Tuesday, 21 August 2018

STEVE SHADOW - SIN-EMA (2012)


Synopsis/blurb....

Sin-Ema is a filthy and hilarious tale of the sexual revolution. The year is 1971 and the place is Chicago, where Steve, our hero, is running a porn theatre in defiance of the laws of the land and anything close to decency. As the screen drips jism and pulsates with sex, the hottest action takes place among the theatre's motley staff and the demented, lust-crazed officials and customers Steve encounters.

A bit of a speculative punt in the dark with this author and book. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of the author. A review on Goodreads from James Thane regarding one of his short stories had me prowling Amazon to check out his books. This one sounded a bit different and had 5 x 5 STAR reviews, wasn't too expensive so BOOM! Here we are.

I kind of thought it would be a bit more borderline #crimefiction, bearing in mind the illegality of the operation Steve was running, but it mainly focussed on his sexual exploits and adventures with staff, customers and even an adult film star. We did have some cop involvement, but where I was picturing kick-backs and pay-offs and raids, it was a slightly more sordid encounter with a pay-off of sorts.

Amusing, possible semi-autobiographical (Shadow spent time in the porn business in the 70s), probably exaggerated - in respect of Shadow's Olympian-esque stamina and readiness to go and go again, explicit, titillating and thankfully not too long either.

I enjoyed it without it being the best book ever. There's a limit to how many different sexual encounters a person may want to read about before becoming jaded. (In a lot of people's case, I'm hazarding  - none.)

Shadow can entertain though and a lot of the events related had me chuckling, particularly the closing curtain on his cinema career. Definitely an author I will read again in the future but more crime related.

Not a book I could easily recommend to others.

3 from 5

Steve Shadow has his website here.

Read in August, 2018
Published - 2012
Page count - 118
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback


Sunday, 19 August 2018

CHRIS THOMAS - THE EDGE OF SANITY (2018)


Synopsis/blurb.....

In a derelict squat, the Smart Man watches as the new narcotic developed by his shadowy organisation wreaks havoc on it, unsuspecting victims. The drug is now ready for sale on their exclusive darknet marketplace.

Elsewhere, DCI Robert Smith, the retired head of the Cyber Crimes Unit, seeks out crime boss Curtis Slater at his remote farm. He offers to provide Slater with information in exchange for money. But what information is he offering?

Meanwhile, former detective Pete Harris had started a new life, away from the Cyber Crimes Unit, with his daughter and begins to rekindle his relationship with old colleague Grace Brooks.

With his life seemingly complete, Pete’s world comes crashing down as he is drawn into Slater’s game with fatal consequences. He must join forces with his old enemies in a race against time. But can Pete save his daughter and Grace from the clutches of Slater, the Smart Man, and the sinister ringmaster, the Professor?

The Edge of Sanity is a dark and twisty psychological thriller. It can be read as the sequel to the critically acclaimed Enter The Dark or as a thrilling stand-alone. It will appeal to fans of authors like JP Delaney, Mark Edwards and James Swallow.

The second novel from Chris Thomas throws up more nefarious going-ons on the dark side of the internet. A shady group are developing and offering for sale, to a limited criminal elite only, a new designer drug that will change the marketplace forever. Criminal king-pin, Curtis Slater wants in and a major piece of the action, as well as revenge on the do-gooder vigilantes - the Brotherhood of the Righteous.

The Edge of Sanity sees all three organisations set on a collision course, with a young kidnapped child a bargaining chip in the high stakes game. A fair few of the combatants and participants appeared in the earlier book from Thomas, Enter the Dark.

Initially I was slightly puzzled by the involvement of one of the groups, the Brotherhood of the Righteous in the goings on, but it eventually became a little bit clearer as we went along. Similarly, the drug manufacturers, the Smart Man and the Professor, who were calling the shots somewhat bizarrely set puzzles and riddles that needed to be solved before entertaining would be clients into the customer base. I was a little unconvinced about this aspect as well, but went with the flow.

The story worked for me on a more personal level, with the involvement of former cyber crimes cop, Pete Harris working desperately with his former nemesis the Brotherhood of the Righteous, to free his daughter Olivia and less importantly from my POV, his former colleague and nearly girlfriend, Grace (sister to BotR head honcho, Alistair).

Pete and somewhat ironically Curtis were the most interesting characters in the book for me. Curtis is cruel, manipulative and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Often prone to irrational violence and with a sharp, derisory tongue to boot, I enjoyed the scenes involving him the most. Pete is a single father, struggling with his business and would do anything to secure his daughter's safety.

