BAD JUJU & OTHER TALES OF MADNESS AND MAYHEM by Jonathan Woods (2010)
Review by Mike Dennis
“You’ll never take me alive, coppers.”
Been awhile since you’ve heard that line, right. Sounds like it was lifted straight from a 1930s Jimmy Cagney movie, doesn’t it? Probably hasn’t been used in literature in at least that long, right?
Well, Jonathan Woods uses it, and to great effect, inÂ Looking For Goa, one of the stunning entries inÂ Bad Juju & Other Tales Of Madness And Mayhem, his 2010 collection of edgy short stories. This snappy read by New Pulp Press has broken new ground for avant-garde noir with Woods, one of the early additions to their string of original voices.
In this debut book, which features an outstanding cover designed by Kenney Mencher, Woods offers tales from the inner city to the tropics to rural America, characters who hover over the abyss while maintaining at least a shred of humanity. One by one, they march to the edge, each time as a result of their own bad choices, and then, in true noir fashion, wonder how they got there.
In fact, Woods’ central characters are for the most part average Joes and Janes, who just want to get through life without any hassles. For them, however, “getting through life” often entails activities such as adultery, bank robbery, and murder. If only they wouldn’t have to get in trouble for doing these things! Why doesn’t everyone just leave them alone?
InÂ Then What Happened, Bill and Inez are getting together for a little afternoon frolic while Inez’s husband is out of town. Bill narrates: “Rearing like Godzilla from the depths of Tokyo Bay, I fall forward, burying my face in her crotch.” You get the idea. They’re having a grand old time while the TV is showing Barbara Stanwyck planning to murder her husband inÂ Double Indemnity. Everything is just wonderful, but then…
Ah, there’s always a “but then”, isn’t there. For Bill and Inez, it leads them straight into one of Woods’ nightmare scenarios, and before you can say “Kiss me deadly”, they’re ass-deep in hell.
There’s a story of a slimy, slithering wormlike animal crawling up the nose of Ray, the central character inÂ What The Fuck Was That?Â Is it just some frightened little creature who has lost its way? Is this the opening salvo of a race of brain-devouring worms from outer space looking to conquer Earth? Or did Ray hallucinate the whole thing? The author doesn’t stop with alien worms.Â He throws aÂ story at you about a tiger shark on the cusp of evolutionary upheaval.
The stories are crisp, punchy, and most importantly, not what you’re expecting. Woods has taken plenty of chances here, running out to the end of the limb with his offbeat take on the short story. WithÂ Bad Juju, he’s strapped the format onto his back and carried it into thick, unmapped jungle, chopping his way through it with a perfect mix of sharp prose, black humor, and vivid plots. His next book is going to be a novel, and I for one, will be looking forward to it.