Thursday, 20 September 2018

ED McBAIN - DOWNTOWN (1989)


Synopsis/blurb....

This Big Bad Apple on Christmas Eve is no place for an orange grower from Florida. Especially when a blue-eyed blonde accuses him of stealing her diamond ring, a phoney detective rifles his wallet and a casual Good Samaritan makes off with his car.

For Michael Barnes, that is just the beginning of a nightmarish caper through the concrete jungle of downtown Manhattan. Not even Vietnam was this bad. Crazy killers, cops, actors, bimbos and million-dollar crack dealers are all out for his blood. Even the corpses can't be trusted.

But for an unexpected ally in the shape of Connie Kee, a beautiful and streetwise Chinese girl, Barnes stands next to no chance in these unfriendly precincts. He can guess the answers to every question but the one that might save his skin. Who the hell is Mama, and why does she so badly need him dead?

Downtown is a page-flashing Christmas cracker of a novel that sparkles with all the wit and tension that fans of Ed McBain have come to expect.

"McBain has a great approach, great attitude, terrific style, strong plots, excellent dialogue, sense of place and sense of reality. He's right where he belongs - at the top' Elmore Leonard

I have a lot of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series books to tackle, but unable to readily lay hands on the first in the series, I thought I'd give a standalone from him a twirl.

Downtown is a New York novel set over a period of a few days around Christmas. Out of towner, Michael Barnes gets ripped off in a bar and set up as a patsy for murder in our tale. With the assistance of a gorgeous Chinese chauffeur, Connie the pair charge around town in the snow, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery while falling in love with each other.

 A gay burglar, cross-dressers, actors, film directors, a chance to dress up as Santa, drug dealers, cop imitators, Chinese gambling dens, a stolen goods warehouse, police officers both real and fake, and a sniper all feature as Barnes and his girl win out in the end.

There's a smattering of humour throughout, not all of which worked for me - maybe some of it would only be fully understand by a native New Yorker and maybe some of it was topical and has lost its meaning in the near thirty years since this one first dropped. It didn't bump me out of the story though and there was enough that did resonate.

It's a slightly outlandish plot, but I was happy to enough to go with it, following in our two main characters' footsteps, getting a feel for the geography of downtown New York, moving from one witness to the next, one encounter to another, solving the puzzle.

As well as the lighter touch McBain illustrates, there were more than a few passages which gave pause for thought. Barnes is a Vietnam veteran and suffers flashbacks and PTSD over the loss of his best friend, Andrew who died in his arms. During critical moments in the present day shenanigans, McBain fuses the traumatic events of Andrew's death in with the current and it's pretty powerful stuff.

On a more common theme which I can more readily relate to, Barnes has mother issues.

"Poor woman had grieved for years after his father died.........."

and as a defense mechanism expected her son not to return from the war .......

Andrew. Died in his arms. Blood bubbling up on his lips. Michael had held him close. First and only time he'd ever cried in Vietnam. He wondered later if Andrew's mother had given away his clothes while he was gone. He wondered if Andrew's mother had told herself he was dead in preparation for the Defense Department telegram that would confirm her worst fears. Michael wished he could forgive his mother for looking so surprised to see him alive. Surprised and perhaps a trifle disappointed. He wished he could forgive the poor woman for giving away his blue jacket."  

4 from 5

Ed McBain aka Evan Hunter was fairly prolific in his writing career - a gazillion 87th Precinct novels and about a dozen in his Matthew Hope (lawyer) series as well as more than a few standalone books, as Hunter, McBain and other pseudonyms. He passed in 2005.

McBain's Driving Lessons was read back in 2014 - thoughts here.

Read in September, 2018
Published - 1989
Page count - 256
Source - owned copy
Format - paperback

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

IAN RANKIN - A COOL HEAD (2009)


Synopsis/blurb....

"My dad used to say to me, 'Try to keep a cool head and a warm heart'. At least I think it was my dad. I don't really remember him." 

