Wednesday, 21 October 2015

One Man's Opinion: THE GIRLS OF BUNKER PINES by GARNETT ELLIOTT


A question to start with.

These days I don’t have the patience to read books that I’m not getting along with. I may discard as many as a quarter of the books I begin because I’m not enjoying them enough. I guess that means that if I take the time to review something, it’s going to be a fairly positive reflection. It’s not that I love all the books I start, it’s more that I only finish the ones that grab me.

Last week I began Mignon by James M Cain. He’s written some of my favourite pieces and so I know he’s a complete talent. The thing with Mignon is that I don’t buy it from the off. I can’t accept the lead character throwing over his life for this sultry beauty. I’m not even entirely sure what the post civil war racket is all about. It bugged the hell out of me. I’d rather sit down to watch the Minions movies in a triple-bill (that actually sounds like fun) than finish the Cain book. That said, I’m worried I might be missing out on a gem if I don’t keep going. Which is my question. Will my life be improved if I take this back down from the shelf or do you think it’s better off left where it is? Any thoughts welcome.

And now to a book I took a lot of delight in completing, The Girls of Bunker Pines (US) by Garnett Elliott.  

‘He looked about as worried as a houseplant.’

Jack Laramie lives in a horse box and carries around his grandfather’s gun as a companion. He stumbles into Joe Crews at a prayer meeting. Crews is an alcoholic veteran of the Korean War and he’s been invited to sell an investment into bomb-proof underground shelters to ex-servicemen. Laramie immediately smells a rat and sees the long con that Crews has been sucked into.

What lures the detective into digging deeper into the con is the need he feels to protect a fellow survivor. We learn more about Laramie’s wartime experience as a gunner in a US bomber and as a prisoner of war in sections of the story that are neatly woven into the tale.

It’s not long before the heavies behind the Bunker Pines operation are uncovered and they’re not people to be messed with. Unfortunately, Laramie can’t help himself.

This story is really well handled. The hard edges of the action are complimented by subtle layers of sentiment and bags of atmosphere. Most impressive is the depth of character created within a fairly short space.


This one’s for fans of detective fiction, particularly those who hanker after work from a golden age. A really strong novella.  

Sunday, 18 October 2015

One Man's Opinion: WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER by AIDAN THORN


“You’re from an age before online banking and living off credit. You can track Benny down the old-fashioned way. And once you get the money back, you can do him the old-fashioned way as well.”

When The Music’s Over (US) is a tale set in Birmingham’s gangland. It has good guys turning bad, bad guys staying bad and an ex-enforcer who comes out of retirement and isn’t sure which way to turn.

Harry Weir is a nasty piece of work. He’s a drug dealer who has become mean and complacent. He’s also the son of one of the bosses of Birmingham’s biggest crime syndicate. He meets his end at the hands of Benny Gower at the story's opening. Benny then steals from his bosses before doing a good job of covering his tracks with a move to Southampton.

Enter Wynn McDonald. Wynn’s an old-time crook with a big reputation. He is called up by gangsters Castle and Weir to track down Harry’s killer and to locate the cash that has disappeared. Wynn would be happy to stay away from his old business, but his ties are strong and his loyalties clear. As he investigates Benny, however, his feelings begin to change. No one has a bad word to say about Benny Gower and everyone seems to be rooting for the guy.

Wynn’s good at his job and soon has leads on Benny. The only thing he’s not sure of is how he’s going to clean up the situation at hand. A glimpse into Benny’s past life as a rock star and new information about the real reason his band never made the big time only serve to muddy the waters as Wynn becomes increasingly torn between doing the right thing and staying true to his past.

The ingredients of the story work well the ending is very satisfying. The characters are well-drawn and the setting is nicely created. To my mind, keeping the focus in the moment and tightening the prose a little could have added even more to the power and pace the work generates.


Overall, a fun and rewarding visit into dark territories. Definitely one for the list for fans of things Brit Grit.    

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

One Man's Opinion: HURT HAWKS by MIKE MINER


“Saddam wasn’t a Bond villain. He was a thug in a white suit. He didn’t want to blow up the world. Just to pick its pockets.”

Chris Rogers is a war veteran. He sits in his wheelchair waiting for someone to come. When that someone arrives, he’s going to kill him.

This opening to Hurt Hawks (US) is full of power. It shows off many of Miner’s outstanding qualities. The guy seems to have sixth and seventh senses. He is able to perceive the world through the physical being of his characters and the shadows they create. This ability offers a dimension to his work that is rare. The prose becomes poetic at times and he mingles a dream-like quality to concrete events. In this way, he gets deep under the skin and paints a world of many layers in a way that I really enjoy.   

What follows in this tale is a world of war, survival and revenge. People do what they have to do in response to loyalties and codes that aren’t always in their own best interest. In many of the situations created it would be so much easier to walk away. For Captain Patrick Donovan and his crew, this option isn’t even on the table. They are set on paying back Chris Rogers and his family for services rendered and they’ll stop at nothing until all debts are paid.

The main thread of the story, that of the war vets coming together to fight new battles on home soil, is gripping. Outcomes are never predictable. Surprises are thrown in from many unseen angles.  I loved it. If there’s any issue with the book for me, it is that I was so hooked into this central plot that tearing me away from it to open doors to the back-story proved problematic. The past is an essential aspect of the work, yet I might have preferred a more direct telling. It’s a minor issue, though, and wouldn’t prevent me from heartily recommending this as a read.

Miner has produced some amazing fiction to date. I suspect that there is plenty still to come and I, for one, intend to be there to watch this talent unfold.


Recommended.