Thursday, 24 January 2019

TESS MAKOVESKY - GRAVY TRAIN (2018)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Crime pays. So barmaid Sandra thinks when she overhears details of a betting scam and wins herself and fat husband Mike eighty thousand pounds. But they’ve reckoned without mugger Lenny, lying in wait outside the betting shop door. And he’s reckoned without a top-notch car thief, his own devious boss, a fellow gang-member with a grudge, and Sandra’s unpleasant almost-Uncle George. 

Chaos ensues as a whole bunch of disparate—and desperate—characters chase the bag of money around Birmingham’s back streets. Plenty of them help themselves to the cash, but none of them are good at hanging onto it. As they hurtle towards a frantic showdown on the banks of the local canal, will any of them see their ill-gotten gains again? Or will their precious gravy train come shuddering to a halt? 

Praise for GRAVY TRAIN: 

“Tess Makovesky’s Gravy Train is a terrifically entertaining, raucous and rough ’n’ tumble Brit Grit crime caper that will leave you breathless.” —Paul D. Brazill, author of Last Year’s Man, A Case of Noir, and Guns of Brixton 

Some fast-paced fun and frolics, as a bunch of Brummie low-lives chase around the city, determined to get their hands on a holdall full of cash.

I do have a soft spot for criminal types in my reading. I'd far rather spend time in the company of some ne'er do wells on the look-out for a score than a bunch of ordinary Joes confirming to society's norms and expectations. Makovesky characters deliver big-time.......to mention just a few..

Sandra - the disaffected pub landlord, a dreamer and a schemer,

Mike - her corpulent, poker playing husband, more interested in his next bacon butty than £80k of wonga,

uncle-George major league criminal and major league creep and sex-pest,

Lenny, an ex-con mugger,

Vernon Ball - crimelord, ruthless and greedy, but not at the top of the tree

Todd - fearfully grassing on his boss, while still fondly remembering sexual encounters with his police handler and ex-girlfriend, Inspector Charlton.

Justine-cum-Danny - a car thief with a skill-set and regrets over Fred her-ex

Each of them with their own limitations and motivations, each of them fully realised.

Our plot (not necessarily in the correct order) - a dingy pub, an overheard conversation, a plan, a betting scam executed and a bag full of readies, a mugging and short-lived dreams of a better life shattered, a skilled car thief steps in, an unhappy crime boss, an undercover informant, an ambitious police officer, a perverted step-uncle with a fearsome reputation arrives to save the day, our hapless mugger again, a dodgy garage owner, a shaky marriage or two, discontent, dodgy photos and blackmail, the canal, a brothel fire, a dead prostitute, a showdown, and an aftermath, with loads more besides.   

Collisions, comedy and collusion, decisions, dreams and delusion.

Enjoyable and entertaining, interspersed with some darker undertones - eg the death of a loose lipped girl. It also casts a light on an ordinary couple, drifting along, scraping by, taking each other for granted, one oblivious, the other dreaming of a different life, a better life, convinced that happiness is something that only money can buy.

One slight niggle. I was a tad uncertain about the big bet and the big pay-out. I'm not totally convinced that it would fly. It wasn't enough to bump me out of an otherwise exciting caper. 

My first time reading Tess Makovesky, but not my last.

4 from 5

Tess Makovesky has her website here. Her novella Raise the Blade sits on the TBR pile.

Read in January, 2019
Published - 2018
Page count - 252
Source - purchased
Format - paperback



Wednesday, 23 January 2019

PAUL D. MARKS - BROKEN WINDOWS (2018)


Synopsis/blurb....

While the storm rages over California's notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood Sign - and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: "Will Do Anything For Money." 

Private investigator Duke Rogers, infamous for solving the case of murdered starlet Teddie Matson, feels he must do "penance" for his inadvertent part in her death. To that end, he takes on the case of Carlos, the murdered day-laborer, as a favor to his sister Marisol, the housekeeper down the street from Duke's house. 

Duke must figure out what ties together Carlos' murder, the ex-lawyer's desperate ad and the woman jumping from the sign? And who is the mysterious "coyote"? Amid the controversial political storm surrounding California's Proposition 187, Duke and his very unPC sidekick Jack are on the case. They slingshot from the Hollywood Sign to Venice Beach. From East Hollywood to the "suicide bridge" in Pasadena, and from Smuggler's Gulch near the Mexican border back to L.A. again. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate in this searing sequel to the explosive Shamus Award-winning novel White Heat. 

Praise for BROKEN WINDOWS: 

"Fans of downbeat PI fiction will be satisfied... with Shamus Award winner Marks's solid sequel to 2012's White Heat." - Publishers Weekly

Having enjoyed White Heat from Paul D. Marks last year, I was very interested in reading his second Duke Rogers PI book, Broken Windows. I'm happy to report, my expectations were met.

Broken Windows is set in LA, in 1994 a year or two after the events of White Heat and against a backdrop of agitation and unrest as California prepares to vote on Proposition 187; a measure designed to limit the access of illegals to public services. Proposition 187 was also known as Save Our State.

Our main man, Duke Rogers is still trying to assuage the feelings of guilt he feels for the part he played (unintentionally) in the death of Teddie Matson. His notoriety brings him celebrity cases and he's not hurting for money. Hence the willingness to look into the death of Carlos, an illegal, on behalf of Marisol, the girl working down the street and our murder victims sister. Best friend, Jack with his own strong views on immigration wonders why he's wasting his time.

In an as yet unconnected story strand we also get to know Eric, a down on his luck and disbarred lawyer. Eric is desperate. Family gone, career gone, he's hurting and not just for money.

A dead illegal, a private investigation - the police aren't wasting too much time on this, and a broken man. Plus our book opener, a failed young actress jumping to her death from the Hollywood sign. As a reader, you know somehow or other that these disparate strands of story, of people and events will have a connection and a meaning and it was enjoyable watching Rogers in the skilled hands of the author discover the links and join up the dots. That there's some hard miles to be travelled to get to that point was part of the reading pleasure.

Coyotes, runners, sanctuary, the church, a fixer, a councilman, politicians of all shades, a closed and suspicious immigrant workforce, a dog, friendship. a pair of cops - good cop and bad cop, good cop being female, attractive and potentially something more but also dangerous, a scam and a conspiracy, the pornography business, thwarted ambitions, HIV, an unsuitable girlfriend for a politician, some back-up in the form of a somewhat politically unenlightened, not very liberal, best friend Jack, an errand boy, a pier and meeting place, a homeless waif and drug addict, a fledgling romance. an attempted hit, a bullet wound, a murderous coyote cleaning house, race rallies, more death closer to home, another trip to a famous LA landmark and an accommodation - with justice of sorts delivered, albeit imperfect, but realistic.

What I really enjoyed in addition to a joined-up, coherent and satisfying case, was the backdrop of the city, depicted both physically in Mark's referencing of cultural hot spots and emotionally in the depiction of the attitudes and mood of the time. You can sense Paul D. Marks is an Angeleno.

Plot, pace, setting, characters, resolution - all ticks.


Hopefully Paul D. Marks is busy scribbling away at the next Duke Rogers mystery.

4.5 from 5

Paul D. Marks has his website here.

He's the author of two other novels - White Heat, which won a Shamus Award and Vortex. He also has a short story collection L.A. Late @ Night and several novellas available.

Read in January, 2019
Published - 2018
Page count - 360
Source - review copy from publisher Down and Out Books
Format - kindle
 

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

2 BY DAVID SWINSON

Another recent addition to the collection - author David Swinson and a couple of good looking PI novels.....























From his website ......

ABOUT DAVID SWINSON

In 1994, Swinson returned to his home base of Washington DC, where he joined the Metropolitan Police Department. Swinson began his career as a police officer in uniform. He was then assigned to the Gun Recovery Unit as a tactical officer. Shortly after that, Swinson was assigned as a plainclothes/undercover officer, targeting narcotics and crimes in progress. In 1998, Swinson was assigned to the Third District Detectives Office as an investigator, where he covered offenses ranging from burglary and armed robbery to homicide. In 2000, he was promoted to detective and was eventually assigned to the department’s Special Investigations Bureau/Major Crimes, and was the lead investigator in the District of Columbia for investigating serial burglaries, high profile cases and organized criminal operations related to narco-fencing.


After retiring from the police department, Swinson began writing crime fiction. A Detailed Man came out in 2011 followed up with The Second Girl, the first book of his Frank Marr trilogy.




Trigger his third Frank Marr novel is released early February, so I'll soon be three books behind! Four if you count his debut - A Detailed Man


The Second Girl (2016)


He's a good detective...with a bad habit.

Frank Marr knows crime in Washington, DC. A decorated former police detective, he retired early and now ekes a living as a private eye for a defense attorney. Frank Marr may be the best investigator the city has ever known, but the city doesn't know his dirty secret.

