Monday, 26 December 2016

One Man's Opinion: SO DEADLY FAIR by GERTRUDE WALKER


Walter Johnson alights from his boxcar in Middletown Minnesota. Hungry and worn down, he sets off to seek sustenance. His walk into town is interrupted when he looks up and sees a woman waving at him from her window and gesturing for him to come into her home. In spite of his instincts, he goes up and meets Elizabeth Frazer, a lady who is hot on the outside and ice cold within. She entices him with the promise of food and maybe a little something extra for afters, then nails him by shouting to her neighbours that there’s been a murder. Said neighbours show up and it seems that Johnson has been caught red handed, until he reveals that his red hand is actually wooden and wouldn’t be capable of committing the crime in question.

The sensible thing for him to do at this point would be either to run or to wait for the authorities to prove his innocence. Instead, he waits for things to settle and is pulled into the orbit of Elizabeth whose magnetism and allure prove to be irresistible. They drive west, avoid the attention of the police and settle down into a life of the humdrum. Things should go fine, only Elizabeth isn’t happy with surviving or being average. Her discontentment grows until she pulls out another trick from her bag. This time, she’s feigned her own death and once again pins Johnson down as the perpetrator. This time, however, Johnson isn’t so lucky. He’s sent down and spends the next ten years in prison.

While away he meets a forward thinking warden who suspects Johnson is innocent. The pair spend time discussing the world and putting things right until it’s time for Johnson to leave, an improved and contented citizen with a free spirit. The warden has provided him with the tools for survival and the connections to make sure civilisation won’t chew him up and spit him out.

Everything should be fine. The world should unfold at Johnson’s feet and provide him with more than enough to satisfy his needs. The problem is he has a passion for revenge that won’t leave him alone. The shadowy compulsion to track down Elizabeth grows until it is his reason for being. All his wonderful wisdom and philosophical leanings are trampled underfoot by his desire and as he journeys in pursuit of his prey, his life slowly unravels.

So Deadly Fair is a delight. That said, it took a while for it to grow on me. The first person narrative seemed a little clunky at first. I reckoned a tidy edit might make all the difference and create a smooth passage through the opening pages. I was also a little uncomfortable by being addressed directly by the protagonist every so often. These jabs interrupted my flow and caught me off guard when they came.

As the story unfolded, many of my early issues disappeared. I came to appreciate the voice and the conversational style, not least because it allowed a deep understanding of the character’s reasoning. Johnson’s back story is slowly exposed and adds layers and depth. His views of the world and his love of travelling and getting by are so pragmatic that they verge upon the romantic. His drive and lack of control in the face of his desires is well explained and adds solid foundation to his decision making, even when his choices seem to be utterly insane.

The story itself is handled really well and any contrivance is justified as the plot moves on and comes to its unexpected climax.

This one is a slice of authentic American noir. It carries a familiarity that is comforting and yet has a freshness that needs to be savoured and appreciated. The pictures come in black and white and the shadows are everywhere. If it was never made into a B-movie then it should have been.


Hats off to you, Gertrude Walker. Thanks for the journey.  

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

One Man's Opinion: COP HATER by ED McBAIN


Over the last few years, I’ve become rather fond of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. The more I read them, the more I come to love the whole setup.

Curiously, though, it never occurred to me that I should make any attempt to read them in order. That could be because I buy a lot of my books in second-hand stores and charity shops. There’s something about the pot-luck nature of that kind of browsing that I really enjoy and the prices aren’t too shabby either. I know that by shopping this way I’m doing authors out of royalties, but the whole process fits in with my love of novels and my views on recycling and reusing that mean my conscience remains clear.

That’s only relevant because I recently decided to read Cop Hater (US), the book where the 87th all began. What I was a little surprised by was the excellent quality here. I tend to feel that writers mature as they go on and that a series is improved as the depth and the layers are added over time. In this case, I reckon this opener is as fully-baked, well put together and as compelling as any of the other later works that I’ve read.

In this one, there’s a heat-wave that swelters on the page and brings with it the smouldering lust that permeates the book. There’s a cop killer on the loose and Detective Carella is losing his friends and colleagues on a regular basis. As he investigates, the case literally arrives at his doorstep and there’s an uncomfortable and exciting sequence to bring the whole thing to a close.

It was great to meet Steve and Teddy in the early years of their relationship, but in many ways I feel like I already know about those days because of the references in the later stories. It was also something of a surprise to realise just how rounded and substantial Corella is as a character from the off. The nature of the crimes had me hooked from the beginning and the cops are all sympathetic characters even when they’re unlikeable.

Something I particularly like about McBain’s style is the way the tangents work. The red-herrings never feel contrived. Instead, they feel like real avenues of exploration and they all bring something to the books in their own right. It might be that we learn a little more of the character or there may just be a light interlude from the more substantial threads. They become tales in their own right, small vignettes and side shows that add flavour to the main event. I never get the feeling that I’ve been lead down the garden path or that I’m being manipulated by an author who is artificially creating hooks and tension just to keep me interested.

Cop Hater is definitely a good place to start if you’ve never picked up a McBain. Then again, if you’re like me and have already been working your way randomly through the series, this will be a terrific addition to your collection and will be another great read for you to appreciate.

Loved it.


Saturday, 10 December 2016

Dancing With Myself: RYAN BRACHA interviews RYAN BRACHA


The man sitting across from me chewing eagerly on his thumb, looks like he can’t wait to get out of here. His sweaty eyes darting around, looking everywhere except at me. In the corner of the room sits the lady who has the formidable task of stemming the flow of crap that will inevitably spill out of his fat mouth. She has the resigned look on her face of a person who knows she’s fighting a losing battle. Hope in her eyes that he’ll finally say the something controversial enough to finally free her of her station in life. Maybe after that, she can go and represent a good-as-gold soap actor, or clean cut pop star. Not this failing author of nine books that are as attractive to the mass market as Jesus-in-a-slice-of-toast is to a staunch atheist.

Eventually his eyes land on mine. He smiles a wide smile. I note that while he has the front set of his teeth intact, behind them, he is missing several important back teeth. Those that do remain are rotten. I wonder if his teeth represent a horrific metaphor for his mind. He asks what I want to know. Looks at his watch. Folds his arms and rests them on the gut he developed through a love of sweet cider and lethargy. His breathing grows heavier from such simple exercise. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were dead in ten years. I clear my throat and our interview begins.

Me: So, Ryan.

Him: Mr Bracha.

Me: Sorry, Mr Bracha. Ehm, Phoebe Jeebies and The Man Who Annoyed Everybody (US). What is it about?

Him: Read the blurb. It’s all there. Come on. You can do better than that.

Me: Where… did the idea come from?

Him: I was going to write a story about a compulsive liar. That’s what it started out as. That’s what it was until about four chapters in and the characters surprised me. They took it somewhere else.

Me: To a man who annoyed everybody?

Him: To a man who annoyed everybody.

Me: What about PhoebeJeebies? Where does she come in to all this?

Him: She’s been on my mind for a while. I wrote her into a story a couple of years ago, but it didn’t go anywhere. I lost the buzz for it and binned it. Phoebe was put on the shelf for a suitable vehicle. This was it.

Me: Tell me about Phoebe. Why did she stand out enough to remain?

Him: Because she’s brilliant. She's everything that's good about the women I care about in my life. She's a love letter.

Me: Okay… Fair enough… I guess. You say you binned the other story? Did you not plot it? Plan it? Surely that would have been a huge waste of your time?

Him: No. I don’t plot or plan. I don’t edit a huge amount either. I can’t do it. I get lost in what I want to do with the story. I find it much easier to just write and let the characters take it where it needs to go, maybe with a couple of plot points that come to my mind as I write. If it goes too far down a path I don’t see mileage in, I’ll delete, or put it to one side to steal from later, and give them a chance to start again until I’m happy with the direction they’ve taken it.

Me: That seems like an odd way of working.

Him: Your face has an odd way of working.

Me: You're quite prolific-

Him: Thanks.

Me: Ehm, yes. You've written and published eight novels in the same time it took you to write your first. What changed?

Him: The way I write. My first novel is a mess of a hundred different devices and narrative techniques, but it helped me to make the mistakes I needed to make, to help me figure out the kinds of stories I wanted to tell and way I wanted to tell them. The first draft of my debut novel was littered with grammatical errors, continuity issues, plot holes, and a dog whose name was either Freckles or Oscar whichever chapter you read. The first draft of Phoebe Jeebies had six typos. Practice makes perfect.

Me: Quite. It's been said that you're not right in the head. That you're disturbed. What would you say to that?

Him: Hmm?

Me: It's been-

Him: I heard you.

Me: So…?

Him: It's also been said that originality and creativity are my speciality. If that's a byproduct of being fucked in the nut, I'll take it. If you want paint by numbers fiction then you're in the wrong place. If you want a horrific situation boiled down to a thick jam of dark abstract humour then come on in, the water is just lovely.

Me: But this is an interview to promote your romantic comedy.

Him: Romance can be horrific at times.

Me: This isn't going quite where I thought it would.

Him: Such is life, my friend. Such is life.

He leans forward and grabs my cheeks. Pushes them toward my nose and then slaps them hard. Calls me Chopsy Chops and leaves the room. His assistant rolls her eyes. Apologises. Follows him. Thirty seconds later he returns. He throws a copy of his book at me and tells me I'll enjoy it. He says it's basically an instruction manual for pissing people off while at the same time being a messed up love story. He says if I have any kind of sense of humour or disdain toward general society then I'll spit beer out of my nose with laughing. I open it at the first page. On it, there is a crudely drawn cartoon penis. The bulb has a smiling face on it. The globs of cartoon sperm each hold a letter. C.U.N.T. He's most certainly fucked in the nut, as he so eloquently put it, but I suppose that's what appeals to his readers.

Ryan Bracha is the author of nine novels and a collection. He once won an episode of Fifteen to One, and he's got a weird aversion to stickers and days old bus tickets. They make his fingers itch. He lives in Barnsley with his wife and two year old daughter.

Phoebe Jeebies and The Man Who Annoyed Everybody (US) is available now for 99p/99c.








Sunday, 20 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: NO SAFE HOUSE by LINWOOD BARCLAY


The weaving process is right at the heart of what an author does. We create the raw materials, spin yarns and throw our protagonists into complicated situations to see how they’ll cope. The trick, of course, is to make sure that the reader isn’t able to see the hand of the creator at work.

In No Safe House (US), Linwood Barclay didn’t quite manage to hide the stitching together of the plot. He’s an author who I’ve enjoyed in the past and have admired for the way he turns normal lives upside down in entirely believable and gripping ways.

What’s different about this one is that the succession of coincidences and unlikely events eventually wore too thin for me to suspend disbelief. This made the process of getting to the end somewhat mechanical. There was plenty I wanted to find out about and I was interested enough to persevere, it’s just that the magic spell was broken and so the impact was reduced.


No Safe House didn’t hit the mark for me. If you’re thinking about it, why not pick another Barclay from the shelf instead - play the safer bet and see how it shakes down.    

Friday, 11 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: THE LONG-LEGGED FLY by JAMES SALLIS


“Jesus, Lew. Sounds like you reached for your hat and got the chamberpot instead.”

The Long-Legged Fly (US) tells a series of stories about Lew Griffin. It spans four periods between the 1964 and 1990 and traces Lew’s life as he sinks into alcoholism and bounces between drunkenness and sobriety over the years.

It’s an interesting book in lots of ways. It opens as a private detective novel, but as it progresses the investigations take a back-seat as his reflections on life and his attempts to get his personal issues together come to the fore.

We meet him in New Orleans where he is hired by some political activists to find an important figurehead for their black-power movement. Corene Davis has disappeared on her way to an engagement. She boarded a plane for the city but didn’t appear when it landed. This story takes Lew into the bowels of the world where his size and reputation allow him to remain safe and to apply pressure when necessary.

Echoes of his first investigation appear in the further episodes in his life. His tough side is ever-present, but is counter-balanced by his warm heart and sense of justice that are shown in unlikely circumstances.

Though a book in four quarters, it’s also a story of two halves. My preference is for the opening half where his detective work is at the fore. The interplay between his life and work is very successful and there’s a dramatic edge to the cases concerned. The hard-boiled influence gave me a lot of pleasure and is a fine example of the genre. In the second part, the cases take a back seat as Lew shifts his world away from what he knows and attempts to forge a steady relationship and begin a life as a writer. Part two is much more focussed upon the philosophical thoughts of an ageing male as his mind moves upon silence. The musings are often poetic, thought-provoking and powerful and offer a huge amount that is worthy of appreciation, there’s just a very different energy to the plots as the cases are diluted.


The Long-Legged Fly is a book I enjoyed. Fans of the detective novel will find this a treat, as will those who are at home among the more literary pages of this world.  

Sunday, 6 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: BEASTINGS by BENJAMIN MYERS


When I snuff you out I will cover the heavens and all the stars will darken said the priest. And that’ll learn you.

