Tuesday, 29 September 2020

JEFFREY FRYE - BANK BLOGGER (2013)


 Synopsis/blurb....

"Does my present world suck? Like a gaping chest wound. But it's all part of the ride. There's no sense in crying about it; nobody likes a whiny bank robber. If you like what you read, please buy my books. If I get any poorer I'll be down eating sparrows with The Chinaman." [Jeffrey Frye, "Bank Blogger"] In 2012, Murder Slim Press received an unsolicited submission called "Prison Prose" from a notorious bank robber named Jeffrey Frye. What has followed is a long standing correspondance with Frye. . . and then MurderSlim.com's Bloggie-nominated Bank Robber's Blog. Bank Blogger is the first of numerous books that will collect stories unavailable on the Bank Robber's Blog, and provide you with the ultimate introduction to everyone's favourite felon. "Bank Blogger" is a limited edition chapbook of only 200 copies. You snooze, you lose. It's also packed with photos from Jeff's life inside and outside prison, and the various people that have an impact on his world.

A small chapbook, 80 pages long from Jeffrey Frye and Murder Slim Press.

Anecdotal, confessional, observational. Frye is doing time for bank robbery and he shares a bit about his deeds - some of the jobs he pulled and his capture, as well as his current time in clink and some of the associates he meets in there, both inmates and staff.   

Humorous in places, though perhaps he's not as funny as he thinks he is. I suppose what's admirable is that he owns the crime and he is doing the time more or less without complaint. I enjoyed the recounting of his successful heist and couldn't help but admire his chutzpah. 

I have another of his books on the pile - One Crazy Day, which recounts one of the seven or eight bank robberies he committed in a period of about a month.  

There's a decent set of photos at the back of the book, featuring some of Jeffrey's friends, family and acquaintances. I enjoyed his economic analysis of the medicare he receives inside and what it costs him, compared to what would have been available and affordable to him outside. The Federal authorities certainly look after their charges. There's also a bit about his drug use and the impact it has on his mental health and decision making. No in depth naval gazing, more quick brush strokes really.

I liked it, but perhaps felt a bit cheated by the length of the book. Double the page count and double the tales and I might have felt it was a reasonable return for the investment in the book.

3 from 5


Read - September, 2020
Published - 2013
Page count - 80
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback

Monday, 28 September 2020

IAN D. WRIGHT - THE NIGHT DROP (2020)


Synopsis/blurb..... 

The remote marshland villagers did not want them, but if their mission failed, the Allies could lose the war!The summer of 1943 and Jack Ross, a talented young recruit to the British special forces, was flown into a marshland village near St-Omer, France, along with Roland Keene, an Irish-American volunteer to the British forces. Their mission was to find out how successful the Allied bombing raids had been on the massive V2 flying bomb installations, which had been built under a giant concrete dome near St-Omer. The Nazi V2 project could have had a devastating effect on England and changed the future of the war. Jack and Roland joined with the local Resistance cell and quickly established a good working relationship. But incidents occur that point to a mole in the ranks. Two feuding brothers, one in the Resistance, the other with the Partisans, make identifying the traitor almost impossible. Jack’s primary source of information was Sofia, a young girl who was one of the most active members of the group. She was brave, smart and tireless, and Jack found himself falling in love. Twenty years later, in 1965, and one of the suspects decides to go back to the village to clear his name. His arrival immediately triggers a murder. Two investigative journalists agreed to help Jack tackle the job of finding the real mole but find themselves in a battle with a group of fanatical Nazi sympathizers.

I would like to stress that this review is just one man's opinion. Of the 28 reviews on Amazon UK at the present time, 19 give this 5 STARS, 7 @ 4 STARS, 1 @ 3 and 1 @ 2. What floats one man's boat, might have another running screaming off into the hills. We all experience books differently and just because this one didn't work for me, doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

It's a dual timeline mystery set in wartime France in the 40s and then the mid-60s as unresolved issues with the Resistance and possible betrayal come back to the fore with the return of an exiled villager to the scene of the crime.

I really wanted to like this one a lot more than I actually did. The story had potential and the war time scenes in the village under Nazi occupation were tense and quite thought provoking, particularly in respect of individual and small group opposition, leading to wider reprisals on the whole of the village in a bid to divide, conquer, deflate morale and ensure total subservience to the occupying regime. 

Several of the characters were well-drawn and interesting and their bravery and fortitude was admirable. The idea of betrayal and an insider working for the Nazis gave the story some focus. Sofia, the young Resistance fighter and Jack, the British special forces man dropped behind the lines were the main focus, both in the 40s and the 60s with their romance and subsequent marriage adding to the story without ever going into full-blown Mills and Boon mode.  

The war time drama concerns itself with feeding back information to the allies in advance of the as yet unconfirmed invasion and trying to ensure the German capabilities to thwart such an effort are known and countered. A mole in the Resistance results in death and loss of life. The narrative twenty years after features murder and efforts to unveil the guilty party amid rumour and suspicion.

An over reliance on conversation and dialogue unfortunately detracted from it in my opinion. There was just too much of it, as every little outing and meeting seemed to be detailed in the narrative and for me it just didn't work..... thoughts, ideas, to-ing and fro-ing, bike rides, canal trips, dodges round the back of houses, messages, etc etc. The story just seemed to stall and any excitement was bled out of it. Long before the end I was struggling and any enthusiasm I might have had at the beginning was quickly banished.   

Shame really, much shorter and tighter would in my opinion have improved the book no end. Half the length could have resulted in twice the book. 

2 from 5

Read - September, 2020
Published - 2020
Page count - 484
Source - review copy from author
Format - paperback

Sunday, 27 September 2020

JAMES NEWMAN - UGLY AS SIN (2017)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Nick Bullman was a wrestling superstar. His alter ego, The Widowmaker, was the monster heel all the marks loved to hate.

Now, after a brutal encounter with two psychotic fans that left his face horribly disfigured, he’s just a monster.

Yanked from the spotlight and thrust into the shadows, these days Nick tries to live the life of an average Joe. He avoids mirrors. He's angry. He’s alone. And he likes it just fine that way...

Until he receives a desperate phone call from a young lady he barely knows—his daughter.

For the first time in over thirty years, Nick returns to his hometown of Midnight, North Carolina. There he will come face to face with old demons, forge new friendships, and make enemies far more dangerous than those who ruined his face, all in a quest to save the granddaughter he’s never met...and maybe find a little bit of redemption along the way.

Ugly As Sin is an electrifying tale of “white-trash noir,” a taut page-turner that skates the razor edge of a familiar, horrifying reality. At times heartbreaking, funny, and terrifyingly suspenseful, Ugly As Sin is Newman’s best work to date.

An enjoyable tale of family, loss, mistakes and regrets with an unexpected opportunity to make amends and in some ways find some forgiveness of self. All wrapped round a wrestling backdrop and the search for a missing granddaughter.

It's fairly brutal and graphically violent at the start, as Nick Bullman aka The Widowmaker is attacked and had his face removed. The book soon settles down and charts Nick's quest and journey to becoming a better person and father.  

I enjoyed it. I liked the set up and how the story evolved. I liked how Nick reconnected with his estranged daughter. I enjoyed the friendship he carved out with his wino, loner, biggest fan and the respect he gained from the local cop. I enjoyed watching his development and improvement and his increasing appreciation of his own self-worth as he made peace with himself; and I liked his taking names and kicking ass approach as and when the story merited it.


4 from 5

James Newman's work has been enjoyed before - In the Scrape - co-authored with Mark Steensland.

Read - August, 2020
Published - 2017
Page count - 193
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle

Friday, 25 September 2020

ANDERSEN PRUNTY - JACK AND MR GRIN (2008)


 

Synopsis/blurb....

A surreal and horrifying thriller from Andersen Prunty.

Jack Orange is a twenty-something guy who works at a place called The Tent packing dirt in boxes and shipping them off to exotic, unheard of locales. He thinks about his girlfriend, Gina Black, and the ring he hopes to surprise her with. But when he returns home one day, Gina isn't there. He receives a strange call from a man who sounds like he is smiling- Mr. Grin. He says he has Gina. He gives Jack twenty-four hours to find her.

What follows is Jack's bizarre journey through an increasingly warped and surreal landscape where an otherworldly force burns brands into those he comes in contact with, trains appear out of thin air, rooms turn themselves inside out and computers are powered by birds. And if he does find Gina, how will he ever survive a grueling battle to the death with Mr. Grin?

Another visit to the strange world and fantastic imagination of author Andersen Prunty with his novel, Jack and Mr Grin.

For a while the book appears to be a kind of straightforward crimey-thriller with a woman abducted and a missing person investigation where the abductor, Mr Grin taunts the bereft boyfriend, Jack and sets him a deadline for saving Gina and an invitation to the showdown from hell where either Jack or Mr Grin will remain the last man standing. During the course of the novel, Mr Grin contacts Jack regularly and relays graphically to him what particular torment he is inflicting on Gina at that moment. Not pleasant, not nice and very difficult for both Jack and the reader to bear witness to.

Along the way, the fantastic, the absurd, the unexplainable all become part of the narrative and the norm for the story. People who assist Jack in his quest, become affected and hostile towards him as he (along with Gina's brother) continues his search.  

Mucho weirdness ensues, a fair portion of which I found funny, strange, disturbing, unfathomable but actually quite interesting and entertaining. I don't think I'm going to suddenly change the reading habits of my last 30 years, but I think I can find room for the occasional venture into Andersen Prunty's strange universe.

Mr Prunty narrated this one himself and I think his somewhat deadpan style of narration made the story seem more personal and believable. Andersen was Jack.

Decent story, decent pace, interesting characters and interactions, occasional moments of humour. In some respects it's a testament to the power of love and the pain and sacrifice and suffering you are willing to endure to preserve that.

4 from 5

Prunty's The Driver's Guide to Hitting Pedestrians has been enjoyed before.



Read - (listened to) August, 2020

Published - 2008

Page count - 137 (4 hrs 15 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible

Thursday, 24 September 2020

HARRY WHITTINGTON - WEB OF MURDER (1958)



 

Synopsis/blurb.....

"She'd be better off dead!" Laura cried. "She's too rich, she's too fat. She chews her bank account as a cow chews its cud!"

I stared at Laura for a long moment. "Yes," I said slowly, "you're right - she would be better off dead. And you and I will see to it that she is."

Laura moved toward me. "Then, all that money will be ours ..."

An unhappy marriage, a man with a wandering eye and a rich wife, one who won't give him a divorce and ergo a cunning plan. Some people when they want it, they aim big and want it all...... career, money and the gorgeous girl.

Web of Murder is a well regarded noir of the late 50s and one which I've had on the pile for upwards of 10 years. Short and sharp and not overly racey as befits novels of the time that were still subject to quite stringent censorship.

I quite liked it without ever feeling I was in the presence of literary greatness. It's a straightforward enough premise and without spoiling things for possible future readers, things do not exactly follow the plan intended by our main character, Charley Brower and his floozy Laura.

Decent story with interesting characters, I was ambivalent as to whether Charley and girlfriend Laura triumphed. I didn't quite love them, didn't quite hate them, but wasn't a fan of the obstacle in their way either, Cora the wife. I was happy to ride the twists and turns and bumps that Whittington served up before a satisfying ending for this reader.

Whittington was prolific in his writing career, knocking out around 200 novels between 1950 and 1985, before his death in 1989. Web of Murder is the only one I have and while I'd probably pick more up if I ever crossed paths with them somewhere down the line (unlikely), I doubt I'll be actively seeking out the other 199. 


4 from 5

Read - August, 2020

Published - 1958

Page count - 128

Source - purchased copy

Format - paperback (an ugly,well worn, early 70s,30p, printed in Israel edition) 

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

RUTH RENDELL - A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES (1998)


Synopsis/blurb.....

In traditional fairy tales the handsome prince rescues the beautiful princess from her wicked stepmother, and the couple live happily ever after.

But in Ruth Rendell's dark and damaged contemporary universe, innocent dreams can turn into the most terrible living nightmares.

Teddy Brex emerges from a loveless, isolated childhood as a handsome but autistic young man. Francine Hill, emotionally and mentally scarred by the murder of her mother, grows into a beautiful young woman, who must endure the overprotectiveness of an increasingly obsessive stepmother.

Teddy Brex does ride to her rescue, but he is a man who has already committed two murders. In Rendell's dark criminal London, can anyone be trusted?

A Sight for Sore Eyes is one of those books I picked up years ago because of the author's reputation
and because the blurb sounded good, but which I shelved with probably little or no actual inclination to read it. A Goodreads challenge and the need for a Ruth book, had me dusting it off.

I'm quite glad I did as I really liked this, even though for long periods here, nothing very much seems to happen at all. It's more a book about damaged people, their relationships, the people they cross paths with and for two of the main characters in the book - Teddy the sort of boyfriend and Julia the stepmother - the need to exercise control over Francine. Francine, herself seeks normality and a life like everyone else's. Best of luck with that ambition.

Despite a couple of matter of fact murders, there's a lot of mundane and everyday life in the book. Routines .... college, art, shop working, waiting, obsessing, decorating, grandmother visits, travel, etc etc.

There's a lot of sadness and pain in the book and despite several of the characters being unsympathetic, I felt quite sorry for them. Teddy, the unintended consequence of a couple of feckless parents. Ignored and neglected from conception to birth, through childhood and into adulthood. Small wonder he turned out how he did. Julia is less worthy of our sympathy. Outwardly, more "normal" than Teddy, she has fewer excuses for her irrational behaviour. That said people don't choose mental illness with unconnected circuitry and faulty with with a resultant inability to see the world from another person's perspective.

Murder, unintended death, sad family histories, an abdication of parental duty x 2, other significant characters with an influence over our main players and the direction the story takes, and a certain closing of the circle at the end of the book.

A long book but well worth it and once I was invested in the story, it didn't seem very long at all.

4.5 from 5

I've a few more loitering on the shelves from Ruth Rendell and a couple of her alter ego Barbara Vine books. I must make the effort to give them a read. King Solomon's Carpet was enjoyed a few years ago.

Read - August, 2020 
Published - 1998
Page count - 432
Source - owned purchased copy
Format - paperback







Tuesday, 22 September 2020

CRAIG A. HART - SERENITY (2016)



 

Synopsis/blurb....

Hart is "one of today's master thriller writers. " - San Francisco Review of Books.

About the Series:

Shelby Alexander is an aging ex-boxer and retired fixer who moves back to the small town of his youth to settle down. He'd like to spend his golden years fishing the waters of Michigan. But you don't live life as Shelby has and not make more than a few enemies. Throughout this pulse-pounding series, Shelby faces enemies both old and new, relying on the skills he's learned over the years to stay alive and bring his own brand of vigilante justice to the bad guys. Full of blazing action, close calls, and memorable characters, the Shelby Alexander series is one you'll want to revisit again and again.

About the Book:

A bullet slams into a wall just past Shelby’s head. A drug dealer offers him $10,000 for information regarding his dead sister. The local sheriff has Shelby in his sights. It’s just another day in the small town of Serenity.

Another day, another Audible book and another one I enjoyed from another new-to-me author.

High art? High brow literature? No, but a story which entertained and provided a few thrills and had me interested in reading more this author.

Our main man, Shelby is a fixer and is hired to dig into the death of a woman who just happens to be the sister of a local king-pin drug dealer. The local law aren't interested. Our drug dealer soon winds up dead himself and Shelby is somehow getting targeted himself by an unknown assailant. His enquiries continue.  

Hard to put the finger exactly on what I liked about this one, but I'll have a go. 

Likable main character, interesting family dynamic, he's a divorcee with a grown up daughter who wants him to reconcile with her mum, only he has a girlfriend his daughter's age. There's criminality and drug dealing and bad eggs aplenty and semi-indifference from the law. There's action, violence, danger, death, dastardly doings and a decent enough outcome. There's plenty of humour and wit present and a nice flow to things as the author gets us to the finish line in a reasonable but not breakneck pace. 

If Dickens and Austen and Eliot and Hemingway = gourmet dining. I'm probably more a fast food merchant myself. Craig Hart's work probably won't be to everyone's taste, but he puts a lot of ticks in the boxes for me.

4 from 5

Serenity is the first in a six or seven book series. I'll be looking forward to devouring more of them in the future.

Read - (listened to) August, 2020

Published - 2016

Page count - 194 (4 hrs 9 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible