Sunday 30 September 2018


A few September buys, a review copy received and a free book from a publisher courtesy of a competition win. There were more, but I'm not going to shout any louder - you never know, my wife might read this.....

N.M. Brown - Carpenter Road (2018) - a competition win

Not usually a massive fan of the serial killer type book (apart from John Sandford and maybe one of two other authors, eg Thomas Harris) but it seems well worth a punt.

When a young woman swaps coats with a prostitute then vanishes, it marks the start of a mystifying case for Leighton Jones. 

After traffic officer Leighton is called to an altercation in a used car lot he is confronted by a prostitute rambling on about a girl who stole her coat. He thinks nothing off it. That is until the body of a Jane Doe shows up, matching the prostitute’s description.  

What is the link between the fight in the car lot and the dead woman?

Leighton proceeds to gather evidence, which he attempts to pass onto the lead Homicide detective, Slater. However, Slater tells Leighton to back off, and that a suspect has been arrested. 

Fearing there is more to the case than he first thought, Leighton is driven to keep digging and soon ends up on the trail of a serial killer.

But Leighton might be out of his depth this time…

What everyone is saying about Carpenter Road:
"It has a well-executed plot with great characters to root for and sympathise with." Eva Merckx - Novel Deelights 

"The tension gradually builds as the novel progresses, and I found the ending so nail-biting, as Leighton Jones is involved in a race against time." Kate Eveleigh - Portable Magic 

Steven Savile - Parallel Lines (2017) - speculative purchase 

Interesting premise, not an author I had previously heard of, but I'll see how I go with this one before checking on his book mentioned in the blurb - Silver.

Eight people, twelve hours, one chance to cover up a murder. 

The explosive new thriller from the bestselling author of SILVER.

Adam Shaw is dying, and knows he'll leave his disabled son with nothing. His solution? Rob a bank. It's no surprise that things go wrong. What is surprising is that when another customer is accidentally shot, no one in the bank is in a hurry to hand Adam over to the police. There's the manager who's desperate to avoid an audit, the security guard with a serious grudge, and the woman who knows exactly how bad the victim really was...

Eight people, twelve hours, one chance to cover up a murder. But it's not just the police they have to fool. When many lives intersect, the results can be deadly.

Henry Chang - Lucky (2017) - purchased copy

I think I have the first few Yu books from Chang on the pile but I haven't got to his work yet.

Detective Jack Yu returns in a pulse-pounding fifth investigation in New York's Chinatown 
Chinatown gang leader “Lucky” Louie was shot outside of a Chinatown off-track betting establishment on the thirteenth of January, and lay in a coma for 88 days, waking on Easter Sunday. The number 88 is a double-helix, double-lucky Chinese number; religion and superstition all lean Lucky’s way.

But Detective Jack Yu, Lucky’s boyhood blood brother, fears his friend’s luck is about to run out. When Lucky embarks on a complex and daring series of crimes against the Chinatown criminal underground, Jack races to stop him before his enemies do so—permanently.

Mickey J. Corrigan - Project XX (2017) - purchased copy 

Difficult subject matter, I'll be interested to get the author's take on this issue.

In 2012, a deranged grad student dressed as the Joker shot and killed dozens of movie goers at a Batman film opening in Colorado. Gun violence is so out of control in America that it has become a cruel joke.

Unlike most of Mickey Corrigan’s novels, Project XX made itself known to her at that time, demanding to be written. Usually she researches, prepares, then writes. In this case, she wrote first, then did the research on gun violence, female violent crime, and school/mass shootings.

Males are almost always the perpetrators of mass shootings. But females are fully capable of shocking acts of violence and, in the US, military-style weapons are as easy to access as a new hairstyle.

Matt Phillips - Know Me From Smoke (2018) - purchased copy

Just read Bad Luck City from him a few weeks ago. A few more from Matt Phillips sit on the pile.

Stella Radney, longtime lounge singer, still has a bullet lodged in her hip from the night when a rain of gunshots killed her husband. That was twenty years ago and it’s a surprise when the unsolved murder is reopened after the district attorney discovers new evidence. 

Royal Atkins is a convicted killer who just got out of prison on a legal technicality. At first, he’s thinking he’ll play it straight. Doesn’t take long before that plan turns to smoke—was it ever really an option? 

When Stella and Royal meet one night, they’re drawn to each other. But Royal has a secret. How long before Stella discovers that the man she’s falling for isn’t who he seems? 

A noir of gripping suspense and violence, Know Me from Smoke is a journey into the shadowy terrain of murder, lost love, and the heart’s lust for vengeance.

Praise for Know Me From Smoke: 

"Two great characters here in Stella and Royal. Couple that with a psychotic villain and a grudge-bearing cop, and you're gonna be hooked til the end. Happy endings? Well, maybe..." - Paul Heatley, author of The Runner, FatBoy, and An Eye for an Eye

Charles Demers - Property Values (2018) - review copy from publisher Arsenal Pulp Press via Edeleweiss reviewing site
Sounds like my kind of book. Hats off to Dietrich Kalteis for bringing it to my attention. Another Canadian author to keep on my radar.

As a shaky truce between suburban gangsters starts to unravel, schlubby civilian Scott Clark has other things on his mind: if he can’t afford to buy out his ex father-in-law, Scott’s about to lose the only house he’s ever called home. In the red-hot urban housing market, he doesn’t have a chance -- until he and his best friends take the desperate measure of staging a fake drive-by shooting on the property to push down the asking price. But when Scott’s mobster-posturing stunt attracts the attention of the real criminals, his pretend gang soon finds itself in the middle of a deadly rivalry.

