Tuesday, 16 July 2013


This week it’s the turn of the O’s to feature in the 2013 Crime Fiction Alphabet.  Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is kindly hosting the event and if you fancy picking up some decent recommendations for your reading enjoyment, please visit her blog.

When we visit the O’s, if I’m truthful I’m not overwhelmed by choice, numbers-wise. I have read at various times some offerings from Ardal O’Hanlon, Jack O’Connell, Joseph O’Connor and Stewart O’Nan, with the odd book unread by Flannery O’Connor and Nick Oldham on my shelves. All these are benched in favour of the following..........

O’Brien, Owen, Owen..........3 enjoyed

Tim O’Brien – Going After Cacciato

I’m not going to pretend this is crime fiction, just great fiction end of. As mentioned above my O options are somewhat limited, so hopefully Kerrie at MiP will forgive me this indulgence. I was undoubtedly influenced by vaguely remembered news broadcasts in the late 60’s and early 70’s as I was growing up; so in my adult reading and viewing, I developed a love and fascination for film and books about the Vietnam war and experience. I was introduced to a number of great writers such as Michael Herr, Philip Caputo, Larry Heinemann and Tim O’Brien. This won the National Book Award in the US back in 1979, though it was probably the late 80’s before I read it. Time has dimmed my memory, but I can vaguely recall the spell O’Brien cast on me as I read this....haunting and magical, I have kept my copy ready to re-read some day. Some of his other work isn’t too shabby either, If I Die In A Combat Zone, The Things They Carried......  

"In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war."

In Tim O'Brien's novel Going After Cacciato the theater of war becomes the theater of the absurd as a private deserts his post in Vietnam, intent on walking 8,000 miles to Paris for the peace talks. The remaining members of his squad are sent after him, but what happens then is anybody's guess: "The facts were simple: They went after Cacciato, they chased him into the mountains, they tried hard. They cornered him on a small grassy hill. They surrounded the hill. They waited through the night. And at dawn they shot the sky full of flares and then they moved in.... That was the end of it. The last known fact. What remained were possibilities." 

It is these possibilities that make O'Brien's National Book Award-winning novel so extraordinary. Told from the perspective of squad member Paul Berlin, the search for Cacciato soon enters the realm of the surreal as the men find themselves following an elusive trail of chocolate M&M's through the jungles of Indochina, across India, Iran, Greece, and Yugoslavia to the streets of Paris. The details of this hallucinatory journey alternate with feverish memories of the war--men maimed by landmines, killed in tunnels, engaged in casual acts of brutality that would be unthinkable anywhere else. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Going After Cacciato dishes up a brilliant mix of ferocious comedy and bleak horror that serves to illuminate both the complex psychology of men in battle and the overarching insanity of war. --Alix Wilber

David Owen – Pig’s Head

Back on safer crime fiction territory here, Owen originally wrote a four book series about Tasmanian detective, Franz Heineken aka Pufferfish back in the mid-90’s. I can’t for the life of me recall how I even discovered these, as the author lacks a website and without being unkind an international profile. Maybe he had a nomination for the Ned Kelly Award and I glommed on to him that way. I can recall that, similar to Paul Thomas, another crime fiction writer based down under, it was tricky trying to acquire affordable copies of the books in the Northern Hemisphere. I managed to get this and the other three; though to date I have only read the first two in the series. Fun and quirky, great writing and entertainment, time to get to the other two in my library!

Recently Pufferfish has come out of hiatus or cold storage and Owen has written 2 more in the series. Sadly they are about as easy to find as rocking horse pooh, or in polite company, hen’s teeth, around my neck of the woods anyway!

Without being unduly unkind to the following UK- based, Mr Owen or indeed the politician of the same name, I would happily propose a cultural exchange, so we can enjoy the real deal in the UK.  
Pufferfish’s full case file listed below, thanks to Fair Dinkum Crime website,

Pig’s Head (1994)
A Second Hand (1995)
X and Y (1995)
The Devil Taker (1997)
No Weather for a Burial (2010)
How The Dead See (2011)

There are good cops, there are bad cops...and there is Pufferfish, aka Detective Inspector Franz Heineken.
Pufferfish (Contusus brevicaudus): Body moderately short, pectorals rounded. Slow swimmer. Scavenger in the mud, at home in the murky shallows, where it roots out and feeds on detritusbody able to bloat and even explode under extreme provocation.
A severed head rolls out of the runnish in a crowded Tasmanian caravan park, and the hunt is on for the killers ... and for their victim, a man no-one seems to miss, a man no-one wants to know.
As Pufferfish digs deeper, he runs straight up against mainland law and order ... and the smell of corruption grows.