Gravy worked in the graveyard - hence the name. He was having a normal day until his friend Benjy turned up in a car Gravy didn't recognise. Benjy had a bullet hole in his chest, but lived just long enough to ask Gravy to hide him and look after his gun. Gravy had looked after things for Benjy before, but never a gun. When Gravy looked in the car he found blood, a balaclava and a bag stuffed with money. 

Gravy's not too bright but he wants to help his friend. So Gravy finds himself caught up in the middle of a robbery gone wrong, a woman who witnessed a murder, and some very unpleasant men who will do anything to get back the money Benjy stole...

Another quick September read, most of it caned during a work's lunch break and a gentle reminder that I ought to read something a bit more weighty from one of Scotland's premier crime fiction authors.

A Cool Head is a publication in the Quick Reads programme designed to encourage people who have never had or who have lost the reading habit to pick up a book - a worthy endeavour.

It's probably not Rankin's finest or most complex work but it zipped along at a decent clip and entertained well enough.

We have a botched robbery and the soon to be dead culprit palming off the money and a gun on a simpleton friend, Gravy. The rest of the book mainly details the attempts to recover the cash from the criminals it was stolen from, an added complication being that the lead guy tracking it down, knows who committed the robbery and the revelation of such a fact is going to cause him major problems with his employers.

There's a few other off-shoots and strands and enough flesh on the bones of the story to give it a bit of substance.

We have in no particular order.... a Glaswegian graveyard (I think), a criminal family, a scrapyard, a couple of loyal henchmen, a dodgy councillor, a corpse or two, three when back-tracking, a reluctant witness, some health issues, police involvement, a big bag of cash, a bewildered unfortunate easily manipulated, an honest wife, two investigations - one official, one damage limitation, an Edinburgh hotel, and a sense of opportunity for one of the above.

Never dull, and all parceled up nicely at the end.

4 from 5

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2009
Page count - 128
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback

2 BY KEVIN WIGNALL

A couple this week from Kevin Wignall.






















Kevin Wignall is one of those authors whose books I liked the look of, I go off and buy them and then never actually get around to reading them.

After ten years of ignoring them, I recently got around to reading For the Dogs (aka The Hunter's Prayer) - thoughts on the blog yesterday. Pretty amazing and more fool me for taking so long to get to him.

Hopefully I won't leave it so long next time.

Wignall has about nine novels to his name and a number of short stories.

People Die (2001)
Among the Dead (2002)
For the Dogs (2004)
Who Is Conrad Hirst? (2007)
Dark Flag (2013)
The Hunter's Prayer (2015)
A Death in Sweden (2016)
The Traitor's Story (2016)
A Fragile Thing (2017)
To Die in Vienna (2018)


 His website is here.

Among the Dead (2002)

Alex Stratton is haunted by the past, by the part he played in the accidental death of a fellow student. Now, with the death of two of the other people involved, that past is brought back to the surface. Is someone else eliminating all the witnesses?















Who is Conrad Hirst? (2007)


Who is Conrad Hirst? Knowing the answer could get you killed. Not knowing could get him killed.

Conrad Hirst is a hired killer working for a German crime boss. Disturbed by the death of his girlfriend ten years earlier and still bearing the scars of post-traumatic stress after serving as a mercenary, he's valued precisely because of how broken he is, by how coldly he kills, by the solitary existence he leads.

But something has happened on Conrad's most recent job that's shattered his equilibrium and left him determined to quit. Fortunately for him, there's a simple way to leave the business and begin life anew: Only four people know who he is and what he's done -- kill those four people, and Conrad is a free man.

A simple plan, but life is never that simple, and as Conrad's scheme unravels, he quickly realizes he isn't the only one doing the killing. With the certainties of his life crumbling around him, he's no longer sure whom he's been working for, or why, or what they want of him now. In fact, he can't even answer the ever-looming and ominous question: Who is Conrad Hirst?

Fast-paced, dark, and disturbing, Kevin Wignall's newest page-turner is the story of a broken young man seeking retribution against those who have used him for their own gain, and of the devastating secret that fuels his anger. It is a story of identity and loss, of missed opportunities and the cruelty of fate.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

KEVIN WIGNALL - FOR THE DOGS (2004) aka THE HUNTER'S PRAYER (2015)



Synopsis/blurb.....

Ella, is young, bereaved, and in danger.
Lucas is ruthless, brutal, and cold.

Think again.

Ella is bitter, determined, and dangerous.
Lucas is vulnerable and lovelorn.

Ella Hatto is on vacation in Italy with her boyfriend.
It's a beautiful summer evening in a small Tuscany town, and her life is all about the things she doesn't know.
She doesn't know her family is dead.
She doesn't know she's being watched, or that she's in danger.
She doesn't know how rich she is or the murky truth of where that money came from.
She doesn't know that a man is about to cross the street, ending her old life forever.

When Lucas, a retired contract killer, agrees to help her avenge her family's death, Ella is drawn into a world she cannot control, a world from which Lucas wants only to escape.

For the Dogs is a stunning thriller in which avenging the past becomes a deadly business that never ends.

My kind of book.

A poacher turned gamekeeper, as a hitman turns protector before agreeing to assist in Ella's quest for vengeance after her family is assassinated. Lucas reluctantly gets back into the life he turned his back on for Ella.

Short at a tad over 200 pages long. Fast-paced, economical prose, a story that grips and an intriguing character study as two individuals undergo an almost 180 degree volte face personality change. Well one definitely, the other was already in the process of metamorphosis before a return to old ways, before a flip-flop back again.

Locations - Tuscany, Switzerland, London, Budapest, Paris, the Caribbean and Australia. And probably a few other as well.

Action, violence, cold-blooded murder, bereavement, bewilderment, books, business, secrets, police, protection, flight, investigation, planning, revenge, lost family x 2, retirement, teenage love, re-connection, a final settlement.

A violent book - yes in places, but never gratuitous, more matter-of-fact with several scenes laced with humour and some tenderness.

Totally believable? Maybe not, but never less than fascinating.

Loved it - almost tempted to pick it up and start reading it again as soon as I had finished.

5 from 5

I have a few books from Kevin Wignall on the pile, most of them bought back in 2008 when I became aware of his work. A bit of a shame this one sat on the TBR pile for 10 years!
Looking forward to Among the Dead, Who is Conrad Hirst? and People Die at some point in the future.

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2004
Page count - 228
Source - purchased copy
Format - hardback


*For the Dogs was subsequently re-published as The Hunter's Prayer in 2015


Sunday, 16 September 2018

JERRY KENNEALY - SCREEN TEST (2016)


Synopsis/blurb.....

In April of 1968 Steve McQueen arrives in San Francisco to film Bullitt. 

Rough-and-tumble SFPD Inspector Johnny O’Rorke, aka The Fixer, is the department’s Executive Protection Officer. His job is to make sure that visiting celebrities are well taken care of. O’Rorke is instructed to take special care of McQueen; the city’s movers and shakers are hoping to develop San Francisco into Hollywood North.

McQueen takes a liking to O’Rorke, and when Russ Cortig, a member of his film crew, is busted at a wild Haight Ashbury party, he asks O’Rorke to try to have the charge dismissed.

Fixing Cortig’s arrest sheet is a minor problem, but it leads O’Rorke into a tangled web of intrigue and corruption that includes the murder of one of his longtime informers, a crossdresser who goes by the name of Vanessa the Undresser, tangling with a Chinatown drug lord, being shot at by a sadistic Soviet hit man, going up against a wealthy former Russian Mafia leader now living in San Francisco, dealing with a vicious local gangster, Alec Zek, aka The Swine, and a chasing after a priceless blue diamond known as the Stalin Blue.

If that isn’t complicated enough, O’Rorke breaks into a real sweat when McQueen asks him to make a screen test for a part in Bullitt.

***Praise for Screen Test***

“Steve McQueen. Bullitt. Transvestites. Murder. And the City by the Bay. Who could ask for more? Gear up for a rockin’ roller coaster ride up and down San Francisco’s tumultuous hills in Jerry Kennealy’s entertaining, triple-fast thriller Screen Test, but make sure to wear your seatbelt.”
—Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-Winning Author of White Heat

An enjoyable, interesting and busy little book with lots going on throughout.

San Francisco, late 60s and our main man is Johnny O'Rorke. O'Rorke is a cop with his main brief  looking after celebrities visiting the city, the latest of which is Steve McQueen and the rest of the team filming Bullitt. O'Rorke solves a problem for one of the crew, suggests locations for shooting scenes, gaining favours along the way, and entertains many requests from fellow cops for moonlighting gigs as security or even as an extra in the McQueen flick. His nickname The Fixer is well deserved.

In addition to keeping McQueen and by definition his bosses happy, O'Rorke has a few more headaches to contend with. A deathbed confession by his ex-cop father's partner, alleging the murder, burial and robbery of a Chinese gangster by his father many years earlier, has an ambitious DA all excited and O'Rorke scrambling to react. In addition it puts O'Rorke in the cross-hairs of the deceased gangster's son and his Chinese syndicate.

Lastly, a vicious attack on a transgender working girl and one of O'Rorke's contacts by a possible Russian agent merits some investigation. Vanessa the Underdresser is subsequently murdered, making that priority number one.

O'Rorke's enquiries progress and one thing leads to another with the Russian angle increasingly coming into play, with competing Russian mob families, other Government agencies and police departments - we're in the middle of the Cold War where anyone or anything Russian merits scrutiny and an invaluable and highly coveted blue diamond, allegedly owned by Joseph Stalin. I do like books with more than one plot strand and author Kennealy gives us a few here to ponder.

I liked the backdrop of the film and the interaction between McQueen and O'Rorke throughout. (By coincidence I part-watched Bullitt only a year or so ago, before my recording device let me down. Kennealy has re-awakened my interest in digging out the purchased DVD to watch it again.)

I enjoyed the landscape of the book, with the city and its bars, restaurants and sleazy sex shops coming alive in Kennealy's hands. It's a different time and a different world...... favours traded, cops consorting with and cultivating criminal contacts, small bribes accepted, and a few more liberties taken in the pursuit of information and the questioning of suspects and cops alike.

One of the main attractions and highlights was the main character, Johnny O'Rorke. He's a decent cop and a dogged investigator, but not above bending and breaking the law to further his investigation and protect his family. He's someone I'd be interested in spending more time with in the future. That Kennealy has written a further book - Dirty Who? - with O'Rorke is a cause for celebration.

Decent plot, decent pace, lots of little off-shots and distractions, a bit of romance with O'Rorke's girlfriend involved throughout both socially and aiding his investigation with information gleaned from her job in the DA's office, decent resolution with an aftermath in London clearing up all the loose ends.

4.5 from 5

Jerry Kennealy has written over 20 novels, including 11 in his Nick Polo series. Screen Test was my first time reading him, but definitely not my last.

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2016
Page count - 320
Source - review copy courtesy of publisher Down and Out Books
Format - kindle


  





Tuesday, 11 September 2018

2 BY CARL HIAASEN

A couple from US journalist/columnist/newspaperman and author Carl Hiaasen this week.























I can't remember exactly when I discovered Hiaasen's books - late 80s, early 90s - but the first I read from him years ago was Tourist Season and I can recall laughing like a drain throughout. It was one of those reads where I was really annoying my wife with my laughing. I think she ended up reading it to see exactly what tickled me so much. Double Whammy followed and I was hooked.

Over the years I carried on buying his books and for a long period of time subscribed to his weekly newspaper column at The Miami Herald. Anything he wrote, I wanted to read. Fiction, non-fiction, YA books. Gradually over time I disconnected from his work.

The last one I read from him was Razor Girl and while it was enjoyable it didn't hit the heights for me of his earlier work. I still have loads on the pile from him to enjoy including copies of the first few I read from him which I've saved for a re-read.

He's written about 30 books in total now with a couple of series among them - Skink in particular is a standout character for me. I wonder if I can re-visit his earlier books and get that warm, fuzzy glow back that comes from falling in love with a fresh new author and his books.

His topics are recurring.... huge concerns over environmental issues and political corruption laced with humour, satire, thrills, absurdity in a Florida setting, ....well worth a look in my opinion.

Sick Puppy (1998)



Hiaasen at his riotous and muckraking best. When eco-enthusiast Twilly Spree spots someone in a Range Rover dumping litter onto the freeway, he decides to teach him a lesson - only to discover that his target is Palmer Stoat, one of Florida's cockiest and most powerful political fixers, whose current project just happens to be the 'malling' of a Gulf Coast Island... A quick spot of dognapping later and the pathologically short-tempered Twilly finds himself embroiled in a murky world of singing toads, bogus big-game hunters, large vet bills and in the company of an infamous ex-governer who's gone back to nature with a vengeance. With Sick Puppy, Carl Hiaasen unleashes another outrageously funny tale that gleefully lives up to its title and proves yet again that Hiaasen is master of the satirical thriller.






Basket Case (2002)

Jack Tagger is a frustrated journalist. His outspoken views have relegated him to the obituary page,
with his byline never again to disgrace the front page. But Jack has stumbled across a whale of a story that might just resurrect his career... James Stomarti, infamous frontman of rock band Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, has died in a diving accident and Jack harbours suspicions that the glamorous pop starlet widow may have had a vested interest in her husband's untimely death. It all smells a little too fishy. Aided and abetted by his rather sexy (if unnervingly ambitious) young editor, Emma, Jack sets out to in pursuit of the truth - and a nice juicy story. But of course nothing is ever straightforward and with murderous goons on his tail, brutal internal politics at the paper and a paranoia about death, Jack is struggling to keep his head above water. Was Jimmy Stomarti murdered? Is someone trying to kill off the Slut Puppies one by one? And what significance can a dead lizard named Colonel Tom possibly have? Basket Case is an absolute delight from first page to last and spells out a hilariously hard-won triumph for muckraking journalism. This is one book you'll kill to get your hands on.

Monday, 10 September 2018

DIETRICH KALTEIS - POUGHKEEPSIE SHUFFLE BLOG TOUR - aka QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH DIETRICH KALTEIS (3)




Blog favourite, Dietrich Kalteis is back talking about his sixth book - Poughkeepsie Shuffle which drops today.....



















Publication day for Poughkeepsie Shuffle - can you pitch the book to potential readers in 50 words or less please?

Publication day is September 11, 2018.

Ex-con Jeff Nichols is discontent with his used-car sales job. Not one to let past mistakes stand in the way of a good score, he gets involved with running guns. And as things spin out of control, Jeff hangs on, determined to not let anything stop him from hitting the motherlode.


What was the germ or spark for this latest offering?

The story takes place in Toronto in the mid-eighties. It’s where I grew up, and as I usually visit every year, I’m amazed at how much the city has changed since those days. Urban expansion, taller buildings springing up, with widening roadways, some that didn’t exist at all when I lived there. It’s still a great city, but, it’s sad to see some of the places l remember torn away. So, I wanted to bring some of that back, weaving in those sights and sounds of a grittier, but character-filled Toronto, the way I remember it back in those days.

The city sits across the lake from Niagara and Buffalo, with easy access to the US, making it the perfect setting for a story revolving around gun smuggling. After I read a news story a couple of years ago about a gunrunning ring that operated between upstate New York and Ontario, my story took shape. Another element that worked into it was the increasing gang violence that I remember hearing about on the radio and reading about in the papers.


Why Poughkeepsie? Do you have a connection to the city?
(Poughkeepsie is a city in New York State’s Hudson Valley. The waterfront Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum has science, art and literacy exhibits. Once a railroad bridge, the Walkway Over the Hudson has views of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. It links to the Dutchess Rail Trail, a path through the Hudson Valley. North, the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site includes a library and museum.)

Poughkeepsie is this picturesque town along the Hudson River, in New York state, about a seven-hour car ride southeast from Toronto. I’ve driven through the area a number of times, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful place with a lot of history. And I thought its small size and sleepy setting offered a good fictitious base for an operation smuggling guns into Canada.


Did you take a field trip, or could you do all your research from the comfort of your own home?

A lot of it came from memory, but I did quite a bit of research too, sifting through newspaper archives, histories and photos. I relied on memory primarily for color, adding the kind of things that can’t be researched, and I researched for what lent authenticity and accuracy to the story.

The most important thing I’ve learned about research is to leave most of it out. Sometimes I turn up all these fantastic details, and I have to decide what to put in and what to toss out. There’s this fine line between making a story believable and dragging its pace with too much information.

Roughly speaking, what was the timescale from the first pen or key stroke on this one to the last tweak? Was there much tinkering or re-writing needed?

Poughkeepsie Shuffle took under a year to complete. The first draft was done in a couple of months, during which time I got to know my characters and develop the story. Then I reworked a second draft, smoothing out some scenes, deleting others, sharpening dialog and so on. After that, I did a timeline, making sure the sequence of events worked. Then I set it aside for a week or so before giving the whole thing a final polish. I don’t have a set rule as to how much time or how many drafts it takes to finish a novel, I just know when I’m done. Sometimes I nail it in three drafts, sometimes it takes four.


I'm slightly curious, as a published author was there much of a delay between you signing off on this one and it seeing the light of day? 
Presumably you're hard at work on your next one, do you find it strange back-tracking and promoting last year's child? Is it not like picking up and putting on a pair of dirty socks? 

Once accepted by my publisher, ECW Press, the book was assigned a publishing date. Then came the editing and copy editing. A cover was designed and a marketing plan was laid out. By the time the final book went to press, the better part of another year had gone by.

Once a story leaves my desk, I’m working on the next one, putting the completed one out of mind until it comes back from my editor. That works since it lets me look at the first story more objectively having been away from it for a longer period. It doesn’t feel like backtracking since it gives me a final chance to improve it and catch anything that slipped by.


It's your sixth novel and you've been churning them out regular as clockwork - one a year (two in 2016) since 2014, no problem with writer's block then?

I’ve never had writer’s block, although depending on what’s going on at any point in time, I may get distracted by real life, so I might have less focus and time for my imaginary world. I try not to worry about it too much; I don’t adhere to a quota of a minimum of words or pages per day. I just show up every morning and do my best, and most of the time I get right into it, and I write until noon, and sometimes later.


Back-tracking on my notes from your earlier books, the first three were set present day, House of Blazes in the early 1900s, last year's Zero Avenue was the 70s and this one is in the 80s. Are you gradually working your way back to present times?

The next one to be published is set in the late 30s, and the one I’m currently working on is set in the early 70s, so no there’s no pattern.Time is just part of the setting, and I choose an era I think will work best for a particular story. Sometimes present time seems right, and sometimes the past gives a particular story something special.


What can we look forward to next in 2019? Any hints or teasers?

Call Down the Thunder (the one set in the 30s) will be out in 2019, although I’m not sure of the exact pub date yet. The story centers around a young married couple who come up with a hell of a way to survive the hard times during the dustbowl days of Kansas.

I also have a short story called “Bottom Dollar” included in the Vancouver Noir anthology by Akashic Books, coming out this November.



Bio: Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), and Zero Avenue. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast. 

His website is http://www.dietrichkalteis.com/, and he regularly contributes at the blogs Off the Cuff:

And at 7 Criminal Minds:

You can also find him on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dietrich.kalteis/

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jeff Nichols - a man strong of conviction but weak of character - is fresh out of the Don Jail, looking for work - any kind of work - and a way back into Ann Ryan's good graces. She waited for his return from prison but is quickly running short on patience. An ex-inmate and friend gets Jeff a job at Ted Bracey's used car lot, selling cars for commission only. But it's not enough to keep him and Ann afloat in mid-80s Toronto, and the lure of easy money soon gets Jeff involved in smuggling guns from upstate New York. With that sweet Poughkeepsie cash, now he can keep his promises to Ann; he even buys them a house, but conceals the source of the money. As Jeff gets in deeper and deeper, everyone around him learns how many rules he's willing to bend and just how far he'll go to get on the fast track to riches. That he's a guy who doesn't let lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score.

AM UK     AM US    AM CANADA

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dietrich and his books previously on the blog....