Novel Review–Black River


Saturday Evening Post, 6/13/59. Source:

Beneath the surface of Black River, the taut debut by S.M. Hulse, flows the grey enigma of ultimate justice. The narrative forces the reader to ask: Does a recidivist criminal capable of torture, yet claiming to have found Jesus, deserve parole? Or would such redemption be an injustice to the man he brutalized decades earlier? By the time former prison guard Wes Carver confronts the inmate who tortured him—slowly, finger-by-finger (“Williams didn’t just snap. He twisted”) during a prison riot—we’re burning to learn the fate in store for both men.



e-Book Launch: Dundee International Book Prize

Extracts from the work of shortlisted novelists for the 2014 Dundee International Book Prize are now available in e-Book format.  Priced to move at $0.00!

DIB 2014

Congratulations to my shortlisted compadres Sheena Lambert of Dublin, Rachel Fenton of Auckland, Amy Mason of Bristol, Veronica Birch of the West Country, Rosaliene Bacchus of California, Jasper Dorgan of Wiltshire, Suzy Norman of London, Robin Martin of New York, and Lora Hughes of Yorkshire.

The Dundee International Book Prize is a collaboration between the University of Dundee, Cargo Publishing, and Dundee City Council’s “One City Many Discoveries” campaign.  Author Neil Gaiman, broadcaster Kirsty Lang, publisher Scott Pack, literary agent Felicity Blunt and writer Stuart Kelly are among the judges for the prize, which includes a book deal and £10,000.  Next the shortlist will be shaved down to three finalists before the eventual winner is announced at the Dundee Literary Festival this October.  The winning book will be published by Cargo.

More about my submission, Sea Never Dry.  Or better yet, read it on the compilation!


Sea Never Dry on Second Award List


Leapfrog Press announced their fiction contest results for 2014.  My manuscript for Sea Never Dry was named a semifinalist.   

Thick with spies and fetish priests, Internet fraudsters and the  orphans turning a buck on Ghana’s e-waste ash heaps, Sea Never Dry centers on the conflict between Western development efforts and lucrative criminal activity in the developing world.  Read More

Congrats to the others on the list, and good luck to the finalists as they move on to the final round!


An Old Horse Named Troy (middle-grade novel) by Ashley Mace Havird (Louisiana)
Andretti in the El Camino (stories) by Terrance Manning, Jr. (Pennsylvania)
Tiki Man (novel) by Thomas M. Atkinson (Ohio)
The Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles (novel) by Gregory Hill (Colorado)
One Eye Closed Tight Against the Coming Jesus (stories) by Shane Stricker (West Virginia)


Go Home (novel) by Sohrab Homi Fracis (Florida)
Insulting the Flesh (stories) by James Reed (Nebraska)
Twilight (stories) by Helen Degen Cohen (Illinois)
Sea Never Dry (novel) by Ben East (Virginia)
Love War Stories (stories) by Ivelisse Rodriguez (New Jersey)
The Beautiful Gathering (novel) by Antoinette Mehler (Colorado)
Love, Longing, and Exile (stories) by Bipin Aurora (California)
The Outskirts of Nowhere (stories) by Robert McGuill (Colorado)
Unredeemed: Hateful and other stories (stories) by EC Hanlon (Massachusetts)
By the Fountain of the Four Rivers (linked stories) by Tony Ardizzone (Oregon)


The Other Side of Silence (stories) by George Harrar (Massachusetts)
The Magic Laundry (stories) by Jacob M. Appel (New York)
Tandy Caide, C.P.A. (novel) by Stephanie Wilbur Ash (Minnesota)
King of the Gypsies (stories) by Lenore Myka (Massachusetts)
Cross-Eyed Monkey Cabaret (stories) by Aaron Tillman (Massachusetts)
Missionaries (stories) by David Ebenbach (Washington, DC)
Penpals and other stories (stories) by Robert Perchan (South Korea)
The Limp and the Lens (middle-grade novel) by Brigit Mikusko (New York)
The Negro Claim (novel) by Kim McLarin (Massachusetts)
The Patchwork Variations (stories) by Manini Nayar (Pennsylvania)
Woman at the Window (novel) by Mary Anderson Parks (California)

Sea Never Dry began as a short story originally published as One Dead Cop in 2012 by Umbrella Factory Magazine.  It is shortlisted for the 2014 Dundee International Book Prize.

Review – The Family Hightower

Blood Sport and the American Dream


Sugar Ray Robinson v Jimmy Doyle, 1947. Photographer not cited.  Web.

The Family Hightower takes a savage and intelligent look at the American Dream, asserting an inextricable link between capitalism and crime in a voice that borders on the eternal.  Appropriate, considering the timeless and unattainable aspiration of Brian Francis Slattery’s characters: to “get out”, to escape the prison of wealth and violence and guilt into which they’ve been cast owing to the sins of patriarch Peter Henry Hightower.


The Family Hightower
By Brian Francis Slattery
Seven Stories Press, Forthcoming September 2014
Reviewed by Ben East

Shortlisted for International Book Prize

The Dundee International Book Prize announced their short list for 2014.  Sea Never Dry, my novel about dirty cops and drug trafficking in West Africa, made the list.  Thick with spies and fetish priests, Internet fraudsters and the Ghanaian orphans turning a buck on Accra’s e-waste ash heaps, Sea Never Dry centers on the conflict between Western development efforts and lucrative criminal activity in the developing world.

The DIB Prize will soon publish excerpts from shortlisted novels.  Congrats to fellow shortlistees!

