Thursday, 18 October 2018



When former NYPD detective Joe Serpe hit bottom, he just kept on going. Having lost his career to charges of corruption, his family to divorce, his partner to suicide, and his fireman brother to the tragedy of 9/11, Serpe's world is nearly empty but for his cat, Mulligan. Living in a basement apartment in a blue collar town on Long Island, Joe spends his days filling tanks with home heating oil and his nights filling his belly with vodka.

But when a young retarded man who worked for Joe's oil company is cruelly murdered, Joe Serpe rediscovers purpose and grasps for a last chance at redemption. Along with his former Internal Affairs Bureau nemesis, Bob Healy, and Marla Stein, a brave and beautiful, group home psychologist, Joe wades into the world of street gangs, anti-immigration organizations, and the Red Mafia.

Hose Monkey is a rough and tumble ride through a violent, often cruel world, a world where it's hard to tell the bad guys from the good guys without a scorecard. It is a world of murder and extortion, but one in which an innocent Down Syndrome girl may hold the key that unlocks the mystery. At the same time, Hose Monkey is a story of salvation and forgiveness, a tale of justice done.

A Long Island murder mystery with the back drop of the heating oil business and with a couple of former cops, once at loggerheads, now working together to find the killer of a retarded man. The book's a dozen years old and the former cop investigating thing has been done to death, but here it seemed quite fresh and original to me.

I enjoyed reading about Joe Serpe's work as an oil delivery driver, the bits and pieces about the heating oil industry and then the awkwardness of crossing paths with the former IA cop, Bob Healy who cost him his job, career, family and future. We share Joe's grief at the loss of his brother in 9/11 and his current life revolving around work, drink, work, drink. We get a peek behind Healy's curtains too - the guilt he feels about Joe, awakened since their accidental meeting and the emptiness inside since his wife Mary succumbed to cancer.

The murder of a retarded man at Joe's workplace, invokes further regret as Joe feels he let the young man down, having failed in a promise to protect him. Time to become a cop again and investigate the death, particularly as the real cops are doing such a crappy job at it. An unlikely partnership is formed, as Healy with nothing but time on his hands joins Joe in investigating the death.

Grief, guilt, murder, a new purpose, an unlikely friendship, forgiveness - of self and others, a new romance, another murder, street gang involvement, racism, intolerance, a dismembered cat, Russian/Ukranian mob types, white vigilantes, blackmail, sex tapes, more death, a car crash and lots more besides.

Ticks in all the right boxes, setting - I don't think I've read anything set in Long Island before; characters - lots to like and root for with the main three, Joe, Bob and Marla - the new woman in his life and a help in the investigation; plot - busy with lots going on but not too convoluted or complex; pace - not breakneck, not pedestrian - pitch perfect; resolution - satisfying and believable.

4.5 from 5

Amazon purchase history tells me I bought this one back in June, 2008, so only ten and a bit years on the TBR pile. Not too long then. Reed Farrel Coleman wrote a second book featuring Serpe and Healy - The Fourth Victim which I bought when I was halfway through this one. Something to look forward to in about 2029 by my reckoning.

I've read one book from the author before, many years ago before the blog began - Life Goes Sleeping, which was the first in his three book Dylan Klein series. The other two, as well as some of his early Moe Prager books sit on the pile.

Read in October, 2018
Published - 2006
Page count - 308
Source - purchased copy
Format - hardback



Johnnie Rae Piper is born in a tarpaper house off a dirt road in the Texas Panhandle just outside Amarillo. His mama, Jenny Piper, a midwife by trade, raises and home-schools him while his daddy, Tom Piper, is off fighting the Korean War. Tom comes home from Korea a changed man. He takes to drink and gambles away any money that comes his way. 

In 1969, a low draft lottery number sends Johnnie to Viet Nam. After 18 months in the jungle, Johnnie is discharged and comes back to the world, back to his home. But he soon discovers the world of war he left behind and the world at home, aren’t that much different. He still has to fight. Ed Wills, the local loan shark, who answers to a crime organization that stretches across several states, comes to collect on his daddy’s gambling debts, and the war starts all over again.