Beastings (US) is a mighty read. Even on a Kindle you can feel the weight of it in your hand. It tells the story of a chase across the Lake District as a priest and his poacher guide attempt to track down a young mute girl and the baby she has taken from its home.

The girl in question is escaping a history of pain and misery in the hands of her pursuer. Her life was destroyed by the priest and she was sent to work as a nanny to a family in a home packed with bitterness, disease and hate. When the baby’s well-being became threatened, the girl decided to take her away to safety. In doing so, she discovers a new meaning to the world and a finds a hope that is as bright and as fleeting as the sunrise. With no resources, she learns to live from the land and to accept the kindness of strangers.

Meanwhile, the priest enlists the help of a poacher and sets of in pursuit. The motives for the chase are entirely self-centred as the priest needs to keep his abuses in the home for girls quiet. He’s even scared to sleep in the presence of others as he talks in his sleep and can’t afford to let any clues about his life slip from his mouth.  He’s dark to the core and ranks up there with the most unpleasant characters I’ve ever met on the page. The fact that he is a man driven by his religious zest and who can articulate his philosophies to his own end make him even more frightening than even his actions suggest. His steady decline as he indulges in his addiction for the marching powder that fuels his zeal only adds further to his menace. His conversations with the poacher are intoxicating. The poacher is at one with the landscape and sees the world through practical eyes. He’s a great contrast to the priest and the pair’s arguments are extremely entertaining. They also highlight the bleak and sparse writing style of the book, one that echoes the rugged and stony terrain in which they travel. The humour is pointed as flint, the priest’s lack of emotion as cold as exposed Cumbrian rock.   

The material of the book makes it difficult at times and it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. To me, the harrowing nature of many aspects of the story simply made it more enticing. The chase itself is gripping, but there’s so much more to hold your attention than that. The dialect is superb. The dialogue is a treat to experience. The description of the area and of the way humans interact with it is beautiful. The battle between the nascent hope and the poisonous power of the inevitable is compelling. The climax was a total surprise to me and tattooed itself on the inside of my brain when I reached the end.  

Beastings is a gem. It’s a book that deserves to be read and appreciated. There are many flavours to the writing and I suspect there are a host of literary and poetic influences which Myers collects  and shakes to create a cocktail that is all of his own.

Highly recommended.   
  


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: I KNOW YOUR SECRET by GRAHAM SMITH


I Know Your Secret (US). I guess that we’d all be frightened to hear those words. It happens to be worse in this case as the blackmailer knows exactly what secret is been hidden and can offer up enough information to prove it.

In this novel, the Major Crimes Team are overwhelmed by work. There’s the brutal and peculiar murder of a priest, nailed to the ground in the way the man he worshipped was attached to the cross; a wealthy landowner who is well-connected wants to catch his employee who has ripped him off; and there’s a rape investigation linked to a model and a porn film to sort out.

There’s a lot of tension in the squad as they go about their work. Former boss DI Harry Evans is on the verge of retirement and is also following a court case relating to the death of his wife. When he’s not pursuing his personal quest, he’s buzzing around the investigations and trying to help out the new kid on the block, DI Campbell, with half an eye on manipulating some position as consultant to the police in the future. Campbell is busy trying to impress his new team and also to work under the pressure of an unsympathetic boss and a wife with a new baby who is in need of support and isn’t happy about the lack of it.


As each strand of the story is dealt with, the major thread of the priest’s murder picks up pace. As new points of view are introduced, the rich tapestry of it all is revealed in a teasing manner and it becomes compulsive reading as the end draws near. The basic premise of the story and the motive of the killer are really well conceived, providing both a strong spine to the work and a conclusion that is entirely satisfying.


The police and villains alike are all well-formed characters, with the main protagonists being particularly well-penned. The setting and influence of the region add a strong flavour to the investigations and the undulating emotions and doses of humour keep things interesting throughout. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

One Man's Opinion: AND WHEN I DIE by RUSSEL D MCLEAN



 ‘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

One Man's Opinion: THE HOPE THAT KILLS by ED JAMES



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

One Man's Opinion: THREE KINDS OF FOOL by MATT PHILLIPS


‘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

One Man's Opinion: THE LAWYER: SIX GUNS AT SUNDOWN by ERIC BEETNER


‘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

One Man's Opinion: THE THINGS I LOVE WILL KILL ME YET by ROB PIERCE


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. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

One Man's Opinion: THE KILLER IS DYING by JAMES SALLIS


‘Towards the end, back when he still lived at home, his father, well along in years (fifty-plus when he was born), would spend afternoons stalking about the front yard, staring at what was left of the city’s curb, at remnants of paint on the side of the house, at abandoned birds' nests and tree trunks. He had always believed the old man to be thinking. About how his life had gone, maybe, or the meaning of it all. Slowly he came to understand that the old man wasn’t thinking at all, he was searching - looking aimlessly about, with a dull but persistent hope, for something he’d never had.’

