Sunday, 22 September 2019

ADAM ROCKE and MARK ROGERS - THE DEATH DEALER (2019)


Synopsis/blurb......

Billionaire Joe Sinclair is bored. To him, life is one big “been there, done that. ”However, there is one thrill Joe has yet to experience and he's willing to pay any amount to make it happen: Joe wants to know what it's like to kill a man. Courtesy of his illicit connections, Joe hires Haden, a mysterious ex-mercenary to take him and his three best friends on the kind of African safari you won't read about in travel brochures. But when the bullets start to fly, Joe and company find themselves on the absolute wrong side of the predator vs. prey equation.

A bit of a Boy's Own adventure without the wholesomeness. Joe, Billy, Steve and Trey are friends, though as they grow older there's a bit of distance between them. Joe has mega bucks courtesy of an inheritance from his father. He's the alpha male; rich, arrogant, entitled, shallow and unlikable. His wealth separates him from the others. Billy is the hanger-on. He's an unsuccessful musician, craving a break, happy to take whatever crumbs Joe throws his way. Trey and Steve are the normal guys. Trey's a bit of a player and a hit with the ladies. Steve is the only one married. Em is expecting their first child. Steve is kind of conflicted about his future with a bit of regret about moving on with his life and leaving his friends firmly in the rear view mirror.

Every year Joe organises a trip for the lads and bankrolls the outing...... Vegas, the Caribbean, gambling, hookers, drugs, drinks, scuba diving, climbing. This year with Steve's reluctance to join up, pussy-whipped according to Joe, it feels like it will be the last. Time to go out with a bang.

An African surprise, a safari and some hunting in Zimbabwe with a hardened ex-mercenary as a chaperone. First to give them a crash course in survival and impart some basic hunting skills and second to deliver them to their prey. Only the three tag-a-longs are in the dark as to Joe's true target.

Hedonism, a plane journey, hookers, dancers, coke, vodka, Harare, the military, the jungle, camp, training, target practice, poachers, rebels, death, conflict, in-fighting, flight, and a helluva lot more.

Adam Rocke
I quite liked this one. It's a bit different from my usual fare and it was interesting to note the differences between the characters as far as a moral compass goes. There's an incredible amount of tension on display between the four and more than a few home truths are shared.

Loyalty, friendship, trust, bravery, sacrifice, selfishness, greed, advantage, manipulation, self-interest, power, forgiveness and regret are all under the microscope as the trip turns sour and the four along with Haden, their guide end up fleeing for their lives.

Plenty of excitement, testosterone and action - enough to fill two books. Quite a fast read. A bit of a change with the Zimbabwe setting and the contrast between the poor locals and the rich Americans in town to play.

A conclusion which confirms that money alone can't buy decency, happiness or peace.

4 from 5

Mark Rogers
This was my first time reading Adam Rocke.
Mark Rogers work has been read before - Red Thread (2016)

Read - September, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 300
Source - review copy from author, Mark Rogers
Format - MOBI file read on laptop

GEORGE V. HIGGINS - THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1970)





















Synopsis/blurb....

Eddie "Fingers" Coyle got his nickname when some men he knew put his hand in a drawer in a friendly fashion - Eddie could choose which hand - and kicked it shut: Eddie had sold a gun that was traced. Now Eddie is back in business, and taking more care.

However the police are not the only organisation that has their eye on him and Dillon, the knowledgeable barman, gets a message that spells life - or the other thing - for Eddie Coyle.

George V. Higgins' bestselling first novel was made into a film starring Robert Mitchum.

I think this is my third time reading this particular Higgins book. Goodreads tells me I read it in 2011 which is accurate, pretty sure I read it late 80s/early 90s when I started getting into crime fiction and particularly US crime fiction and again now. Tell you what, it gets better each time. 

Boston, 70s, the street, low-level hustlers, gun sellers, Black Panthers, cops, stick-up artists, bars, and more.

Pace, character, setting, dialogue, plot, outcome - all present in spades.

There's a real cadence and rhythm to the narrative, most of which is propelled forward mostly through conversation. It's a real down and dirty novel where most of the characters are up to no good and everyone is playing an angle and looking out for themselves. There's some liberal use of racist language - the n word gets bandied around more than once or twice, which may make some readers uncomfortable. I can't justify it, but would say the book was written nearly 50 years ago and you have to sense that Higgins captured the essence and attitudes of working class hustlers and grifters in Boston at the time.

Interesting characters and an interesting plot. Eddie Coyle is known to the police and he's known to the boys. He has a charge hanging over him for smuggling contraband further North. He doesn't want to do jail time. He buys and sells guns and he has information. Not hard to imagine where this one is going and how it all ends.

There's a film of the book featuring Robert Mitchum which I'd really like to catch up with at some point.

4.5 from 5

George V. Higgins wrote about 25 novels in his career, before his death in 1999. I've not read that many, more fool me.

Read - August, 2019 (re-read)
Published - 1970
Page count - 196
Source - owned copy
Format - omnibus paperback

Friday, 20 September 2019

ADRIAN McKINTY - THE CHAIN (2019)


Synopsis/blurb.....

You are a parent. Your phone rings. You answer it. It's a panicked stranger.

They tell you that they have kidnapped your child.

The stranger then explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger.

Their child will be released only when you kidnap a new child.

Your child will be released only when, after you kidnap the new child, that child's parents kidnap yet another child.

And most importantly, the stranger explains, if you don't kidnap a child, or if the next parents don't kidnap a child, your child will be murdered.

You are now part of The Chain. 

It's something parents do every morning: Rachel Klein drops her daughter at the bus stop and heads into her day. But a cell phone call from an unknown number changes everything: it's a woman on the line, informing her that she has Kylie bound and gagged in her back seat, and the only way Rachel will see her again is to follow her instructions exactly: pay a ransom, and find another child to abduct. This is no ordinary kidnapping: the caller is a mother herself, whose son has been taken, and if Rachel doesn't do as she's told, the boy will die.

I suppose if I had read this ten years ago when my children were at a more vulnerable age, as opposed to grown adults, I may have been more petrified by the narrative. That said you'd need a heart of stone not to feel Rachel's pain. She's our main character and she's been having a tough time of things - battling cancer and getting used to the fact that her husband, Marty traded her in for a younger model. On her way to a medical appointment, she gets the call - Kylie, her daughter has been kidnapped, photo confirmation soon confirms this and she's now part of the chain. Pay up, kidnap another child, when their parents pay, your daughter will be released. Simples.

I quite liked this one without ever being totally enthralled. Rachel enlists her brother in law, Pete as support. He's ex-military and a drug addict. Without giving all the plot away, the pair do the deed and struggle to cope with the aftermath of events once Kylie is returned....... guilt, the burden of secrecy, ongoing fear as the chain organiser still taunt and threaten them, the disruption to every day life, the effect on Kylie who was kind of complicit in the kidnapping of another, the sheer lack of normality. All of it takes its toll.

A fightback then and despite the dangers of the all seeing, ever watchful chain cottoning on to what they're up to, Rachel and Pete, now romantically entangles endeavour to break the chain.

Decent story, intriguing and a bit different. Events move fairly swiftly. Massachusetts setting - Newburyport. Other events may occur elsewhere. We get flashbacks to the childhoods of our villains and we understand their motivations and events that have shaped them - manipulative little turds that they were. Adult turds now.

Sympathetic characters in respect of Rachel and Kylie and the rest of their posse. Pete's helpful and capable, but she needs to keep an eye on that drug use. The ex-husband means well but is a bit of a tool. I enjoyed the time spent in the company of their nemesis.

Overall I quite liked it.

4 from 5

I've read and enjoyed Adrian McKinty a few times before, but not for a while - The Cold Cold Ground (2012)

Read - September, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 331
Source - Net Galley courtesy of publisher Mulholland Books
Format - ePub file read on laptop





Thursday, 19 September 2019

A.K. REYNOLDS - VERY NEARLY DEAD (2019)


Synopsis/blurb....

EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING TO HIDE...

"An ending that you will never see coming; just brilliant."

"a book to be devoured in one sitting because you won’t want to put it down."

My name is Jasmine Black, and I'm an ordinary woman apart from three things:

I’m hiding a terrible secret from my youth

My past is catching up with me

When it does, I’ll be dead.

Jasmine Black, a 34-year-old alcoholic, criminal lawyer, has a secret.

At the age of 16, she was in a gang of youths that committed a horrendous crime. As members of the gang start being killed one by one, Jasmine fears for her life.

Desperate to uncover who is responsible for the murders, Jasmine starts to investigate.

But can she uncover the truth before it’s too late? 

A fast-paced read concerning events from the past catching up with an alcoholic lawyer and her old school friends. Maybe not so much friends these days, more a group of acquaintances bound together by a shared secret - their joint involvement in the death of a lad nearly twenty years previously. Every year they connect at a school re-union more to ensure that lips are sealed and the secret is intact, as opposed to any great fondness for each other.

Jasmine is our main character and she's been unable to escape from her past. Not especially sympathetic, she is a functioning alcoholic, though as the book progresses her abilities to function diminish. The bottle holds an overwhelming attraction for her. Certain recent events - a car accident and the death of one of the old gang initially - more to follow - and some unusual threats combined with blackouts and lost passages of time, see her descend deeper into a spiral of addiction.

Setting aside the storyline for a minute, its never easy spending time in the company of an addict. As Jasmine's tale progresses, I kind of flip-flopped between sadness, disgust, disappointment and anger at her plight...... self-inflicted and out of control for sure, who would willingly go down that destructive path?

The story was interesting and the author(s) kind of hoodwinked me into believing one thing was going on, when in fact there was a lot more happening. Similarly I was tricked regarding my suspicions of the culprit. I actually changed my mind several times, but neither of them were accurate.

Not too long, a South London setting, with a brief excursion to my old Luton stomping grounds, lots happening though you only get a full comprehension at the finish, unsympathetic characters throughout though not despicable enough to bump you out of the story.


Lots to like and I'll be interested to see what comes next.

4 from 5

A.K. Reynolds is a husband and wife writing team. I've read the male half before* under a couple of different names. The better half was a new-to-me author. She's also a shy bones when it comes to an author piccie! 
     
Read - September, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 238
Source - review copy from publisher - Bloodhound Books
Format - Kindle MOBI read on laptop


*Jack Strange - Manchester Vice (2017), Dirty Noir (2017)
*Jack D. McLean - Confessions of an English Psychopath (2016)

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

ROB PARKER - THE PENNY BLACK (2019)


Synopsis/blurb....

I’m dead, for all intents and purposes. Nobody knows I’m alive… 

Ben Bracken is on the run for his life. Keeping a low profile from the agencies seeking to silence him, he finds refuge in the quiet town of Horning. Working in a boat yard and lodging with an older couple, Eric and Dot, Ben uses this time to plan. He needs to escape, and realising his only chance will reveal his whereabouts to some unsavoury characters, he plans every detail. Little does he know, even that won’t be enough…

Just before he walks away, murder strikes the quiet town. Ben cannot leave until he is sure that he has not brought any further trouble to the townsfolk. Will he be able to exact revenge? One thing is certain, there is a lot more going on in the town of Horning than meets the eye…

The Penny Black is action packed from beginning to end, keeping you guessing right the way through.

The Penny Black is the third in author Robert Parker's Ben Bracken series after A Wanted Man and Morte Point . Bracken is laying low in a small Norfolk village, after the fallout from the climactic events in the last book. He very much remains a person of interest to Her Majesty's Government.

Horning is the perfect place to regroup, reassess and plot his next move - false papers and most likely permanent exile out of the country. Village life has it's advantages - an unassuming job, a welcoming elderly couple as landlords, some local hostelries and respect for the stranger in their midst.

So far, so good but you know it's not going to last. A trip to the bank raises a red flag and alerts the authorities to Bracken's sort of whereabouts and a puzzling conversation with his document provider raises questions about Horning's apparent sleepiness.

Man on the run, village life, black ops pursuit, a confrontation, a watery grave - almost, recuperation, a romantic interlude, a sickening murder, delinquent youth, a drug operation, a criminal bigwig and nemesis, grief and anger, history lessons, an unlikely ally, a helicopter, ordinance and heavy gunfire, humongous egos and a few scores getting settled.

I quite liked the lower key setting and more localised conflict in this one, as opposed to the international dynamics of the previous book. Bracken almost manages to pass off as an ordinary Joe doing ordinary things.... trips to the pub, fishing outings, friendly meals and conversations, before the boy scout, Dudley Do-right part of his brain takes over and he again becomes a man on a mission. Sometimes he's his own worst enemy, sometimes circumstances dictates his course of action. Either way, he's an interesting guy to spend some time with.

4 from 5

Robert Parker has also written a standalone country noir type novel - Crook's Hollow

Read - September, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 226
Source - review copy from author
Format - paperback


Tuesday, 17 September 2019

MIKE KNOWLES - DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE (2008)





















Synopsis/blurb......

Wilson has spent his entire life under the radar. Few people know who he is and even less know how to find him. Only two people even know his real occupation, carrying out confidential--and illegal--jobs for a very bad man. But one day he crosses the line, saving his friends and earning the hatred of a vengeful mob boss. He survives only by delving even deeper into the underworld of Hamilton. His next job is deceptively simple--transporting a seemingly harmless bag whose contents are both secret and dangerously valuable. Soon Wilson discovers who the bag's real owners are and just how badly they want it back.

An enjoyable introduction to Mike Knowles' work and his recurring series character, Wilson. Wilson is orphaned at a fairly young age and is schooled by his uncle, courtesy of some tough lessons, in the art of deception, invisibility, criminality and a life off the grid. The same kind of career his family had. His uncle is now dead and Wilson is on his own.

I do like reading tales of outsiders and Wilson fits the bill. Not a character I necessarily warmed to or had much sympathy for initially despite the circumstances of his upbringing, that said I was rooting for him during the course of the novel.

Here Wilson gets played as payback for crossing the head of the Italian mob running Hamilton, and is set firmly in the crosshairs of the up and coming violent Russians, rivals to the established criminal hierarchy.

In no particular order.....a bag snatch, family history, a solitary friendship, a kidnapping, violent retribution, an uneasy peace, a set-up ..... ergo mayhem, death, rival criminal fraternities battling and our man in the middle, planning and scheming, before serious action, major bloodshed and a temporary resolution.

I quite liked the relationship between Wilson and his one friend, Steve a bar owner. There's a bond between them that transcends blood ties and each has the other's back without question. That said Wilson operates more as a lone wolf here, not willing to involve his friend anymore than necessary. There's also a curious relationship between him and the criminal head of the Italians. Wilson is expected to kowtow and dance to another man's tune, which he just won't do. He asserts his independence here, but at a price, creating a few enemies along the way. 

Independent, capable, intelligent, can-do attitude and destructive - my kind of guy.

Best book ever? No, but enough to interest me in reading further in the series. That was a bit of a given anyway seeing as my copy of this one was an omnibus edition of the first three Wilson tales from Knowles and I had taken the trilogy away on holiday with me.

Pace - good, story - interesting, character - a grower, setting - Hamilton, Ontario - another plus, length - a fraction under 200 pages - perfect, outcome - believable with only a slight stretch of the imagination that our main man survives intact the amount of flashing steel and hot lead flying around.

4 from 5

Mike Knowles has written 6 Wilson books in all as well as a standalone novel.

Read - August, 2019
Published - 2008
Page count - 190
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback omnibus edition

Monday, 16 September 2019

2 BY MAX ALLAN COLLINS

A couple from prolific author Max Allan Collins.






















Collins has a written a shed load of books and some fantastic series - Nolan, Quarry, Nathan Heller, Road to Perdition, Mike Hammer - continuing the late Mickey Spillane's series and lots more besides.

A few years ago, I used to read Collins on a monthly basis, working my way through his Nolan series, before embarking on the Quarry books. I got somewhat distracted after a few (three) and fell away from the author and series. Hopefully I'll get a bit more order in my reading in 2020 and continue where I left off. I was enjoying myself.

The good news is with another book in the series getting published this year - Killing Quarry - I'll have twelve to catch up on - a whole year's does of Quarry at a pace of one a month.


Links to my thoughts on the ones I've read - all the Nolan's and three of the Quarry's below - as well as a list of the whole series.

Nolan

1. Bait Money (1973)
2. Blood Money (1973)
3. Fly Paper (1981)
4. Hush Money (1981)
5. Hard Cash (1981)
6. Scratch Fever (1982)
7. Spree (1987)
8. Mourn the Living (1988)

Quarry

1. Quarry (1976)
2. Quarry's List (1976)
3. Quarry's Deal (1976)
4. Quarry's Cut (1977)
5. Primary Target (1987)  aka Quarry's Vote
6. Quarry's Greatest Hits (2003)
7. The Last Quarry (2006)
8. The First Quarry (2008)
9. Quarry in the Middle (2009)
10. Quarry's Ex (2010)
11. The Wrong Quarry (2014)
12. Quarry's Choice (2015)
13. Quarry in the Black (2016)
14. Quarry's Climax (2017)
15. Killing Quarry (2019)


The First Quarry (2008)

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS

Crime fiction readers know Quarry, the ruthless killer-for-hire, from Max Allan Collins' acclaimed novels - most recently THE LAST QUARRY, which told the story of the assassin's final assignment (and was the basis for the feature film The Last Lullaby).

But where did Quarry's story start? For first time ever, the best-selling author of ROAD TO PERDITION takes us back to the beginning, revealing the never-before-told story of Quarry's first job: infiltrating a college campus and eliminating a professor whose affair with one of his beautiful, young students is the least of his sins.







Quarry in the Middle (2009)

The enigmatic hitman Quarry - star of secen celebrated novels and an award-winning feature film (The Last Lullaby) - is back in this violent, steamy tale of warring crime families.

When two rival casino owners covet the same territory, guess who puts himself in the crossfire......