I decided to give this book a try mainly because I was looking to read some noir stories set in California but not in LA. I wasn't familiar with Mike Monson's writing but liked the comments I saw about the collection on Amazon. It's a debut collection, taken from stories Monson has published over the years on various Internet sites, but it has the authority of a writer who's an old pro. Mike Monson writes in total control of his rough material. And make no mistake: these stories do not shy away from the bleak, the harsh, and the violent. "Dirty noir" is how the author himself describes what he writes, and it is a perfect way of describing it. At the same time, within the "dirty" tough world he describes, there are subtle variations in tone and mood from story to story. There is also a lot of dark humor and in the two days it took me to read this book, I chuckled quite often. Some of the pieces are slices of terse realism describing lives of economic and sexual desperation that reminded me of Raymond Carver - if Carver wrote noir. And some are very brief, ruminations, observations, that brought to mind Lydia Davis, the master of the flash fiction form. There is also one, "Heritage Classic" that is a beautifully modulated study of male mid-life crisis. A 50ish year old man buys and starts riding a huge Harley in his effort to feel young again. Needless to say, bike riding on the road doesn't go as planned.
To sum it up, I really liked this collection, and I'm looking forward to the novella Mr. Monson says he has coming out later this year. In the meantime, take a trip to Modesto. Take a trip to a wedge of California that is most certainly not glamorous but is quite intriguing.