Look At Our Facebook Page Look At Our Twitter Page Buy Our Books On Amazon Buy Our Books On Our Paypal Shop

Murder Slim Review: THE FAVOR and NO STRINGS

Murder Slim Press's Reviews Murder Slim's Book Reviews The Favor No Strings Murder Slim's Reviews A to Z Murder Slim Press's Charles Bukowski and John Fante Reviews Murder Slim Press's Literary Film Reviews Murder Slim Press's Outsiders Film Reviews Murder Slim's Crime and Sleaze Reviews Return to MurderSlim.com

The nature of writing means you have control of what you do. As long as you steer clear of overactive editors (ahem, John Martin) the worlds you create are accurate portrayals of your feelings and desires. Reading NO STRINGS for a second time, and THE FAVOR for the fourth, what struck me was how they portray Mark SaFranko at two points in his life. NO STRINGS and THE FAVOR may be fictional crime novels, but there are many parallels to the Max Zajack semi-autobiographical works. That was part of the considerable enjoyment of revisiting them.

THE FAVOR is the much earlier book, published in 1987 by Aegina Press. Mark has said in a few interviews that he "shudders to think of its youthful flaws." Written when Mark was in his twenties, the youthful flaws are not apparent to me... THE FAVOR is a great short novel. The story charts the downfall of Timothy Biddle, an everyman who makes the mistake of letting loose for a night. Biddle - also a young man - has a controlling wife named Berenice, who is pregnant with their first child. Biddle is stagnating rather than happy. The lure of booze, a woman, then drugs, are what he needs to briefly break out. Things descend from there because THE FAVOR is, after all, a crime book... but one with the unique twist of SaFranko's personality and style.

The book is economically written with dashes of morbid humour. These are rare gifts in a writer and they define Mark's work. Check out this section of Page 42, which triggers Biddle's descent:
"What do you say Biddle? One for the road?"
Hunter picked up the bottle of whiskey and poured Biddle a double.
Lisa giggled. Her eyes were glazed and she was giddy. She moved as if she was in slow motion.
"See Biddle, that's all you have to tell her...any woman worth her salt would believe it...tell her how much you missed her..."
What the hell. It was only one a.m. or already one, depending on the way Berenice looked at it. What difference did one more drink make? She would know everything, despite what he did at this point.

The stripping of adverbs and adjectives are notable and gratifying. There's no fluff and the dialogue moves the situation forward whilst staying brief and realistic. You think that's easy? Name me ten writers that do it well. THE FAVOR runs at a lean 123 pages, which is rare for crime fiction. The urge for crime writers is to sink into soap opera, whereas THE FAVOR is much closer to reality. It's no surprise that Mark's confessional stuff reflects that acute ear for realism.

For me, THE FAVOR is the LOUNGE LIZARD era for Max Zajack and Mark SaFranko. The lure and dangers of women and booze are dominant. Biddle feels a repulsion of sinking into a dangerous world - he ends up having to cover up a death - but also a compulsion to escape the mundanities of thirty-something life. Max in LOUNGE LIZARD is equally fearful of his indiscretions. He fears AIDS, he gets a wart on his dick (which turns out to be a hair cut from a gal he's pooned), and he's briefly a suspect in a serial murder/rape case.

In contrast, NO STRINGS has more in touch with SOMETIMES YOU JUST DON'T WANT TO KNOW and THE ARTISTIC LIFE. NO STRINGS' first person anti-villain Richard is in his forties and married to the older - and rich - Monica. They have one child, Richard is disillusioned with life, and there's a healthy dose of desire for younger women. These themes heavily echo SOMETIMES' "Paradoxes Everywhere" and "Revenge". Of course, being a crime novel, Richard's desire for other women leads to far more trouble.

With NO STRINGS, you can see Mark having fun with dialogue:
“Got caught in a little traffic,” I lied. “And you know what it’s like trying to park in Manhattan.” Meanwhile I was thinking, I’d have to be insane to stand you up, baby.
I mustered up as much boyish innocence as I could. “So—are you glad I showed up?”
“So far. Unless, that is, you do something stupid.”
“Hey, I’m a male. There’s always that possibility.”

Again, the book is tightly written and the dialogue is exceptional. The only reason I'd rank it a little notch below THE FAVOR is that Richard is rich. Maybe his parents' predicted it? Every crime novel needs a trigger, but I preferred Timothy Biddle's almost accidental fall into disaster. Richard is a cynic, a failed writer who's weary of his wife's aging body, and that fuels his anger and downfall. Biddle's failure is the failure of the everyman, while Richard's is the failure of the moneyed asshole. Both prove for great reading, but I suppose I'll always plug for the loser.

I urge you to read both books. NO STRINGS is available on Amazon UK and Amazon USA, and most other sites. THE FAVOR is solely available through the MSP Paypal Shop, where signed copies are an absolute bargain.

Genre fiction is a tough nut to crack, so stick to a guy who's had it mastered since 1987. I remain envious that both books aren't on Murder Slim Press.

Review by Steve Hussy