Darlene, Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo, three cowgirls from Dallas, in their red, 1960 T-bird convertible help Johnnie escape the Texas mob, driving him into New Mexico. They’re in for a wild ride, heading west on Route 66 and the setting sun. The Dallas cowgirls’ dream is to make it to the Pacific Ocean. To make it happen, all Johnnie has to do was keep his eyes on the road behind for anything that might be coming up fast. 

I'm slowly working my way through the catalogues of several small indie publishers and this is about the sixth or seventh I've tried from Near to the Knuckle aka Close to the Bone and it's another solid entry in their canon. Back to the World is James Shaffer's debut novella.

Texas in the 50s and 60s, family life disrupted by two wars - Korean and Vietnam and also by a father's weakness for drinking and gambling. Johnnie, the son back from Vietnam may not like his father, but he loves him and when the piper comes calling for payment in the guise of Ed Wills and a muscled side-kick, Johnnie isn't about to give up on the only family he's got left.

A violent confrontation, two bullies bested and a family double act splitting the cash found in the trunk of the Ed's car and heading for the hills - albeit two hills in two totally different directions. 
That's not the end of the matter by a long shot. Wills wants his money back and to recover some face. Johnnie has his wits about him and a sound plan, but true to form Daddy's weakness for a wager, quickly resurfaces and draws attention. Our three amigos meet again for a final confrontation in the company of some good time Texas gals. Matters don't end well for everyone.

Short, sharp, pacey, I enjoyed the back drop of the two wars and Johnnie's upbringing mostly at the hands of his mother and with an interesting family dynamic, I liked the setting and the time frame of the book. The time spent in Johnnie's company was pleasurable but a little bit too brief. Our finale seemed a little rushed (like my review!) and I would have preferred a slightly extended tale. But as Barnum said (disputed) - always leave them wanting more.

Hopefully James Shaffer has a sequel up his sleeve?

4.5 from 5

Read in October, 2018
Published - 2016
Page count - 113
Source - purchased copy
Format - kindle

Tuesday, 16 October 2018


A couple of books from Northern Irish author Sam Millar.

Millar is an author and playwright and a man with a controversial past.

From The Belfast Telegraph......Sam Millar is a prizewinning author with a criminal past. A former member of the IRA, he was jailed in the 1970s after being arrested with explosives in Belfast. On release he moved to the US where he helped rob $7.2m from the hitherto impregnable Brinks security operation.

I've previously read and enjoyed Millar's On the Brinks, an account of his involvement in a heist in the US, back in the days before the blog began. Another event that saw him imprisoned.

Sam Millar has written about ten novels - nine if On the Brinks is true crime - in total, including four in his Sam Kane PI series and half a dozen standalones. I have a few more of his on the pile in addition to these two.

Sam Millar has his website here.

Dark Souls (2003)

Dominic Tranor, a crime reporter with a large city newspaper, has been sent by his editor, to interview Larkin Baxter, a man condemned to die, guilty of multiple murders. Dominic does not want to be there; he had escaped once before, from Larkin, from justice... and from himself.

In a journey back in time and experience, to a place where true innocence was always a flickering illusion, Dark Souls brings the reader on a devastatingly raw journey that exposes bare the gossamer threads of evil and destruction that lie within all of us.

In his first novel. Sam Millar, an author who has truly experienced rendering pain, announces himself as an original, brilliant and uncompromising writer.

Bloodstorm (2008)

Karl Kane is a private investigator with a dark past. As a child, he witnessed the brutal rape and murder of his mother. The same man sexually molested Karl, leaving him for dead with horrific knife wounds covering his body. Years later, Karl has a chance to avenge his mother`s murder by killing the man responsible. The opportunity arises on one unforgettable Good Friday night.

For reasons he later regards as cowardice, Karl allows the opportunity to slip through his hands, only to be shattered when, two days later, two young girls are sexually molested and then brutally murdered by the killer on Easter Sunday morning. Karl now holds himself responsible for their deaths.

Monday, 15 October 2018



What if someone you loved was in harm’s way?

What if you were being stalked and no one believed you?

What if you were abducted in broad daylight?

What if you were held captive in a cellar?

What would you do?

Mackenzie Crawford screamed.

What if your wife admitted she had a lover?

What if she went out without saying where she was going?

What if you discovered she’d left?

What would you do?

Derek Crawford fell apart.

What if a troubled woman disappeared?

What if her brother begged you to help?

What if there was no evidence of a crime?

What would you do?

In Glasgow, DI Andrew Geddes puts the case to the top of his list.

What if this was only the beginning?

In Harm's Way is the author's fifth and latest novel, but only the first of his that I've read. After this outing I'll definitely be backtracking and trying some of his earlier books.

Owen Mullen pitches us into a domestic drama with a savage twist. Mackenzie is married to Derek Crawford. Mackenzie drinks too much and Crawford doesn't like it. Her brother and sister have their concerns but also have their own lives to worry about. Her brother, Gavin and sister-in-law, Monica have a new baby to care for, not that Mackenzie has been too interested or bothered in visiting Alice, her niece. Sister, Adele and husband Gavin seem fairly content with a couple of thirteen year twin boys - both aliens according to their harassed mother.

Adele's birthday party is the trigger point for all that follows. Mackenzie gets drunk again, insults her hosts, rows with Derek and the pair leave. A further fight follows at home and Mackenzie threatens to leave him. And so she does, but not voluntarily.

Abducted and held captive - well she had been saying she was being followed. But she had also been drinking and was notoriously unreliable so no one believed her.

The family viewpoints are differing .... ah, she's walked out and left him. She's got someone else a lover - what a bitch. Derek does everything for her, she doesn't know how lucky she is. You know what she's like......... hmm, Derek's a bit too old for her, he's a bit too controlling. I don't think he's good for her...... Mackenzie - she's left me, she admitted she had a lover.

It's interesting seeing the family dynamics with all the hurts and resentments of the past coming to the surface. Rows, jealousy, rivalries, hurt, pain, memories, mistakes, sympathies and pressure mounting on their own relationships and careers and at the bottom of it all an increasing level of concern for Mackenzie once they realise that if she has left, she's done so without taking any belongings with her.

As a reader we know where Mackenzie is and what happened, but we don't know the why. Her family try to discover both with Gavin eventually involving the police, much to Derek's annoyance.

There's a lot of drama packed into the pages of this not too long a novel. There's the mundane and the humdrum of everyday family lives, but enlivened by the backdrop of an unusual event and the effect is has on those closest to Mackenzie. It brings out both the best and the worst in the family.

Decent pace, very strong and realised characters, a bit of a puzzle throughout in that only towards the end do we discover the why and the who for Mackenzie's abduction, but an enjoyable puzzle. After that revelation, Mullen also serves up another twist or two before the end. Lots to like.

4 from 5

Owen Mullen's previous books are Games People Play, Old Friends And New Enemies, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead from his PI Charlie Cameron series and And So It Began (Delaney series).

Read in October, 2018
Published - 2018
Page count - 210
Source - review copy from publisher Bloodhound Books via Net Galley
Format - ePub file read on laptop

In Harm's Way is published today. Links to AMAZON    UK     US     CANADA



Why would a mathematics professor from Cambridge University, renting a holiday home outside Cape Town, require a false identity and three bodyguards? And where is he, now that they are dead? The only clue to the bodyguards' murder is the snake engraved on the shell casings of the bullets that killed them. 

Investigating the massacre, Benny Griessel and his team find themselves being drawn into an international conspiracy with shocking implications. It seems it is not just the terrorists and criminals of Britain and South Africa who may fear the Professor's work, but the politicians too. 

