Saturday, 8 May 2021

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH WILLIAM R. SOLDAN

William R. Soldan, author of the superb short story collection - Houses Burning and Other Ruins - which featured on the blog yesterday was kind enough to submit to some gentle questioning about his reading and writing habits....


I’m guessing the writing’s maybe not full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

-I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but moved to Ohio when I was six and lived here most of my life. I moved around a lot as a kid and as a teenager and adult I continued to do so, having moved out of Youngstown a few times, but I’m back here now, tied down with a mortgage and all those other fun grown-up things, so this is where I’ll be for the foreseeable future.  

I’ve worked a lot of day jobs over the years, everything from restaurant work to selling vacuum cleaners to pouring concrete and a bunch of other things, but for the last decade I’ve mostly worked in gyms as a personal trainer and a few years of that time as a writing instructor at the university. But when the Covid pandemic hit and all the gyms closed, I was unemployed briefly, but then I got hired on to help with a mobile meals program that provides food for elderly folks who can safely leave their houses, either due to risks associated with the virus or other disabilities that prevent them from having access to meals. So now I’m back in the kitchen. We cook all the food, package it, and deliver it. I told myself I’d never work in a kitchen again, but this is a lot different than working in a restaurant, because I personally don’t have to deal with the public or too many other people, which I like. Plus, it’s a good cause and I’m happy I’m able to contribute during this difficult time. When it’s all over and the program loses its funding? Who knows. I’m trying not to think about that. But I suspect I’ll always have a day job. Writing full time and making enough money to survive and support my family off of it alone will never happen. Perhaps that’s defeatist. I’m not against the idea. I’m just being realistic.

I’m about to *start reading* your latest collection – Houses Burning and Other Ruins which drops soon (yesterday)  – published by Shotgun Honey.  Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?

* Done, dusted, enjoyed!

-It’s a gritty collection set predominantly in the Midwest, Ohio specifically, full of characters down on their luck or at rock bottom. Criminals, addicts, regular folks in dire circumstances faced with tough choices who often make the wrong one and have to face the consequences. It’s real light, uplifting stuff. Was that 50? Haha.

I believe it will be your third collection of stories published, after In Just the Right Light and Lost in the Furrows. You also have a collection of poems published recently – So Fast, So Close. Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?

-It depends on that reader’s preferences. That’s one nice thing about those three books being so different from one another (but still consistent in tone): one might be a better choice than another. The first book is a collection of gritty, interconnected rural stories. A bit literary. There’s some crime, but it isn’t quite as crime-focused as the new book. Lost in the Furrows has a few longer stories in it, but it’s mostly flash fiction, micro fiction, and borderline prose poetry. So Fast, So Close is a bit of a hybrid also but still very much a poetry collection. So I’d hopefully get a sense of what type of book appeals most to the reader and say start there. Then, if they like what they read, they’ll be more likely to check out the other titles, even if the other two books aren’t really “their thing.” More so than if they’d started with one of their lesser preferences.


Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?

-I had a few poems published in zines in high school and the couple years immediately following, but in those days submitting was more difficult. Submittable didn’t exist and even email wasn’t widely used, so you had to submit by mail to places you found in magazines or wherever. So I didn’t submit much. But the first piece of fiction I ever completed and published was in 2012, I think. It was a horror story titled “Patchwork,” about an addict of sorts (see even then I had a brand, I guess, haha) who has lapses in time and memory and does things he doesn’t remember doing. It’s a real twist ending type of thing. It was published in a UK print publication called Sanitarium Magazine. I had a couple more stories published with them over the next year or two, but that first one still holds a place in my heart because it’s my first piece of fiction, and people thought it was good enough to share with the world. I’m still thankful for that. It helped me to keep going.



Do you have a favourite format – I’m guessing either short story or poem  - and a favourite genre to work in?

