When I first read Marie S. Crosswell’s “Texas, Hold Your Queens,” I was struck by the ferocity of its prose. It’s a novella with serious teeth, which it sinks into some pretty meaty themes: vengeance, justice, love, trauma, death. Although it takes place in the desert, it’s also a very different beast from the glut of neo-Western-noirs that have hit bookshelves over the past few years—a multi-character study that goes into some seriously uncomfortable places, and leaves you thinking.
Crosswell and I conducted a brief interview about the book on Shotgun Honey’s website. You can read it in its entirety there; I included one bit of Q&A below because it neatly encapsulates what a lot of crime writers wrestle with:
NK: Revenge, or at least the attempt to balance accounts through blood, seems like a thread that runs both through this book and your recent short story, “Tinder,” which appeared in Tough magazine. What draws you to it as a narrative device?
MC: Vengeance has been a theme in my crime fiction since I started writing it, and I’m not entirely sure why. I think the theme goes hand-in-hand with another one that’s prominent in Texas, Hold Your Queens, which is the inadequacy of the legal system when it comes to punishing violent crime. Sometimes, that inadequacy looks like a guilty man getting away with what he did or being under-sentenced, but even a lengthy prison sentence or the death penalty (which these days, means several years of life in prison prior to execution, anyway) can feel inadequate when the man in question has done something beyond the pale.
I could go deeper and say that my crime fiction questions (and ultimately dismisses) the idea that prison or even state execution are sufficient punishment for maliciously violent criminals, and that there is no such thing as justice for victims of rape or malicious murder. What are we even talking about when we use the word “justice”? Why does the state get to decide what that looks like, instead of the victim of the crime or the victim’s loved ones? Realistically, what satisfaction is there for them, in seeing a rapist or a malicious murderer go to prison? Why should a man who destroys someone else’s life or spirit get to live the rest of his life and enjoy physical safety to boot, and can we really call that justice? These are questions that my crime fiction wrestles with, sometimes below the surface.
The desire for revenge is a primitive human urge, part of the non-rational, animalistic brain. A quest for vengeance is one of the oldest themes in human story-telling, one that we never tire of. It’s cathartic for us as readers or audience members to see someone get their revenge; there’s a profound sense of the wrong having been righted or the scales being balanced, that I don’t think we feel in response to a criminal being convicted in a court. And I guess that there is a catharsis for me as a writer, telling stories about people who get their revenge, stories where “justice” is an eye for an eye.
There’s more (much more!) over at Shotgun Honey.
Back to self-promotion: we’re running a Goodreads giveaway for “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” through Oct. 10. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up the book yet, here’s your opportunity to try and win a free copy. More than 150 people signed up in the first few days we had the link up, so I can’t guarantee *fantastic* odds of winning… but hey, a shot is a shot.
I also have a new story up at Out of the Gutter Online. It’s called “Auditions,” and it’s about a teenage miscreant whose big-shot lawyer father forces her to work the reception desk at his law firm. Hijinks ensue (but only a little bit of blood spills, I promise), including a bit of derring-do with a very spiked heel: