Monday, 25 March 2019

BILL JAMES - HITMEN I HAVE KNOWN (2019)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Assistant Chief Constable Iles finds himself suspected of murder in the fast-paced 35th installment of the popular Harpur and Iles police procedural series.

Tensions in the community are mounting following the gruesome deaths of two men, both of whom were accused yet acquitted of the murder of an undercover police officer. It looks like vigilante justice, but who is responsible? Alarmingly, suspicion falls on Assistant Chief Constable Iles.

Matters escalate when a TV show investigating the murders is aired, further implicating Iles. Iles seems at ease with the accusations, as are his superiors in the police force. But others are not feeling so secure.

Local crime bosses Ralph Ember and Mansel Shale fear reprisals against Iles will result in their own businesses suffering. And so they begin to plan how to remove potential troublemakers from their path . . .

I'm pretty sure I have read the first in this series a fair few years ago and at one time I harboured delusions of reading the whole series, probably when he was on about number 20, maybe 15 years ago. Since then at a pace of about one a year, this 90 year old author (or thereabouts) has sped further away from me.

Here we have our long-running double act, Harpur and Iles pondering an upcoming TV documentary-cum-dramatisation where a thinly veiled accusation of murder will be aimed at Iles.

Our book concerns the fall-out from that and the effect it has on Harpur; his daughter's - one of whom, Hazel seems to have an infatuation with ACC Iles, which may have been inappropriately reciprocated at one time; Iles's pregnant wife, Sarah - who Harpur had an affair with previously and also a couple of local villains who's day to day activities are tolerated by Iles in a tacit policy of laissez-faire, Iles's overview being - better the devil you know in respect of criminality in the community.   

I took a while to warm to the book, mainly because of the author's narrative style which is fairly distinctive and instantly recognisable - it is if you've read him before of course. I wouldn't say he talks in riddles, but he demands that you pay careful attention to his words.

There's a fair bit of humour in the book and I get the impression the author had some fun writing it. At one point, Harpur meets a confidential informant at a secluded location and almost gets more than information. The back door of their car opens and a hopeful, randy stranger hops in full of anticipation for the three way tryst that is sure to follow. The fellow departs, nursing hurt feelings and wounded pride before getting reinvigorated by the stranger who drops into his own car.

There's some fun with the villains too. One of whom, Mansel Shale is rather rashly contemplating shooting the TV crew as a means of removing the threat to Iles. The other, Ralph Ember a nightclub owner and more, fancies himself as a Charlton Heston lookalike, back from the days when Charlton was a good looking chap (and not overly obsessed with polishing his gun collection). Self-obsessed and vain, Ralph lives in a cocoon, imagining that everyone he meets has the same regard and high opinion of him, that he holds for himself. He is slightly more rational than Shale, but it's a close run thing.

Family conferences, nightclub visits, Bastille Day, a TV programme, bad publicity, Home Office concern and involvement, a dead undercover officer, two dead acquitted suspects,a shooting, a garroting, an agitating brother, a nightclub riot, a concerned wife, some anxious villains, Charlton Heston, a concocted plan, a temporarily missing daughter, a trip to London, a decorating contract, a surveillance operation, an unexpected occurrence and a return to normality.   

Once I got into this, I really enjoyed it. There's an ambiguity about the conclusion that worked well for me, a sort of did he, didn't he that's unresolved. It's not something I usually enjoy but here it makes sense.

I liked the participants, the premise, the humour and the pace. I really need to cut down on the new books and concentrate on reading more from the existing stockpile, including Bill James. Maybe I'll get a couple of these read before number 36 drops.

4.5 from 5

Noose, a standalone from Bill James was enjoyed back in September, 2013. I hadn't realised it was quite so long since I read him.

Read - March, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 188
Source - Net Galley, courtesy of Severn House publisher
Format - ePub read on laptop

Saturday, 23 March 2019

DAVID SWINSON - THE SECOND GIRL (2016)


Synopsis/blurb.....

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

One of the best crime novels of 2016! - The New York Times Book Review, Booklist

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.

The Second Girl is the first in a three book series from David Swinson with ex-cop Frank Marr.  I've already cracked the spine on the second in the series, Crime Song, not too long after finishing this one.

Harsh, brutal, gripping, compelling and harrowing would be appropriate descriptions for the contents of these pages, but that would be underselling what is a fantastic book.

Our main character, Frank Marr was drummed off the force after his drug habit was discovered by his bosses. However he was allowed to retire rather than leave in a wave of bad publicity. A public and shameful departure might open up a raft of appeal opportunities for the criminals Frank spend his career putting away. His old boss hates him and has a hard-on for him. A couple of ex-colleagues are still regarded as friends and sources of information and are oblivious to Frank's cocaine and pill addiction. There's no family in the picture and he makes his living working investigations for another ex-cop turned defence attorney, Leslie. Leslie is a friend - sometimes with benefits.

The story opens with Marr taking down a drug gang stash house in order to boost his own pharmaceutical supplies. After some surveillance, he's pretty sure all the boys are out dealing. What he isn't expecting is to find a young woman chained up in the bathroom, obviously a prisoner, extremely frightened and very reluctant to leave with him. Complications arise when one of the boys returns for a re-up. We soon discover that Frank isn't someone to be messed with.

One good deed, turns to a pain in the ass. Frank gets involved albeit reluctantly in looking for another girl who was a peripheral contact of the first girl he rescued - same school. The family are desperate, the police have no answers and against his better instincts Frank has a look.

Lots to like about this one. Marr is a pretty good investigator and where the police have their rules and regulations in respect of searches and interrogation methods, Frank has a helluva lot more leeway. He's very capable and I do like his style. When questioning the missing girl's friends he can be tactful in front of the parents, but not averse to applying some subtle pressure to get them to break ranks. When questioning some players involved in the operation of the drug dealing and turning nice girls into addicts and prostitutes, well there's a remote river not too far from the city where he can always dump the body if he doesn't get the information he wants.

Interesting seeing a functioning addict in action. He believes he has his addiction under control and for the most part you believe him. He is cautious when using, washes his hands, checks his face for tell-tale signs, but does sometimes need a bump at the most inopportune moments. He maintains his secrets here, but I'm keen to see how the facade plays out in future books.

Great investigation, lots going on with our main character on and off the case,  interesting interactions between Frank and the police and Frank and the low-lives, hard topics explored - teenage prostitution, trafficking, drug dealing, some police corruption and a tense race to find answers and save the second girl.

I think I'm going to enjoy the rest of this series.


4.5 from 5

David Swinson's second and third Frank Marr books are Crime Song and Trigger. He has an earlier novel - A Detailed Man - also published.

Read - March, 2019
Published - 2016
Page count - 368
Source - owned copy
Format - paperback

Thursday, 21 March 2019

PAUL D. BRAZILL - LAST YEAR'S MAN (2018)




Synopsis/blurb......

A troubled, ageing hit man leaves London and returns to his hometown in the north east of England hoping for peace. But the ghosts of his past return to haunt him. 

Last Year’s Man is a violent and blackly comic slice of Brit Grit noir. 

Praise for LAST YEAR’S MAN: 

“Brazill offers a series of amusing episodes filled with breezy banter in this offbeat slice of British noir.” —Publishers Weekly 

“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” —Paul Heatley, author of Fatboy 

Another one from Paul D. Brazill that does exactly what it says on the tin, delivering humour, one-liners, cultural references, violence, characters and story.

Tommy is a hitman based in London, but he's starting to feel his age - a weakening bladder, eczema and the usual aches and pains familiar to anyone approaching sixty.

A job goes down, soon followed by another, but Tommy might be getting a bit sloppy in his old age. He's recorded, planting a device which killed a policeman among others. A couple of dodgy cops with the evidence, now want Tommy to come and work for them. A short, brutal negotiation later and our man, decides it might be time to depart the smoke and seek out a quieter life.

Home to Seatown, up North and before too long, any thoughts of retirement are soon banished as our man finds his not so secret talents are still in demand with the some old acquaintances from his past.

Brian Ferry, PIL, music journalists, executions, explosions,  Sapporo beer, Gloria bloody Gaynor, a train journey, a death in a pub toilet, family re-unions, kebabs and instant coffee, a missing Catholic priest, fry-ups, pervert teachers, bent cops, a bingo loving mother, a town in decline, a fat man in a blue bunny rabbit costume, a discussion about the merits or otherwise of Julian Cope and more..... lots to ponder and enjoy while savouring a not so nostalgic homecoming for our anti-hero.

"......getting old may have its faults but it beats the alternative." 

4.5 from 5


Paul D. Brazill's has been enjoyed many times before. The good news is there is still more on the TBR pile from him.

Read - March, 2019
Published - 2018
Page count - 136
Source - review copy from publisher - All Due Respect (cheers Chris)
Format - paperback

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

FEBRUARY 2019 - READING LIST AND PICK OF THE MONTH

A decent month's reading in February - 14 books, mostly enjoyed -  two less so - with one okay, the other a bit like swimming through treacle - but hey they can't all be winners.

No stand-out 5 STAR READ as such, but 5 pushing the boundaries at 4.5 STARS - Alan Parks and February's Son, Matt Bird's short story collection - Histories of the Dead and other stories, Sydney Noir - an impressive entry, in the continuing Akashic Noir series edited by John Dale, Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novella - A Time to Scatter Stones and Trevor Mark Thomas's impressive debut The Bothy 


Pick of the month!



BOOK OF THE MONTH  - THE BOTHY by TREVOR MARK THOMAS - on the basis that it's what I would select first for a re-read.

4 STAR READS - six in total - Deon Meyer - The Woman in the Blue Cloak, David Putnam - The Reckless, James Ross - They Don't Dance Much, Sam Wiebe - Hollywood North and two from David Beckler - Forgred in Flames and The Money Trap  

3.5 STAR READ - 1 of - Ersatz World by Richard Godwin

3 STAR READ - 1 of - Joel Mowdy - Floyd Harbour Stories

2 STAR READ - 1 of - John Mulligan and Shopping Cart soldiers

I spent time in the company of.......

a couple of Cape Town cops investigating a murder because of a newly discovered Dutch masterpiece

the inhabitants of a fictitious Long Island community

a homeless PTSD Vietnam vet in San Francisco with flashbacks to his combat past

a Glaswegian detective in the 70s investigating the killing of a Celtic player and more

an LA cop and the FBI chasing some juvie bank robbers

a paranoid publisher with an unwell wife and a busty assistant

the luckless and the criminal in a small Welsh town

a Manchester fireman and a woman in jeopardy

a down on his luck cashier and an accessory to murder

a variety of Sydney inhabitants involved in ..... criminality, drugs, sex - gay, vanilla and underage, pornography, pregnancy, childbirth, blackmail, murder, ambition, prison, family loyalty, family betrayal, plenty of revenge and payback

an ex-army man turned security specialist battling financial ruin

a Vancouver PI investigating a death

an older Matt Scudder helping a friend

and a grief-stricken boyfriend, on the run seeking sanctuary in the wrong place

Settings...... Cape Town - South Africa; Long Island - New York; Scotland, Vietnam and San Francisco; Glasgow - Scotland; LA - California; London; Wales; Manchester; North Carolina; Sydney - Australia, London again; Vancouver - Canada; New York and the wilds of the Yorkshire moors.

The full list of 14 are as follows.....

Deon Meyer - The Woman in the Blue Cloak (2018) (4)

Joel Mowdy - Floyd Harbor Stories (2019) (3)

John Sullivan - Shopping Cart Soldiers (1998) (2)

Alan Parks - February's Son (2019) (4.5)

David Putnam - The Reckless (2019) (4)

Richard Godwin - Ersatz World (2016) (3.5)

Math Bird - Histories of the Dead and other stories (2016) (4.5)

David Beckler - Forged in Flames (2018) (4)

James Ross - They Don't Dance Much (1940) (4)

John Dale (ed.) - Sydney Noir (Akashic Noir Series) (2019) (4.5)

David Beckler - The Money Trap (2019) (4)

Sam Wiebe - Hollywood North (2018) (4)

Lawrence Block - A Time to Scatter Stones (2019) (4.5)

Trevor Mark Thomas - The Bothy (2019) (4.5)



If you're not asleep yet - anal analysis for my own amusement - read on if you're an insomniac ......

New to me authors in the month -  6, maybe 7 in total - Joel Mowdy, John Mulligan, Richard Godwin, Math Bird, David Beckler, Trevor Mark Thomas and perhaps James Ross. I think I might have read They Don't Dance Much before, but blowed if I could remember anything about it on a second outing, so maybe false memory.

I have more on the pile to read from Beckler, Bird and Godwin

Authors enjoyed before - 5 - Deon Meyer, Sam Wiebe, Alan Parks, David Putnam, Lawrence Block, 

There's more on the TBR pile from Deon Meyer, Lawrence Block and David Putnam

13 reads from 12 different authors. David Beckler was read twice.

One book was an anthology of short stories from a selection of Australian writers, some new to me, some familiar

7 were sort of series books - David Beckler's two novellas featured Mason and Sterling - a double act that feature in his novel Brotherhood; Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder is one of the author's most popular creations featuring in about 17 or 18 novels and more, Sam Wiebe's Dave Wakeland PI character has appeared in a couple of novels, Benny Griessel from Deon Meyer is a recurring character in his books, Alan Parks has written two so far in his Detective Harry McCoy series and David Putnam's Bruno Johnson has featured in six books to date

Gender analysis - 0 female authors, 12 male plus 1 mixed gender anthology.
Another poor attempt at diversity in my reading.

Of the 12 authors read, 4 hailed from the US, 2 from England, 2 from Scotland, 1 from Canada, 1 from South Africa, 1 from Wales, 1 originally from Ethiopia brought up in England. The Sydney crime anthology featured mostly if not all Australian authors.

All 18 of the reads were fiction,

12 of the books were published this century and all this decade.
7 from 2019, 3 from 2018, 2 from 2016

1 book was from 1940, 1 book from 1998

Only 1 came from the man-cave blue tub stash in my garage.

Publishers - First Grove, Atlantic - Catapult - Scribner - Canongate - Oceanview - Number 13 Press (now F13) - All Due Respect Books - Long Stop Books (x2) - Salt Publishing - Harrar  - Akashic - Quercus and LB Productions. (I think a couple of the presses above disguise the fact they they are the authors own output, not that it makes a difference to me.)

3 of the 14 reads were pre-owned,

5 came from the author directly - cheers to David Putnam, David Beckler (twice) Sam Wiebe and Lawrence Block

3 were accessed at Edelweiss - Above the Treeline early reviewer site,

3 were received from the publisher - thanks to Canongate, Salt Publishing and Number 13 Press

Favourite cover? Alan Park - February's Son


 Second favourite cover - James Ross - They Don't Dance Much



My reads were this long 160 - 252 - 256 - 368 - 324 - 127 - 138 - 91 - 304 - 250 - 138 - 38 - 93 - 256

Total page count = 2795 (3949 in January) ....... an decrease of  1154 pages

1 was a  Kindle reads, 7 were ePub files read on the laptop,  6 were paperbacks,

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

Alan Parks with February's Son was the longest read at 368 pages

Sam Wiebe and Hollywood North was the shortest at 38 pages long.


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

2 BY MARK PRYOR

A couple from English author Mark Pryor, both with a Paris setting.























Both books are from Pryor's Hugo Marston series, a series that I've read and enjoyed the first four from. Marston is part of the security detail at the American Embassy in Paris.
Thoughts on the first few I've read below.

1. The Bookseller (2012)
2. The Crypt Thief (2013)
3. The Blood Promise (2014)
4. The Button Man (2014)


The Reluctant Matador (2015) is the fifth in the series, with these two the sixth and seventh. There's another one out which was published earlier this year - The Book Artist (2019). 


He has also penned a couple of novels - The Hollow Man (2015) and Dominic (2018) - about a psychopathic prosecutor which are set in Texas where Pryor resides and works as an ADA. Hopefully the books aren't autobiographical!  


The Paris Librarian (2016)


Hugo Marston's friend Paul Rogers dies unexpectedly in a locked room at the American Library in Paris. The police conclude that Rogers died of natural causes, but Hugo is certain mischief is afoot. As he pokes around the library, Hugo discovers that rumors are swirling around some recently donated letters from American actress Isabelle Severin. The reason: they may indicate that the actress had aided the Resistance in frequent trips to France toward the end of World War II. Even more dramatic is the legend that the Severin collection also contains a dagger, one she used to kill an SS officer in 1944. Hugo delves deeper into the stacks at the American library and finally realizes that the history of this case isn't what anyone suspected. But to prove he's right, Hugo must return to the scene of a decades-old crime. 





The Sorbonne Affair (2017)


Someone is spying on American author Helen Hancock. While in Paris to conduct research and teach a small class of writers, she discovers a spy camera hidden in her room at the Sorbonne Hotel. She notifies the US Embassy, and former FBI profiler Hugo Marston is dispatched to investigate. Almost immediately, the stakes are raised from surveillance to murder when the hotel employee who appears to be responsible for bugging Hancock's suite is found dead. The next day, a salacious video clip explodes across the Internet, showing the author in the embrace of one of her writing students - both are naked, and nothing is left to the imagination. As more bodies pile up, the list of suspects narrows; but everyone at the Sorbonne Hotel has something to hide, and no one is being fully honest with Hugo. He teams up with Lieutenant Camille Lerens to solve the case, but a close call on the streets of Paris proves that he could be the killer's next target.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

MARK BRANDI - INTO THE RIVER (2019)


Synopsis/blurb......

WINNER OF THE CRIME WRITERS' ASSOCIATION DEBUT DAGGER

WINNER OF THE 2018 INDIE DEBUT FICTION AWARD

SHORTLISTED FOR LITERARY FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR, ABIA AWARDS 2018

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MATT RICHELL AWARD FOR NEW WRITER OF THE YEAR, ABIA AWARDS 2018

SHORTLISTED FOR THE NED KELLY AWARD FOR BEST FIRST FICTION 2018

Growing up in a small country town, Ben and Fab spend their days playing cricket, wanting a pair of Nike Air Maxes and not talking about how Fab's dad hits him, or how the sudden death of Ben's next-door neighbour unsettled him. Almost teenagers, they already know some things are better left unsaid.

Then a newcomer arrived. Fab reckoned he was a secret agent and he and Ben staked him out. He looked strong. Maybe even stronger than Fab's dad. Neither realised the shadow this man would cast over both their lives.

Twenty years later, Fab is going nowhere but hoping for somewhere better. Then a body is found in the river, and Fab can't ignore the past any more.

An extremely enjoyable read concerning two boys growing up together, their childhood friendship, their loyalty to each other and the consequences that has for both later in life.

Fab and Ben are best friends. They are on the threshold of puberty, interested in girls and breasts while fretting about the changes in their own bodies and the size of their parts. But there's an innocence about them, they play cricket together, they fish and they have the same enemies at school. Invariably Ben fights the bullies at school, the ones picking on Fab because of his look, his heritage, his unfashionable clothes and out of date trainers. He gets his lumps at school and more from his father at home.

A death of a teenage girl - a casual friend - a few doors down the road from Ben, troubles them both and brings a stranger to the neighbourhood, Ronnie. Ronnie rents the property after the girl's family moved out. Ronnie befriends Ben's family and soon has him doing odd jobs for pocket money - mowing the grass, tidying the shed.

Time spent in Ronnie's company, reveals to us what an odd-bird he is...... the porn mag he gave to Ben, the invitation to take his top off if he was hot, the hand on the cheek and the shoulder rub, the conversation about the magazine and Ben's reaction to it, the temper of display on a fishing trip .... troubling for this reader with alarm bells ringing loudly, concerning and unsettling for Ben, without him understanding why. 

Fast forward a bit....... Ben wearing two hundred dollar trainers, and a bit of distance between the two boys - both physically and emotionally.

The story unfolds in a non-linear way which I really liked. We open in present day, where a couple of youngsters have discovered something dumped in the river. We then have the tale of Ben and Fab's friendship and life in their small town. We catch up with the pair at a party long after their school days are done and they've gone their separate ways. And we spend time with Fab, in present day, drifting through life, unsettled making plans for a move to the city and hoping that the spark he shares with the local barmaid is strong enough for her to leave her loveless marriage and join him. Our river giving up its secrets may just put his plans on hold.

There's some difficult subject matter in the book, which is uncomfortable though thankfully never explored explicitly. There are some powerful themes throughout - friendship, love, loyalty, family, race, curiosity about the adult world, adolescence, innocence and the loss of it, drift, a lack of ambition and direction, the shadows that the past cast over the present and ultimately an inability to escape that history.

Powerful, sad and affecting.

4.5 from 5

Into the River is Mark Brandi's debut novel which was initially published as Wimmera in Australia a year or two ago. I look forward to hopefully reading his second book - The Rip - when it drops in the UK.

Read - March, 2019
Published - 2019 (previously as Wimmera in 2017)
Page count - 184
Source - Net Galley courtesy of UK published Legend Press
Format - ePub read on laptop





HAPPY ST PATRICK'S DAY - CELEBRATE WITH SOME IRISH CRIME FICTION

In celebration of St Patrick's day, you could do worse than pick up an Irish crime novel.

Here's a few intriguing ones still sitting on the TBR pile......

Pat Fitzpatrick, Kevin Power, Gene Kerrigan, Maggie Gibson, David Pearson and Paul Fitzsimons

Pat Fitzpatrick - Keep Away From Those Ferraris (2014)

Synopsis/blurb.....

Reporter Noel Byrne is about to die. Two snipers hold him in their crosshairs as he delivers his live report from the HQ of HiberBank in central Dublin. His first problem is they will kill him if he doesn't say exactly what they want him to say. His second problem? They both want him to say different things. Keep Away from Those Ferraris is the hilarious story of a country in collapse. A vicious gang of bankers and minor celebrities is desperately trying to salvage one last pay day from the wreckage of the Irish economy. Only Byrne can help them. Only Byrne can stop them. Follow him in and out of madcap scrapes across the boardrooms, bedrooms and bars of Celtic Tiger Dublin. And remember the golden rule when billions are at stake - you trust, you lose.



Paul Fitzsimons - Burning Matches (2018)

Synopsis/blurb.....

Detective Kieran Temple is woken by a 4am phone call. Not unusual, except that this call is from his ex-partner, Mia Burrows. And she’s just killed her boyfriend.

As Temple is compelled to investigate the death, he must do so behind the backs of his superiors and his wife. All evidence supports Mia’s claims, that she was defending herself against a maniac. But as he delves deeper, Temple learns of a complex and dysfunctional relationship, one that’s been manipulated from the start.


While carrying out this unsanctioned and disturbing investigation, Temple’s renewed contact with Mia also forces old feelings to resurface, feelings that once nearly cost him his marriage and his career. And with his gut telling him that Mia’s boyfriend was not the brute he’s being made out to be, Temple is determined to get answers while everyone – including Mia herself – just want it left alone.



David Pearson - Murder on the Old Bog Road (2018)

Synopsis/blurb.....

A woman is found dead in a ditch. As the list of suspects grows, a town’s dirty secrets are revealed. 

It’s a cold winter evening and rain is sweeping in from the Atlantic when a young woman, having braved the weather to visit her sick mother in a remote part of Ireland, comes across an obstacle in the road. She clears the highway of stones from a damaged bridge only to see the body of a woman in a ditch. With no phone reception, she travels to the nearest police station to report what she has found. 

The local Garda waste no time in attending the scene of the crime. The woman is clearly dead, but it needs proper forensics to establish if foul play was the cause. In the meantime, is it not possible that the woman driver was in fact the culprit? She is clearly not telling the whole truth.

A game of cat and mouse ensues when the inquiry is upgraded to a murder investigation. The trouble is, when the victim is recognised as a sex worker, there is no shortage of possible suspects. And few of them, if any, are willing to tell the truth to the police. It will take all of Galway detectives Hays and Lyons’ experience to cut through the web of lies and identify the killer in their midst.

MURDER ON THE OLD BOG ROAD is the first in a series of atmospheric crime fiction titles featuring Detective Inspector Mick Hays and Detective Sergeant Maureen Lyons. 

Gene Kerrigan - The Midnight Choir (2006) 

Synopsis/blurb.....

A sophisticated crime story of contemporary Ireland, The Midnight Choir teems with moral dilemmas as Dublin emerges as a city of ambiguity: a newly scrubbed face hiding a criminal culture of terrible variety. Small-time criminals have become millionaire businessmen, the poor are still struggling to survive, and the police face a world where the old rules no longer apply.



Maggie Gibson - Blah, Blah Black Sheep (2001)
Synopsis/blurb....

Journalist Drew Looney is in a rut, waiting for her job to get better - or at least for a decent story. Then, while covering a mundane deportation, she accidentally stumbles upon something far more sinister . . .

Georgina Fitz-Simons has just overcome a flourishing cocaine habit, but not soon enough to stop her falling foul of gangster Broylan Grillo.

As Drew and George are thrown together by circumstance they become increasingly mired in a dark world of drugs, slave labour, money and murder. Not to mention an inconvenient corpse, a Serbian hit man, and a retired Glam rocker. Somehow they must find a way out - but when the going gets tough . . 


Kevin Power - Bad Day in Blackrock (2008)

Synopsis/blurb....

On a late August night a young man is kicked to death outside a Dublin nightclub and celebration turns to devastation. The reverberations of that event, its genesis and aftermath, is the subject of this extraordinary story, stripping away the veneer of a generation of Celtic cubs, whose social and sexual mores are chronicled and dissected in this tract for our times. The victim, Conor Harris, his killers - three of them are charged with manslaughter - and the trial judge share common childhoods and schooling in the privileged echelons of south Dublin suburbia. The intertwining of these lives leaves their afflicted families in moral free fall as public exposure merges with private anguish and imploded futures.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

LAWRENCE BLOCK - A TIME TO SCATTER STONES (2019)


Synopsis/blurb.....

MATT SCUDDER RETURNS. More than 40 years after his debut and nearly a decade since his last appearance, one of the most renowned characters in all of crime fiction is back on the case in this major new novella by Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Lawrence Block. 

Well past retirement age and feeling his years - but still staying sober one day at a time - Matthew Scudder learns that alcoholics aren't the only ones who count the days since their last slip. Matt's longtime partner, Elaine, tells him of a group of former sex workers who do something similar, helping each other stay out of the life. But when one young woman describes an abusive client who's refusing to let her quit, Elaine encourages her to get help of a different sort. The sort only Scudder can deliver. 

A Time to Scatter Stones offers not just a gripping crime story but also a richly drawn portrait of Block's most famous character as he grapples with his own mortality while proving to the younger generation that he's still got what it takes. 

For Scudder's millions of fans around the world (including the many who met the character through Liam Neeson's portrayal in the film version of A Walk Among the Tombstones), A Time to Scatter Stones is an unexpected gift - a valedictory appearance that will remind readers why Scudder is simply the best there is.

From Booklist (Starred Review)
"Block's unlicensed New York City investigator Matt Scudder debuted 40 years ago but has been absent for the last decade... Block has never been predictable, as this novella demonstrates... A superb book and a reminder to his longtime fans that this crime-fiction master hasn't lost his touch."

From Publishers Weekly  
"If brevity keeps all the usual supporting characters from returning, some nice nostalgic mentions will reassure fans that they haven't been forgotten. It's good to see Matt back in action."

This ebook edition of A Time to Scatter Stones also includes as a bonus Lawrence Block's introduction to his new Subterranean Press anthology, At Home in the Dark.

A new Scudder tale about 10 years after the last and a cause for celebration around these parts.

Humour, sex, companionship, the ageing process, on-point everyday observations, a Prostitutes Anonymous self help group - think AA for sex workers, sobriety, a threat to a friend and one more case for Matt.

Not too long, but long enough to savour and enjoy some more time spent in the company of an older, slower, slightly less sharp Scudder. It is interesting seeing Matt acknowledge his decline as he endeavours to track down the mystery client who has been threatening Elaine's friend, after she informed him of her decision to stop offering her services for sale.   

I liked the investigation, the characters introduced and encountered along the way - the sketch artist, the janitor. I enjoyed the pace of the story and the outcome for our villain and the icing on the cake -  the post-case outcome for Matt, Elaine and the friend (name escapes me).

Let's hope he makes another comeback in say another five years time.

4.5 from 5

Lawrence Block has written a zillion novels in his time, including 17 full length Scudder novels and at least half a dozen short stories featuring Matt. It's a series I intend to return to. My reading thus far has stalled at about the sixth entry.

Read - February, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 93
Source - review copy from author
Format - ePub file read on laptop

TREVOR MARK THOMAS - THE BOTHY (2019)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Tom is grieving for his girlfriend. Her powerful family, convinced he is responsible for her death, place a bounty on his head. On the run, Tom seeks refuge in the Bothy, a dilapidated moorland pub run by ageing gangster Frank. Tom tries to keep the bounty a secret, but news travels fast, even in the middle of nowhere.

Trevor Mark Thomas’s first novel is a tense, violent drama involving desperate characters with little to lose apart from their lives. Amid moments of black humour and rare tenderness, buried fears and rivalries rise to the surface, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia that builds to almost unbearable levels.

A tension filled read as our main character Tom is given refuge by Frank, the head of a small criminal gang of misfits at his isolated pub on the Yorkshire Moors. Tom is in danger after the death of his girlfriend. Her family hold him culpable and with a bit of Old Testament logic applied, it's an eye for an eye.....

His appearance in the pub is not exactly welcomed and he meets hostility from the rest of Frank's team. They don't know who he is, or why he's there. It's a sanctuary, far from anywhere, a run down pub without any customers and one which serves Frank's purposes. His income is derived from criminal activity, but we're never quite sure what he's involved in. Fair to say, Frank has his own issues to sort out without Tom's presence clouding his agenda. A dispute has arisen with some contacts and part of the solution involves shovels and a lot of digging. Tom's eyes are fully opened to his difficult situation - a case of out of the frying pan, straight into the fire.

Within Frank's team there is tension and the stirrings of rebellion. His decisions are starting to be questioned in whispers. Loyalty is getting tested and Tom's presence fully tests the cohesion of his gang. When the real reason for his arrival is discovered, a betrayal seems inevitable.

Tom's only normal interactions are with Frank's much younger girlfriend, Cora - an initially innocent relationship, but one which in the skewed environment they find themselves in is open to misinterpretation and which may see Tom at loggerheads with Frank.

Frank's dispute grows legs and once the cat's out of the bag as far as the price on Tom's head is concerned, violence and bloody confrontation is inevitable.

Suspicion, mistrust, isolation, loneliness, guilt, fear, insecurity, danger, paranoia and more, set against a back drop of winter, cold, snow, rot, decay, damp, mildew, filth, decline, oppression, pickled eggs, blackened bananas, bruised apples, year-old yoghurt, a dwindling supply of hard spirits, beer-stained carpets, filthy mattresses, stained bath tubs, dripping taps, secondhand porn mags, oil tanks and a dodgy boiler, grave-digging, firearms and bullets to be checked, ear infections, pain-killers, stolen underwear, mutiny, meetings, plastic sheets, a sound-proofed room and death.

There's a pervading sense of rot and decay which oozes from the pages and seeped into my pores as I read this one. A fantastic sense of place, one that left me in need of a cleansing shower after each session reading the book.

Tom is a sympathetic character, one driven low by events which have now escalated and spiralled totally out of control. He's not quite without hope but his resolve is severely tested. Reading to the end, I was anxious to see what final hand fate dealt him.

Setting, character, mood, plot, narrative and outcome - all ticks in the box.

The Bothy is Trevor Mark Thomas's debut novel - something I find hard to believe. It's very good.

4.5 from 5

Read - February, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 256
Source - review copy from publisher - Salt Publishing
Format - paperback











Wednesday, 13 March 2019

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH PETER RITCHIE

Author and former police officer, Peter Ritchie answers a few questions on the blog.






Where No Shadows Fall, the fourth in Ritchie's Grace Macallan series featured on the blog last week - thoughts here.


Can you give us a quick biography of yourself? I believe you are a former senior police officer who now writes.

I followed my forefathers and started my working life at 15 as a deep sea fisherman. It was a tough life and I had to grow up quickly.

I eventually joined the police service moving through the ranks of CID, Serious Crime Squad, Murder Squad and Regional Crime Squad in Scotland. 

I then went on to manage the Organised Crime Unit in the National Criminal Intelligence Service in London where I ran a multi agency team drawn from various branches of the law enforcement and the security services. This was a unique concept at the time and I travelled to many parts of the world in this role.  

I was subsequently appointed as the UK Liaison Officer to Europol in The Hague where I spent five great years supporting operations against international organised crime and terrorism. 
When I was finished there I returned to Lothian and Borders heading the Major Crime Team before taking on an advisory role for a project in Croatia. 

After I retired from the police service I worked on a number of private investigations before spending the next few years as part of the public inquiry team looking into the murder of the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. I also worked on a public inquiry into the death of eighteen patients in the Vale of Leven Hospital from a hospital acquired infection. That was a bit of a departure for me but a fascinating nonetheless. 

For the last few years I’ve fulfilled my ambition to write. Initially I self published then I signed up with Black and White which has been a tremendous experience.  

Over the years I’ve been involved in regular voluntary work with St Columba's Hospice and the homeless. I enjoy painting (when I get the time), writing poetry and the great outdoors, again when I can find the time. 

Have you always written, or is it something you’ve taken to in your retirement?

Trying to write a novel length book when I was in the job would have been almost impossible as detective work tends to consume you a lot of the time. However, I’ve always liked drawing, painting and writing poetry so I suppose the creative bug was in place. I did want to do it and think it really helped once I was away from the job which gave me a bit of a change of perspective. 

Your latest work is titled Where No Shadows Fall. I believe it’s your fourth published novel and the fourth in your Detective Grace Macallan series. Can you pitch it to potential readers in a short paragraph?

I’m always interested in old cases that have never been properly resolved and must admit I’m a big fan of the TV series Unforgotten. In this book Grace is asked to review a suicide in Barlinnie prison. This should be a fairly routine matter but some long hidden secrets come into the light and Grace faces an old adversary from the past.

Is Grace based on someone you worked with over the years?

I worked with some amazing people in my career but Grace is fictional. There are other characters who crop up in the books again and again so of course people who know me all think they recognise particular individuals and although they all have different views I can’t convince them otherwise. Of course the past and the people I’ve known and worked with influence my thoughts, but as far as possible the characters are completely made up

How long from conception to completion did WNSF take? What was the spark or germ of imagination that set you on the road with this particular tale?

It took about six months and it came from that interest I have in old cases and miscarriages of justice. I might surprise people that with my background I have been involved in supporting someone who I believe was wrongly convicted. 


Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way? 

It was smooth and the funny thing is I can’t remember much about the writing. You get so lost in it that when I read through it again I just can’t remember where some of the lines came from.  

Did it end up being the book you anticipated at the start of the process?

I’m never sure where the book is going and certainly not at the start. I just let the story move wherever it wants. I try really hard to make the stories authentic and of course when you’re on a difficult case you don’t know where it’s going half the time. 

Is there an over-riding story ARC to the series, or can readers dip in and dip out anywhere, without feeling like they are missing out on something?

From what people say the books can stand alone. However, I think to understand Grace you need the first one, which tells the story of her background in Belfast and how she was brought low after an anti terrorist operation goes wrong. 