-Not particularly, though short form prose (including flash and micro) and poetry are what I’ve published the most of. I have finished one novel and plan to write more, but so far my catalogue is mostly short stuff. Some writers only write novels. Most who consider themselves novelists first and foremost still work in shorter forms, if only as exercise, but some won't even do that. They’ve found their thing and are happy with that. But even with a novel forthcoming, I’m not sure I’ll ever be a novelist exclusively. I love the other forms too much. I write in many, and I’ll try new ones that interest me. So no, I don’t really have a favorite genre in terms of form, but I gravitate toward the gritty and the dark, both in my reading and writing, which is why I find myself more immersed in Grit Lit and noir and crime fiction and working-class literature than any other genre in terms of tone and content.  

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

-Absolutely not. I envy a little those that do. Mine is and always has been the write what you can whenever you can type schedule. I have tried the early morning routine, but I’m not a morning person, so that didn’t last. I’m more of a night owl, but nights are just as difficult to be consistent with. I have two young kids and by the time they’re in bed, I’m mentally down for the count and can rarely accomplish much. Maybe someday when they’re a little older. In the meantime I write anywhere and everywhere. I write longhand first, so I’m always scribbling on scraps of paper or in a notebook, and I type the stuff up when I’m done. These days, I get the majority of my keyboard writing done on the weekends, but even that has been harder this past year with the world being the apocalyptic trash fire that it is. I know this isn’t a great answer for offering insight, some sort of practical tip for making the most of your time, but really, I’ve gotta steal my time, because if I don’t, life will use it all up and I’ll never get anything done.

Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters? 

-I have, but it’s more the exception than the rule. I don’t make a habit out of it or anything. But most, if not all the characters I’ve written have shared qualities—physically or behaviorally—with people I’ve known or met or seen in real life at some point. Since our imaginations, no matter how wild, are still largely governed by our associations and past experiences, it’s safe to say every character is a patchwork of multiple real individuals. Even if we aren’t aware that we’re drawing details from our lives at the time, we are.

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

-Quite often, a story comes to me in the form of an image, and in many cases that image has been the final image in the story. Sometimes I know it right away, that it’s the ending. Other times I don’t. And sometimes I think it’s the ending and I’m wrong, but it takes writing the story to realize it. 

But when it comes to being a plotter IRC’s pantser, I’m neither exclusively. I don’t—or haven’t yet—done any elaborate outlining, but I rarely if ever “pants” it completely. Even when I don’t plan it out on paper, which is often, I think things through, usually at length, before writing anything down. But I do also plan on paper, just not long detailed outlines. At most I’ll make a short bullet list of scenes I know I want/need to write, especially if I start with an ending in mind and am working toward it. This is my most common practice I think. For my novel, I did the same thing through most of it, only instead of planning a few scenes  I would occasionally lay out a few chapters’ worth of scenes, if I was fortunate enough to see that far ahead, that is. I didn’t start with the ending on that one, so I didn’t always know where I was headed that far in advance. 

Recently I planned out the start of a novel I want to write using index cards to sort of storyboard it, but it’s really just a variation on the bullet list method, at least so far. I haven’t yet seen any additional benefit to using the cards other than it makes it a lot easier to move scenes around, which can be necessary. But whether I stick with using the cards throughout, or whether the novel even gets written at all, remains to be seen. 

How long from conception to completion did Houses Burning take? Is there an underlying theme to the collection? Did you have a lot of stories that were considered but eventually discarded?

-I’d say the oldest of the stories in the book is about ten years old, the newest about two years old, so I guess you could say it took awhile, although I wasn’t writing them specifically for this book. After I compiled my first collection, I realized I had quite a few stories that hadn’t been a good fit for it but that had a similar enough vibe to make up another collection. So I compiled those and moved them around, added a couple, removed a couple, until I was happy with the order of stories. I put this collection together before my first book was released, and it contained a couple of the same stories, so I removed those and added newer, more fitting ones to Houses Burning after it was accepted for publication. As for underlying theme, none that was deliberate. Theme is the farthest thing from my mind while writing. I try to let that sort of thing unfold organically, which is to say I don’t shoehorn a particular theme or themes into my work, but rather I write the story, and the themes present themselves (sometimes) after the fact. But there are certainly threads that run throughout my work, this book and the others. I try not to dig to deep into my own themes, preferring to leave that to readers who care about that sort of thing. But desperation, addiction, guilt, incarceration, loneliness, fractured relationships, financial struggle—these are all things that are prevalent in my fiction because they’ve been prevalent in my life. These aren’t all themes necessarily, but they’re in there at a pretty high frequency.

I’m curious as to who had the final say on what was included, were they all your choice, or did the publisher have some input on what was included?


-I had all the say in that. My publisher never once dictated anything. That’s one of the advantages of indie publishing: you often have a lot more say in the process than you would otherwise. Not always, but often. That’s probably a large part of why I’ve put no significant effort into getting an agent or a big publishing contract. I’m not entirely convinced I want that many hands on my work. It could be a good thing, or it could be a disaster. Maybe someday I’ll finally find out. But for now, I’m happy with the amount of control I’ve had over the final product.

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

-Gems, I’m not so sure, but yeah, I’ve got some unpublished stuff, most of which is in need of revision if I ever decide to publish it. I’ve also got several unfinished drafts in various stages of completion. There’s always something. 

What’s the current project in progress?

-I’m editing and arranging my next poetry collection, tinkering without a few short stories, and trying to get my tired ass started on a new novel (two actually), but my time has been extremely limited, as have my physical and mental energy levels. This past year has been...straining to say the least.

What’s the best thing about writing?

-Producing something that you’re truly satisfied with. There’s no better feeling. It’s a rare feeling, but that’s what makes it damn near intoxicating when it happens. For me, it can be as small as a single sentence. I love a good sentence better than most things, and if I write one that I feel fires on all cylinders, man, that gets me high in a way. Now, if I can write a bunch of them and they cohere into something that resonates with another human being, well, it really does make all the frustration and doubt seem worth it.

The worst?

Just about all of it at one point or another. Haha. Seriously, though, like with most things, it changes all the time. Words like “best” and “worst” aren’t really adequate to encapsulate the wide range of emotions you go through being an artist of any kind, especially a writer, because often it just feels like you’re digging holes in the dark, looking for something but unsure exactly what that something is. It’s frustrating, but it’s also thrilling and rewarding in its own way.

Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read?

-I’ve had several books going at once for as long as I can remember, so I’ll give you the five I’m currently reading:

Slow Bear by Anthony Neil Smith 

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

Lady Chevy by John Woods

Ohio by Stephen Markley

How I’m Spending My Afterlife by Spencer Fleury (which is a book I’m writing a blurb for)

I’ve got other ones in progress, too, but those are the ones I’m trying to stay focused on because I love them all and want to finish them.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

-Reading, of course :-)

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

-I haven’t watched as many movies lately as I’d have liked, because of time and being too exhausted, but I watched Promising Young Woman over the weekend and it was pretty damn powerful. Carey Mulligan was absolutely brilliant in it. Highly recommended.

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

-My wife and I absolutely love a good series binge, but again, it’s been awhile since we’ve immersed ourselves in one. I feel like I need to catch up with a lot of great new (and old) stuff. I still need to see the most recent season of Better Call Saul, which is one of my favorites. I love a lot of other shows, too—some outstanding stuff out there—but I could probably spend way too much time that I don’t have curating that list. 


What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?

-I’ll go with artists, since I can’t pinpoint specific songs:

-This is Chris Isaak, a sort of greatest hits collection (my son has a thing for Elvis and the rockabilly crooners, and we listen to them at bedtime)


-David Nevue, a solo piano composer whose melancholic minor key pieces I just love and listen to often because they’re instrumental and I like to keep them on in the background.

-My wife, learning to play the Super Mario Brothers theme music on the piano for our son. Over and over and over again 😎

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

RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite vegetable?

-Broccoli.


When did you last have a fist fight?

-Early 2000s, drunk, with my best friend at the time. I think. I could be wrong. It’s hard to remember certain things from back then.


Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?

-Yes. The above mentioned best friend was notorious for causing trouble and getting us kicked out of places. There was a few month stretch where I spent nearly every night apologizing to people for his behavior. They allowed me back. Him they did not.

Do you have any tattoos?

-I lost count a long time ago. I think I stopped counting at 50.

What was your first pet’s name?

-A black cat named Spike.  

What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

-The bagged lunches they give you in jail when your sitting in a holding cell waiting to be booked or transferred elsewhere. Usually old balongna on soggy white bread and a watery juice like product to drink. Or something equally unappealing. I’ve no doubt had worse things, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.


Do you have any irrational fears?

-Losing my mental faculties. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. Anything that causes my mind to deteriorate before it should. That’s not really irrational, though. That’s a legitimate fear. Irrational ones? Probably. Most likely they’d be associated with some kind of social blunder, though at the moment, I don’t have any specific examples. I mean, I’ve made a fool of myself plenty of times, and I’ll certainly do it again, but social obligations tend to be what cause me the most tension in recent years. They almost always turn out well, but the general sense of worry that precedes public commitments can be a real drag and wear me down, and I’d say that worry is mostly irrational. 

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

-I don’t go anywhere for holidays or vacations very often these days, but I visited New Mexico a couple years ago and loved it. I went back the following year and hope to return again. I love the desert. Such a different energy than anywhere else I’ve been. I recommend everyone visit it at some point if they can. It really is something magnificent.


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

Many thanks to Bill Soldan for his time.


Houses Burning and Other Ruins dropped yesterday.


Desperation. Violence. Broken homes and broken hearts. Fathers, junkies, and thieves.

In this gritty new collection, one bad choice begets another, and redemption is a twisted mirage. An ex-addict takes a detour with his young son and comes face-to-face with an old drug dealer and an unsettled debt. A down-on-his-luck gambler visits his estranged sister while figuring out his next play. An Iraq War vet fights a personal battle to reconcile life as a civilian. Three boyhood friends stumble upon a dark secret in a rural dump.

These and the other troubled characters that inhabit the streets and alleys of these stories continually find themselves at the mercy of a cold, indifferent world as they hurtle downward and grapple for hard-won second chances in a life that seldom grants them.


Thursday, 6 May 2021

WILLIAM R. SOLDAN - HOUSES BURNING AND OTHER RUINS (2021)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Desperation. Violence. Broken homes and broken hearts. Fathers, junkies, and thieves.

In this gritty new collection, one bad choice begets another, and redemption is a twisted mirage. An ex-addict takes a detour with his young son and comes face-to-face with an old drug dealer and an unsettled debt. A down-on-his-luck gambler visits his estranged sister while figuring out his next play. An Iraq War vet fights a personal battle to reconcile life as a civilian. Three boyhood friends stumble upon a dark secret in a rural dump.

These and the other troubled characters that inhabit the streets and alleys of these stories continually find themselves at the mercy of a cold, indifferent world as they hurtle downward and grapple for hard-won second chances in a life that seldom grants them.

Houses Burning is a powerful and moving collection of short stories, featuring a variety of well-worn characters - all struggling with life and its obstacles, whether it is in the form of relationship issues, addictions or economic hardship or a combination of several things. The majority of the situations are exacerbated by our protagonists continuing to make poor decisions, all predominantly selfish.

The full collection comprises the following stories .....

The Long Drive Home .... separation, relationship issues, a road trip and a reunion, a trip that already hasn't ended well for one of our participants and a sense of foreboding for the others in our family drama

Space Station Stereo .... addiction, music, addiction, lives out of control

All Things Come Around .... family, secrets, escape, a new life, a collision with the old world, another escape

Small Change .... family, estrangement, resentment, loss, gambling, homelessness, fecklessness, desperation, reconnecting, using, taking advantage, injecting and infecting your own special brand of poison, pulling the pin from the grenade and walking away

Spaces .... military service, alienation, re-adjustment or not, disconnection from society

Recompense .... an ill-advised hold-up, fatal consequences

The Ghost of Green Valley .......'75, Summer, kids playing, a body discovered on the dump, a troubling look into the world of adults and secrets, an imperceptible loss of innocence and growing up overnight, haunting memories lingering in later life.  

