waiting for, the Messiah?”
“I only have some…”
“Fine. Wait. Hold on, wait a minute.” What’s left of my Denver edible pops open his saucer eyes; he’s turning it round and round and round. “Where’d you get this?”
“Tanya brought it back for me from…”
“Good, great, OK, easy to get more,” as the rest of the cookie is crushed into his
mouth, mercilessly, fingertips pushing, shoving. It all disappears. “ButIstill- needadrinkgivemeanythingyouhave,” he says.
“I can’t understand you, schmuck, your mouth’s so full that…”
“A DRINK!” like he’s chewing on stinging bees, forcing a swallow. “Dick! What kind of friend are you, don’t you see? This is as bad as it gets.”
I come back with his drink, fit it into his hand, and Ex-Doctor Solly then slumps and slouches and leans forward, and if he could have X-rayed the floor, he would have.
“It’s bad, Dick, really, really bad,” he says. “Not bad like all those bads before. This is, like, bad whether we say so or not.”
“I’m not lending you money.”
“Dick. I’ve killed someone.”
“NO! Wait! Did I say ‘killed someone?’ Don’t listen to me, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m in a manic state…”
A small plastic box of meds makes rattling sounds in his hand, and he pops two of
something, I don’t know what. Swallows with the scotch, leans back, and blows a breath like he’s doing his own, personal nor’easter. Let me also tell you this: he’s looking worse than lousy. Even worse now that he’s actually stepped into the room. Everything’s settled on him, all of it, settled on him like in his mind he’s sliding awake and open-eyed into the back of an empty hearse—and a cheap one at that.
“It’s not exactly that I killed someone,” Ex-Doctor Solly says. “It’s that I was around someone who was killed. I was with somebody who died. Some people think I’m responsible for this death. Even if I’m not, they’re gonna make me responsible. Do you see what I’m getting at?”
“No,” I say.
“Do you have any more dope?”
In the kitchen, I stare at my one surviving edible lying peacefully in the drawer, and I now hide that away after a weak moment, which means I was toying with the stupid idea of playing “good host.”
I call to Ex-Doctor Solly, “Nothing left, I’ll get you another drink.”
By the time I’m back to the ex-doctor, he’s shivering enough to make the ice in his scotch glass clatter.
“You’re not gonna puke, are you?”
“Probably later,” he says. “I’m mixing scotch with THC and two anti-anxiety medications. OK. I’m all right for…” he looks at his watch, takes his own pulse, nods professionally, and finishes, “…maybe the next three hours and 17 minutes. That’s my educated guess.”
* * *