Any scope for more Macallan tales, or are her cases all solved and her race run?

There’s life in Grace yet and book 5 Our little Secrets comes out in June. Book 6 is underway and is about a team of contract killers. 

Is there one of your books which you are most proud of? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?

I think book 3 Shores of Death because I had been a deep sea fisherman before my police career and wanted to write a story about that life. So when I started Shores I brought trawlers into the plot in a story about trafficked women. For years I sailed and landed in North Shields and Eyemouth so they became part of the story as well. 

On your writing in general, do you have a typical writing schedule? Do you write every day?

No schedule and carry an IPad everywhere so anytime of the day when the mood grabs me. I quite often write in the cafe in the gym I go to. But anywhere and anytime.  

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct a story – do you know what the end result is going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

I just sit down and let it happen. I never plan and the story just unfolds like a stage play in my mind. It’s the same when I paint and just see where it goes. Of course all those years as a detective myself does help. 

What can we look forward to next? Any hints on the current work in progress?

As I mentioned earlier book 6 is underway and heads more into the world of the dark arts and covert intelligence. In addition another character from the past unexpectedly appears in the story. 

Ever tried your hand at short stories? Have any been published?

I’ve written a couple of novellas and still deciding the best course for them. In the past it’s mainly poetry and I recently put together a book of my poems with some of my paintings included. I give them out as gifts and it’s been a great experience putting them all together. 

What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

Walking into a bookshop and seeing Cause of Death there for the first time. Was in a Dublin bookshop recently and seeing the books there still lifts me. 

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

Some bits of stories but not sure there’s a gem

Any advice for prospective authors out there?

I always think that finishing a book whether it’s good or otherwise is quite a thing. No one else can write your book so it’s unique. It’s been said before and it’s true for me that the main point is to enjoy it. If you get some form of success or published that’s wonderful but first and foremost love the experience.

What’s the best thing about writing?

I just love the experience of drifting off into this theatre of imagination. Watching the story unfold and see it like a play. The characters walk on and off and I just write it down. 

The worst?

The only problem I have is that when I get to the last third of a manuscript I can’t read a book myself. It’s impossible no matter how I try. Not that much of a problem and have got used to it.

What are the last five books you’ve read?

Laidlaw by William Mcllvanney. Read it over 30 years ago and thought I’d visit it again. Still great.

Becoming by Michelle Obama. 

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber




A true crime book manuscript written by a friend. It’s finished but still deciding the title.  

Who do you read and enjoy? Is there anyone I should be reading who has snuck under my radar?

I read about all sorts of things and depends on the mood and what’s going on around me at the time. I do like humour and have read the Wimbledon series by Nigel Williams, all the Tom Sharpe books and still love all the Adrian Mole series. 

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Catch 22 - genius!


Favourite activity when not working or writing? 

As you’d probably expect from someone who was a deep sea fisherman at one time I love the outdoors so I take any chance to walk in the great places we have in this country. I particularly love anywhere I can keep the sea in view.  

What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

I’m a big film fan and just watched A Star is Born. Loved it.

TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Ritchie household?

I’m a total news junkie so anything that has news in the title. 

In a couple of years’ time.....

After winning Euro millions I’ll buy Heart of Midlothian and encourage Lionel Messi to sign on.


--------------------------------------------------------------
Many thanks to Peter Ritchie for his time.

His books in series order are as follows....

Detective Grace Macallan
1. Cause of Death (2017)
2. Evidence of Death (2018)
3. Shores of Death (2018)
4. Where No Shadows Fall (2019)
5. Our Little Secrets (2019)





You can catch him at the following haunt.......

Twitter       @PRitchieAuthor


Where No Shadows Fall is available on Amazon (and other book sellers of course)   



Grace den Herder's life has moved on and while she has found a degree of peace with her family her career move away from the front line is proving more difficult than she thought. Eventually the strain begins to show and she worries for the future of her career and marriage. She's asked to review a suicide in Barlinnie Prison and takes it on as a break from the desk and at first it seems to be no more than a box ticking exercise. She teams up with her old DCI Jimmy McGovern who seems fully recovered from a health problem and grabs the opportunity to work one last job before he retires. The prisoner who committed suicide is Tommy McMartin at one time the heir to one of the most powerful criminal organisations in west Scotland. His life is taken apart when he is convicted for the horrific murder of a gay lover although he remembers nothing about it. His life inside is made impossible without support from his own family who have disowned him. As Grace reviews the case she uncovers some old skeletons, a trail of lies and she get dragged into a case that involves an old adversary Brenda McMartin who has been causing havoc across the Glasgow underworld. Big Brenda plans a robbery in Edinburgh from a rival gang which goes badly wrong and a complex series of events draws the main characters towards each other where the departed are taking their secrets the grave as Grace tries to uncover the truth of what happened to Tommy McMartin. At the same time someone watches her from the shadows and aches for revenge. This is the fourth book about Grace and brings old and new characters together in a story about old secrets and lies that seemed to have been buried and forgotten util a chain of events pulls them back into the light. Grace is faced with the question whether to expose the truth or let the dead lie still.

Black and White Publishing website is here.