With wicked humor and a brilliant cast of desperate characters, Property Values explodes the crime novel trope while exploring the comic lengths a man will go to in order to become a home owner in today’s market.



WHEN HEADHUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED (a concise, pacy read): Nick Thorneycroft is a British headhunter working in Luxembourg. His company asks him to recruit a high-flying executive for the company's Russian business. The best candidate turns out to be smart, beautiful... and mysterious. Soon the effects of Russia’s political upheaval, and the arrival of an ex-girlfriend who won’t leave him alone, make Nick’s Luxembourg life increasingly perilous; worlds collide in this gripping, atmospheric tale.

"A very readable Euro thriller with a strong sense of setting. This is well worth a read, and has shades of Elmore Leonard and other hard-boiled American detective writers. But it’s also up to date, with an insight into modern Euro-crime which is all too accurate." Katharine Quarmby, award-winning writer, TV producer and journalist.

Narrator - Simon Vance

I've enjoyed Daniel Pembrey's work before with his Harbour Master series, but sadly on this occasion not this one. I think The Candidate pre-dates the ones I've enjoyed.

It was an Audible version which may have contributed a bit to my overall state of apathy regarding the book, as the narration grated, especially when encountering Russian characters in the story. I couldn't help but think of the comedy series Allo Allo every time our accent deviated from the gruff Northern tone of Nick Thorneycroft. Over-exaggerated in my opinion thus losing any potency they may have had.

My main issue though was a lack of investment in the story. It wasn't badly written, it flowed and had a few things going on - headhunter Nick is trying to get a Russian candidate lined up for a high profile position at his money management company in Luxembourg. It's a race to get the deal done, before she's poached by a rival. He wakes up one morning with a limited memory of the night before and a pair of women's knickers on his apartment floor, but no women. Has he been spiked? Is there a spy camera in his ceiling light? Who is the Russian, what's her background? Why is his on/off on/off girlfriend pestering him and back in town? Why does he get temporarily kidnapped? What are the motives of his bosses at the firm, one keen and eager to get the deal done, the other a bit less frantic?
What's the imminent Russian election got to do with things? Why did I care about any of this?

I didn't.

This might work better for others than me. Well from the comment above from Katharine Quarmby shows it definitely does. But a comparison with Elmore Leonard? Really - not for me anyway.

2.5 from 5

Pembrey's The Harbour Master  The Harbour Master II: The Maze and The Harbour Master III: Ransom were enjoyed back in 2014 and 2015

Read (listened to) - September, 2018
Published - 2013
Page count - 142 (3 hours 1 minute Audio time)
Source - Audible purchase probably free or on a free trial
Format - Audio via laptop and iPhone

Saturday 29 September 2018



Still licking his wounds after the brutal events of SKULL MEAT, Paignton private investigator Joe Rey is reluctant to take on another case that could have violent repercussions. However, a lucrative pay-day from a soon-to-retire cop tests his resolve, and Rey quickly finds himself on the trail of a deranged plastic surgeon with a queasy line in body modification procedures. Over the course of a long, bloody summer, Rey tangles with rogue ex-cops, suburban hitmen, neo-Nazi scumbags and even Paignton’s richest man – a notorious hoarder of unknown horrors. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it…

"Welcome to the nightmare factory - there's dark and then there's Tom Leins' Paignton... By parts a mix of the brutality of Hubert Selby Jr and the pure noir-ish banter of Ray Banks with more than a dash of the good old ultra-violence. Thirteen brutal shorts and then the extended nightmare of Snuff Racket. You'd have to go a long way to beat the sheer violence, brutality, humour and brilliance of Meat Bubbles."

— Benedict J. Jones, author of Pennies For Charon and The Devil’s Brew (Crime Wave Press). 

A book I really enjoyed, but which I'd struggle to recommend to any mainstream reader. I can't see myself buying a copy for my mum or my sister, though it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall to try and gauge their reaction to Leins' prose and his skewed presentation of the good folk of Paignton. I know far better than to present one to my wife.

I think what really stands out for me is the lack of normal people in his books. They just don't figure. Pretty much everyone is damaged, or hurting, downtrodden and for the most part emotionally broken and crushed. Those that aren't are the abusers, the ones in power, the kings of the dirty castle, the moneyed, the corrupt and the morally bankrupt. A few are survivors - enter Joe Rey - the linchpin of our connected shorts and episodes and our main focus.

Rey's the go to guy if you want something found - a missing person, or a rare snuff film. He's the closest thing Paignton has to a moral compass and the best hope it possesses for if not justice, some form of violent restitution.

Here in our twisted tales, Rey encounters, prostitutes, pimps, deviants, scumbags, demented doctors, lazy corpulent cops, the irrepressible Wet-Look, perverts, barmen, bouncers, pornographers, midgets, film makers, Nazi skinheads and a murderer to mention a few. Several characters encountered in an earlier book from Leins - Skull Meat make a welcome reappearance.

I think where it scores for me is that given the material it should be extremely bleak and depressing, but with Leins deft hand at the wheel it isn't. There's a lighter touch at play. Not full blown comedy more nervous laughter, with a certain je ne sais quoi to his prose which elevates it back out of the gutter and gives it a freshness.

