Review–The Way Inn

“Your personal details aren’t the new currency, but they are the new price of admission.”

The Way Inn is an exceptionally well-written novel of acute observation and creative imagery in a world both real and surreal. Will Wiles succeeds throughout with prose that is imaginative and immersive, complex and compelling. Experience the moment as the narrator deals with his dry-cleaning: “I kept tearing at the plastic, pulling it down over the suit until it lay fizzing and crackling on the floor, tremoring with tiny, obscene movements like a deep-sea invertebrate dying on a beach.” Witness the common made extraordinary as a familiar stranger engages with her cell phone: “Whatever her name was, still plucking and probing at her phone, although with visibly waning enthusiasm, like a bird of prey becoming disenchanted with a rodent’s corpse.” Wiles is a writer—an architectural journalist by trade—who sees and hears; who feels and senses; a writer who detects and transmits.

The Way Inn

It’s no conceit to imagine The Way Inn on the silver screen, and when his nemesis storms the hallway after Neil, bellowing the word “Housekeeping!”—“feedback whine stripping the humanity from his consonants”—one can easily picture Jack Nicholson, axe in hand, grinning through a battered door in The Shining to declare, “Honey, I’m home”.

If you don’t attend trade shows for a living, you should read The Way Inn for a glimpse of the nightmare you’re missing. If you do attend trade shows for a living, you should read The Way Inn as a wake-up call from your nightmare. Reading this book felt like being caught inside a Rubik’s Cube in the hands of demons hell bent on destruction.

Full Review

The Way Inn
By Will Wiles
HarperCollins, September 16, 2014 (released in U.K. in June)
Reviewed by Ben East (

The Family Hightower–Out Today

Brian Francis Slattery’s keen omniscience delivers the crime story of a century, a tale grounded on history and fact—obscure Americana, strange third world realities—taking the reader from 1995 Cleveland to  1986 Sub Saharan Africa before traveling back to prohibition and a 20th century historical tour of Ukraine and Romania. Where and when are we? We are all times and all places, because this American Dream is an eternal, global dream about getting rich however you can.


The narrative rings true on its details: the book of proverbs from a market in Onitsha, Nigeria, titled Learn to Speak 360 Interesting Proverbs and Know Your True Brother; the Mad Butcher’s discarded human torso, “a woman’s, wrapped in heavy brown paper, a striped summer coat, and a quilt. The thighs are right under it, bundled in the same paper and held together with a rubber band”. The banal turned extraordinary by juxtaposition to the horrible.

“Do you see it now?” the narrator asks. “Where the spine of the story begins and ends?  Call it capitalism.  Call it American…” To Peter, the Ukrainian-American patriarch, the founder of the family Hightower’s wealth, “Being American is an idea, not an identity.  It means you’re rising, progressing, moving forward….”

Keen insight, superb pacing.  History, culture, brutality, money. There’s Slattery’s American Dream. What a read.

Full Review

The Family Hightower
By Brian Francis Slattery
Seven Stories Press, September 9, 2014
Reviewed by Ben East



Out Next Week–The Family Hightower

In The Family Hightower Brian Francis Slattery unspools a tale of global crime and capitalism spanning the last century. An example of his creative storytelling: Slattery introduces one of the novel’s most noble characters when she’s already carved into a disemboweled corpse, skin all sown up in jagged stitches. Dare the reader care about this eviscerated entity as the narrative delves into her back-story?  Turns out we can and do root for a dead thing whose story examines Eastern Europe’s criminal underworld–where people are dying for their livers and their eyes.

Illustration: Alex Nabaum

Illustration: Alex Nabaum


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

Review–You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)

Muller can’t get a stiffy. That shouldn’t be a problem for protagonist Sam Bennett, but it is, because Sam’s wife wants a grandchild. And Sam’s daughter is married to Muller, a talented hypochondriac and flabby Renaissance man, Sam’s foil with a killer recipe for pot brownies who can’t, for the life of him, get a stiffy. Except when he’s got Ruby on his mind.


With little more plot than that Robert Bruce Cormack’s You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) is a picaro’s tale with dialogue miscues straight out of Catch-22 and an unsung genius—Muller—who might have wandered in from A Confederacy of Dunces.


You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)
By Robert Bruce Cormack
Yucca Publishing, October 2014
Reviewed by Ben East

Finalists for Dundee Book Prize Announced

Amy Mason of Bristol and Rachel Fenton of Auckland both move on to the final round. May their hearts pound with healthy anticipation until the winner is announced in October!

Extracts from their work, and the work of eight more shortlisted writers for the 2014 Prize, are available in e-Book format.

DIB 2014

2014 Leapfrog Fiction Contest Winner Announced

Congrats to First-Prize Winner Gregory Hill! Looking forward to reading The Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles when it comes out, and East of Denver in the meantime.


The Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles (novel) by Gregory Hill (Colorado)

It’s autumn of 1975 and Rancher Johnny Riles is in a rough patch.  He’s drunk, he’s depressed, his parents don’t like him, his loudmouth younger brother–whom Johnny taught to play basketball–just got drafted by the Kentucky Colonels, and someone has brutally murdered his horse.  Things are about to get worse.

A prequel to the darkly comic father-son portrait East of DenverThe Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles returns to the stark landscape of Stratford County for a gritty homespun tale of two brothers irrevocably at odds.

Gregory Hill lives, writes, and makes odd music on the Colorado High Plains.  His previous book, East of Denver, won the 2013 Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction.

Read about other writers and their contest entries–including my semifinalist entry Sea Never Dry–by clicking on the titles:


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)
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)

These 26 titles were selected from 385 submissions.  Congrats to all!

Ben East or Ben East?

The University of New Haven posted this article today:

WEST HAVEN, CONN. — Look up Ben East on Amazon and adventure books pop out at you. But it’s not THAT Ben East – an American outdoorsman and writer throughout much of the last century – that we are talking about.

We’re talking about Ben East, who earned a master’s degree at the University of New Haven in 1995, has worked as a Foreign Service Officer posted to U.S. Embassies around the world, and is one of 10 unpublished authors shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize, the richest in the UK for an unpublished novel. An excerpt from his book and that of the nine other authors on the shortlist is on Amazon, too. It is free and available here.

DIB 2014

Full article.

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.

Read More