The rest of the bunch, in particular Alistair were less than sympathetic. A couple of the minor characters, Daisy and Danny were interesting and worthy of mention. Daisy, was a victim in the earlier book and is under Alistair's tutelage. Danny is a former cyber crimes cop, now rather unfortunately working as Slater's IT guru.

Overall, I enjoyed this one after a hesitant start. There a fair few twists and turns before we get where we are going. At least one of them, I failed to see coming which was hats-off to the author.

Plenty of action, plenty of violence, a fair pace and all loose ends wrapped up at the conclusion.

4 from 5

Thoughts on the author's earlier book, Enter the Dark here.

Chris Thomas is on Twitter - @cthomasauthor1

Read in August, 2018
Published - 2018
Page count - 302
Source - review copy from Net Galley courtesy of publisher Bloodhound Books
Format - ePub

Saturday, 18 August 2018

GLENN McGOLDRICK - DEAD FLIES (2017)



Synopsis/blurb...

Just a kid, really, with his whole life ahead of him. But he vanished three years ago…

In this chapter of the Dark Teesside series, the events unfold in Thornaby and Middlesbrough...

Introducing Dead Flies, a dark short story by award winning writer Glenn McGoldrick. 

"Another excellent piece of short fiction from McGoldrick, well written and excellently presented. The use of actual Northern locations and the writing style as well hints at Ian Rankin, and hopefully there will be a full length novel in time. A sad and thoughtful short story, that leaves you very much wanting more" - Amazon bestselling author Sam Burnell

A short story and another boost to the reading stats.

Dead Flies was my second taste of Glenn McGoldrick's work and another enjoyable story, one which connected emotionally.

A missing son, no note, no body, no clues, no hint and no explanation - ergo - grief, bewilderment, questions but still a modicum of hope.

One sudden change of setting mid-way gave me such a jolt, before the story settled back down. I kind of envisaged things heading in a different direction, but the author took us elsewhere.

Well written, invoking a great deal of reflection and sadness. This is reality for a number of families.

Not a story I will let go of lightly.

4.5 from 5

Glenn McGoldrick seems to specialise in short stories. His website is here.
Red Marks was enjoyed a month or two ago - thoughts here.

Read in August, 2018
Published - 2017
Page count - 14
Source - purchased
Format - kindle

Friday, 17 August 2018

ALAN PARKS - BLOODY JANUARY (2017)


Synopsis/blurb....

When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead in the middle of a busy Glasgow street and then commits suicide, Detective Harry McCoy is sure of one thing. It wasn't a random act of violence.

With his new partner in tow, McCoy uses his underworld network to lead the investigation but soon runs up against a secret society led by Glasgow's wealthiest family, the Dunlops.

McCoy's boss doesn't want him to investigate. The Dunlops seem untouchable. But McCoy has other ideas . . .

In a helter-skelter tale – winding from moneyed elite to hipster music groupies to the brutal gangs of the urban wasteland – Bloody January brings to life the dark underbelly of 1970s Glasgow and introduces a dark and electrifying new voice in Scottish noir.

Seventies Glasgow and a public murder which our lead character, Detective McCoy had been warned about but which he was unable to prevent, has Bloody January off and running at a ferocious clip. Alan Parks had me hooked early and cliche or not it was a struggle to put the book down. 

Murder, suicide, manipulation, drugs, prostitution, sordid sex parties, sick minds and cameras, films and photographs, blackmail, S&M, cops consorting with gangsters, a good time girl as a girlfriend, more deaths and disappearances, an untouchable family, political interference, corruption, police rivalries and affiliations, a young recruit, a failed relationship with child bereavement a huge shadow, a disturbing upbringing at the hands of the Church, a lifelong friendship forged in terror under abuse, two different paths, massage parlours, beatings and torture, poverty, a stop start investigation and a relentless doggedness to ensure those responsible pay one way or another.

Interesting dynamics throughout - especially Harry and his childhood friend and Glaswegian criminal terror Stevie. A shared history and a perceived debt binds them together and forces Harry to overlook Stevie's criminality, despite the possible cost to his career.     

Not a book for the faint of heart, very dark and graphic in places, very in your face in the descriptions of a long ago Glasgow where poverty and crime seemed prevalent. A different time when police and thieves had arrangements and understandings.

Setting - tick.
Pace - tick.
Storyline - tick.
Characters - tick.
Grim and gritty quota - double tick.
Resolution - tick.

Debut novel from author - tick (unbelievable)
More books from Alan Parks - yes please.
A second McCoy book drops early next year - February's Son

Alan Parks might just usurp Malcolm Mackay as my favourite Scottish crime writer.