He definitely has a unique turn of phrase

...a cinderblock cesspool, full of smut-hounds trying to slip a finger into Paignton's ripped backside...

...a Bacardi-based cocktail.....a Clubfoot, and smells like raw sewage....

...the stain on my pillowcase looks like a shadow on a diseased lung.

It's hard to articulate just exactly what I like about these stories.... I'm entertained, I'm thrilled, I'm appalled, I'm amused, I'm disgusted and I'm hooked.

4.5 from 5

Skull Meat was enjoyed previously - here. Slug Bait and Repetition Kills You sit on the pile waiting.

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2018
Page count - 213
Source - review copy received from Henry at publisher Near to the Knuckle 
Format - PDF

* Meat Bubbles and Other Stories includes Snuff Racket also available on it's own.

Friday 28 September 2018



Al Engel had worked his way up to being Nick Rovito's right-hand man, near the top of the syndicate. And this was a delicate job that Rovito had given him: retrieving a very important jacket, loaded with heroin, from the fresh grave of the drug mule who was accidentally buried wearing it. Rovito ordered Engel to go to the grave in the early hours of the morning, dig up the coffin, and get back the suit - plus kill two birds with one stone (so to speak) and whack the guy who would help with the digging. There was just one problem (at least - just one to begin with): It turned out the grave was empty. Suddenly Engel was the one finding himself in deep. Busy Body is early Westlake, as he was mastering the genre he would become known for: the comic caper.

Narrator - Brian Holsopple

I have enjoyed a few Westlake novels over the years, mostly more hard-boiled fare with Parker his professional criminal as protagonist from Westlake's alter-ego Richard Stark than the lighter, comic novels Westlake put out under his own name.

The Busy Body is a mid-60s offering from Westlake and a New York caper. It was a different experience for me on this occasion - having a book read to me, as opposed to reading a book. It's not my preferred format, but actually worked for me on this occasion as I could listen to the dulcet tones of Brian Holsopple (never heard of him before, but he's very good), while working on a Saturday morning in a slightly less frenetic work environment.

Our main plot involves a mob man, Al Engel initially attempting a spot of grave-robbing to recover $250k worth of Mafia drugs which have been inadvertently buried with the courier who died of a heart attack. We have an empty grave and Engel is tasked by his master, Nick Rovito with tracking down the missing suit ergo drugs and who the hell cares about the missing corpse?

Amateur investigation, a dead undertaker, a mysterious women dogging Engel, a dogged and honest detective also with Al in his sights, an unhappy mob boss, a grieving widow, an irritating mother, an annoyed girlfriend, a crappy car, a taxi ride or two, some crooked businessmen, another mob corpse, a gun with prints, a frame up,  and a whole other scam going down with Engel a convenient patsy. Unless of course he can straighten things out.

Pace - reasonable, setting - 60s New York which worked for me, plot - interesting, main character - capable and sympathetic, resolution - satisfactory.

Enjoyable, inoffensive, entertaining, I'll probably remember it longer because of the format it was digested in than if it was an old 60s or later tatty paperback that I turned the pages over.

Probably not his strongest ever book but it was okay for me.

3.5 from 5

Read (ok listened to) - September, 2018
Published - 1966 (2012 recording)
Page count - about 179 (5 hours 32 minutes listening time)
Source - Audible download when on a free trial
Format - audio book on laptop and iPhone

Thursday 27 September 2018



Intelligent writing inspired by rock 'n' roll

Fast brutal fiction from:
Laird Long                  Al Guthrie
Delphine Lecompte     Kevin Cadwallender
and many more .......

Bullet magazine lasted for 7 issues, back in the early to mid 2000s. Conceived and edited by Keith Jeffrey, the magazine progressed from a leaflet style first issue, to a fairly professional looking publication by the time of its last outing.

Issue 3 has an almost DIY feel to it, similar to a student rag mag and looking as if it was run off on a workplace photo copier. That said I don't think I spotted a typo on any page, first to last.

The content consists of 15 short stories (from the UK and much further afield - Belgium, the US, Canada, Australia) as well as a few short articles and reviews. A couple of the contributor names I instantly recognised. Allan Guthrie - I've read loads from him in the past - Two Way Split, Killing Mum, Savage Night and more. Ed Lynskey - Lake Charles, Ask the Dice, Wrong Orbits - sit on the pile.

The short stories are short - each other them either single or double page in length. There's fiction from Delphine Lecompte, Peter McAdam, Allan Guthrie, TK Dan, Elle Ludkin, Ed Lynskey, Shiv Madhaven, Martin Craig, Kevin Cadwallender, Breanda Cross, Liam Sharp, Mike Coombes, E. Smith Gilbert, Pat Lambe and Laird Long.

There's a bit of unevenness with the tales - a few of them I didn't really comprehend and a few I loved - pretty much par for any anthology or collection of shorts I've read. Laird Long's Ghosts of the Past was the pick of the bunch.

On the non-fiction front, there's a homage piece to Robert Beck aka Iceberg Slim, an appreciation of The Ramones, a review of a couple books on Gene Vincent, a hat-tip to some book releases by Point Blank Press and Pulp Originals, some more album reviews, and a top ten album list from Ray Banks.

Overall impression - a couple of hours reading time well spent and a nostalgic reminder of the days when I used to lavishly stalk sites like Plot With Guns, Thug-Lit and others - names escape me - for new crime fiction content and authors to follow. It's my very own UK equivalent.