Tally Ho .... a taxi driver, to the rescue, a star of the movie playing in his head, a hero, a real life Travis Bickle, a woman to save, a woman - addicted, influenced, whoring, not sure if she wants or needs saving, our man a patsy, turned man of action

Waiting for Tomorrow ..... addiction, ugly, painful, fund-raising - small grifts, cons, jonesing, disappointment, anxiety, urgency, delusions - where it's easy to think everything is under control, small moments of clarity - when you know it isn't. Stop tomorrow! Repeat cycle, repeat.

Houses Burning ..... a broken family, a feckless dad, an off the rails son, a moved on but harassed mum, the dad with regrets and a recognition of losing something precious, with its value only ever appreciated after it's gone. A struggle to connect and avoid the son repeating the idiocy of the father, a struggle to breakthrough walls and barriers and turn a life around. Ultimately a story which left me with some hope of a brighter future

I have a couple of favourites in the collection - Houses Burning and The Ghost of Green Valley - but none of the stories I read left me feeling indifferent, which is something very scarce to encounter. 

All the stories feature pretty ordinary people - albeit in some extraordinary situations - entering a shop with a gun, injecting a substance, ripping off a drug dealer, stalking an ex-wife, picking up a tire iron - but they are people that could have been family members, friends, neighbours, people you worked with or went to school with and I think therein lies the power of the collection. 

Some of the choices made and the mistakes leading to wrong roads travelled aren't so different from the ones we all face. A kind of there but for the grace of God thing. Who hasn't at times succumbed to temptation, behaved shamefully, acted with selfishness and doesn't live with some regrets. 

4.5 from 5

This was my first time reading Bill Soldan's work, but not my last. A couple of his other collections sit on the pile - Lost in the Furrows and In Just the Right Light.


Read - May, 2021

Published - 2021 (7th May - today)

Page count  - 216

Source - review copy from author

Format - PDF read on laptop

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

BRIAN KNIGHT - A FACE FULL OF UGLY (2012)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

A simple fugitive recovery assignment turns into another misadventure when Butch Quick meets Sharon Fitch, a Paradise Valley street dealer turned police informant. The scum of Paradise Valley is about to find out just how ugly Butch can get.

A speculative Audible purchase and one that worked out really well for me.

Main character, Butch Quick is a bounty hunter and works for his uncle, a bail bondsman (I think). He's trying to track down a witness, Sharon Fitch who has gone AWOL. Unfortunately the guys she is in fear of tail, Butch to the home of his first lead and thereafter kidnap that informant. 

After a violent altercation between Butch, his running partner and the missing witness eventually calms down - the bad guys turn up with their hostage, having been led to Sharon's hide-out, a remote cabin in the woods.

Love and harmony does not ensue. Mayhem, violence, death and destruction follow. Butch survives to hunt another day.

I really liked it. It's a shortish tale. It's busy, funny, action-packed and satisfying. I liked the dark humour in the situations Butch and his opo found themselves in. A skillet around the head can be quite funny on the page (or in this case in the earhole) and works just as well as it does when slapstick on screen.

I look forward to more reading from author Brian Knight with Butch Quick. I found out afterwards this was either the second or third adventure or misadventure with the character. The others are Sex, Death and Honey and Big Trouble in Little Boots


4 from 5 

Read - (listened to) May, 2021
Published - 2012
Page count - 53 (1hr 10mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

2019/2020 - AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR READING CHALLENGE

I do like a bit of Australian crime fiction and I do like a reading challenge. I'm just not very good at completing them on time.




In the end I managed fourteen books across two years.....


1. John Dale (ed.) - Sydney Noir (Akashic Noir Series) (2019) (February, 2019)           4.5 STARS

Akashic Books continues its award-winning series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each book comprises all new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the respective city.

Brand-new stories by: Kirsten Tranter, Mandy Sayer, John Dale, Eleanor Limprecht, Mark Dapin, Leigh Redhead, Julie Koh, Peter Polites, Robert Drewe, Tom Gilling, Gabrielle Lord, Philip McLaren, P.M. Newton, and Peter Doyle.

From John Dale's introduction to the book:

Nothing lasts in Sydney, especially good fortune: lives are upturned, shops are sold, roads dug up, trees and houses knocked down, premiers discarded, and entire communities relocated in the name of that economic mantra--growth and progress. Just when you think the traffic can't get any worse and the screech of the 747s descending over your roof can't get any louder, along comes a wild electrical storm that batters the buildings and shakes the power lines and washes the garbage off the streets and you stand, sheltered under your broken brolly in the center of Sydney, admiring this big beautiful city.

What never changes, though, is the hustle on the street. My father was a detective in the vice squad shortly after the Second World War, and he told stories of busting SP bookies in Paddington and Surry Hills, collaring cockatoos stationed in the laneways of South Sydney, and arresting sly-groggers. Policing back then was hands-on for the poor and hands-off for the rich. Crime and Sydney have always been inseparable: a deep vein of corruption runs beneath the surface of even its most respectable suburbs.



2. Mark Brandi - Into the River (2019) (March, 2019)   4.5 STARS

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.



3. Peter Temple - An Iron Rose (1998) (May, 2019)     *5 STARS

I'd found a life that wasn't based on watching and lying and plotting, on using people, laying traps, practising deceit. But I'd brought a virus with me, carried it like a refugee from some plague city, hiding symptoms, hoping against hope they would go away. And for a time they had. And I was happy.

But when men in police uniforms came to execute me on the roadside, beside dark fields, it was a definite sign that my new life was over.

Mac Faraday is a man with a past living a quiet life in the country - until his beloved friend Ned Lowey is found hanged. Is it suicide? Faraday won't accept that and starts to ask questions.

Why did Ned visit Kinross Hall, the local home for juvenile girls?
Why did he keep press cuttings about the skeleton of a girl found in an old mine shaft?
Who was the beaten girl found naked beside a lonely road?

As Faraday's search begins to uncover chilling secrets, he finds himself thrown back into the past, forced to confront again the dangers of his old life.

Once he was the hunter, now he has become the prey.


4. Chris Hammer - Scrublands (2018) (June, 2019)   4 STARS


In an isolated country town ravaged by drought, a charismatic young priest opens fire on his congregation, killing five men before being shot dead himself.

A year later, journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals don't fit with the accepted version of events.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking discovery rocks the town. The bodies of two backpackers - missing since the time of the massacre - are found in the scrublands. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is the one in the spotlight.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to uncover a truth that becomes more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town's secrets stay buried.


5. Candice Fox - Crimson Lake (2017) (November, 2019)  4.5 STARS

How do you move on when the world won't let you?

12:46: Claire Bingley stands alone at a bus stop
12:47: Ted Conkaffey parks his car beside her
12:52: The girl is missing . . .

Six minutes in the wrong place at the wrong time - that's all it took to ruin Sydney detective Ted Conkaffey's life. Accused but not convicted of a brutal abduction, Ted is now a free man - and public enemy number one. Maintaining his innocence, he flees north to keep a low profile amidst the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake.

There, Ted's lawyer introduces him to eccentric private investigator Amanda Pharrell, herself a convicted murderer. Not entirely convinced Amanda is a cold-blooded killer, Ted agrees to help with her investigation, a case full of deception and obsession, while secretly digging into her troubled past. The residents of Crimson Lake are watching the pair's every move . . . and the town offers no place to hide.

"Complex, human characters, and a dark, meaty story, and fine writing, and a great sense of place - this is one of the best crime thrillers of the year. Sign me up as a big-time Fox fan!" - #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child


6. Dave Warner - Exxxpresso (2000) (December, 2019)   3 STARS

Rick pulled a folded glossy brochure from his pocket and spread it out. Every time he looked at it, his heart just welled up with joy. It was the Ferrari of espresso machines. Eight cups delivered simultaneously, milk frothed with four times the power of a standard machine...

Rick has his Milano but no wife. His wife Marietta has a lover but no money. Zeen has a life expectancy as short as her skirt. And Guthrie has just shot a pizza delivery boy. Soon Rick has no choice but to drive that Highway to Hell... or Kalgoorlie anyway.

In the richest square mile of dirt in the world a state-of-the-art espresso machine will determine the fate of a bunch of triple-crossing desperados.

"You're right into your coffee man, I'll give you that."
Rick brushed that away. "For me, coffee is a business."


7. Richard Anderson - Boxed (2019) (January, 2020)      3 STARS

‘I jump back, curse in rapid fire, and then lean forward and shove the box hard, off the bench, and away from me. It thuds on the floor. Is this a nasty trick?’

Dave Martin is down on his luck: his wife has left him; his farm is a failure; his house is a mess; he has withdrawn from his community and friends; and tragedy has stolen his capacity to care. He passes the time drinking too much and buying cheap tools online, treating the delivered parcels as gifts from people who care about him.

And then boxes begin to arrive in the mail: boxes that he didn’t order, but ones that everyone around him seems to want desperately. As he tries to find out the secret of the boxes, Dave is drawn into a crazy world of red herrings and wrong turns, good guys and bad, false friends and true, violence, lust, fear, revenge, and a lot, lot more. It’s not a world he understands, but is it the only one Dave can live in?


8. Blair Denholm - Boyd and Sarge: NYPD Law and Disorder (2019) (January, 2020) 
3 STARS

These two cops will have you roaring with laughter

Officer Boyd and the Sarge are the dumbest cops around. DO NOT call them in an emergency
Incompetent yet lovable, hapless Boyd and long-suffering Sarge have become a huge hit online.

Their legion of loyal fans eagerly await daily episodes full of ridiculous humor.

Find out why Twitter goes crazy every day over their antics.

˃˃˃ Readers can't get enough Boyd and Sarge
"Boyd and Sarge are the busiest pair of comic-cops in the world. Not only are they fighting crime on the streets, but also battling their personal demons, and verbally fencing with each other to hilarious effect. Sarge spares no punches, but Boyd bounces right back up with the most outrageous explanations. The misadventures of Boyd and Sarge generate a laugh a minute - each tweet-sized piece is a brilliant, tongue-firmly-in-cheek commentary that uses the pun to dazzle and delight"

"Sarge and Boyd are a great way to start your morning off with laughter"If you're a fan of The Far Side by Gary Larson, there's a good chance you'll love Boyd and Sarge"

"There are times when his humor is subtle, when it catches the reader a beat after the piece is read. Other times, it is in your face, and one is rolling on the floor in belly laughs"

"I first discovered Boyd and Sarge on Twitter when I stared following the author. Every day, I began looking forward to these Twitter-sized bites of cleverly crafted play-on-words that brimmed with slapstick comedic timing.

So imagine my delight when I jokingly suggested to the author that he should compile all his Boyd and Sarge tweets into a book, and he replied that he had!

This book makes a brilliant gift for the granddad, dad, uncle or adult brother in your life - or anyone who enjoys the bumbling antics of a PG15+ Laurel and Hardy or Mr Bean.

Boyd and Sarge are two unforgettable characters who never fail to bring about a belly laugh with their antics."

˃˃˃ Packed with puns, dad jokes, black humor and fantastic illustrations, everyone will love Boyd and the Sarge
If you're a fan of The Far Side by Gary Larson, there's a good chance you'll love Boyd and Sarge.

Scroll up and grab your copy today.




9. Katherine Howell - Frantic (2007) (April, 2020)    3 STARS

In one terrible moment, paramedic Sophie Phillips’ life is ripped apart – her police officer husband, Chris, is shot on their doorstep and their ten-month-old son, Lachlan, is abducted from his bed. Suspicion surrounds Chris as he is tainted with police corruption, but Sophie believes the attack is much more personal – and the perpetrator far more dangerous...

While Chris is in hospital and the police, led by Detective Ella Marconi, mobilise to find their colleague's child, Sophie's desperation compels her to search for Lachlan herself. She enlists her husband's partner, Angus Arendson, in the hunt for her son, but will the history they share prove harmful to Sophie's ability to complete her mission?

And could one dangerous decision cause Sophie to ultimately lose everything important in her life?


10. Blair Denholm - Sold to the Devil (2020) (May, 2020) 4 STARS


He stirs up trouble just by rolling into town. Can this human wrecking ball on the run dodge the Federal police and a Russian crime syndicate bent on revenge?