A long-functioning drug addict, Frank has devoted his considerable skills to hiding his usage from others. But after accidentally discovering a kidnapped teenage girl in the home of an Adams Morgan drug gang, Frank becomes a hero and is thrust into the spotlight. He reluctantly agrees to investigate the disappearance of another girl - possibly connected to the first - and the heightened scrutiny may bring his own secrets to light, too.

Frank is as slippery and charming an antihero as you've ever met, but he's also achingly vulnerable. The result is a mystery of startling intensity, a tightly coiled thriller where every scene may turn disastrous.

The Second Girl is the crime novel of the season and the start of a refreshing new series from an author who knows the criminal underworld inside and out.

Crime Song (2017)

David Swinson returns with a thrillingly dark novel, featuring Frank Marr, 'a masterly piece of characterisation.' (Tana French, author of The Trespasser)

Frank Marr was a good cop with a bad habit, until his addiction to cocaine forced him into retirement from the D.C. police. Now barely making a living as a private investigator, he agrees to take on a family case as a favour for his aunt.

Frank's surveillance confirms that his cousin Jeffrey is involved with a drugs operation. It seems small, until Frank's own home is burgled, leaving a body on the kitchen floor: Jeffrey. Frank's .38 revolver - the murder weapon - is stolen, along with his cherished music collection.

Clearly, his cousin was deeper in the underworld than anyone realised. With his reputation and his own life on the line, Frank searches for the real culprit: following the stolen goods through a tangled network of petty thieves, desperate addicts, deceiving fences, good cops and bad cops.

Frank's as determined to uncover the truth as he is to feed his habit, and both pursuits could prove deadly. This time, it may just be a question of what gets him first.

Monday, 21 January 2019

GEORGE PELECANOS - THE MAN WHO CAME UPTOWN (2018)


Synopsis/blurb......

In best-selling and Emmy-nominated writer George Pelecanos' "Taut and suspenseful" new novel, an ex-offender must choose between the man who got him out and the woman who showed him another path. (Booklist, starred review)

Michael Hudson spends the long days in prison devouring books given to him by the prison's librarian, a young woman named Anna who develops a soft spot for her best student. Anna keeps passing Michael books until one day he disappears, suddenly released after a private detective manipulated a witness in Michael's trial. 

Outside, Michael encounters a Washington, DC, that has changed a lot during his time locked up. Once-shady storefronts are now trendy beer gardens and flower shops. But what hasn't changed is the hard choice between the temptation of crime and doing what's right. Trying to balance his new job, his love of reading, and the debt he owes to the man who got him released, Michael struggles to figure out his place in this new world before he loses control.

Smart and fast-paced, The Man Who Came Uptown brings Washington, DC, to life in a high-stakes story of tough choices.

The Man Who Came Uptown is the 21st book from George Pelecanos and according to my Goodreads stats the 18th that I have enjoyed, and my first since March, 2012.

From what I recall from a lot of his earlier books, the latest lacks the complexities of some of his earlier work. There's not as much criss-crossing of characters and varying timelines, which previously had me marvelling at his story telling prowess. That said this was a quick read and I enjoyed it.

Our main man is Michael Hudson and we are concerned with his efforts to go straight after a surprising release from prison. The release has been engineered by a PI, Phil Ornazian after some witness tampering. The release comes at a price. Michael will be the wheelman for Ornazian and his ex-cop partner when they carry out their next shakedown of a Washington pimp, though Hudson doesn't know this. Drive or maybe the witness suddenly remembers Michael's part in a robbery. Hobson's choice pretty much.

In his life outside prison, Michael is endeavouring to reform and go straight. He has a steady job as a dishwasher and the respect of his boss and his peers. He's reliable and already making plans for his next step. He has a determination not to let his mother and siblings down again and continues to enjoy his reading. Reading being his new found passion, a discovery made in prison and all thanks to the librarian, Anna. That they cross paths in DC is inevitable and with a flicker of attraction between the pair an added complication neither of them need given her married status. Ornazian knocking on his door is an obstacle to his plans.

Anna enjoys her job, connecting with the prisoners in a positive fashion through the book club she has instigated. She's relatively content with her lot in life, but not totally on the same page aspirationally as her husband. There's an emotional connection with Michael through their shared love of books, and an attraction acknowledged by both but not acted upon.

Pelecanos also uses this story thread to provide a hat-tip at various authors and books and also to emphasise the power and benefits of reading. Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Don Carpenter and Willy Vlautin are among the familiar names dropped. There's a certain irony in the pimping of Capernter's Hard Rain Falling, as my shelved copy includes an introduction by none other than Pelecanos himself. Willy Vlautin's Northline is the other book given the hard sell.