You can't help but be impressed by the editor's enthusiasm, even if his sign-off has more than a whiff of cheese about it.....keep on rockin'

3 from 5

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2004
Page count - 44
Source - purchased copy
Format - A5 magazine

Wednesday 26 September 2018


A couple this week from one of my favourite authors, Lawrence Block.

I've enjoyed many books by him and still have many more to enjoy on the pile. Block is a prolific writer - maybe was a prolific writer is more apt these days as he seems to have slowed a bit in his latter years.

He has five series to his name - Bernie the Burglar, Evan Tanner, Chip Harrison, Keller (a hitman) and Matt Scudder, and about a gazillion other titles. I'm never bored when reading him.

Favourites of mine are Keller and Scudder. I've not engaged with Tanner or Harrison yet and only partaken of the odd Bernie book, which isn't enough to form a firm opinion on.

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)

Bookseller, thief - Bernie Rhodenbarr can't resist the lure or a long lost Kipling poem, even if it is locked inside a millionaire's high security library. So Bernie goes browsing and sure enough he liberates the object in question...but also finds a dead redhead and is caught with the proverbial smoking gun by those boys in blue, who are ready to book Bernie for Murder One!

3rd in series with about 11 in total plus a few short stories. I can't even remember which one(s) I might have read.

Even the Wicked (1996)

New York's latest celebrity serial killer has a penchant for announcing his murderous intentions to the media before carrying through on his threats. P.I. Matthew Scudder races against time to find the frighteningly efficient killer who calls himself "The Will of the People''.

Number 13 from about 17 or so. I did start reading the series front to back - one a month a few years ago, but got distracted after about 5 or 6. I'll have to get back to it in 2019.

Monday 24 September 2018



Winner of the 2013 Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. Novel! 

P.I. Duke Rogers finds himself in a combustible situation in this racially charged thriller. His case might have to wait… 

The immediate problem: getting out of South Central Los Angeles in one piece during the 1992 “Rodney King” riots and that’s just the beginning of his problems. 

Duke finds an old “friend” for a client. The client’s “friend,” an up and coming African-American actress, ends up dead. Duke knows his client did it. Feeling guilty that he inadvertently helped the killer find the victim, he wants to track down the client/killer. He starts his mission by going to the dead actress’ family in South Central L.A.—and while there the “Rodney King” riots ignite. 

While Duke searches for the killer he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim’s brother, who is a mirror image of Jack in that department. He must also confront his own possible latent racism—even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the dead woman’s sister. 

Praise for WHITE HEAT: 

“…taut crime yarn set in 1992 against the turmoil of the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers charged with assaulting motorist Rodney King…. the author ably evokes the chaos that erupted after the Rodney King verdict.” —Publishers Weekly 

A step back in time with White Heat to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 after the verdict in the Rodney King case comes in. PI Duke Rogers is troubled by the death of a black actress, Teddie Matson the day after he had provided her address to a client. Feeling complicit in her murder he tries to trace the guy, while LA explodes around him.

It's an interesting book on many levels. There's the historical reporting on an event which made news worldwide and highlighted the issues America has with race. Marks really brings the time alive with his character Rogers, trapped in a black part of town when the city ignites. Anger, resentment, suspicion, injustice, violence, a mob mentality, fear, rage, payback and opportunity with the best and worst of humanity on display in the tinderbox that was South Central LA in 1992. In the immediacy of the riot we see the decency of ordinary people as Duke Rogers is shepherded to safety initially by a black man, Tiny and subsequently the murder victim's sister, Rita.

There's also a closer examination of race, particularly as Rogers embarks on a relationship with Rita, an event they try and conceal from her family. Inter-racial romances can be problematic at the best of times, but especially set against such a back drop. There's also some dishonesty within the relationship as Duke conceals his part in Teddie's murder from Rita.

We see the race issue from both sides. Duke's friend Jack is extremely blunt and forthright regarding the situation in LA - shoot the looters, the verdict was correct, if King had acted like that with me, I'd have done the same, etc etc.... and from Warren Matson, Teddie and Rita's brother. Warren is a small time criminal, extremely angry over the death of his sister, well extremely angry full stop. He's threatening and violent towards Rogers and in his views is extremely distrustful, hostile and suspicious of white people and the system in general. It's interesting as the book and the story unfolds, how his attitude to Rogers gradually softens and he tries to help with his investigation.

Lastly, there's the investigation which is less than straightforward with our suspected murderer proving to be elusive. I really liked how this one was resolved. There's no real light bulb moment as such which points Duke in the right direction, just a solid doggedness and a slow unpicking of events; happenings, maybes, possibilities, dead-ends before we get on the right track. We have a similar tale of obsession, stalking and insane jealousy and more exposure to LA's cultural and racial make-up, as the case of a missing Hispanic woman provides a pointer towards our predator's identity.

I really liked this one; the depiction of a historic event in American history which I can recall happening at the time, albeit from afar; the race issue - with a presentation of attitudes and viewpoints and the reasoning presented for people harbouring polar opposite opinions with blanket mistrust and alienation, but Marks also offers a modicum of hope with actions where black and white look out for each other and work together.

The main character, Duke Rogers is also quite complex. There's a military background and issues with his father, who he feels he's continually disappointed with his life choices. He's a decent man and strives to correct a wrong over which he feels a strong sense of guilt. An interesting man without being a cliche of a PI.