  • A Village Drowned – Sheena Lambert (Dublin, Ireland)
  • Some Things the English – Rachel J Fenton (Auckland, New Zealand)
  • Ida – Amy Mason (Bristol, England)
  • Daughters of the House of Love – Veronica Birch (West Country, England)
  • Under the Tamarind Tree – Rosaliene Bacchus (California, USA)
  • The Open Arms of the Sea – Jasper Dorgan (Wiltshire, England)
  • The Dreaming – Suzy Norman (London, England)
  • Out Like a Lion – Robin Martin (New York, USA)
  • Cats in a Pipe – Lora Hughes (Yorkshire, England)

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to present the opening chapters of Sea Never Dry here.  Thanks for reading, and please share!  -ben


August 2010

Kerri tried making Africa just another continent, a forgotten place very far away.  But Africa would not let go.

First there were the Jamaican migrants who passed her father’s farm each warm summer dusk.  She sat on the porch, baseball on the radio, and watched those sons of Africa in broken footwear move up the road to the Extra Mart.  There they purchased Slim Jims and pints of rum to liven up the watery beer rationed by the screws at the Colbro brothers’ tobacco farm.  They needed the booze after broiling afternoons bending their backs beneath the tobacco nets, slave labor in brutal heat.  Their appearance each summer was a fact she’d grown up with.  Their continued presence was the only thing about Scarborough that hadn’t changed during her twenty months away.

Read More

Sea Never Dry began as a short story originally published as One Dead Cop in 2012 by Umbrella Factory Magazine.





Crime Novel Review – Under A Russian Heaven


Laurence Walker’s debut novel opens on a high wire between the noir and the literary. Here’s an obviously talented writer with an instinct for giving and withholding detail, at once building and satisfying tension. His technique hints at a pulse just below the surface, something buried alive beneath layers of detail, which the author promises to pull back slowly, one-by-one.

On the surface a Russian and an Englishman share drinks outside the dingy “Nirvana” café. Below, a thug bullies unworldly expat James Eastaway… Read More


Crime Novel Review – The Carrier

Preston Lang’s discreetly funny debut crime novel The Carrier is an amoral story about semi-decent, semi-depraved, mostly-human people who eat and argue and screw genuinely enough as they pursue their proverbial pot of gold in parts unknown of the U.S.A. Some get what they got coming, some get less, others more, but always around the corner is another day and another twist of the knot and who knows if it’s money, drugs, gold, or death that awaits.


Readers may not know that the man behind Preston Lang spent the late 90’s living in a dusty little corner of Southern Africa, where both his unique outlook on crime and his affinity for the off-beat were entered into evidence: his home-alarm system of Carlsberg empties mustered around an unlocked wooden door; his entertainment for high-end guests at the ambassador’s Fourth of July reception – tickling the ivories to the tune of Oh, Canada.

Slow at times, often dead funny, the book entertains without pretense before racing through a brutal, breathless, corkscrew finish.




One Dead Cop

Taillights cut a pool of red in the dark where three African heavies in police uniform manned the makeshift roadblock.  A fourth figure loomed over the driver-side door two cars up.  The cops held their rifles clumsily.  Probably they were cops, Raines thought. Criminals in the West African Republic handled weapons better than the police did.  The cops moved alongside and scrutinized his car, then took up positions at the rear.  Raines decided against running the blockade, though he doubted the rifles were loaded.  He checked his mirrors, all black; his watch, a faint glow.  He tapped the wheel.  Half past midnight.  Fifteen minutes since he’d left home.  Twenty since the Ops Center informed him of the cable requiring immediate action.

The big cop waved him up, palm downward, fingers beckoning with im- patience.  Raines lowered his tinted win- dow before the cop could tap it with his dirty hand.  Sweat- and booze-reek poured through the window on the humid air.  The cop grinned.  His big, round face glistened with sweat in the red-tinged dark.

“Evening boss,” Raines said.

Read Full Story (Published by Umbrella Factory Magazine, September 2012)


The idea is to write a story in 100 words flat.

The boys weren’t allowed to have guns.  But they wanted to play gangster, so Howard cut rifles out of cardboard.

“We want pistols,” 5-year-old Mickey said.

“And Uzis,” said Danny, age 3.

Howard, who watched many movies with pistols and Uzis while the boys’ mother worked late, cut cardboard into those shapes.

“Bang bang,” Mickey said.  Howard played dead.

Danny stuck two muzzles in Howard’s back. “Bang bang bang bang.”

The muzzles bent. “No fair,” Danny said.  He started to cry. “I want mommy.”

“Here,” Howard said. “Let’s get rid of these before she gets home. Let’s watch a movie.”

Review (Honduras) – Paradise in Front of Me

Paradise in Front of Me – Realizing Life’s Beauty in an Unexpected Place - by Kevin G. Finch (Honduras 2004–06)

The recurring image in Kevin G. Finch’s Paradise in Front of Me is that of an impoverished Honduran child looking up at a locked schoolhouse door. Shut out again. The author and the residents of El Paraíso repeatedly find their plans scuttled: by naked madmen in San Juan, cancelled classes in Monte Cristo, failed transportation to Cuyalí, striking teachers, impassable rivers, travelinggringo evangelicals . . . there’s no end to the obstacles in this Honduran state near the border with Nicaragua. “The teachers are on strike,” Finch writes towards the end, “and another day is wasted in the future of Honduras.  The child blinks his eyes to bat away the drops of rain running down from his soaked hair.  He looks left and then right.  Slumping his shoulders, he heads for home, his empty notebook in hand.”

Read Full Review

Posted to Peace Corps Writers February 28, 2014