The Killer Is Dying (US). The cops are dying. Everyone is dying. That’s something we all have to come to terms with at some point in our lives.

It took me an age to read this one even though it’s not a long book. I started it just before the Olympic Games which, when they began, quickly absorbed much of my attention and spare time. It wasn’t just my preoccupation with sport that slowed my reading, however. That’s also down to the fact that there isn’t a clear and driving narrative to the story and also because each chapter is dense and powerful and requires a good deal of focus. 

The killer is on a job that goes unexpectedly wrong. As we get to know him, we loop back through his life to find his history is colourful and interesting and that he also has a wonderfully philosophical view of the world. He’s also a very particular kind of hit man and an extremely successful one. Hits are set up on the dark web and are advertised as doll sales. They’re carried out clinically and yet with a form of compassion at the same time.

He’s been chased down by a couple of cops who are also surrounded by death. It’s their business. They’ve seen a lot and each case has had an impact of sorts. The cop we get to know well is Sayles. What’s interesting in this novel is the sense I had that the differences between hunter and prey are minimal. They’re human and therefore share setbacks and suffering on a regular basis. What they have in common is bigger than what they do.  

The third strand comes in the form of a youngster who is forced to bring himself up when his parents leave. He makes his living selling interesting items and passes the time by surfing obscure corners of the internet and by reading stories to old folk experiencing their final months down at the local care home. He also happens to be confused by a procession of dreams which come from the killer’s consciousness.

As these parts converge and are woven together, they become so tight that it becomes difficult to distinguish one from another. They share a consciousness or a way of being of sorts. They’re all reflective and tied to their memories as well as being able to see wonder in small things around them.

In the end, I was won over by the author. I can’t really explain why I liked it so much, but can tell you that I loved being in the company of these characters as their lives unfolded before me. It was refreshing to be taken on meandering journeys, random tangents and through regular lists of simple things. There’s just enough in the police investigation to keep the pace moving in a forwards direction. Each page has something outstanding to appreciate whether that’s a nailed phrase, a moment of poetry, a meditation, a philosophical musing or just a swift kick out at complacency.


The Killer Is Dying is light yet meaty. Mundane yet exciting. Beautiful yet horrifying. Oh how I love a contradiction.   

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Dancing with Myself: CHRISTINA HOAG interviews CHRISTINA HOAG


You’ve written a nonfiction book about gangs, Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, and now a novel about a gang called Skin of Tattoos. Girlfriend, what’s up with all the gang shit?

I first encountered gangs as a young newspaper reporter in New Jersey, USA, when I was assigned to write a story about a notorious motorcycle gang delivering Christmas toys to a local hospital. I went to interview them in a small suburban house, very normal-looking apart from the bunch of Harley choppers out front and its rather gloriously hirsute occupants, who insisted they belonged to a “club” not a gang. I was fascinated by them and their lifestyle. Years later, I interviewed gang members deported from Los Angeles to El Salvador, where they had landed like fish out of water because they’d left Salvador as babies and small children during the civil war. Some barely spoke Spanish. That was before gangs spread like a pandemic and really took control of northern Central America. Anyway, their stories resonated with me, and formed the genesis of Skin of Tattoos, which is about a Salvadoran family who fled one war zone only to arrive in Los Angeles and find themselves in another, which is basically what happened to thousands of refugees.

You’re a white, middle-class, middle-aged lady, so how the hell did you write so convincingly about this whole other world?

Research. Much of it was done in the context of my job as a journalist. I was able to interview gang members, their girlfriends and parents, prison inmates, as well as numerous sociologists and other experts who study gangs, and police officers who work in gang units. I also read a heap of books about gangs, including memoirs by gang members, who tend to write their stories whilst they’re incarcerated, and others who work with gangs, ranging from priests to anthropologists. I also had the benefit of co-authoring a book on gang intervention – that’s the Peace in the Hood book you mentioned. Before you ask, gang intervention is about taking former gang members and training them to be street peacekeepers, to interrupt the cycle of retaliation that drives gang violence. My co-author is a former Black Panther who’s been working with gangs in South L.A. since the seventies. I’m proud to say the book is being used a textbook for various courses at the University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Hmm, do you think we can ever get rid of gangs?