Fantastic setting - I could almost smell the burning destruction as the city blazed, a decent plot, reasonable pace, a real sense of history with some social commentary, interesting characters and relationships, satisfying resolution and not too long. Ticks in every box.

 4.5 from 5

White Heat was initially published in 2012 and won a 2013 Shamus Award. It has recently been republished by Down and Out Books. There's a second Duke Rogers novel which has not long dropped - Broken Windows - which I'm looking forward to reading.

Paul D. Marks has his website here.

Read in September, 2018
Published  - 2012
Page count - 252
Source - review copy from publisher Down and Out Books
Format - ePub copy

Thursday 20 September 2018



This Big Bad Apple on Christmas Eve is no place for an orange grower from Florida. Especially when a blue-eyed blonde accuses him of stealing her diamond ring, a phoney detective rifles his wallet and a casual Good Samaritan makes off with his car.

For Michael Barnes, that is just the beginning of a nightmarish caper through the concrete jungle of downtown Manhattan. Not even Vietnam was this bad. Crazy killers, cops, actors, bimbos and million-dollar crack dealers are all out for his blood. Even the corpses can't be trusted.

But for an unexpected ally in the shape of Connie Kee, a beautiful and streetwise Chinese girl, Barnes stands next to no chance in these unfriendly precincts. He can guess the answers to every question but the one that might save his skin. Who the hell is Mama, and why does she so badly need him dead?

Downtown is a page-flashing Christmas cracker of a novel that sparkles with all the wit and tension that fans of Ed McBain have come to expect.

"McBain has a great approach, great attitude, terrific style, strong plots, excellent dialogue, sense of place and sense of reality. He's right where he belongs - at the top' Elmore Leonard

I have a lot of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series books to tackle, but unable to readily lay hands on the first in the series, I thought I'd give a standalone from him a twirl.

Downtown is a New York novel set over a period of a few days around Christmas. Out of towner, Michael Barnes gets ripped off in a bar and set up as a patsy for murder in our tale. With the assistance of a gorgeous Chinese chauffeur, Connie the pair charge around town in the snow, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery while falling in love with each other.

 A gay burglar, cross-dressers, actors, film directors, a chance to dress up as Santa, drug dealers, cop imitators, Chinese gambling dens, a stolen goods warehouse, police officers both real and fake, and a sniper all feature as Barnes and his girl win out in the end.

There's a smattering of humour throughout, not all of which worked for me - maybe some of it would only be fully understand by a native New Yorker and maybe some of it was topical and has lost its meaning in the near thirty years since this one first dropped. It didn't bump me out of the story though and there was enough that did resonate.

It's a slightly outlandish plot, but I was happy to enough to go with it, following in our two main characters' footsteps, getting a feel for the geography of downtown New York, moving from one witness to the next, one encounter to another, solving the puzzle.

As well as the lighter touch McBain illustrates, there were more than a few passages which gave pause for thought. Barnes is a Vietnam veteran and suffers flashbacks and PTSD over the loss of his best friend, Andrew who died in his arms. During critical moments in the present day shenanigans, McBain fuses the traumatic events of Andrew's death in with the current and it's pretty powerful stuff.

On a more common theme which I can more readily relate to, Barnes has mother issues.

"Poor woman had grieved for years after his father died.........."

and as a defense mechanism expected her son not to return from the war .......

Andrew. Died in his arms. Blood bubbling up on his lips. Michael had held him close. First and only time he'd ever cried in Vietnam. He wondered later if Andrew's mother had given away his clothes while he was gone. He wondered if Andrew's mother had told herself he was dead in preparation for the Defense Department telegram that would confirm her worst fears. Michael wished he could forgive his mother for looking so surprised to see him alive. Surprised and perhaps a trifle disappointed. He wished he could forgive the poor woman for giving away his blue jacket."  

4 from 5

Ed McBain aka Evan Hunter was fairly prolific in his writing career - a gazillion 87th Precinct novels and about a dozen in his Matthew Hope (lawyer) series as well as more than a few standalone books, as Hunter, McBain and other pseudonyms. He passed in 2005.

McBain's Driving Lessons was read back in 2014 - thoughts here.

Read in September, 2018
Published - 1989
Page count - 256
Source - owned copy
Format - paperback

Wednesday 19 September 2018



"My dad used to say to me, 'Try to keep a cool head and a warm heart'. At least I think it was my dad. I don't really remember him." 

Gravy worked in the graveyard - hence the name. He was having a normal day until his friend Benjy turned up in a car Gravy didn't recognise. Benjy had a bullet hole in his chest, but lived just long enough to ask Gravy to hide him and look after his gun. Gravy had looked after things for Benjy before, but never a gun. When Gravy looked in the car he found blood, a balaclava and a bag stuffed with money. 

Gravy's not too bright but he wants to help his friend. So Gravy finds himself caught up in the middle of a robbery gone wrong, a woman who witnessed a murder, and some very unpleasant men who will do anything to get back the money Benjy stole...

Another quick September read, most of it caned during a work's lunch break and a gentle reminder that I ought to read something a bit more weighty from one of Scotland's premier crime fiction authors.

A Cool Head is a publication in the Quick Reads programme designed to encourage people who have never had or who have lost the reading habit to pick up a book - a worthy endeavour.

It's probably not Rankin's finest or most complex work but it zipped along at a decent clip and entertained well enough.

We have a botched robbery and the soon to be dead culprit palming off the money and a gun on a simpleton friend, Gravy. The rest of the book mainly details the attempts to recover the cash from the criminals it was stolen from, an added complication being that the lead guy tracking it down, knows who committed the robbery and the revelation of such a fact is going to cause him major problems with his employers.

There's a few other off-shoots and strands and enough flesh on the bones of the story to give it a bit of substance.

We have in no particular order.... a Glaswegian graveyard (I think), a criminal family, a scrapyard, a couple of loyal henchmen, a dodgy councillor, a corpse or two, three when back-tracking, a reluctant witness, some health issues, police involvement, a big bag of cash, a bewildered unfortunate easily manipulated, an honest wife, two investigations - one official, one damage limitation, an Edinburgh hotel, and a sense of opportunity for one of the above.

Never dull, and all parceled up nicely at the end.

4 from 5

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2009
Page count - 128
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback


A couple this week from Kevin Wignall.

Kevin Wignall is one of those authors whose books I liked the look of, I go off and buy them and then never actually get around to reading them.

After ten years of ignoring them, I recently got around to reading For the Dogs (aka The Hunter's Prayer) - thoughts on the blog yesterday. Pretty amazing and more fool me for taking so long to get to him.

Hopefully I won't leave it so long next time.

Wignall has about nine novels to his name and a number of short stories.

People Die (2001)
Among the Dead (2002)
For the Dogs (2004)
Who Is Conrad Hirst? (2007)
Dark Flag (2013)
The Hunter's Prayer (2015)
A Death in Sweden (2016)
The Traitor's Story (2016)
A Fragile Thing (2017)
To Die in Vienna (2018)

 His website is here.

Among the Dead (2002)

Alex Stratton is haunted by the past, by the part he played in the accidental death of a fellow student. Now, with the death of two of the other people involved, that past is brought back to the surface. Is someone else eliminating all the witnesses?

Who is Conrad Hirst? (2007)

Who is Conrad Hirst? Knowing the answer could get you killed. Not knowing could get him killed.

Conrad Hirst is a hired killer working for a German crime boss. Disturbed by the death of his girlfriend ten years earlier and still bearing the scars of post-traumatic stress after serving as a mercenary, he's valued precisely because of how broken he is, by how coldly he kills, by the solitary existence he leads.

But something has happened on Conrad's most recent job that's shattered his equilibrium and left him determined to quit. Fortunately for him, there's a simple way to leave the business and begin life anew: Only four people know who he is and what he's done -- kill those four people, and Conrad is a free man.

A simple plan, but life is never that simple, and as Conrad's scheme unravels, he quickly realizes he isn't the only one doing the killing. With the certainties of his life crumbling around him, he's no longer sure whom he's been working for, or why, or what they want of him now. In fact, he can't even answer the ever-looming and ominous question: Who is Conrad Hirst?

Fast-paced, dark, and disturbing, Kevin Wignall's newest page-turner is the story of a broken young man seeking retribution against those who have used him for their own gain, and of the devastating secret that fuels his anger. It is a story of identity and loss, of missed opportunities and the cruelty of fate.

Tuesday 18 September 2018



Ella, is young, bereaved, and in danger.
Lucas is ruthless, brutal, and cold.

Think again.

Ella is bitter, determined, and dangerous.
Lucas is vulnerable and lovelorn.

Ella Hatto is on vacation in Italy with her boyfriend.
It's a beautiful summer evening in a small Tuscany town, and her life is all about the things she doesn't know.
She doesn't know her family is dead.
She doesn't know she's being watched, or that she's in danger.
She doesn't know how rich she is or the murky truth of where that money came from.
She doesn't know that a man is about to cross the street, ending her old life forever.

When Lucas, a retired contract killer, agrees to help her avenge her family's death, Ella is drawn into a world she cannot control, a world from which Lucas wants only to escape.

For the Dogs is a stunning thriller in which avenging the past becomes a deadly business that never ends.

My kind of book.

A poacher turned gamekeeper, as a hitman turns protector before agreeing to assist in Ella's quest for vengeance after her family is assassinated. Lucas reluctantly gets back into the life he turned his back on for Ella.

Short at a tad over 200 pages long. Fast-paced, economical prose, a story that grips and an intriguing character study as two individuals undergo an almost 180 degree volte face personality change. Well one definitely, the other was already in the process of metamorphosis before a return to old ways, before a flip-flop back again.

Locations - Tuscany, Switzerland, London, Budapest, Paris, the Caribbean and Australia. And probably a few other as well.

Action, violence, cold-blooded murder, bereavement, bewilderment, books, business, secrets, police, protection, flight, investigation, planning, revenge, lost family x 2, retirement, teenage love, re-connection, a final settlement.

A violent book - yes in places, but never gratuitous, more matter-of-fact with several scenes laced with humour and some tenderness.

Totally believable? Maybe not, but never less than fascinating.

Loved it - almost tempted to pick it up and start reading it again as soon as I had finished.

5 from 5

I have a few books from Kevin Wignall on the pile, most of them bought back in 2008 when I became aware of his work. A bit of a shame this one sat on the TBR pile for 10 years!
Looking forward to Among the Dead, Who is Conrad Hirst? and People Die at some point in the future.

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2004
Page count - 228
Source - purchased copy
Format - hardback

*For the Dogs was subsequently re-published as The Hunter's Prayer in 2015

Sunday 16 September 2018



In April of 1968 Steve McQueen arrives in San Francisco to film Bullitt. 

Rough-and-tumble SFPD Inspector Johnny O’Rorke, aka The Fixer, is the department’s Executive Protection Officer. His job is to make sure that visiting celebrities are well taken care of. O’Rorke is instructed to take special care of McQueen; the city’s movers and shakers are hoping to develop San Francisco into Hollywood North.

McQueen takes a liking to O’Rorke, and when Russ Cortig, a member of his film crew, is busted at a wild Haight Ashbury party, he asks O’Rorke to try to have the charge dismissed.

Fixing Cortig’s arrest sheet is a minor problem, but it leads O’Rorke into a tangled web of intrigue and corruption that includes the murder of one of his longtime informers, a crossdresser who goes by the name of Vanessa the Undresser, tangling with a Chinatown drug lord, being shot at by a sadistic Soviet hit man, going up against a wealthy former Russian Mafia leader now living in San Francisco, dealing with a vicious local gangster, Alec Zek, aka The Swine, and a chasing after a priceless blue diamond known as the Stalin Blue.

If that isn’t complicated enough, O’Rorke breaks into a real sweat when McQueen asks him to make a screen test for a part in Bullitt.

***Praise for Screen Test***

“Steve McQueen. Bullitt. Transvestites. Murder. And the City by the Bay. Who could ask for more? Gear up for a rockin’ roller coaster ride up and down San Francisco’s tumultuous hills in Jerry Kennealy’s entertaining, triple-fast thriller Screen Test, but make sure to wear your seatbelt.”
—Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-Winning Author of White Heat

An enjoyable, interesting and busy little book with lots going on throughout.

San Francisco, late 60s and our main man is Johnny O'Rorke. O'Rorke is a cop with his main brief  looking after celebrities visiting the city, the latest of which is Steve McQueen and the rest of the team filming Bullitt. O'Rorke solves a problem for one of the crew, suggests locations for shooting scenes, gaining favours along the way, and entertains many requests from fellow cops for moonlighting gigs as security or even as an extra in the McQueen flick. His nickname The Fixer is well deserved.

In addition to keeping McQueen and by definition his bosses happy, O'Rorke has a few more headaches to contend with. A deathbed confession by his ex-cop father's partner, alleging the murder, burial and robbery of a Chinese gangster by his father many years earlier, has an ambitious DA all excited and O'Rorke scrambling to react. In addition it puts O'Rorke in the cross-hairs of the deceased gangster's son and his Chinese syndicate.

Lastly, a vicious attack on a transgender working girl and one of O'Rorke's contacts by a possible Russian agent merits some investigation. Vanessa the Underdresser is subsequently murdered, making that priority number one.

O'Rorke's enquiries progress and one thing leads to another with the Russian angle increasingly coming into play, with competing Russian mob families, other Government agencies and police departments - we're in the middle of the Cold War where anyone or anything Russian merits scrutiny and an invaluable and highly coveted blue diamond, allegedly owned by Joseph Stalin. I do like books with more than one plot strand and author Kennealy gives us a few here to ponder.

I liked the backdrop of the film and the interaction between McQueen and O'Rorke throughout. (By coincidence I part-watched Bullitt only a year or so ago, before my recording device let me down. Kennealy has re-awakened my interest in digging out the purchased DVD to watch it again.)

I enjoyed the landscape of the book, with the city and its bars, restaurants and sleazy sex shops coming alive in Kennealy's hands. It's a different time and a different world...... favours traded, cops consorting with and cultivating criminal contacts, small bribes accepted, and a few more liberties taken in the pursuit of information and the questioning of suspects and cops alike.

One of the main attractions and highlights was the main character, Johnny O'Rorke. He's a decent cop and a dogged investigator, but not above bending and breaking the law to further his investigation and protect his family. He's someone I'd be interested in spending more time with in the future. That Kennealy has written a further book - Dirty Who? - with O'Rorke is a cause for celebration.

Decent plot, decent pace, lots of little off-shots and distractions, a bit of romance with O'Rorke's girlfriend involved throughout both socially and aiding his investigation with information gleaned from her job in the DA's office, decent resolution with an aftermath in London clearing up all the loose ends.

4.5 from 5

Jerry Kennealy has written over 20 novels, including 11 in his Nick Polo series. Screen Test was my first time reading him, but definitely not my last.

Read in September, 2018
Published - 2016
Page count - 320
Source - review copy courtesy of publisher Down and Out Books
Format - kindle


Tuesday 11 September 2018


A couple from US journalist/columnist/newspaperman and author Carl Hiaasen this week.

I can't remember exactly when I discovered Hiaasen's books - late 80s, early 90s - but the first I read from him years ago was Tourist Season and I can recall laughing like a drain throughout. It was one of those reads where I was really annoying my wife with my laughing. I think she ended up reading it to see exactly what tickled me so much. Double Whammy followed and I was hooked.

Over the years I carried on buying his books and for a long period of time subscribed to his weekly newspaper column at The Miami Herald. Anything he wrote, I wanted to read. Fiction, non-fiction, YA books. Gradually over time I disconnected from his work.

The last one I read from him was Razor Girl and while it was enjoyable it didn't hit the heights for me of his earlier work. I still have loads on the pile from him to enjoy including copies of the first few I read from him which I've saved for a re-read.

He's written about 30 books in total now with a couple of series among them - Skink in particular is a standout character for me. I wonder if I can re-visit his earlier books and get that warm, fuzzy glow back that comes from falling in love with a fresh new author and his books.

