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Hop Alley: A Novel

Hop Alley: A Novel

4.4 5
by Scott Phillips

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Cottonwood (2004) was a huge step forward for the burgeoning king of noir Scott Phillips, and his dark and gritty take on the western earned him starred reviews and praise from crime masters Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos. That novel featured the Kansas town beginning in 1872 when it was just a small community of run down farms, dusty roads, and


Cottonwood (2004) was a huge step forward for the burgeoning king of noir Scott Phillips, and his dark and gritty take on the western earned him starred reviews and praise from crime masters Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos. That novel featured the Kansas town beginning in 1872 when it was just a small community of run down farms, dusty roads, and two-bit crooks. Saloon owner and photographer Bill Ogden thought it could be more and allied with wealthy developer Marc Leval to capitalize on the advent of the railroad and the cattle trail that soon turned Cottonwood into a wild boomtown. But problems followed the money and soon Bill was confronting both the wicked family of serial killers known as the Bloody Benders as well as his one-time friend Marc, having fallen into an affair with his beautiful wife Maggie. Bill then turned up alone in San Francisco in 1890, having to face a past from which he could not run.

But what happened to him in those missing years? What happened to Maggie, to Bill, and their escape from the murderous Bender family?

Hop Alley answers all those questions as we return to the Wild West and discover Bill Ogden, now living as Bill Sadlaw, running a photo studio near the Chinese part of town know as Hop Alley in the frontier town of Denver in 1878. Left by Maggie, Bill enjoys an erotic affair with Priscilla, a fallen singer addicted to laudanum, who is also seeing his friend Ralph Banbury, the editor of the local Denver Bulletin (neither man minds sharing). Bill’s peaceful time away from Cottonwood turns anything but as he must confront the mysterious murder of his housekeeper’s brother-in-law, the increasing instability of Priscilla as both men try to ease out of her clutches, and an all out-riot across Hop Alley. And when the body count starts rising, Bill will soon start wishing he had never left Cottonwood at all.

Hop Alley proves that no one does the Wild West like noir master Scott Phillips.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio
Phillips's juicy vernacular is perfect for Bill's louche narrative voice, and his easy, flowing style suits the loose morality and freewheeling spirit of a hotheaded young nation.
Publishers Weekly
★ 03/17/2014
Set in 1878, Phillips’s excellent sequel to Cottonwood (2004) continues the adventures of Bill Ogden, frontier photographer and libertine. Ogden has set up shop in Denver under the name Bill Sadlaw. His business isn’t exactly flourishing, but Ogden is getting by with portraiture work and by selling novelty photo sets. He enjoys the regular attentions of Priscilla, a lovely yet volatile laudanum addict. Things begin to get complicated when a local newsman—the abusive father of Ogden’s young assistant, Lemuel—ends up dead. The case dominates the headlines in Denver, and when two Chinese men from nearby Hop Alley are mistakenly implicated, already-simmering racial tension erupts into a full-scale anti-Chinese riot. Phillips’s skillful use of real historical events will resonate with fans of George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman series. Readers unfamiliar with Phillips’s other work can jump in without difficulty, but devotees will especially appreciate this slim, entertaining interlude in the larger Ogden story. Agent: David Hale Smith, Inkwell Management. (May)
From the Publisher

Praise for Hop Alley:

"Phillips has a way of writing a bon vivant of the Wild West with testosterone raging without it appearing macho or obnoxious or ego centric. [...] His writing is frank, vivid and hot, but the man is rarely the aggressor. The ladies drop their drawers or veils in an instant in his presence and this is great fun to read. Phillips description is lurid, colorful and powerful. He chooses just the right details and the right amount of details so as not to clutter his sentences which flow tripingly on your tongue. It is a joy to read Phillips." —Huffington Post

"Phillips’s juicy vernacular is perfect for Bill’s louche narrative voice, and his easy, flowing style suits the loose morality and freewheeling spirit of a hotheaded young nation." —New York Times Book Review

"Phillips has a nice touch in using nasty characters as first-person narrators... You can’t help thinking that there’s a third novel looming, this one set in that city by the bay. Let’s hope Phillips spares us from waiting another decade for this book." —The St. Louis Post Dispatch

"Phillips mixes real events, period turns of phrase, a noirish sensibility, and a cast of murderous women, madmen, drunks, grifters, and fools into a wildly entertaining, perhaps sui generis, slumgullion that might well be closer to reality than readers would imagine." —Booklist

"Phillips’s skillful use of real historical events will resonate with fans of George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman series." —Publisher's Weekly Starred Review

