Tuesday, 25 October 2016


 ‘Tony deserves to die,’ I say, ‘More than I deserve to live.’

We're all rooting for Graeme Macrae Burnet's His Bloody Project in the Man Booker's aren't we? I'm hoping he wins, but whether that happens or not, I'm delighted for all those involved that the book has had so much exposure and wonderful feedback. I may not have read it yet (it's near the top of the pile) but I'll do the odd old-man cartwheel if it comes in. 

In case you've been switched on by his work, I'd like to shine a light onto another book published by Saraband's Contraband imprint. 

Russell D McLean has produced yet another cracking novel for you to enjoy and I reckon you should pick yourself up a copy as soon as so that you can share in the pleasure of this one.

And When I Die (US) is set in Glasgow. Like any well-written novel, the city itself is part of the fabric of the story. It’s a living and breathing entity which has moulded its population over the centuries, some for better and others for worse.

The Scobies have an interesting past. Previous successes have been whittled away by each generation as circumstance shifts against them and the only way for the current head of the family (Derek) to get back on top was to turn to crime. It turns out he’s rather good at it, too. Of course, it helps if his henchmen are super tough guys with enormous reputations and cold hearts. The most feared of all the Scobie killers is his son, Ray. Ray’s a beast. A giant. A cold-blooded killer who doesn’t feel pain, but he also has a tenderness rattling about inside him. There’s a touch of Frankenstein’s monster or of King Kong to him in that respect, and he’s just as compelling. When we meet him, he’s about to be blown up by a car bomb and he’s not going to emerge from it well. And then things get worse.

The bomb has been planted by an undercover cop (John) whose own identity has always been unstable. His infiltration into the Scobie family has done nothing to help him find clarity in life and he’s more confused than ever about what he should be doing next. He’s so deep into his undercover work that his criminal life has taken over from his police role and he no longer has a sense of what he really is. The waters have been further muddied by his feelings for Kat. Kat was his way into the family in the first place. He wasn’t supposed to fall for her, but things don’t always go to plan. Unfortunately for both of them, their relationship had to end and Kat left the city to find some of the quiet life. In the aftermath of the car-bombing, John is forced to face up to what he has done to her and to see if he can sort everything out and make amends.

Kat had another special relationship in her life, a bond with Ray that holds them tight. She comes back for Ray’s funeral, not knowing that Ray isn’t in the coffin. Returning home screws with her mind as she reflects on her past. Needless to say, the last person she wants to see is also the first she’d like to meet, and that’s her ex. When they do finally get together again, their chemistry is rather explosive, though not in any of the more romantic connotations that phrase might hold.

Kat and John tell their stories in alternating chapters and in the present tense. This means the action feels fast and that the tension is amplified as it constantly builds. As the world around them falls apart, loyalties are tested to the full. Everyone is conflicted in some way and each decision comes with a slice of doubt or a dose of guilt. Nothing is easy and none of the options are likely to end up with a simple conclusion.

Ray is magnificent. John and Kat are perfectly flawed. The surrounding cast play their parts admirably and McLean shows off his talent for creating gripping and emotionally demanding tales.

Noir with deep roots and a bagful of broken promises. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


The first thing I can tell you is that I liked DI Simon Fenchurch from the start. He’s a roughly hewn character with a nose for police work whose exterior hides the pockets of vulnerability within. His life has been shaped by the disappearance of his daughter and he’s been unable to let go of the hope mentioned in the title ever since. And, yes, it is slowly driving the life from him.

When he enters a derelict building in the middle of London to check out the murder of a young woman of about his daughter’s age, his involvement in the case becomes more personal that it should be. Finding the killer becomes his new obsession and he’ll stop at nothing to get to the bottom of things.

The case isn’t simple from an operational point of view. The body was found on the boundary between two police forces and the City police are keen to get a slice of Fenchurch’s action. Conflicts arise within the force and none of those involved are keen to compromise.

With the help and hindrance of colleagues from the vice squad, Fenchurch pushes into the world of the sex trade and also into the greasy sleaze of the financial world.

The finding of another victim doubles Fenchurch’s efforts. With his perfectly drawn sidekick, Nelson, he drives the case forward with a passion that’s close to obsession.

As they crack open the case, they open doors to a darkness that’s even more sordid and disturbing than any of them could have imagined. The revelation about what has been going on sends shockwaves through Fenchurch as new and terribly sinister possibilities regarding the fate of his own child become clear.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ed James’s new creation. The mix between the solving of the case and the detective’s personal life is balanced to perfection. The action scenes are fast and furious. The tension mounts nicely as the story unfolds and the wrapping up of the novel carries a weight that took me by surprise. 

Fenchurch is a guy you’re going to want to get to know. That being the case, why not get on board and make his acquaintance right now so that when the second book is released very soon, you’ll have something rather special to look forward to.  

Friday, 30 September 2016


‘He tried to remember his insurance deductible, but that felt too regular and he crushed the thought like an insect.’

Jess Forsyth is the kind of character I love to read about. There was no silver spoon in his mouth when he was born and life’s been against him from the start. He’s made a lot of choices along the way and not all of them have been wise. Even so, he wants to do the decent thing. If only he had a stronger will and a little more in the way of luck.

An encounter with gun peddler Mikey at some point before our main story begins, landed Jess in prison. He was lucky though, because the woman (Kersey Sims) who put him in prison senses something about him and has become a kind of a mother/grandmother figure. She’s given him a second chance and he’s happily living life on the straight and narrow as a pool cleaner to some of California’s wealthy folk when we meet.

All might go well, only another encounter with Mikey sets things on a new course.

Mikey invites Jess to come along on a job. The aim is to shake down a drug dealer, Griffin, at his mansion. As they carry out their crime, a young woman is killed and there’s a lot of mopping up to be done and this is where things really start to spiral beyond anyone’s control.

Griffin wants his money back. Mikey isn’t sure about what’s going on. Jesse has fallen for the dead girl’s friend Shawny. Shawny knows there’s more money in the house and she wants it. Jess wants Shawny and the money. And there’s a loose cannon called Rimbaud who, like the poet he’s named after, just loves to explore life and find new experiences.

What I like about this book is the way the gears change so smoothly. You have a really good balance between the build up of tension and action scenes that always serves the plot well. More importantly, the whole series of crime capers has the secure foundation of strong characters. We get to know Jess through his interactions with the criminals mentioned earlier, but also through more tender and complex situations with one of his pool owners, with Shawny and with Kersey Sims. We also get to ride with him through his dreams and watch them as they spill out into his reality.

Three Kinds Of Fool (US) offers plenty of nourishment for the reader. You can get your kicks from the adrenaline-fuelled deeds or you can savour the thought-provoking elements and let them twist up your thinking for a while. There’s no real room in here for good or bad and black and white have swirled together to make a new kind of grey, which is just the way I like it.     

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

One Man's Opinion: THE FEVER by MEGAN ABBOTT

“You spend a long time waiting for life to start – her past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant – and then it does start and you realise that it isn’t what you’d expected, or asked for.”

While reading The Fever (US) by Megan Abbott, my world felt very brittle. The foundations of life seemed egg-shell thin as the book eroded them layer by layer. It’s not an easy thing to explain - you’ll have to read it to fully understand - but being the father of a teenage daughter with two other children fast approaching their adolescent years means that this story hit close to home. It made me all too aware of shifts I can already sense taking place underneath the surface, many of them I’d rather ignore.

In this novel, a group of friends is devastated when one of them has a serious fit in a very public place. Word travels fast via the super-highway of social media and panic sets in around her school. The effects are magnified when another of the group has a fit as this opens speculation about what might be going on. There are fears that a vaccine might be to blame or that there’s a sexually transmitted disease doing the rounds. Others worry that it might be related to the old lake where swimming is now forbidden and around which legends swirl like mist. The public health board get involved, but their covert investigation only serves to add fuel to the fire.    

Deenie is left in a vulnerable position. The dynamics of her group have already been evolving in ways she can’t control and she is painfully aware that something has gone from her life forever. Her encounters with sex have raised questions and doubts as much as they have introduced new pleasures to life. The tension behind these developments built well and, even though I couldn’t fully grasp the hysteria portrayed within the school community, I was thrilled and drawn in as the story unfolded.

This one is told from the points of view of Deenie, her brother and father, which allows us to see the situation from a range of perspectives. Particularly powerful for me was the father’s angle. He’s spent his life devoted to his children and at this critical stage it seems like he’s lost them. The past has gone and so has their need for him to be at the centre of their worlds. He’s battered by the conflicting needs to protect them and to leave them to work things out for themselves. He wants so much to do the right thing when the very concept barely exists any more. 

There’s also a plenty of power in the portrayal of the young adults as the rug is pulled from under them and they try to make sense of a world that is constantly moving.

The Fever is an unsettling work. Abbott dissects the character with the scalpel-sharp precision of an anatomist. It’s amazing that she can portray so effectively the mix of excitement and pain involved in growing up from a young woman’s perspective, but more impressive that she can so naturally inhabit the personas of a teenage male and middle-aged man. It’s a beautifully written story that has a satisfying twist to help tie everything up and I’d like to recommend this one to the house.  


Saturday, 24 September 2016

99c Mystery and Thriller Promotion

Another Mystery and Thriller promotion, this time for 99c deals. This one features my own Mr Suit (a personal favourite of mine) and a wide spread of other titles. Well worth checking out folks. The offers are good for 24th and 25th September. Happy hunting. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


‘There was a time when The Lawyer would have said no man deserved to die in the dirt. That time had long past.’

The Lawyer was once a good man who did his work with the law on his side. Following on from the murder of his family he’s still a good man, only now he’s prepared to use different tools to find justice.

He’s on the trail of Big Jim Kimbrough and winds up in a town called Sundown. While there he is horrified by an act of barbarity carried out by local bully Buchanan who drags a local black man into town to be hung because he’s stolen a slice of pie. The Lawyer can’t tolerate this and steps in to try and alter the planned course of events. Unfortunately, Buchanan has the backing of twisted minds and those who rely on him for employment. Intervention means going up against practically the whole town.

With only one ally, The Lawyer draws his line in the sand and becomes the target of the deranged mob that doesn’t appreciate his set of values.

The Lawyer: Six Guns At Sundown (US) is a quick and enthralling read. The usual Western props are present in abundance and the action is delivered with the tension and pace that you can confidently expect in a story by Eric Beetner. Themes of the underdog against the hoard and of the just against the brutes may be commonplace, but the element of racism that forms a key platform for the tale brings an extra dimension that is compelling and offers a reminder that though things have changed, there’s still a way to go.  

Thursday, 1 September 2016


The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet (US) attacks the senses with unpredictable shifts of theme and tone and has the power to stun, move and create uncertainty. The sum total of the collection is even more powerful than its considerable component parts and it is, therefore, a shining example of an anthology. Best of all, the stories continue to live on after the words have been left behind; it’s this stirring of my imagination that I enjoyed most of all. Terrific and inspiring fiction.

All due respect to the publisher, All Due Respect - yet another belter from their team.