“There's a new name to add to the pantheon of the sons and daughters of Cain: Dave Zeltserman. His new novel, Small Crimes , is ingeniously twisted and imbued with a glossy coating of black humor… The plot of Small Crimes ricochets out from [its] claustrophobic opening, and it's a thing of sordid beauty.”- Maureen Corrigan for NPR’s Best Books of 2008
“Unputdownable. Classic noir, dark, funny, shocking and absolutely no compromise. Pure magic of the blackest kind.”—Ken Bruen
“A superbly crafted tale. Like the very best of modern noir, this is a story told in shades of grey. This deserves to be massive.”—Allan Guthrie
“Zeltserman delves deeply into his specialty, an unorthodox look at the criminal mind. It kept me turning pages and glancing over my shoulder.”—Vicki Hendricks
Set in the pressure cooker of a very small town and following the promise of Dave Zeltersman’s earlier novels ( Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts ), Small Crimes is an explosive noir that brings the claustrophobic hell of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain right up to date.
Dave Zeltserman lives in the Boston area with his wife, Judy. He is a die-hard Patriots and Red Sox fan, and when he’s not writing crime fiction, he spends his time working on his black belt in Kung Fu.
|Publisher:||Serpent's Tail Publishing Ltd|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Dave Zeltserman lives in the Boston area with his wife Judy; is a die-hard Patriots and Red Sox fan; and when he's not writing crime fiction, he spends his time working on his black belt in Kung Fu.
Read an Excerpt
This was going to be our last game of checkers. Usually we played in my cell; this last game, though, we were playing in Morris's office. Over the last seven years we had played tens of thousands of games. Every fourth or fifth game I'd win, the rest I'd let him beat me.
Morris Smith ran the county jail here in Bradley. He was a large round man in his early sixties, with soft rubbery features and small wisps of hair framing his mostly bald head. I liked Morris - at least as much as I liked anyone. He could have made my life difficult the past seven years; instead he treated me about as well as he could've.
I spent a few seconds studying the board and saw that I could force a checker advantage and a sure win, but I could also set myself up to be triple-jumped. I pretended to be deep in thought for a couple of minutes and then made the move to let him force the triple jump.
Morris sat silently, his small eyes darting over all the possible moves. I saw a momentary glint in his eyes when he recognized the combination leading to the triple jump, and watched with some amusement as he tried to suppress a smile. He pushed his checker in place with a large, thick hand that shook.
'I think you made a mistake there, young fellow,' he said, his voice coming out in a low croak.
I sat there for a long moment and then cursed to show that I realized how I had screwed up. Letting loose one last profanity, I made the move I was forced to make and watched as Morris pounced on the board, making his triple jump and picking up my checkers.
'That should be about it,' he said.
We played outthe rest of the moves. I knew Morris took great satisfaction in removing the last checker from the board. When the game was over, he gave a slight smile and offered me his hand in a conciliatory shake.
'You gave me a good game,' he said, 'except for that one mistake.'
'What can I say? You've been kicking my ass for seven years now. I just got to admit I've met my match.'
Morris chuckled, obviously pleased with himself. He glanced at his watch. 'Your paperwork is all done. You're a free man. But if you'd like, I could order us some lunch and we could play one more game.'
'I'd like to, but it's been a long seven years. I've been craving a cheeseburger and a few beers for some time now.'
'I could have that brought here.'
'Well, yeah,' I said, hesitating, 'but you could get in trouble doing that, Morris. And, besides, it wouldn't taste the same in here. No offense.'
He nodded, some disappointment showing on his round face.
'Joe, I've grown to like you over the last few years. I didn't think I would after what you did to get yourself in here. Can I give you some friendly advice?'
'Why don't you start fresh someplace else? Maybe Florida? Myself, soon as I retire in three years, I'm moving to Sarasota. You can keep these lousy New England winters.'
'That's not bad advice, but one of the conditions of my parole is to stay in Bradley-'
'You could petition for a change of address.'
'Well, yeah, I guess I could, but my parents are getting up there in age, and I'd like to make up for lost time.'
He shrugged. 'I hope you at least think about it. I don't think Bradley's a good place for you anymore.'
'I appreciate the advice. But I don't have much choice in the matter. At least not right now.'
We stood up and shook hands. I turned away to pick up my duffel bag and Morris asked whether I wanted to call my parents for a ride. I told him I'd get a cab. I made a quick phone call, signed whatever paperwork I had to, and was led out of the building by Morris. A cab was waiting for me, but there was a man bent over, talking to the driver. The cab pulled away, and as the man stood up I recognized him instantly. I'd have to with the way his face was carved up and the thick piece of flesh that was missing from his nose. At one time, he had been a good-looking man, but that was before he had been stabbed thirteen times in the face.
Morris looked a bit uncomfortable. 'Well, uh,' he said, 'it was a pleasure having you as my guest, young fellow. If you ever want to stop by for a lesson on the theory of checkers, feel free.' Then, seriously, 'Try to stay out of trouble.'
He gave me a pat on the back and waved to the other man before disappearing back into the building. The other man stood grinning, but it didn't extend to his eyes. Looking at him was like staring at an open-mouthed rattlesnake.
I nodded to him. 'I don't want any trouble, Phil,' I said.
Phil Coakley just stood grinning with eyes that were hard glass. Phil was the district attorney in our county. I knew he'd been stabbed thirteen times in the face because that's how many times they told me I'd stabbed him. That was a good part of the reason I'd spent the last seven years in county jail.
'I'm sorry for what happened,' I said, keeping my distance.
Phil waved me over, his grin intact, but still nothing in his eyes. 'I don't want any trouble either, Joe,' he said. 'As far as I'm concerned you've paid your debt to society, and what's done is done. I just want to clear the air, make sure there are no hard feelings. Come on over here. Let's talk for a minute.'
I didn't like it, but I didn't feel as if I had any choice. When I moved closer to him, I could see the scarring along his face more plainly, and it was all I could do to keep from looking away. The damage was far worse up close. He looked almost as if someone had played tic-tac-toe on his face. As if he were some grotesque caricature from a Dick Tracy comic strip. Parts of his face were uneven with other parts, and that chunk of flesh missing from his nose, Jesus Christ. As tough as doing so was, I kept my eyes straight on him.
'I hope you don't mind, Joe,' he said, 'but I asked your taxi to come back so we could talk for a few minutes.'
'Sure, that's fine.'
'I've been waiting out here almost an hour. Your parole was supposed to be completed by noon.'
'You know how Morris is. He takes his time with things.'
Phil gave a slow nod. 'Look at you,' he said, 'Joe, I think jail agrees with you. Your beer gut's gone. Damn, you look better now than you've looked in years. But I guess you can't say the
same about me.'
'If there was any way I could go back and change what I did-'
'Yeah, I know, don't worry about it. What's done is done.' He paused for a moment, his grin hardening again. 'I often wondered how you were able to serve out your time in a county jail. Arson, attempted murder, maiming a district attorney, and you end up in a county jail. I've been trying for the last seven years to have you moved to a maximum security prison, but I guess you were born under a lucky star. Even drawing Craig Simpson as your parole officer.'
I didn't say anything. He gave a careless shrug, still grinning. 'But that's all in the past,' he said. 'You paid your debt, even though seven years doesn't quite seem long enough. What was
your original sentence? Twenty-four years?'
'Sixteen to twenty-four,' I said.
'Sixteen to twenty-four years.' Phil let out a short whistle. 'It seems to me like a hell of a short sentence for what you did. And you only had to serve out seven years of it in county jail, all the time being waited on hand and foot by old Morris Smith.'
'It hasn't been all that easy. My wife divorced me-'
'Yeah, I know. My wife divorced me, too.' He paused. 'I guess she had a difficult time looking me straight in the face.'
He had lost his grin. I just stared at him, stared at the mass of scar tissue that I was responsible for. After a while, I asked him what he wanted.
'I just wanted to clear the air,' he said. 'Make sure there are no hard feelings between the two of us. Also, I want to talk a little police business with you. After all, you were a police officer in this town for twelve years. You hear that Manny Vassey's dying of cancer?'
'I heard something about it.'
Phil forced his grin back and shook his head slightly. 'The man's only fifty-six and he's dying of stomach cancer. Manny always was a tough bird. Normally I wouldn't have a chance of cracking him, but, when a man's dying, sometimes he needs to unburden himself. You know, at one point I think every drug, gambling, and prostitution dollar that flowed through Vermont went into his hands. You remember Billy Ferguson? I think you investigated his murder.'
'I guess you would,' he said. 'It's not as if we have a lot of murders here, and I don't think we ever had one as brutal as that one. How many years ago was that?'
'I don't know. Maybe ten.'
Phil thought about it and shook his head. 'I think it was less than eight and a half years ago. Only a few months before you maimed me. I'll tell you, Joe, that was one hell of a brutal murder. I don't think I ever saw anyone beaten as badly as Ferguson was.' He waited for me to say something, but I just stood there and stared back at him. After a while he gave up and continued.
'Billy Ferguson was in way over his head with gambling debts,' he said. 'As far as I could tell, he owed Manny thirty thousand dollars. I suspect Manny sent one of his thugs over to collect and the situation got out of hand. Do you remember anything from your investigation?'
'That was a long time ago. But as I remember, we hit a brick wall. No fingerprints, no witnesses, nothing.'
'Well, I'm not giving up on it. I'm making it a point to visit Manny religiously.' Phil laughed, but his grin was long gone. 'I'm spending time each day reading him the Bible. I think he's beginning to see the light. With a little bit of luck I'll get a confession any day now and clear up Ferguson's murder along with a few other crimes that have always bugged me.'
I didn't bother saying anything. He was wasting his time, but he'd find that out for himself. Manny Vassey was joined at the hip with the Devil, and there wasn't a chance in hell he'd ever find God or confess to anything. My cab pulled back up to us. Before I could say a word, Phil grabbed my duffel bag from me and swung it into the cab's trunk. 'Be seeing you around, Joe,' he said as he walked off.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Those who know Dave Zeltserman's writing, either through the now closed and very much missed Hardluck Stories e-zine (shut down due to Dave's increasing success as a novelist with "Pariah" due out in October and "Killer" out next January among other projects and a movie deal) or his novel work, know that Dave Zeltserman looks at things from a dark point of view. That certainly is the case here in "Small Crimes." Former cop Joe Denton has spent the last seven years of his life in the county jail for a crime he most certainly did commit. Sentenced to sixteen to twenty-four years for arson, attempted murder, and maiming a district attorney strings were pulled to keep him at the local county jail. Released, Joe Denton will return home to Bradely, Vermont. He has lost his wife and daughters, a twelve year career in law enforcement, and has very limited prospects. Nobody in the area, including his parents whom he will be staying with at the start of his parole, wants him around. Certainly not the maimed district attorney whose face was stabbed 13 times by Joe in an attack that has left Phil Coakley virtually unrecognizable as human. Dan Pleasant, Sheriff of Bradley County, doesn't want Joe around either because Joe could lead investigators to Dan's own corruption. Then there is Manny Vessey and his son who are the local mafia crime bosses and they don't want Joe around. While everyone involved, except for Phil, is graceful Joe kept his mouth shut during his incarceration, they don't trust him to continue to do so and his being around serves as a constant reminder of the past and those secrets. Before he leaves town, and everyone has made it clear to him that he should, Sheriff Dan Pleasant wants Joe to complete one final job. Manny is dying in a local hospital because of terminal cancer. Phil Coakley visits every single day using the bible and salvation as leverage in a hope to get Manny to confess to all he knows. Manny isn't the hard edged man he once was and facing death closing in on him just might start talking. That could send everyone around, including Joe, to prison and worse. So, Sheriff Pleasant wants either Manny killed or Joe can finish the job on Phil and put him out of his misery. Killing either one solves the problem as the Sheriff is concerned and he doesn't care which one dies. Joe cares and figures there has to be a way of solving the issue without doing more damage let alone killing anyone. Joe came out promising to keep to the straight and narrow for himself as well as an attempt to correct the past as best he could and get his family back. But, Sheriff Pleasant isn't the only one putting pressure on Joe Denton to go back on his plans and do what needs to be done by any means necessary. The problems rain down upon him and the pressure mounts as Joe fights to make things finally right. As in "Fast Lane" and "Bad Thoughts" Dave Zeltserman takes a flawed narrator who could be anyone and puts him in an everyday situation that could fit most people. Then, he ratchets up the pressure on all involved. Like the author's other novels, this novel is primarily a character study of one man, who isn't totally aware of himself and his actions, coping as best as he can against a myriad of forces stacked against him. The question to the end is whether or not he can save anyone- including himself. Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009
This review from the Washington Post in Nov 2008 led me to read this book and I am so glad that I did. The following is an exerpt:"Small Crimes is a paperback original, so fans don't even have to shell out the big bucks they no longer have for this piece of crime-noir genius. "This tale is told by a first-person narrator who's one of fortune's fools. Joe Denton is a crooked ex-cop in Bradley, Vt., who's just been released from jail after serving seven years for stabbing the local district attorney, Phil Coakley, 13 times in the face with a letter opener. Joe was coked up at the time, and he was rifling the d.a.'s office trying to find documents that fingered him as being part of a police corruption ring. Unfortunately, Phil turned up just as Joe was pouring gasoline around the office....If you're new to the conventions of crime noir, you might well think that Joe sounds like a reasonable guy and that he's ready to start over now that his debt to society has been paid. Wrong. What's past is never past in crime noir. No sooner does Joe step out of the jailhouse than cosmic I.O.U.s begin to rain down on his head. First, the grossly disfigured Phil greets Joe right outside the slammer. Phil perkily breaks the news that Manny Vassey, the local crime kingpin, is dying, has suddenly found religion and is likely to clutch at redemption by confessing his crimes. "Manny's 11th-hour mea culpa could send Joe straight back behind bars, since Joe (a gambler as well as a cokehead) was known to be in debt to Manny (and, thus, in his vile employ). Then Joe gets a "welcome back" phone call from the sheriff, who still runs the ring of crooked cops that once included Joe. The sheriff tells Joe that he needs to finish the job he started in Phil Coakley's office lo those many years ago, because if Manny squawks to Phil about all that's rotten in the little burg of Bradley, Joe's head will roll. What's a loser like Joe to do in a no-win situation like this but go out to the local tavern, where he digs himself into a deeper and deeper mess? "The plot of Small Crimes is a thing of beauty: spare but ingeniously twisted and imbued with a glossy coating of black humor. Zeltserman takes up all the familiar tropes of the formula -- femmes fatales, frighteningly dysfunctional families, self-destructive drives and the death grip of the past -- and shows how infinite are the combinations that can still be played on them. "
A good book that kept me interested to the end with the innumerable ways the author found of inflicting fresh misery on the central character. In the beginning I felt a certain amount of sympathy for Joe Denton but it had faded by the end and was only interested in finding out whether he could emerge unscathed and I didn't foresee the conclusion. I will certainly keep an eye out for more of Zeltserman's work and at 7 out of 10 it probably was hard done by following up so soon after some quite superb novels.
A surprisingly solid crime and action novel, and while based in a small town is no small achievement. The main character Joe Denton is an ex-cop just released from prison for brutally stabbing a district attorney while under the influence. Denton is a gambling addict whose previous actions have betrayed his family and daughters--a fact that the author does not paint into the story enough. While burying Denton's history as driver for the motivations of his ex-wife, parents and community members may make the protagonist someone who is appealing, continued bad guys trying to snuff life and/or money from Denton makes this almost a noir work. Characters were a bit underdeveloped but the book was well edited, taut, and gut-wrenching at times. All too realistic, the ending includes a requisite twist that is unpredictable and rewarding.
Hard to put down
Writers of noir don't often supply happy endings for their tales of the dark side of human nature. So it is here, with a corrupt cop finally getting out of jail, but finding his past catches up with him quickly. The title and theme show perfectly how a series of small, bad decisions lead one into a hell that is hard to escape from. The main character, Joe Denton, wants to do better, but at every turn is beset with ghosts of his past crimes. Trouble with his parents, his ex, his community, his criminal ex-partners, his former co-workers, all builds to mount a savage attack on his well-being. He manages a bit of an opportunistic romance, but even that has a darkness to it. A good lesson in paying attention to the choices one makes. This tough situation makes for a stellar read.
Fans of James Lee Burke looking for a read to tide them over between Dave Robicheaux novels will find a worthy diversion in, "Small Crimes," by Dave Zeltserman. Like a darker version of Robicheaux, Small Crimes' flawed antihero, Joe Denton, tells his story in a first-person narrative. Denton might lack Robicheaux's flare for atmospheric description but he makes up that with a riveting story that spirals downward from the first chapter. Denton, an ex-deputy sheriff, challenges your sympathies from the opening pages when he's released after serving seven years for mauling the face of the local district attorney with a letter opener. Denton admits his crimes and shady past, not the least of which is a gambling addiction that brought on most of his troubles, in punishing detail. In spite of that, Denton manages to come off as less corrupt than the circle of past associates tightening around him, including a sheriff who runs his county like a mafia don. As Denton struggles to reclaim his life and custody of his children, he clashes with everyone, including his own parents. Despite Denton's flaws and crimes, he proves clever and resourceful enough to root for right up to the head-snapping ending.
Bradley County police officer Joe Denton moonlighted for local mafia chief Manny Vassey doing all sorts of mostly SMALL CRIMES to pay off his gambling debts and to insure no harm came to his wife Elaine or their two preadolescent daughters. District Attorney Phil Coakley caught Joe breaking into his office panicked into a berserker rage the crooked cop stabs the DA thirteen times in the face with a screwdriver. He scarred the DA for life. Joe confessed, is convicted and goes to the county prison.------------------ Seven years later Joe is paroled and moves in with his parents who do not want him there. His wife left town with the kids with a new name and no forwarding address. Vengeful Phil wants to hang Joe and feels he has a reliable source if he can crack the dying Manny who fears he is going to hell if he fails to confess his sins. Crooked county Sheriff Dan Pleasant, who took care of Joe while he was in prison, reminds him of the Ferguson homicide and warns him he either kills Vassey or Coakley if he does not want Plan B implemented because the lawman knows he faces twenty years hard time otherwise.------------- This crime Noir stars a former crooked cop unable to overcome his past as the key players from back then seem to converge on him now that he is ¿free¿ though he would argue otherwise. Readers will appreciate Dave Zeltserman¿s character driven tale as Joe¿s options are limited obviously by the triangulation that he feels is strangling him and by his own amoral outlook not having his three beloved females nearby increases his anti-societal tendencies. Fans will appreciate this deep Noir-lit as Phil and Dan put the pressure on Joe while Manny is the one who can send him up for life.---------- Harriet Klausner
I don¿t know about this one. I read it and can¿t get beyond the fact a group of killer cops feel they need to give Denton an ultimatum. He¿s the only other guy besides the alredy dying one who can burn them so why not kill him? It doesn¿t make sense to me. Why do they need Denton to do the dirty deed? Are they suddenly concerned about getting caught? A lot of unnecessary drama for the sake of moving the story along, I thought. It was difficult to swallow once the ultimatum was issued and that made everything beyond that even harder to swallow.
The plot made zero sense.