"This is fun, propulsive reading for anyone who likes historicals with a touch of mystery." &mdashLibrary Journal

Praise for Cottonwood:

“Wit and gusto... Scott Phillips doesn't really write crime stories. He writes about criminal behaviors—how they originate, how they transform character, how they become part of the cultural norm and, most incisively, how they flourish in certain environments." —The New York Times

"Cottonwood is an adventurous, bawdy, and genre-bending epic. Scott Phillips cements his reputation as a fearless, ambitious writer who never makes a false move." —George Pelecanos

"Scott Phillips is dark, dangerous, and important. Cottonwood is crime fiction at its best." —Michael Connelly

"Frontier Guignol in post-Civil War Kansas and California of the 1870s and ‘80s... [this] droll first-person narrative combines amorality with a genuine, if laid-back, joie de vivre... The blazingly original Phillips writes with a deadpan humor and incisive irony. The story is shaggy, but its unique slant on the Old West is a major achievement." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Cottonwood’s rise from frontier lawlessness to respectability sweeps along briskly, unpacking surprises at every turn…Phillips’ vision adds up to an indelible portrait of a haunted town, as starkly delineated and unsparing as an antique tintype.” —Entertainment Weekly

"Western epic, black comedy, and soft porn are cleverly spliced in this genre-bending offering from Phillips (The Walkaway; The Ice Harvest), which relates the experiences of Bill Ogden, sometime farmer, sometime saloon-owner, sometime photographer in 1870s Kansas. Ogden, 27, is a self-taught Greek and Latin scholar and a sexual libertine capable of seducing almost any woman he encounters. Estranged from his wife, he never brags about his peccadilloes, although it seems that his devotion to oral sex sets him apart from rivals and makes him the heart's desire of the voracious women who seem to be everywhere on the frontier. The story, such as it is, centers on the arrival of Marc Leval and his lovely wife, Maggie, in the tiny farm community of Cottonwood. Marc capriciously selects Bill as a partner in his scheme to attract Texas drovers to a railhead, while Maggie plays a less-than-discreet game of spider and fly with Bill, the Kansas Casanova. In the meantime, an outlaw family embarks on a crime spree that eventually pits Bill against Marc and sends Bill and Maggie fleeing. Jumping ahead 20 years, Bill's story resumes in San Francisco, where he is making his way as a photographer and sexual athlete. He learns that Maggie, from whom he is long separated, has returned to Cottonwood, so he abandons his life in California and returns, bent on rekindling their love affair. Bill's salaciousness rivals Don Juan's and he is utterly devoid of scruples, but his deadpan humor and cunning indifference to life's vicissitudes keep him likable. Lively pacing and artful prose lend polish to Phillips's cheerfully grotesque chronicle of western antics." —Publishers Weekly

"In the always interesting, often surprising online January Magazine, Bill Crider talks about the general lack of respect paid to mysteries set in the Old West. Crider... will probably be as delighted as I am with this third book from Scott Phillips, whose first two novels set in 20th century Kansas were bleakly comic affairs connected by a brilliant link of shared history. There's a similar link in Cottonwood, but you have to wait for the epilogue to fully appreciate it. Meanwhile, you can enjoy the pleasures of Phillips' unique and pungent prose, as well as his skill and daring in moving us through a landscape that at first glance might seem to have been well-covered.... However, it's not Phillips' thoughtful, exciting plotting but rather his amazing ear for the sad sounds behind the words of his people that make his novels so exceptional." —Dick Adler, Chicago Tribune

"At first glance, Phillips' third effort seems like quite a departure from his previous noirish crime novels, but it quickly becomes apparent that the author's brand of sly humor and his skilled depictions of nasty human behavior translate well to the historical genre...Romance, intrigue, dueling pistols, and a Charles Willeford feel translated to the frontier--a little something for everyone.” —Booklist

"If, in his debut performance, a rookie ballplayer slams the first two pitches into the bleachers, some fans will insist he's the next Babe Ruth. ...Perhaps it's a good thing that Scott Phillips' game is crime fiction and not baseball. The Wichita native not only has hit the literary equivalent of three homers in a row with his first three novels, but each one has been a grand slam. In Cottonwood, Phillips has delivered a historical drama every bit as compelling as his acclaimed The Walkaway and The Ice Harvest. Those first two disquieting works took a sharp scalpel to the notion that denizens of the heartland are somehow less prone to violence, depravity and corruption than their brethren in the big cities. His many characters are imaginatively conceived, multi-dimensional and well worth knowing... Like the photographs Ogden takes of lynchings, scalped hunters, and slaughtered buffaloes on the prairie, Cottonwood opens our imaginations to a long-gone world that's far more intriguing and frightening than any we could have imagined.” —Gary Dretzka, Chicago Sun-Times

"In a book that is as much history as mystery, Scott Phillips' Cottonwood makes the dirt streets and rough life of the Kansas prairie come alive.” —Kansas City Star

Praise for Rake

"With Rake, Scott Phillips proves himself the unparalleled master of the noir anti-hero. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know, his Crandall Taylor is the quintessential American huckster on the scene, and in Phillip’s sly, deft hands we find ourselves sinking down eagerly with him, glorying in the beautiful muck." —Megan Abbott

"Rake is full of vicarious pleasures for us to indulge in...from one of the most original practitioners of noir working today..a hilarious Hollywood satire, the fuck-journal of a mad man and an ingeniously twisty old-school noir along the lines of James M. Cain.” —Spinetingler Magazine

“Scott Phillips is an author whose books are always at the top of my reading pile. His smart prose and conscience-deprived anti-heroes turn crime fiction into social satire. His latest, Rake, further proves his talent for making noir funny…With Rake, Phillips has once again created a protagonist whose voice suits his writing style. You might dislike him, if he wasn’t so cavalier and intelligent. While he gives us wild justification for his actions there exists a little hypocrisy in him, at least when he tells his tale. It’s also hard to admit we’d behave differently if we could get away with it. One could say that Scott Phillips gives us a cold look at his characters, and the film business, but the narration and the protagonist’s devil-may-care attitude give Rake a sleazy warmth. Rake is Scott Phillips at his most entertaining. His wonderfully amoral and hedonistic characters, with their scheming and trouble shooting, provide a subtle yet laughable loud look at how the US has exported its worst traits abroad.” —Mystery People

“The first scene in Rake is a fight. It’s not surprising that a Scott Phillips book opens with violence; he’s known for exploring the baser side of humanity with dark humor and noirish style…Rake makes no bones about its main character being a bad guy. But bad guys can make for good reads, and this one does.” —The Wichita Eagle

Praise for The Adjustment

"This is Wayne's story, and what makes it memorable is his hulking presence, drifting through the world as hungry and blank-eyed as a shark . . . There's something compelling about that sort of rage, about its compression, its control . . . But what draws us to the book is Phillips' taut and vicious vision, so clean we cannot help but inhabit it, even when we find ourselves repelled." —The Los Angeles Times

"Written in pitch-perfect noir form." —Library Journal

"Sly and worthy . . . Crime fans, especially those who favor a vivid sense of place and time, will love it." —Booklist

"The author's unapologetic depiction of a thoroughly bad egg will appeal to hard-boiled fans who don't need redeeming features to become engaged with a character." —Publishers Weekly

"Wayne Ogden is a prince of a fellow, as long as you judge this bad-boy protagonist of Scott Phillips’s caustic crime novel . . . according to his own perverse code of ethics." —New York Times Book Review

"Phillips' novel is a brilliant work of noir, narrated in an Ogden deadpan that at times pokes the ghost of Raymond Chandler. Phillips' place of residence qualifies The Adjustment for this 'Best of St. Louis' honor, but regardless of where he chose to hang his hat, his book would rank among the best published this year." —The Riverfront Times, Best Book by a Local Author

“…as good, if not better, than The Ice Harvest . . . Like Jim Thompson with Lou Ford, Scott Phillips successfully manipulates the reader via Wayne Ogden. He forces you to stop on the side of the road, to look at the crash, and then to get out of your car to inspect every tiny details of this twisted wreckage of a man. The Adjustment is hardboiled, hardcore, and hard to put down.” —crimefictionlover.com

"Playing fast and loose with the dark side of the Greatest Generation, Scott Phillips once again creates a tight, funny noir that's rich in character, and makes the profane sacred." —from Indiebound's Next Great Reads selection

“Like all Phillips novels, you never know where The Adjustment is going and the storytelling is nothing less than completely compelling... [this is] the best novel that I’ve read all year.”– Spinetingler Magazine

Praise for Scott Phillips

“Scott Phillips is dark, dangerous and important . . . crime fiction at its best.” —Michael Connelly

“A fearless, ambitious writer who never makes a false move.” -George Pelecanos

“I simply can't wait to see what Scott Phillips will do next.” -Richard Russo

Library Journal
In this sequel to Phillips's Cottonwood, featuring photographer Bill Ogden's unsuccessful efforts to make 1872 Cottonwood, KS, a boomtown, our hero is now Bill Sadlaw of Denver, abandoned by classy wife Maggie, involved in a steamy affair, and investigating murder. VERDICT Not a squeaky clean 1950s TV-style Western but not brutally noir either, this is fun, propulsive reading for anyone who likes historicals with a touch of mystery.

Product Details

Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Maggie was unhappy. Six months with me in the wilderness–– proverbial but also, too often, literal––had sapped the joy from her, that delightful ésprit that had attracted me to her as much as her considerable physical charms. As disastrous and miserable as the summer and fall of 1873 had been, the coming winter augured still worse, and as the weather had begun growing cooler Maggie’s normally garrulous and cheerful disposition curdled into an ominous silence, which I feared would end with her walking out on me to take her chances elsewhere.
It was my fault that we had been living in such a rude and penurious manner, crisscrossing the plains and stopping in towns too new or poor to have a permanent photographer, there making stereographic pictures of those few residents who could afford such a luxurious memento. Few of these towns had a boarding house suitable for a woman’s custom, and many was the night we slept in a canvas tent camped along a river; we considered ourselves very fortunate when we occasionally obtained permission to sleep in a hayloft stinking of horse piss, bare planks bespeckled with swallow shit.
I knew, too, that she missed the company of other women, for the towns we visited were largely populated by males of the sort who wander the western areas of our country looking for opportunity; seeing Maggie’s reaction to these villages I understood that they were unlikely, barring some fantastic stroke of good fortune, to attract many of the softer sex.

And so when we arrived at the city of Omaha, Nebraska I thought to regain some of her favor by checking into the Cozzens House hotel, which was reputed to be the finest in the middle of the nation, despite the town’s reputation for roughness, violence, and general squalor. Viewed from a purely economic standpoint this was not the wisest course of action open to me, but I hoped Maggie’s spirits would revive once she’d tasted a bit of the vie de luxe away from which I’d spirited her.
As I signed the guest ledger in a lobby whose opulence verged on vulgarity I asked the clerk where I could securely store a wagon loaded with photographic equipment and chemicals. He sniffed before each sentence he spoke, as though an air of imperiousness might counteract his hickish demeanor.
“You can store it where you stable your animal, sir,” he said. “Burwick’s livery is across the street and they’ll lock it away real tight for you.”
“Pardon me, sir,” said a small, portly man standing nearby as I walked away from the desk holding the room key. He wore a well-cut suit of gabardine, and he spoke so quietly that it was necessary to lean in closely to understand what he was saying. This, I surmised, was due to embarrassment over his pronounced lisp.
“I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but am I to understand that I am addressing a member of the photographic profession?”
“You are,” I said.
“My name is Daniel B. Silas. I am an attorney-at-law, and it happens that I have a client who’s in need of a good photographer. You are staying only for the night, or could you be persuaded to stay in our city for a day or two?”
My head was cocked at quite an angle trying to understand him, and at first I heard “city” as “shitty,” but I maintained my poise and didn’t snicker. “Our plan was to depart in the morning,” I said, trying to appear casually disinterested but in fact overjoyed at the prospect of recouping what this extravagant interlude was draining from our meager savings. “I would have assumed that a town of this size was full of photographic studios.”
“Yes, sir, it is.” He looked around the lobby as though afraid he’d be overheard saying something incriminating, which piqued my interest further. “None of them will take this job. On moral grounds.”
“A-ha,” I said. “I understand. That’s not something I’d be willing to risk, either. In any event the world is already full of ‘girlie’ photographs.” I had no moral objections to dirty pictures, certainly––I had after all taken a few, purely for my own pleasure, back in Kansas––but I didn’t wish to run the risk of having them confiscated, thereby drawing attention to myself.
I had shocked him, and he hastened to correct my misapprehension. “Oh, no, sir, you mistake my intent. What this gentleman wants isn’t anything objectionable. His problem is the local fellows either think it’s buncombe or they can’t make it happen.”
“Can’t make what happen?”
He looked around, as though someone unseen might be listening, then leaned in just as I was doing.
“Make the spirits of the dead appear,” he whispered, his eyes widening for effect. “On a wet plate.”
Of course it was buncombe, of the purest and most foolish kind, but if there was money in it I was hardly in a position to turn it down. I’d never made a spirit photograph before but the gist of it was simple double exposure, and the examples I’d seen of the genre seemed either inartistic or unconvincing or both, and I loved a challenge.
“Oh, I can make them appear. Tell me, who’s this gentleman?”

Meet the Author

Scott Phillips is the author of The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway, Cottonwood, The Adjustment, and Rake. He was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas and lived for many years in France. He now lives with his wife and daughter in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Hop Alley 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago