Containing as it does the content of three individual books, The Hard Drugs Chronicles is a hefty tome – big enough indeed to hollow out and use for the concealment of illicit substances, should one so wish. Were you to do so with your copy, however, you would miss out on more than forty stories by various authors, some of them quite excellent.
The collection is divided several times over. Within The Hard Drugs Chronicles are collected the three books The Cocaine Chronicles, The Speed Chronicles and The Heroin Chronicles, all of which are published by No Exit Press, though the editorship varies for each. The individual books are further divided in each case, splitting their stories into categories determined by various aspects of the drug by which they are inspired. The Cocaine Chronicles, for example, divides its stories into “Touched By Death”, “Fiending”, “The Corruption”, and “Gangsters & Monsters”, meaning that in most cases you know before you read the kind of story you should expect.
This careful organisation of stories, unfortunately, works against The Hard Drugs Chronicles. The chief issue I had when I began reading this expansive collection was its lack of variation, the samey quality of the stories. This is particularly noticeable in The Cocaine Chronicles (The Speed Chronicles provides some welcome variation, shaking things up with a glut of crazy and experimental stories, and The Heroin Chronicles manages to provide a decent balance of different styles and genres). Every other tale seemed to be either a well-written but simplistic thriller or a slightly-nebulous, regret-tinged memoir. After a while the stories tended to blend into one amorphous mass.
Furthermore, the two most high profile names in The Hard Drug Chronicles (and the two with whom the book itself opens) ironically provide the two most lacklustre entries. Howard Marks provides a diverting but shallow and rushed story of drug smuggling, while multi-million-selling author Lee Child turns in a by-the-numbers thriller, the twist ending of which is screamingly obvious from the very first page. It’s unfortunate that these two tales form the opening of the collection, as they’re not truly representative of the better content to be found within.
Indeed, read deeper into this brick of a book and you’ll find some real gems that stand out from the crowd. Most of these are to be found in The Speed Chronicles (edited by Joseph Mattson), but a handful of brilliant stories make their way into The Heroin Chronicles too. Personal favourites included the touching but surreal tale “How To Go To Dinner With A Brother On Drugs” by Natalie Diaz; the screamingly insane, yet painfully honest “Bad” by Jerry Stahl; and the amusingly twisted “Labiodental Fricative” by Scott Phillips. Also worth mentioning is James Franco’s Twilight-spoofing story “Crystal Meth”, which is accompanied by a meta-fictional commentary on Franco’s inspiration for the story, and Tao Lin’s “51 Hours”, which can best be described as a classic Tao Lin story, but one with a few more drugs than usual.
Ultimately, given the choice, I think I’d rather skip The Cocaine Chronicles and have a strong collection composed of just The Speed Chronicles and The Heroin Chronicles. Although it does have its moments, The Cocaine Chronicles cannot compete with the two more well-rounded volumes that follow it.
You can find The Hard Drugs Chronicles, or each of the individual titles from which it is comprised on the website of No Exit Press. Clearly writing about drugs is fertile ground, so if you enjoy what you find there then be sure to keep an eye out for their forthcoming title The Marijuana Chronicles, available in April 2014.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England. He works as a copywriter for a charity, and in his spare time writes book reviews.