Sunday, August 28, 2011

REVIEW: My Dog Needs Surgery

Steve Hockensmith's dog needs surgery, but vets are expensive. Not being independently wealthy, he did what any good tradesman would do... he packaged up some of his wares and started selling. Now, this being the 21st century, we're not talking about selling pots from a horsecart. Steve Hockensmith is an author; his words are his wares; and the Internet, not the sidewalk, is his marketplace.

I must admit that I'd never heard of Steve Hockensmith until I saw a tweet where he offered a free copy of his ebook to anyone who'd review it. I didn't know he was a critically successful author whose first novel, Holmes on the Range, was a finalist for the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony awards for best first novel. I didn't know that his short stories had been published again and again in Ellery Queen magazine. I didn't know he was the guy who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I didn't know he had a Wikipedia page.

No, all I knew was that I will write a review of the ad copy on a cereal box if it earns me free cereal; and hey... free book!  I also knew that I liked his approach and attitude. This may be the 21st century, but since the dawn of Time a man's survival has depended upon his willingness to go out there, kill something, and drag it back to the cave. Steve Hockensmith has that. He makes no bones about it... he's writing for a living, this is how you pay the bills, and please just buy something already, so the vet can get paid. Even if it proved to be a chore I was going to read this book.

Well, it's not a chore. To give you the ending first, Columbo-style, I like the book a lot. so much so that I'm going to refer to the author as "Steve" from now on, as if he were my buddy and not some writer guy who sent some random schmuck a free book to review just because his dog needs surgery (which is all true, but beside the point).

Having not even read the blurb before diving into the book, I suppose I was expecting it to be in the Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry tradition. Not so! I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be an eclectic collection of mystery, humor, and essays. My first impression, of course, came from the very first story, "The Unfortunate Fortune", in which a diner is treated to an "explanation" of the history of the fortune cookie from his his bullshit artist friend... an explanation that involves a court case in which no less than the future of an entire industry is at stake. This is an old-school American Short Story, very much in the tradition of Mark Twain or O. Henry.

I was impressed, so I kept reading. I found the next piece to be, not another humorous short story, but a humorous essay about writing, and very good advice at that. Still impressed, I kept reading. The third was a cop story entitled "Erie's Last Day". Not humorous, but poignant and intelligent, and it hooked me. Steve is an artist with more than one emotion to share. Where there's humor, it isn't forced; where there's pathos, it isn't thrust upon you. He doesn't tell you what to feel... he puts you in his characters' shoes so you can feel it for yourself.

What we have in this book is a Whitman's Sampler of my pal Steve's work for only 99 cents from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Smashwords, easily worth eight times as much. Read this and I dare you not to go back and buy one of his other books. I'll let you in on a secret. Even though I got a copy of this one for free, I still bought it, and went back for Dear Mr. Holmes.

So what are you waiting for, you heartless bastard? The dog needs surgery!

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