Gary Braswell is a walking disaster. Dodging his violent enemies with new papers and the help of a surgeon’s knife, Gary attempts to lie low with a stint in freezing Tasmania. But he’s barely settled in with his stolen $150,000 stash when a body-building thief snatches the cash… and then turns up bloodily dismembered.

When Gary is fingered for the killing, he’s terrified he’ll blow his highly illegal history wide open. And since Australia’s most-wanted man is desperate to avoid a stretch in the slammer, this true-blue criminal better knuckle down quickly before he gets nailed.

Will the knockabout party animal escape the cuffs and dodge a snowstorm of strife?

Sold to the Devil is the gritty second book in a fast-paced comic noir thriller series. If you like hilarious page-turners, screwball characters, and crazy



11. Jane Harper - The Dry (2016) (July, 2020)  4.5 STARS

WHO REALLY KILLED THE HADLER FAMILY?

I just can't understand how someone like him could do something like that.

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn't rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke's death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend's crime.

Praise for The Dry 

'Spellbinding' Ian Rankin

'Stunningly atmospheric' Val McDermid


12. Blair Denholm - Fighting Dirty (2020) (August, 2020) 4 STARS

It took just one bad decision to put his whole life in jeopardy

Tough-talking London Detective Inspector Jack Lisbon now faces a life-changing choice – seek justice or exact vengeance

After a young fighter takes a beating for throwing a bout, DI Lisbon makes a decision that will come back to haunt him – he accepts a bribe to look the other way. With everything poised to go pear-shaped, the embattled cop embarks on a path that could destroy his career, or save him from destruction. One thing you can be sure of, ex-boxer Lisbon never backs down from a fight!

The twist at the end will leave you breathless!

⭐ A story of evil and redemption

⭐ The characters leap off the page

⭐ Jack Lisbon is a kick-ass investigator who packs a punch

⭐ An action-packed page-turner

Follow Jack Lisbon's journey in the upcoming series: "The Fighting Detective"


13. Jane Harper - The Survivors (2019) (December, 2020) 5 STARS

Kieran Elliott's life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran's parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away...


14. Blair Denholm - Kill Shot (2020) (December, 2020)   4 STARS

When only one brand of justice will do...
A body found in the mangroves, mutilated beyond recognition.

What at first appears to be a crocodile attack is soon established as a shocking murder.

Can ex-boxer Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon solve the mystery before the sleepy town of Yorkville goes into total meltdown?

When a popular MMA fighter disappears, police now face a possible double homicide. The list of suspects grows longer, but no one in the closed fighting community is talking. 

Join DS Lisbon and his partner Detective Claudia Taylor on a heart-thumping ride through the steamy tropics of Northern Australia as they hunt for a killer out of control.


At least it was a step in the right direction, my previous challenge took 3 years!




William Marshall - Yellowthread Street (1975) (4)

Andrew Nette - Gunshine State (2016) (4.5)

Iain Ryan - Drainland (2016) (4.5)

Dave Warner - City of Light (1995) (4)

Iain Ryan - Four Days (2015) (4.5)

Kenneth Cook - Fear is the Rider (2016) (4.5)

Garry Disher - The Heat (2015) (5)

David Whish-Wilson - Line of Sight (2010) (5)

Peter Temple - Ithaca In My Mind (2012) (4.5)

Brian Stoddart - The Pallampur Predicament (2014) (4)

Brian Stoddart - A Madras Miasma (2014) (5)

Peter Robb (AKA) B. Selkie No Sweat (AKA Final Cut) (AKA 1/3 of Pig's Blood and Other Fluids) (1995) (3)

or

Peter Robb - Pig's Blood and Other Fluids (Maybe) (1999) (3)

Garry Disher - Two Way Cut (2004) (3)


I'm hoping to read a lot more from Garry Disher, Dave WarnerDavid Whish-Wilson, Peter Temple, Bill Bateman, Andy Muir, Iain Ryan, Peter Doyle, Brian Stoddart and others in the future....