Kentucky gonzo crime writer Greg Barth let me onto his podcast to talk about my books. So it seemed only right to return the favor and check out some of Mr. Barth’s work.
He is the author of a five-volume series about a hot piece of white-trash ass named Selena who ends up in a downward spiral of vendetta, violence, bourbon, drugs, sex, more sex, more bourbon, and a whole lotta killin’.
I read the first installment. I’ll keep going.
Although Selena is pure entertainment – you’ll be hard pressed to find a moral in this story, other than maybe don’t anally gang rape people, because you never know if they’re gonna turn out to be handy with sawed-off shotguns – it is a work of honed craft.
The straightforward simple language requires skill and thought. Barth has expressed his admiration for the work of Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) in interviews. Selena is not at the level of Stark’s Parker antihero. Then again, who is?
But she’s more than the comic-strip, post-exploitation chick-with-a-gun trope that is suggested by the book’s cover. (I’m not a fan of the cover art.)
Barth has constructed a protagonist with sympathy, and she’s fun to hang out with. Her honesty, a credit to Barth’s writing integrity, mitigates the nihilism of the story; Selena is more grindhouse than classic crime fiction. So if you’re into yarns for adults that get down and egregious, this Tarantino-esque fairytale fits the bill.
There are problems with Selena, however. It’s good that the main character carries the book. But Barth makes her do too much heavy lifting, because most of the other characters are straight outta central casting. The various hoodlums are interchangeable, most of them portrayed in terms of physical mass and a level of malice that’s always turned up to 11.
My second beef with Barth is the final section, in which he cuts away from Selena’s first-person account to throw in a few chapters told in the third person from an assassin’s perspective. Every cutaway jars. Moreover we don’t really learn anything important from the assassin’s perspective – nothing that really tells us anything about Selena, or advances her story.
Overall, however, Selena is a fun ride. Barth sets her up for trouble once, twice, thrice, each time burying her a level deeper. We know she’s going down, and Barth keeps the pages turning by surprising us with how. His action scenes are inventive and genuinely gruesome. I flinched at a couple of them. Barth takes risks with Selena: for fans of gritty action tales, they pay off.