Rogue is an anthology of twenty two stories produced by Near to the Knuckle featuring the titular characters. The stories are set in a variety of locations - wartime London, the USA, the town just down the road from where I live (I kid you not - Northumberland may seem an odd choice of location for a gritty piece of crime fiction but An Imperfect Arrangement by Gary Duncan is set right there) and, in Fish Out of Water by Aidan Thorn, an independent aquarium shop.
The word rogue suggests a rather benign character, a scoundrel or scamp, but the examples on display here are far removed from that definition and the criminals, drug pushers, private detectives and hitmen encountered on these pages provide a wide variety of violent death and torture. There's politics too - though in a subtle, tangential way and even some humour - though of the darkest variety. The latter is most evident in Paul D Brazill's Route 66 and All That which introduces an entertaining set of hapless criminals and contains some zinging one-liners.
Most of the rogues feature here are already established characters before the story begins but a couple of the stories are almost "coming of age"tales wherein extreme circumstances force a character into doing something terrible.
The writing throughout is of a high standard, rising above the pulp origins of the theme and, as might be expected in a book with a definite hint of noir, a third of them are written in a first person narrative. This works well, getting inside the heads of the protagonists but probably the best analysis o the psychology of the villain comes in A Week of Sundays by T. Maxim Simmler in which an escape to the country for a club bouncer makes for some contemplation and an acceptance of his true nature.
I found the first person narrative most effective in Ryan Bracha's Weekend Dad, an incredibly dark piece of writing which provides a nasty twist at the end of a particularly grim story. (It also references one of my favourite albums, El Camino by the Black Keys but that's beside the point...)
There's a detached, dispassionate quality to the writing in Don't Tell by Gabriel Valjan which only serves to intensify the horror of what is happening and which made it one of the highlights of the collection for me.
Horror is precisely the right word to describe what happens in Old Times by Benedict J Jones, a searing destruction of one man's American dream in which petty criminal Danny finds out that his movie and novel generated vision of America is very, very different to actual reality. It's a hard, uncompromising read and one which cleverly deconstructs the glamorous view of the criminal as anti-hero.
Rogue is a fine collection of stories. One or two perhaps out-stay their welcome - this type of story I feel always benefits from brevity, a rapid, punchy style - and a couple mis-fire in their attempts to try and be too shocking. The good far outweighs the bad though and it's a collection I recommend.
You can buy it here.