As long as we have economic inequality and discrimination in societies, gangs will exist. You don’t see middle-class kids joining gangs, for the most part, or middle-class neighbourhoods being claimed as gang turf. The key element that fuels gang formation and membership is the perception in disenfranchised sectors of society that gangs offer more opportunity – money and status - than conventionally accepted paths in life. It’s worth mentioning that not all kids in these neighbourhoods join gangs. In fact, most don’t. Gangs particularly appeal to youths who have little family stability. The gang becomes their surrogate family; it gives meaning to their lives. One interesting thing I found in Los Angeles, where gangs really took hold in the 1970s and are now in their third generation, is that gang affiliation runs in families and is a source of pride, even among former gang members! The real way to combat gangs is improving access to education and jobs in disadvantaged areas because that diminishes the need for belonging to a gang and resorting to a life that ends in death, prison or the hospital.

This is starting to sound way too much like some stodgy BBC interview.

Well, you did ask.

All right, what else can you tell us? Any other books you’ve written that aren’t about gangs?

I have a recently released YA suspense novel called Girl on the Brink. It’s sort of a romantic thriller, but it’s got an important social message. It chronicles a teenager’s abusive relationship and her recovery from it.



Crikey, you’re really into these cheery themes, aren’t you?

I’ll put it down to my background as a journalist. I’ve spent years, decades, actually, writing about the problems of the world.

It certainly shows. I’m starting to crave a Xanax talking to you.

I really don’t want to drive you to pills. Do you want me just to tell you some of my favourite crime novels?

Righty-o.

One is Queen of the South by Arturo Perez-Reverte, the story of a Mexican woman who ends up running a drug empire in Spain. It was really before its time, before all the cartel violence in Mexico, another favourite theme of mine. Okay, okay, I won’t go there. Anyway, I couldn’t put it down. Another is Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood, an Australian classic first published in 1881 about bushrangers and cattle rustlers in western New South Wales. Loved it. My favourite fictional detective, by the way, is Australian, Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte, a half-Aborigine who solves crimes in the western Queensland. Arthur Upfield wrote the books in the early 20th century.

Two from Down Under? What gives?

I was born in New Zealand, grew up in Sydney.

And now you live in Los Angeles? Wait, I’m not even going to ask that one.

I was hoping you wouldn’t.  


Christina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishers, August 2016) and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, August 2016). She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014). She resides in Los Angeles. For more information, see www.christinahoag.com.


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

One Man's Opinion: ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS by JT ELLISON


All The Pretty Girls (US) is a well put together police procedural that maintains a keen interest from the beginning.

The book opens right in the action as we join a serial killer enjoying a moment of murder. It’s great to get into the mind of the perpetrator straight away and the sinister mood haunts the rest of the tale as the book progresses.

Taylor Jackson is charged with leading the police investigation. There’s a sense of building urgency to her work as the killer becomes increasingly active.  The banter between officers works really well and keeps up the momentum of the story, as does the involvement of Jackson’s secret partner, FBI profiler John Baldwin when he is brought in to unpick the case.

As well as the police investigation, an ambitious TV reporter has been selected by the killer as a point of contact. Though she’s unsure why she’s been chosen, she begins to see it as a lead that might take her from local success to national star. It’s a lead that she can’t resist. As she is drawn further into the killer’s world and begins to put things together, she begins to see that the situation is closer to home than she could ever have imagined and she is forced into a position that none could envy.

The killer continues to make appearances throughout and I enjoyed these insights into his world. His mind is twisted and his methodology is to take the hand of one victim and leave it with the body of the next. These moments offer a contrasting darkness to the energy of the other strands of the plot.

As things approach their conclusion, the action comes thick and fast. There are pleasing twists and turns all off which lead to a satisfying conclusion.


I enjoyed my read. The pacing and the strands are handled with skill. Things do rely on a number of coincidences and unlikely connections, but the key elements are enough to brush these issues firmly to the side. This one was perfect for summer holiday distraction and will lead me to more of the author’s work and to more Taylor Jackson in the future.