As the body count begins to spiral viciously, Benny must put his new-found love life aside and focus on finding the one person who could give him a break in the case: a teenage pickpocket on the run in the city. But Benny is not the only person hunting for Tyrone Kleinbooi... 

Relentlessly suspenseful, topical, hard-hitting and richly rewarding, Cobra is a superb novel from an author who is acclaimed around the world as a brilliant voice in crime fiction. 

Another audio book from my library and nearly thirteen hours invested in listening to this one. Time well spent in my opinion, as I enjoyed the narration in addition to being sucked into the mystery at the heart of this.

It starts quite slowly with the minute forensic examination of a murder scene where three bodyguards have been executed and their charge, an English professor has gone missing. The professor had been developing a financial algorithm which could enable the banks to track dirty money. However the banks and politicians were somewhat reluctant to put this technology to use, fearing embarrassment at the exposure of some malfeasance on their behalf. Our professor, not easily cowed pressed on with his work and thus made himself a target.

There's a few different strands to the book and I enjoyed all of them. There's the investigation, a slow unpicking of the facts, a reluctance of the British authorities to divulge too much information about our missing professor but a keen interest in wanting to know what the investigative team have uncovered. With the cops themselves there's a main focus on Benny Griessel, an alcoholic detective and a relic of the old SA police force. We have Griessel's struggle to maintain sobriety while juggling his work around a new found love. A relationship fraught with danger as his partner is also a recovering alcoholic. We also have the team around Griessel, his bosses and fellow officers each with their own skills and boundaries. There's also a seemingly separate story line running through the book concerning a young pickpocket who steals in order to support his sister through university.

Murder, kidnapping, financial corruption, British intelligence, South African security services, political interference in the investigation, alcoholism, love, a pick-pocket and his family, a team of assassins, more death, a memory card, an opportunity, a game of cat and mouse, an outcome.

I really enjoyed all of it. There's the topical nature of financial corruption, there's a look at South Africa post-Apartheid, there's a few personal stories running in tandem with an investigation into murder. There's also an element of danger throughout and the story of an underdog presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I liked the setting, I enjoyed reading about the characters and the minutiae of their lives. There's a reasonable pace, after a slow-ish start, which I didn't mind, with a steady increase in urgency and a big build up of tension towards the inevitable climax, which didn't disappoint.

I think the only downside with audio is that I'm sketchy on details regarding names when trying to pen a few thoughts (as much for my own benefit when looking back as for anyone else). 

4.5 from 5 (probably a 5 from 5 if I'd read a physical copy as opposed to listening via audio)

Deon Meyer has written eleven novels in total including five in his Benny Griessel series, of which Cobra is the fourth. I've previously read Trackers, Blood Safari and Heart of the Hunter.

Read in October, 2018 (ok listened to)
Published - 2012
Page count - 344 pages (12 hours 45 minutes listening time)
Source - purchased copy probably when on a free trial with Audible
Format - audio - listened to on laptop

Thursday, 11 October 2018


North, South, East or West - wherever you look - Brazil, South London, West London, Manchester, Michigan, Texas, Oakland -  there's a bit of crime fiction.

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Steve Hamilton, Amer Anwar, Joseph D. Haske, Alex Wheatle, Paul Southern and Eric Miles Williamson

I've read a bit of Steve Hamilton previously but all the others are new authors to me......

Third in a Brazilian crime series

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza  - South-Westerly Wind (2004)

Chief of the Copacabana precinct Espinosa is more than happy to interrupt his paperwork when a terrified young man arrives at the station with a bizarre story. A psychic has predicted that he would commit a murder, it seems, and the prediction has become fact in the young man's mind. It's a case more appropriate for a psychiatrist or philosopher, but, rising to the challenge, Espinosa slowly enters the web of a psychologically conflicted man. As the weather shifts and the southwesterly wind - always a sign of dramatic change - starts up, what at first seems like paranoia becomes brutal reality. Two violent murders occur, and their only link is the lonely, clever man who had sought Espinosa out a few days earlier for help.

The only novel I can find from this author.......

Joseph D. Haske - North Dixie Highway (2013)

Weaving multiple storylines with vivid description of characters ape, Haske’s debut novel brings new life and a unique voice to the fiction of rural America. North Dixie Highway is a story of family bonds, devolution, and elusive revenge. 

When Buck Metzger’s childhood is interrupted by the disappearance of his grandfather, several family members and close friends plot revenge on the suspected killer. From remote towns in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to the Texas/Mexico border, to war-torn Bosnia, Metzger struggles for self-identity and resolution in a world of blue-collar ethics and liquor-fueled violence.

I read The Hunting Wind back in 2010, this is the fourth entry in Hamilton's Alex McKnight series......

Steve Hamilton - North of Nowhere (2002)

Alex McKnight rarely ventures out from his home these days, even to spend time at his friend Jackie's Glasgow Inn. Even as he lets Jackie force him out one night for a poker game at a stranger's house, Alex is certain it's a bad idea. And when the genial atmosphere rapidly deteriorates, he starts to think maybe he was right. Then three masked, armed robbers burst through the door, and things get a whole lot worse. Soon Alex's three closest friends are implicated in the robbery, and Alex finds himself the object of hostile attention from the victim. As events spin out of control, it becomes clear that somebody is not telling the truth, and has put them all in terrible danger...

Eric Williamson has written a few novels including a continuation of T-Bird's story - Welcome to Oakland and Two-Up 

Eric Williamson - East Bay Grease (1999)

T-Bird Murphy is a Huckleberry Finn dragged off the Mississippi and dropped in 1960s and 70s Oakland. As a kid T-Bird lives with his mother, a self-obsessed woman who rides with the Hell's Angels and leaves her son to fend for himself except when she punishes him cruelly. When Mom skips town, T-Bird is passed over to Pop, fresh out of jail and embittered, who brings up his boy with a kind of rough love in a town dominated by street-gangs and family feuds. Only the smart can survive in this novel, and T-Bird watches many fall by the wayside as he learns to outwit the bullies and steal from the thieves, fighting and cheating his way to adulthood, jazz trumpet in hand. Eric Miles Williamson did every kind of mucky hands-on work under the sun before becoming Professor of English at San Jose State University. Extracts from East Bay Grease have previously appeared as short stories in a number of American magazines. This debut novel is fresh, exciting and often heart-breaking. A gloves-off story for those who eat their chilli hot and drink their whisky straight, told in a style that is at once gritty and lyrical--never greasy.-- Anna Davis

South Londoner, Wheatle is the author of about a dozen books. East of Acre Lane is the only one I've crossed paths with....

Alex Wheatle - East of Acre Lane (2001)

Set in 1981, the year of the Brixton riots, this novel is a gripping thriller in a society on the edge of explosion. Biscuit lives with his mother, brother and sister, and helps support the family by hustling on the frontline for the south London badman, Nunchaks. He doesn't want to be doing this for the rest of his life, but it's difficult to get out of the trap. As the patience of the community breaks and the riots begin to erupt, Biscuit has to make a choice that could change his life forever.

Another debut novel and a prize winner....

Amer Anwar - Western Fringes (2017)


Southall, West London. 
Recently released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders' yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put his past behind him. 
But when he has to search for his boss's runaway daughter it quickly becomes apparent he's not simply dealing with family arguments and arranged marriages as he finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge. 
With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it's too late? And if he does, can he keep her - and himself - alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead? 

If you like gritty action, sharp dialogue and pacy plotting, then you'll love this award winning action thriller from Amer Anwar. 

Paul Southern - teacher and novelist as well as a musician....

Paul Southern - The Craze (2003)

C was for cars which he'd nicked and crashed, R was for robbery, armed and fast, A was for arson, fire and theft, Z was for the cuts his switchblade left, E was for drugs, the Whizz and Horse, which just left murder, the hardest, of course. 

She was found on the tracks: burned up, tongue cut out, a finger removed. 

Who was she? 

24 hours before Shazia Ahmed was leaving Manchester, but a chance meeting and a phone call and she found herself in the underworld where life is cheap and usually very short. 

Jamie Farrell already knows this truth: that the drugs and crime will tip over into murder. His father's in Strangeways and he'll be joining him. But he can't give up the deadly game that is the Craze. 

Dru Round thought his big day had come: no more cheap drag acts and furtive sex in the backs of cars. A new dawn of TV fame beckoned. But he just needed that extra score to make things work for him... 

Three lives - one crime - the Craze.



When you want someone found, you call bounty hunter Jake Halligan. He’s smart, tough, and best of all, careful on the job. But none of those skills seem to help him when a shadowy group starts taking his life apart piece by piece. 

First Jake comes home to find a dead body in his gun safe. He thinks it’s a warning—and when you drag people back to jail for a living, the list of people who want to send that kind of message is very long indeed. With backup from his sister Frankie, an arms dealer and dapper criminal, Jake plunges into the Idaho underworld, confronting everyone from brutal Aryan assassins to cops who want his whole family in jail. 

But as Jake soon discovers, those threats are small-time compared to the group that’s really after him. And nothing—not bounty hunting, not even all his years in Iraq—can prepare him for what’s coming next. Jake’s about to become a player in the most dangerous game ever invented… 

Boise Longpig Hunting Club is a wild ride into the dark heart of the American dream, where even the most brutal desires can be fulfilled for a price, and nobody is safe from the rich and powerful. 


“Nick Kolakowski spins a ripping pulp yarn of smart-ass bounty hunters and bad-ass crime queenpins caught in the Jean-Claude Van God-Damnedest take on The Most Dangerous Game since Hard Target, but with no bad accents.” —Thomas Pluck, author of Bad Boy Boogie and Blade of Dishonor 

A bounty hunter with a marriage to repair and a notorious sister who's an illegal arms dealer. Welcome to the world of Jake Halligan, a veteran of a few desert conflicts and currently contemplating the return into his life of his ex-wife, Janine and the loss of some weapons from his mostly legal gun stash. Recovering his guns from Zombie Bill might be problematic as Bill wants to trade the guns in return for Jake turning in his sister Frankie to the law. That's not going to happen. Keeping hold of his wife a second time around might also prove difficult.

The above scenario is effectively act one in our drama. Our second part concerns more trouble aplenty for the Halligan's as our uneasy trio of Jake, Janice and Frankie become unwitting pawns in a rich man's game - payback for a long ago transgression of the sibling's deceased father.

In no particular order we have - a kidnapping, a quarry confrontation, some sisterly support with heavy weaponry, a confrontation with a dodgy cop, a life and near death skirmish with an axe-wielding neo-Nazi, a death in custody, a dead girl in his gun safe, some tension in the family, a drop in on the neighbours, the downside of bounty hunting with a heart-wrenching take down of a grieving father, another dead kid connected to the gun safe girl, an investigation and a set-up, a less than pleasant chit-chat with some obscenely rich and powerful people full of their own self importance and an unshakeable sense of entitlement, leading to a compelling and climactic manhunt with the Boise Longpig Hunting Club, some familial bonding and a dusting off of those hard-earned military skills.

Plus points
Interesting characters - tick - and ones I wouldn't mind seeing in further adventures if time allows
Pace - tick
Story lines - tick
Action - tick
Setting - tick
Resolution - tick
Banter, dialogue, black humour - tick
Length - 155 pages - perfect - tick

Nothing really, one minor gripe - I probably didn't take too much to sister Frankie initially, but she'd grown on me by the end

4.5 from 5

Nick Kolakowski's books have been enjoyed before - A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps and Slaughterhouse Blues both earlier this year.

Read in October, 2018
Published - 2018
Page count - 155
Source - review copy received from author
Format - ePub file read on laptop