Overall verdict - bloody marvellous!
5 from 5

Read in July, 2018
Published - 2017
Page count - 336
Source - Edelweiss early reviewer's site courtesy of publisher, World Noir
Format - kindle 




Wednesday, 15 August 2018

HENRY G. SHEPPARD - HAEMATEMESIS (2016)


Synopsis/blurb....

This book relates the journey of a medical innocent through the wilds of the hospital system. It is a comic account of life on the business side of the medical looking glass, written to encourage others as they face the uncertainties of life in the hands of modern-day medical practitioners.

Not my usual kind of reading, but flicking through the kindle it popped up and jumped out at me. I vaguely recall the author offering a copy for a review sometime and I was in the mood for something a bit different.

Here the author chronicles his second encounter with leukemia after having previously battled the disease. It's not a subject normally associated with humour, but Sheppard does his best to lighten the mood while documenting his journey.

Bowel movements, nose bleeds, self-medicating, weight loss, invasive fingers, cancelled appointments, officious hospital staff, surly doctors, argumentative nurses and yo-yo-ing blood counts, the painful and at times callous hunt to locate a vein and a flatulent bus ride.

Having seen both good and bad indifference when in hospital, both as a patient and a visitor, I can relate to a lot of the anecdotes Sheppard shares - the Australian medical profession having much in common with the NHS.

A few smiles, one laugh out loud funny moment - almost two, plenty of sharp intakes of breath and wincing and a fond wish that Sheppard retains his stoicism and sunny demeanour in his on-going fight with a cruel disease.

4 from 5

Read - August, 2018
Published - 2016
Page count - 73
Source - review copy from author
Format - kindle

* Having checked back in on the author over on Goodreads, sadly it appears that he lost his fight and passed in March, 2018

2 BY NEWTON THORNBURG

A couple from the US and the 70s and 80s by Newton Thornburg this week.

I read Thornburg's To Die in California a few years ago and it was everything I look for in a book.... pace, story, characters, setting and heart, quite haunting really. 



Thornburg had 11 books published between 1967 and 1998. A few others sit on the pile including Knockover a 1968 heist novel.

From Fantastic Fiction.......

Born in Harvey, Illinois, Thornburg graduated from the University of Iowa with a Fine Arts degree. He worked in a variety of jobs before devoting himself to writing full-time (or at least in tandem with his cattle farm in the Ozarks) in 1973.





Cutter and Bone (1976)


A thriller, and a whacking good thriller, too - shows how much can be done by a writer who knows his business - the best novel of its kind in ten years! - New York Times

First published in 1976, Cutter and Bone is the story of the obsession of Cutter, a scarred and crippled Vietnam veteran and his attempt to convince his buddy, Bone, that the latter witnessed a murder committed by the conglomerate tycoon, JJ Wolfe. Captivated by Cutter's demented logic, Bone is prepared to cross the country with Cutter in search of proof of the murder. Their quest takes them into the Ozarks - home base of the Wolfe empire - where Bone discovers that Cutter is not pursuing a murderer so much as the great enemy itself, them, the very demons that have dogged his life.

A prolific writer, Newton Thornburg lives in upstate New York. His novels include A Man's Game, To Die in California, Dreamland, The Lion at the Door, and Eve's Men.

Blog friend TracyK from Bitter Tea and Mystery read Cutter and Bone recently.
The bleakest book she's ever read, which is a cracking recommendation in my eyes.

Also made into a film entitled Cutter's Way in the early 80s with Jeff Bridges.

Dreamland (1983)

"A commanding writer of unusual delicacy and power." - THE NEW YORKER

Two apparent suicides and a pair of brutal sex murders plunge would-be starlet Foxy Reno and ex-hippie drifter Crow into the dark underbelly of Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. As Crow and Reno embark on a manhunt, they discover the dark side of desire in white-hot California.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

ADAM HOWE (ed.) - WRESTLE MANIACS (2017)


Synopsis/blurb.......

A dozen dark fiction masters bring their twisted vision to the world of professional wrestling. Twelve original stories of crime, horror, humor, and taboo. Ohhh, yeahhh! This ain’t no kayfabe, baby. This is hard-hitting wrestling fiction that grips like a Camel Clutch, and pins the reader to the page for the count of one, two…THREE!

Includes a confrontational foreword by ring legend 'Pulverizing' Pat McCrunch (as told to Jeff Strand)… An all-new story starring Nick 'The Widowmaker' Bullman from James Newman’s wrestling noir, "Ugly as Sin"… And ex-boxer turned strip club bouncer Reggie Levine ("Tijuana Donkey Showdown," "Damn Dirty Apes") returns for another action-packed misadventure.

