Dirty Water by Duane Bradley
Book Review by Rich Duncan
Duane Bradley’s Dirty Water is the second entry into Unnerving’s Midnight Snacks chapbook series. These are shorter stories meant to be enjoyed in one sitting and explore the darkness of of both crime and horror fiction. Dirty Water takes place in 1986 and follows two small-time criminals Dolemite and Joey Warbeck as they plot a score they think will finally net them the big payday they’ve been chasing after their last attempt at bank robbery goes sideways. It’s a simple plan really. What business draws constant traffic? An adult bookstore. But they’re not looking at grabbing the tills, they’re gunning for the real money. The money that flows through the peep show booths and is harder to trace due to the anonymity its clients crave. The best part is, since all the cash is piles of coins in heavy bags, no dye packs will be present. What could possibly go wrong? An easy job quickly spirals out of control as Dolemite and Joey are thrust into a violent and bloody journey that proves crime doesn’t pay.
Bradley wastes no time dropping readers right in the thick of the action, opening with a tense scene following Joey after a botched job. Considering the short length of the story, this was a great decision by Bradley. It hooks the reader immediately, making them interested in seeing what happens next. That’s the core strength of Bradley’s story, taking an ambitious, no-frills approach and loading in plenty of action and violence with a rapid fire pacing that ensures you never lose interest. Dolemite and Joey have a natural chemistry as partners in crime and their banter is often humorous. While I was reading Dirty Water, I got the impression that while they’re not newcomers to the criminal underworld, they frequently wind up in more trouble than they can handle.
While the short format allows Bradley’s story to shine based on the plot and pacing, it hinders the character development to a degree. Bradley gives readers enough information about Dolemite and Joey to give them an idea of their friendship and that Dolemite is the “brains” of the operation, but something still seems to be missing. We don’t know how long they’ve worked together or why Joey and his sister don’t really get along. Dolemite and Joey are the most developed, but some of the supporting characters seem kind of flat. The story is still enjoyable without this information, but a few short sentences could have fleshed out their relationships and made the characterization stronger, especially when it comes to Erin. I also hate commenting on a story’s ending, but it did seem kind of abrupt. The storyline wraps up nicely, but it seems like there is supposed to be more and it just kind of…ends.
Overall, Dirty Water is an entertaining read and will appeal to those looking for a gritty, no frills crime story with lightening fast pacing. I had a blast following the misadventures of these two characters and I hope Bradley plans to revisit them soon. I could easily see this story expanding into a series of stories or novels and I think after reading Dirty Water, you’ll be clamoring for more stories featuring Dolemite and Joey too.
I love the idea of Unnerving’s limited edition Midnight Snacks chapbook stories. They offer readers a fast, enjoyable reading experience and Eddie Generous does an amazing job putting them together. They’re limited to 50 copies for each installment and have a unique format with high quality, vivid cover art and inserts. I kind of wish more independent publishers would offer limited editions like this, exploring different formats and story lengths at an affordable price point. If you haven’t checked out Unnerving before, check out some of their books as well as their magazine and podcast. Eddie is putting out some awesome work!