After impressing with his driving skills on the first job, unsurprisingly Michael is press-ganged into another by Ornazian. During the course of the book we spend some time with Ornazian and get to know him and see his love for his family, and like he does, we wonder where he took a wrong turn and crossed the line into his dangerous sideline. He feels guilt at forcing Michael to participate in criminality, but not enough to desist from using him.

Great setting, interesting characters, lots of action and a fair bit of violence as our strong arm robberies go down. I enjoyed the tension which Pelecanos created throughout and was keen to discover whether Hudson escaped with his freedom intact.

4 from 5

I'm looking forward to enjoying the other three remaining books in his canon that I haven't got to yet - The Martini Shot, The Double and What it Was. 

Read in January, 2019
Published - 2018
Page count - 202
Source - Net Galley courtesy of publisher Mulholland Books
Format - ePub file read on laptop

Saturday, 19 January 2019

KIMI CUNNINGHAM GRANT - FALLEN MOUNTAINS (2019)


Synopsis/blurb.....

"An intense and engaging portrait of characters driven by—and bound by—the secrets of their pasts . . . an absorbing mystery as well as a gracefully layered story of death and loss in a small town.” —Allen Eskens, USA Today bestselling author of The Life We Bury

When Transom Shultz goes missing shortly after returning to his tightly knit hometown of Fallen Mountains, Pennsylvania, his secrets are not the only ones that threaten to emerge. 

Something terrible happened seventeen years ago. Red, the sheriff, is haunted by it. Possum, the victim of that crime, wants revenge. Chase, a former friend of Transom’s, is devastated by his treacherous land dealings. And Laney worries her one thoughtless mistake with Transom could shatter everything she’s built.

As the search for Transom heats up and the inhabitants’ dark and tangled histories unfold, each must decide whether to live under the brutal weight of the past or try to move beyond it. In Fallen Mountains, even loyalty, love, trust, and family can trap you on a path of tragedy.

Wow!

I was pretty much sucked into this small town mystery from the get-go. Gripping, intriguing, compelling and at the climax supremely satisfying. I was half-tempted to start reading it again immediately after.

A small cast of characters, each carrying their own secrets, each effected by events of the past, all of them good-hearted people, with maybe one exception - though even he has some admirable traits. 

Regret, guilt, loyalty, family, history, conflict, secrets, disappointment, shame, embarrassment, anger, selfishness, love, grief, resentment and more in rural Pennsylvania.

I loved the characters, I loved the setting, I loved how the author made me care about the outcome and what would happen to all those involved. I enjoyed her writing and the past-present flip-flopping of the narrative added to my reading pleasure, more so than if the narrative had been more linear.

All in all a fantastic read and one I'd highly recommend to anyone. I've deliberately refrained from mentioning any events or detail of the characters. Read this book and discover them for yourself. My semi-coherent thoughts do not do this book justice!

5 from 5

Fallen Mountains is Kimi Cunningham Grant's fictional debut. She has an earlier book to her name, a family memoir - Silver Like Dust - which tells the tale of her Japanese-American grandparents interned in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour.

Read in January, 2019
Published - 2019 (out on the 5th March)
Page count - 196
Source - Net Galley
Format - ePub file read on laptop.


Friday, 18 January 2019

TRAVIS RICHARDSON - LOST IN CLOVER (2012)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Welcome to Clover, Kansas, a small town sitting in the middle of America’s Heartland. It's a peaceful community, until the night that high school student Jeremy Rogers accepts an invitation to party with the “cool” older kids. After things go irreparably wrong, and Clover is thrust into the national spotlight, Jeremy keeps his involvement a secret. As the town heals from the tragedy, Jeremy falls into a psychological abyss from which he cannot escape, until he encounters the monster from his past and has an opportunity to redeem himself. A novella.

A fairly quick read here with Travis Richardson's Lost in Clover which documents the lead-up to, the execution of and the aftermath of a small town American shooting through the eyes of Jeremy Rogers.

Rogers and some drinking buddies, have a few too many beers and with a bucket-load of dutch courage, decide to pay Crazy Eddie Cooper - a much younger bully and someone who has inflicted some injury on each of them at one time or another - a visit to teach him an unforgettable lesson. Jeremy bails at the last minute and escapes the tragedy that unfolds physically, but emerges from it far from unscathed emotionally.

One boy's story and almost a coming-of-age tale, an American tragedy, multiple deaths, small town, Kansas thrust into a media glare, town rage, survivor guilt, enhanced because of a certain amount of complicity in the act that unfolded, a court case, more media headlines, a flash lawyer and a more considered appreciation of events, fear, memories, a childhood birthday party and Crazy Eddie's family, PTSD, withdrawal, isolation, ennui, an inability to care, a separation from family and friends, falling grades, prom night, college, an inability to act, the girls who got away, the passage of time, mower boy becoming mower man, a life on hold..... then Crazy Eddie gets parole.

Enjoyable, thoughtful, considered, but not without a few laughs here and there, and a positive ending which delivers an ending to Jeremy's lethargy .

4 from 5

Travis Richardson's recent short story collection - Bloodshot and Bruised: Crime Stories from the South and West sits waiting on the kindle
    
Read in January, 2019
Published - 2012
Page count - 198
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback


Tuesday, 15 January 2019

PETER CHURCH - CRACKERJACK (2019)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Young, bright and sexy, Carla Vitale has been handpicked to run Supertech, Africa's leading independent Engineering firm. Then one Friday afternoon in Cape Town, her dream is shattered. Her boss and mentor, Nial Townley, disappears, his luxury vehicle is found in a crevice at the bottom of Chapman's Peak and $USD 20m is missing from the Supertech's overseas accounts. Three months later and the police are no closer to solving the riddle.

No job, no car, no phone, Carla turns to the one person she believes can help: software hacker turned day-trader, Daniel Le Fleur. But Le Fleur's maintaining a low profile in Bantry Bay and he's in no mood to ruin the serendipity.

Crackerjack was a recent spot late last year on the Edelweiss early reviewer site and with the clock ticking down on the expiration date of my copy, I thought I’d better pull my finger out and read the thing a bit sharp-ish. And I’m pretty pleased I did.

Here we have a Cape Town mystery concerning cyber-crime, a missing person and more importantly for some missing money - $20m US. Our main character, Daniel Le Fleur is bored with his solitary life. No partner, no family – both parents are dead, a mother mourned and missed, a father not so much. His only friend or even regular human contact is in the shape of a homeless tramp who spends most of his hours occupying a bench outside Le Fleur’s apartment. Le Fleur is a reformed hacker and spends his days surfing TV channels while day trading in bitcoins. He got caught hacking, served his light sentence by working for a body tasked with preventing cyber-crimes. His hacking was as a part of a group of like-minded individuals determined to bring down a group trading in under-age women on the net. Judging by his lifestyle, he probably managed to acquire a few ill-gotten gains that he’s held on to. But in a nut shell he’s bored.

Along comes the stunning Carla, who is concerned for her missing boss and her position. Her boss has allegedly skipped with a whole load of money and the fallout means his ailing company is prey to a stronger competitor that is circling. If his firm falls, her career ambitions go south.

No surprise to know that Le Fleur, initially reluctantly, decides to get involved and help Carla find out what the police haven’t been able to.

I really enjoyed this one, probably a bit more than I expected to. I was initially concerned that maybe the author would bog me down in technical details on how to hack this, how to access that, how the dark web operates and its money maundering methods etc etc, but he doesn’t. There’s a bit of interesting and knowing detail regarding these things obviously, but the main focus is on the missing man, Nial Townsley and Le Fleur’s efforts initially to discover what happened to him in the last few weeks of his life, before he went missing; and subsequently to protect himself and Carla when his efforts prove fruitful and the tables get turned with the hunters becoming the hunted.

White collar crime, hostile takeovers, missing money, bully boy thugs, a stripper girlfriend, offshore investments, a dodgy company, an investigative journalist, phone hacking, hidden cameras, best friends and lawyers, an unhappy ex-wife and a custody battle, a tramp, the police, a paroled hit woman with a career plan a death list and revenge in mind, bus rides and hotel hideouts, wild sex and violent death, surveillance both physical and remote, and a puppet-mastermind pulling everyone’s strings.

Action, danger, a fast-pace and a really entertaining book. Church serves up a few twists along the way with the introduction of the parolee greatly adding to the tension. The conclusion worked but had a sense of inevitability about it. One more twist without which, everything which had gone on before might have seemed too obvious and predictable.

Over 400 pages and a quick 400 at that – as I ploughed through this in a fraction over two days. Ticks in a lot of the boxes - pace, mystery, characters and setting.

4 from 5

Peter Church is a South African author with a few previous novels to his name – Blue Cow Sky, Bitter Pill and Dark Church, all of which look interesting.

Read in January, 2019
Published – 2019 (in February from Catalyst Press)
Page count – 414
Source – Edelweiss early reviewer site
Format – ePub file (read on laptop)