Charlie Owen – Horse’s Arse

Former police officer turned author, wrote a series of four books, based in a fictional northern suburb. Bawdy, irreverent, coarse, vulgar, amusing and ultimately a bit tiring (come book number four), initially the books were quite fresh and interesting.  In my opinion, the author wisely called a halt after the fourth, once his set piece jokes and anecdotes had started to grate on me. A bit of a lad’s book, I suppose.
If you’re still interested and I would recommend you try at least one in the series, the full Hanstead case files are as follows;    
Hanstead New Town
1. Horse's Arse (2006)
2. Foxtrot Oscar (2007)
3. Bravo Jubilee (2008)
4. Two Tribes (2009)

It is the 70s and Horse's Arse is the affectionate name for Hanstead New Town, a North Manchester overspill and an unholy dump. The Police use it as a penal posting -- all the bad egg coppers end up there. Worst amongst the residents of Hanstead are the Park Royal Mafia, a gang of violent thugs who terrorise their neighbourhood. They and the officers doomed to serve at Hanstead wrestle constantly for dominance. This is the story of some of those police officers - the Grimm Brothers, Psycho, Pizza, Piggy Malone and others, a group of hooligans in uniform and their journey through excess, despair and finally some form of salvation...

Oswald, O’Neill, Oppenheim.........3 unread      

 James Oswald – Natural Causes

I just checked my Kindle and saw that I got this as a freebie back in October last year. About a month ago, I was somewhat surprised to see this populating the recent paperback chart in my local supermarket, as to be honest I kind of forgot about this one.  Fast forward to earlier this week and the author’s second offering is populating the shelves also. Apparently Oswald is one of the latest and brightest young new authors around. Good luck to him, even if it means I have to pull my finger out and read it earlier than anticipated, meaning sometime in the next couple of years!

The body of a young woman is found walled up in the basement of an old Edinburgh mansion. A prominent local figure is brutally murdered. An illegal immigrant cuts his throat in a city centre pub. As violence descends upon the city, Detective Inspector McLean must think the unthinkable. An ancient evil has been freed, and only if he accepts that it can exist will he be able to stop it.


When Edinburgh police find the killer of a prominent city elder less than twenty-four hours after the crime, they are justifiably pleased. So the murderer has killed himself; that just saves the time and cost of a trial. But a second murder days later bears haunting similarities to the first, even though once more the murderer swiftly confesses and kills himself.

Detective Inspector Anthony McLean is investigating the discovery of a dead girl, walled up in the basement of an old Edinburgh mansion. She has been brutally murdered, her internal organs removed and placed around her in six preserving jars. The evidence suggests this all happened over sixty years ago, an attempt to re-enact an ancient ceremony that by trapping a demon in the dead girl's body would supposedly confer immortality on the six men who took one of her organs each.

McLean's grandmother - the woman who raised him after his parents were killed when he was a young boy - dies after months in a coma following a stroke. On top of this he has to investigate a series of unusual, violent suicides and a cat-burglar who targets the homes of the recently dead. But as another prominent Edinburgh businessman is killed, he begins to suspect that there may be a connection between the murders, the suicides and the ritual killing of the girl found in the basement. The same names keep cropping up. He just can't find a rational explanation as to how that connection works.

As he digs deeper, and as the coincidences stack up, McLean is forced to consider an irrational explanation. Could there really be something evil stalking the city he has sworn to protect? And if so, how on earth can he hope to stop it?

Edward Phillips Oppenheim – The Great Impersonation

Expanding my reading into the espionage/thriller/spy fiction genre a year or two ago, I googled “10 favourite spy novels” or something similar. This one appeared, though not frequently on the lists I encountered. I was intrigued enough to track down a copy, which I did. Unread for a couple of years only, I doubt I will be wading my way through the author’s entire back catalogue irrespective of how good this eventually proves to be. Sadly, my copy lacks a dust jacket unlike this splendid cover displayed.

The year is 1913. The disgraced and formerly penniless aristocrat Sir Everard Dominey returns from German East Africa a reformed and wealthy man determined to take his place in English society. But is he Sir Everard or the German spy, Baron Leopold von Ragastein? Leopold, educated at Eton and Oxford with the Englishman, bears a striking resemblance to Dominey and was often taken as his double at school. After a chance encounter in Africa, one of them has returned. But who? 

The Great Impersonation is probably the most famous spy novel of all time. This is marvelous reading with its fast moving plot and its descriptions of the rich life of English aristocrats before the Great War, and its bold characters. Besides the Kaiser and a whole host of Dukes, Duchesses, Ambassadors, German agents and silly young Englishman, there's the Princess Eiderstrom, "one of the most passionate women in Europe," desperately in love with Leopold; Sir Everard's insane wife who has vowed to kill him if he should every return home; the frightening Mrs. Unthank, Lady Dominey's only companion, and her son, Roger Unthank, whom everyone believes Sir Everard murdered, and whose spirit haunts the ancestral home. 

Known as "the Prince of Storytellers," E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946) was the English author of 116 novels and 39 short -story collections. The Great Impersonation, his most famous work, has been made and remade into successful movies many times. A vivid, convincing thriller, this book will appeal to scores of readers brought up on Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, and Frederick Forsyth.

Tony O’Neill – Sick City

A Lancashire lad, now based in New York, O'Neill a former musician now author-cum-poet writes fact/fiction in part based on his own experiences as an addict. Probably not one for everyone, but maybe I have a fascination for the darker, seamier side of living. Unread for maybe 3 years or so; there is a follow-up book, Black Neon which continues the tale of Jeffrey and Randal. I may need to brush up on my German, as I don’t believe it has yet been published in English.     

Jeffrey has nowhere to go when Bill, his sugar-daddy boyfriend, croaks. But before he sets off into the bright glare of LA, he's sure to grab a few parting mementos: cash, a gun, some drugs, and one ancient, metal film canister that contains a treasure greater than all the rest combined: a tape taken from the scene of the Sharon Tate murders that supposedly features a drug-fuelled orgy. Jeffrey stashes the goods and promises himself to get clean before selling the merchandise. Randal is the fallen scion of a great Hollywood family. His habit and his rehab bills have long been overlooked by his indulgent father, but with him now dead and gone, he's left to the zealous sanctimony of his younger brother, who has enrolled him in Clean and Serene, a celebrity treatment center run by Dr. Mike, America's TV doctor. It is there that Randal meets Jeffrey. A plan is hatched by the new friends to unload the sex tape, but things do not go even remotely as planned. In the end, lives are lost, habits resumed, and careers squashed. It even snows in Las Vegas in this fast-paced, tightly plotted junkie page-turner from Tony O'Neill.

I’ll be back next week with some P’s for your perusal.  


  1. the only one of these authors I've ever heard of is David Owen but I've not read this book - even here his earlier books are not that easy to come by which is a bit sad as I only discovered him with the 2010 release which I thought was great fun and I'd like to go back and read the first lot

    1. Bernadette, I would hope that the Owen's might get re-released as e-books and become more readily available, so as to be enjoyed by more, but who knows.
      I hunted for the latter two on the net, 1 was about £40, the other £60.....I guess I don't want to read them that badly!

  2. OK right, I love Tim O'Brien, though more for his later non-Vietnam novels: I think he's one of the greats. And the E Philips Oppenheim sounds terrific, I do love an is he/isn't he doubles theme. But the others - Pig's Head, Pufferfish and Horse's Arse? I accused you last week of making books up: now you're letting your imagination run away with you...

    1. Moira, did I think of you and immediately say Horse's Arse? No, I did not, but I did think.....70's, uniforms, flares, high-waisters, cheesecloth shirts, big collars....
      I've yet to catch up on O'Brien's later stuff, but it's nice to find a co-admirer of him.
      Oppenheim, if it's half as good as the praise it has received should be enjoyable.

  3. Col - I've heard good things about Pigs Head - well, about Owen's work in general. I ought to get acquainted with his books. And I ought to try the O'Brien. Anything that includes a trail of M&M's is worth exploring. ;-)

    1. Margot, if you can track down an Owen/Heineken book I'd be interested to hear your take on him.
      O'Brien....well worth reading it in my opinion.

  4. All of your O books that you read and enjoyed sound interesting, but I have never heard of the authors. As for the Unread... WE also have Natural Causes on our Kindle (for free) and my husband and I both plan to read it. And I also want to read the E. Phillips Oppenheim book someday.

    1. Hopefully, all 3 of us enjoy the Oswald. I would like to keep pace with a current series or two, instead of always lagging behind everyone else and playing catch-up.

  5. WOW these are some interesting titles. Horse's Arse stuck out I must admit. Off to do some checking.

    1. Keishon, you know you like buying books, hopefully you've taken the plunge on something!

    2. Well, I did buy Horse's Arse. That's it. Visiting your blog has become a danger to my wallet. Seriously as I think we both have similar reading taste. To date I've bought four books that you've spotlighted on your blog. The rest are on my wish list for later.

    3. Keishon, if I said I was sorry, you wouldn't believe me. I'll have to back track and see how much pain you've caused my wallet from your blog!

  6. 0 for 6 in authors read for me. I have looked for David Owens in Canada but have not found him.

    1. Bill thanks - no commonality between us this week then? There's always week 16!

  7. Col, thanks for reminding me about E. Phillips Oppenheim and "The Great Impersonation." Spy novels are one of my favourite genres and I intend to read his work beginning with this particular book. I know I'm going to like it, more so since I was brought up on Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth and the rest.

    1. Prashant, hopefully you can find this one. I know from my own internet browsing that you can locate free, legal copies of some of his books, presumably copyright expired....I have a few as pdfs on my PC....The Double Traitor, The Zeppelin Passenger,The Cinema Murder.

      I can email if you like,

  8. Col, most of his books are legally available on the internet, especially under Project Gutenberg. In fact, www(dot)manybooks(dot)net, a favourite books site among readers including me, has all his books, I think, including the one you reviewed and those mentioned above. You can read them in various formats. Thanks for the offer.

    1. Prashant, you're ahead of me on this one then. I have noted the website you mentioned, thanks.
      Another site I look at sometimes is Munsey's where you can get a few pulp authors....Jonathan Craig, Peter Rabe, Charles Williams etc.

    2. Col, I'm familiar with Munsey's where I've had a look at some early noir fiction, though I haven't been to the site for some time now. It's nice to know that a vast number of books are now available under creative license.

    3. One step ahead of me again!