Original fiction by:
Jeff Strand
Tom Leins
James Newman
Eryk Pruitt
Adam Howe
Ed Kurtz
Hector Acosta
Joseph Hirsch
Duncan P. Bradshaw
David James Keaton
Gabino Iglesias
Patrick Lacey
and Jason Parent

Wooooo!!!

Jeff Strand - Foreward..... very shouty, very in your face, larger than life

Tom Leins - Real Americans..... a former Native American wrestler turned drug-addled cop works a case  - I didn’t miss getting my ass handed to me by herniated middle-aged rednecks in sweat-streaked leotards. - and enjoys a re-union with a former wrestling acquaintance. Brutal and extremely harsh, climaxing in the best fight of his life. XXX-rated.

James Newman - A Fiend in Need .... Nick the Widowmaker Bullman saves the day, when a former colleague loses the plot, kills his wife and threatens his kids.

Eryk Pruitt - Last of the High-Flying Van Alstynes .... one of the last of the legendary Van Alstynes, a wrestling dynasty gets kidnapped and doped for his seed to create a new race of superhuman. Yes reallyFamily tragedies, family issues. 

Adam Howe - Rassle Hassle .... strip club bouncer Reggie Levine does a solid for a friend. Plenty going on here, a trip with a child to see his wrestling hero, destroying an undercover police op, sucking snake venom from a wrestler's ass and getting his own handed to him in the ring, before being carted off unconscious and in handcuffs. All in a night's work for Reggie.  

Ed Kurtz - Duluth ... an exhibition, a movie-man, a living nightmare and a date with his father. A bit of a strange one, truth be told.

Hector Acosta - From Parts Unknown ....  a family re-union and a reluctant acceptance of duty and obligation. Supernatural/other world elements.

Joseph Hirsch - Three Finger Bolo .... boxer turned wrestler turns boxer again in a re-enactment of WWII and a fearsome fight with The Hungry Hun and his pickelhaube helmet. 

Duncan P. Bradshaw - Glassjaw ..... some old timer advice to a young gun

David James Keaton - El Kabong ..... The brass knuckles I’d bought for the best man at our wedding were illegal, but that’s what I needed. I figured if you could commit a crime against humanity like playing an accordion in public, there was no reason they could outlaw such a beautiful natural extension of a man’s hand. - nailed it regarding accordion players! A man widowed, his wife stuffed in a guitar case. Different.

Gabino Iglesias - El Nuevo Santo's Last Fight .... a last fight, threats, intimidation and an intended fix - El Nuevo Santo has pride and other ideas in mind.

Patrick Lacey - Kill to be You .... wrestler-turned actor meets his own self several times before a switcheroo is pulled on him and a life of fame and adulation beckons for his opportunistic and manipulative other being. Yeah hard to explain rationally, but it worked when reading. Impossible, inexplicable, interesting

Jason Parent – Canadian Donkey Punch .... One of the best of the bunch. Our primary character is a wrestling ref who incurs the wrath of a hostile Canadian crowd and the vanquished wrestler when he arbitrarily decides the outcome of the bout. Being your own man comes with a consequence.

Adam Howe - Afterword ... an interesting page or two on the conception of the book and the difficult journey to press

An interesting and mostly enjoyable collection of wrestling themed short stories which I meandered my way through during June and July. There's a fair bit of diversity in the tales with a dash of supernatural elements in a couple, a tale from a referee's perspective, a bit of a crossover into boxing territory with steroid abuse, snake-bit asses, sweaty jockstraps and lots more to get your teeth into. Family crises, family abuse, family murder, familial reconciliation, old scores and long memories, broken bones and lots of blood spilled. Pride, revenge and redemption feature prominently.

Most enjoyable stories - the editor's story Rassle Hassle from Adam Howe, Tom Leins and his Real Americans and Jason Parent's Canadian Donkey Punch.
Editor - Adam Howe

Least enjoyable - hmm.... nothing sucked, I just happened to like a few a bit more than some of the others. In an anthology it would be strange for everything to rattle my bones.

Four of the authors have been enjoyed before - Tom Leins, Adam Howe, Ed Kurtz and Eryk Pruitt - so it was also an opportunity to see how I took to a few new folks. James Newman and Hector Acosta sit on the TBR pile with more from Leins, Howe and Pruitt to enjoy at some point.

4 from 5

Read in June/July, 2018
Published - 2017
Page count - 221
Source - review copy received from editor Adam Howe
Format - kindle