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....









MATT PHILLIPS - BAD LUCK CITY (2016)


Synopsis/blurb....

"A must-read...a throwback pulp novella that rings with authenticity." -- Out of the Gutter

Sim Palmer is bored as hell...Journalism for a Vegas tabloid is less exciting than expected. One phone call from a local gangster changes that; Sim soon finds himself battling against the criminal underworld. He's about to discover a family history best left buried.

Matt Phillips brings you an exciting and fast-paced novella. The first in a series of Knuckle Cracking Novellas brought to you by Near To The Knuckle.

A great start to September's reading with Matt Phillips' Las Vegas set Bad Luck City.

We have a jaded journalist treading water in his job and approached by a stranger who asks him to look for a mysterious girl who is missing. One thing follows another and Sim Palmer gets sucked into a world of violence, pain and artistic perversion with a bar girl and young delinquent for company, while crossing paths with a violent pimp-cum-fixer plus cohorts and a rather strange casino boss.

I really liked the setting, the set-up and the settlement to our fast-paced outing. There's a strong sense of place, a strong feel for family and memories and identity, a bit of a good versus evil tale with a quest for answers and subsequently if not exactly justice, a desire for some form of retribution.

128 pages long - perfect length and a quick speedy read that entertained and didn't disappoint.


Matt Phillips has been enjoyed before with his novella Redbone. Accidental Outlaws, Three Kinds of Fool and his latest Know Me From Smoke still sit on the pile.

4 from 5

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2016
Page count - 128
Source - purchased copy
Format - kindle
 

Thursday, 6 September 2018

AUGUST 2018 - READING LIST AND PICK OF THE MONTH



August's reading was a bit less than the previous month and I failed to hit double digit figures for reading, which is my usual goal.

I did manage to read a raft of short stories in the month - AUGUST 2018 - 31 DAYS, 31 SHORTS!


Nine books read in the month though probably only four would pass as full length novels with the same again as novellas and one short story.

No 5 STAR read in the month, though four ran close. On the basis that it is the one I'd pick up first for a re-read Martin Stanley's Fighting Talk is my pick of the month.

The three other 4.5 STAR reads were Les Edgerton's The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping, Of Blondes and Bullets by Michael Young and Glen McGoldrick's short story Dead Flies

The full nine were....

Les Edgerton - The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping (2014) (4.5)

Michael Young - Of Blondes and Bullets (2015) (4.5)

Glenn McGoldrick - Dead Flies (2017) (4.5)

Henry G. Sheppard - Haematemesis (2016) (4)

Steve Shadow - Sin-ema (2012) (3)

Chris Thomas - The Edge of Sanity (2018) (4)

Robert Parker - Morte Point (2018) (4)

Douglas Schofield - Killing Pace (2017) (3)

Martin Stanley - Fighting Talk (2018) (4.5)

More trivia for my own amusement ....


3 of the 9 were 4 STAR reads and very enjoyable - Robert Parker's Morte Point, Henry G. Sheppard's amusing non-fiction account of battling illness Haematemesis and Chris Thomas's The Edge of Sanity

2 - 3 STAR reads - Steve Shadow's pornographic Sin-ema and Douglas Schofield's thriller Killing Pace

9 reads from 9 different authors,

4 of the 9 were new-to-me authors, Michael Young, Douglas Schofield, Steve Shadow and Henry G. Sheppard. I have more to read on the pile from Steve Shadow

Les Edgerton, Robert Parker, Chris Thomas, Glenn McGoldrick and Martin Stanley have all been enjoyed before with more from Les Edgerton and Martin Stanley sitting on the TBR pile.

Gender analysis -  9 male authors, ZERO female - OOPS - shocking but no big surprise. Deja-vous - I keep deferring my all female reading month.

Of the 9 authors read, 4 are English, 3 hail from the US, 1 now sadly passed was from Australia and 1 unknown - possibly English!

8 of the 9 of the reads were fiction - 4 novels - 3 novellas, 1 short story and one non-fiction biographical account of illness and a medical journey - Henry G. Sheppard - Haematemesis

All of the books were published in this decade ....3 from 2018, 2 from 2017, 1 from 2016, 1 from 2015, 1 from 2014 and 1 from 2012.
That's 2 months running I don't think I've left this decade. I've definitely lost the knack of reading older books.

Settings -  an Australian hospital, 70s Chicago, New Orleans, Teesside, Devon, Florida and Italy, more North East England, London and some other random spots which I can't be arsed to look up

5 of the 9 reads were pre-owned. Of the other 4 - 2 came from the author, with a duplicate copy from the publisher, another 1 was received from a publisher via Net Galley and 1 came from a publicist. Chris Thomas and Robert Parker were read as part of author blog tours.

Favourite cover? Robert Parker - Morte Point





Second favourite cover - Michael Young - Of Blondes and Bullets








My reads were this long  270 - 81 - 14 - 73 - 118 - 302 - 266 - 276 - 111

Total page count = 1511 (2966 in July ) ....... an 1455 page drop off

5 were Kindle reads, and 2 were paperbacks, 1 was a hardback and 1 was an EPub file read on my laptop


1 < 50,
2 between 51 < 100,
2 between 101 < 200,
3 between 201 < 300,
1 between 301 < 400,
0  > 400 pages

Chris Thomas - The Edge of Sanity was the longest read at 302 pages

Glenn McGoldrick and Dead Flies was the shortest at 14 pages long.

MARTIN STANLEY - FIGHTING TALK (2018)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Eric Stanton is used to getting the dirty end of the stick. So, he’s not entirely convinced when his loan-shark boss tells him he's got an easy job for him to do. His boss assures him it’s the kind of task that requires “somebody with a light touch”. All Eric needs to do is visit his boss’ favourite client and ask why she’s fallen behind with her payments.

Easy, right?

Wrong.

All it takes is one visit to send the Stanton brothers on a crazy journey through derelict buildings filled with junkies and drug dealers, rough pubs, and abandoned farms, as they attempt to right some wrongs and bring down a dog-fighting syndicate. It all starts with a bit of fighting talk, but it’s going to end with blood and broken bones. 

Fighting Talk combines fast-paced storytelling with snappy banter, wild and brutal action, and some very nasty villains to create a funny, ferocious crime thriller that will keep you glued to the page.


From the author of The Glasgow Grin and The Curious Case of The Missing Moolah, comes the brand-new thriller, Fighting Talk – featuring the Stanton brothers in their grittiest adventure yet. 

It would be a crime to miss it.

WARNING: CONTAINS VERY STRONG LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE THROUGHOUT. NOT FOR THE EASILY OFFENDED OR THOSE OF A SENSITIVE DISPOSITION.

ALL AUTHOR PROCEEDS FROM THIS PUBLICATION WILL BE GOING TO ALZHEIMER’S SOCIETY.

My third time with author Martin Stanley and his likeable rogue brothers, the Stanton's and we have another series of fisticuffs and beat downs as the pair led by Eric, take down a dog fighting ring and extract a bit of financial compensation for themselves at the same time. For a few fleeting moments, we also wonder if Eric is destined for some love and romance as he reveals a formerly well-concealed sensitive side. Katie McDonagh could be the one to tame Eric, an errand for Piper, Eric's money-lending boss has the two crossing paths and sets us on the way for another bloody adventure.

The warning at the bottom of the blurb is well-placed. It's the kind of book, you will absolutely love with larger than life characters, irreverent humour, graphic violence and a gritty heart or it will leave you cold. I'm firmly in camp A.

When I read, I want to be entertained. I want empathetic characters, I want a dash of humour and most of all a believable story with a bit of action and a resolution. I don't necessarily want flowery prose and high art. It's my belief that shady characters operating outside of the law, are more interesting than straight Joes and the Stantons fit the bill nicely. A decent setting also works wonders and while I doubt I'll be taking any holidays on the Costa del Teesside, I do like a visit in my reading.

Literature it ain't but does exactly what is described on the tin. Enjoyable, violent, fast and furious. What more do I need?

4.5 from 5

Martin Stanley's other Stanton offerings The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah and Get Santa have been enjoyed. Another five sit on the pile!

Read in August, 2018
Published  - 2018
Page count - 111
Source  - purchased copy
Format - kindle




Tuesday, 4 September 2018

2 BY ICEBERG SLIM aka ROBERT BECK

A couple this week from 60s and 70s Chicago and Iceberg Slim aka Robert Beck.






















Iceberg Slim is not an author I have read in the recent past, but I dimly recall reading his semi-autobiographical novel Pimp many, many years ago. So long ago it probably doesn't count.

Beck has about 8 or 9 books to his name, a few of them published posthumously after his death in 1992.

There's an interesting 2015 essay in the New Yorker which provides a bit of insight into his life and works and influences - The Fires That Forged Iceberg Slim.


Trick Baby (1967)


This is the gritty truth, the life of a hustler in South Side Chicago, where the only characters are those who con and those who get conned.

Trick Baby tells the story of White Folks, a blue-eyed, light-haired con artist whose pale skin allows him to pass in the streets as a white man. Folks is tormented early in life, rejected by other children and branded a "trick baby", a child conceived between a hooker and her trick. Refusing to abandon his life in the ghetto and a chance at revenge, Folks is taken under the wing of an older mentor, Blue. What happens next is unbelievable.

Only Slim could bring us the story of a hustler forced to learn the game and rise to the top. It's Slim's story, and he tells it the only way he knows how: in the language of the streets.


Death Wish (1977)

This is the story of Chicago's ruthless and tireless Mafia. The intensely real characters - the brutal overlords, their faithful lackeys, and their vengeful enemies - all collide in acts of loyalty, lust, greed, and death.

Power hungry Don Jimmy Collucci is out to become the kingpin of Chicago's "Honored Society." His rise to the top can only be thwarted by one man - a man fueled by revenge who is hell-bent on bringing Collucci's infamous organization down: the "Black Warrior," Jessie Taylor. When ambitions collide, guns are drawn and blood is spilled. This gritty crime fiction tale is the original Mafia story.

Monday, 3 September 2018

AUGUST 2018 - FILMS + TV (+ THEATRE)

August's viewing was a mixed bag - a couple of films (not great), continued viewing of a couple of TV series - both still in progress (very enjoyable) and a couple of trips to the theatre (excellent).

The Handmaid's Tale (Season 2) (2018)

Another few episodes watched - three maybe four, maybe four or five to go, if we don't finish in September we'll give up I reckon. All I have to do is get three people in the room at the same time.

Excellent, gripping, scary, a few more harrowing and disturbing events. It is starting to feel like the world's longest pregnancy now.

From Wikipedia...,

The Handmaid's Tale is an American dystopian drama web television series created by Bruce Miller, based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. It was ordered by the streaming service Hulu as a straight-to-series order of 10 episodes, for which production began in late 2016. The plot features a dystopian future following a Second American Civil War wherein a totalitarian society subjects fertile women, called "Handmaids", into child-bearing servitude.

The first three episodes of the series premiered on April 26, 2017; the subsequent seven episodes aired on a weekly basis every Wednesday. In May 2017, the series was renewed for a second season which premiered on April 25, 2018.

The Handmaid's Tale has received widespread critical acclaim and its first season won eight Primetime Emmy Awards from thirteen nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series, becoming the first series on a streaming service to win an Emmy for Outstanding Series.It also won Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Drama and Best Actress for Elisabeth Moss.

In May 2018, Hulu announced that the series had been renewed for a third season.


Moana (2016)

If this was fifteen years ago and watched at the cinema, undoubtedly I would have snoozed through this, which is probably the best way to watch it. I doubt I'm the target audience. Dwayne Johnson features. We have a minority tribe and a female heroine, all very PC.

From IMDB...

In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by the Demigod Maui reaches Moana's island, she answers the Ocean's call to seek out the Demigod to set things right.



The Boy (2016)
Another film my children took great delight in forcing me to watch. I'm of a nervous jumpy disposition so anything slightly horror has me twitching and fidgety. This was no exception. The Boy of the title is a creepy doll which needs baby sitting, while the parents go away for a break. More disturbing and uncomfortable than out and out frightening, it improves towards the end when all is suddenly explained. I didn't know any of the cast. Not one I'll rush to watch again or recommend. Better than Moana though.

From IMDB

An American nanny is shocked that her new English family's boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive.


The Sinner Season 1 (2017)



Another one I seem to have been watching forever. A couple more episodes watched and two or three to go. Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman are superb, My daughter, who has seen it all, keeps saying wait for the reveal. Well we haven't got there yet. It's confusing but compelling. I don't know why this confused woman did what she did yet.


From Google.....

Young mother Cora Tannetti is overcome by an inexplicable fit of rage that leads her to commit a startling -- and very public -- act of violence, with no explanation as to why she did it. When Detective Harry Ambrose begins his investigation and grows obsessed with uncovering Cora's hidden motive, the two work together to try to get deep into her psyche to learn about the violent secrets that are hidden in her past. The eight-episode thriller -- which tries to uncover the "why" instead of the "who" or "what" -- stars Jessica Biel, who also serves as an executive producer, and Bill Pullman in the lead roles.


The League of Gentlemen Live Again! 2018
A live show watched in Edinburgh with my wife at the end of the month. Very funny, familiar characters from the TV show and film, a bit of audience participation - glad it wasn't me hauled up on stage. Definitely cult viewing and an acquired taste as the humour is off the wall and a bit perverse and skewed. Not something you would drag your mum off to see. My wife and I loved it as did the rest of the crowd. Better tickets and a seat a bit closer to the front of the house would have enhanced the enjoyment, but it was a last minute decision to try and get tickets and options were limited.


From Wikipedia....

The League of Gentlemen is a British comedy television series that premiered on BBC Two in 1999. The show is set in Royston Vasey, a fictional town in Northern England, originally based on Alston, Cumbria and follows the lives of bizarre characters, most of whom are played by three of the show's four writers—Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith—who, along with Jeremy Dyson, formed the League of Gentlemen comedy troupe in 1995. The series originally aired for three series from 1999 until 2002 followed by a film in 2005. A three-part revival mini-series was broadcast in December 2017 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group's first appearance on BBC Radio 4.


Kinky Boots 

A birthday trip for my wife to London's West End which was enjoyed with our two daughters. Not that I get to the theatre very often, but it was amazing and the best live show I've seen in many years. We enjoyed the film a couple of years ago, but this was better. All based around a true story of a Northampton shoe factory close to going out of business and re-inventing themselves as suppliers to the transgender market with - wait for it - kinky boots!

I do like Cyndi Lauper's music - True Colors, Time After Time, Girls Just Want to Have Fun etc etc and it was great to hear some new material from her. She hasn't lost her touch at all.

From the musical's website.....

Since winning the 2016 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Kinky Boots is the winner of every major Best Musical award and is the hottest show in town!

With songs by Grammy® and Tony® winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper, this fabulous musical celebration is about the friendships we discover, and the belief that you can change the world when you change your mind.

Kinky Boots takes you from the factory floor to the glamorous catwalks of Milan. Charlie Price, played by Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, We Will Rock You), is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations and continue the family business of Price & Son. With the shoe factory’s future hanging in the balance, help arrives in the unlikely but spectacular form of Lola, played by Simon-Anthony Rhoden, a fabulous performer in need of some sturdy new stilettos.