His topics are recurring.... huge concerns over environmental issues and political corruption laced with humour, satire, thrills, absurdity in a Florida setting, ....well worth a look in my opinion.

Sick Puppy (1998)

Hiaasen at his riotous and muckraking best. When eco-enthusiast Twilly Spree spots someone in a Range Rover dumping litter onto the freeway, he decides to teach him a lesson - only to discover that his target is Palmer Stoat, one of Florida's cockiest and most powerful political fixers, whose current project just happens to be the 'malling' of a Gulf Coast Island... A quick spot of dognapping later and the pathologically short-tempered Twilly finds himself embroiled in a murky world of singing toads, bogus big-game hunters, large vet bills and in the company of an infamous ex-governer who's gone back to nature with a vengeance. With Sick Puppy, Carl Hiaasen unleashes another outrageously funny tale that gleefully lives up to its title and proves yet again that Hiaasen is master of the satirical thriller.

Basket Case (2002)

Jack Tagger is a frustrated journalist. His outspoken views have relegated him to the obituary page,
with his byline never again to disgrace the front page. But Jack has stumbled across a whale of a story that might just resurrect his career... James Stomarti, infamous frontman of rock band Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, has died in a diving accident and Jack harbours suspicions that the glamorous pop starlet widow may have had a vested interest in her husband's untimely death. It all smells a little too fishy. Aided and abetted by his rather sexy (if unnervingly ambitious) young editor, Emma, Jack sets out to in pursuit of the truth - and a nice juicy story. But of course nothing is ever straightforward and with murderous goons on his tail, brutal internal politics at the paper and a paranoia about death, Jack is struggling to keep his head above water. Was Jimmy Stomarti murdered? Is someone trying to kill off the Slut Puppies one by one? And what significance can a dead lizard named Colonel Tom possibly have? Basket Case is an absolute delight from first page to last and spells out a hilariously hard-won triumph for muckraking journalism. This is one book you'll kill to get your hands on.

Monday 10 September 2018


Blog favourite, Dietrich Kalteis is back talking about his sixth book - Poughkeepsie Shuffle which drops today.....

Publication day for Poughkeepsie Shuffle - can you pitch the book to potential readers in 50 words or less please?

Publication day is September 11, 2018.

Ex-con Jeff Nichols is discontent with his used-car sales job. Not one to let past mistakes stand in the way of a good score, he gets involved with running guns. And as things spin out of control, Jeff hangs on, determined to not let anything stop him from hitting the motherlode.

What was the germ or spark for this latest offering?

The story takes place in Toronto in the mid-eighties. It’s where I grew up, and as I usually visit every year, I’m amazed at how much the city has changed since those days. Urban expansion, taller buildings springing up, with widening roadways, some that didn’t exist at all when I lived there. It’s still a great city, but, it’s sad to see some of the places l remember torn away. So, I wanted to bring some of that back, weaving in those sights and sounds of a grittier, but character-filled Toronto, the way I remember it back in those days.

The city sits across the lake from Niagara and Buffalo, with easy access to the US, making it the perfect setting for a story revolving around gun smuggling. After I read a news story a couple of years ago about a gunrunning ring that operated between upstate New York and Ontario, my story took shape. Another element that worked into it was the increasing gang violence that I remember hearing about on the radio and reading about in the papers.

Why Poughkeepsie? Do you have a connection to the city?
(Poughkeepsie is a city in New York State’s Hudson Valley. The waterfront Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum has science, art and literacy exhibits. Once a railroad bridge, the Walkway Over the Hudson has views of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. It links to the Dutchess Rail Trail, a path through the Hudson Valley. North, the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site includes a library and museum.)

Poughkeepsie is this picturesque town along the Hudson River, in New York state, about a seven-hour car ride southeast from Toronto. I’ve driven through the area a number of times, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful place with a lot of history. And I thought its small size and sleepy setting offered a good fictitious base for an operation smuggling guns into Canada.

Did you take a field trip, or could you do all your research from the comfort of your own home?

A lot of it came from memory, but I did quite a bit of research too, sifting through newspaper archives, histories and photos. I relied on memory primarily for color, adding the kind of things that can’t be researched, and I researched for what lent authenticity and accuracy to the story.

The most important thing I’ve learned about research is to leave most of it out. Sometimes I turn up all these fantastic details, and I have to decide what to put in and what to toss out. There’s this fine line between making a story believable and dragging its pace with too much information.

Roughly speaking, what was the timescale from the first pen or key stroke on this one to the last tweak? Was there much tinkering or re-writing needed?

Poughkeepsie Shuffle took under a year to complete. The first draft was done in a couple of months, during which time I got to know my characters and develop the story. Then I reworked a second draft, smoothing out some scenes, deleting others, sharpening dialog and so on. After that, I did a timeline, making sure the sequence of events worked. Then I set it aside for a week or so before giving the whole thing a final polish. I don’t have a set rule as to how much time or how many drafts it takes to finish a novel, I just know when I’m done. Sometimes I nail it in three drafts, sometimes it takes four.

I'm slightly curious, as a published author was there much of a delay between you signing off on this one and it seeing the light of day? 
Presumably you're hard at work on your next one, do you find it strange back-tracking and promoting last year's child? Is it not like picking up and putting on a pair of dirty socks? 

Once accepted by my publisher, ECW Press, the book was assigned a publishing date. Then came the editing and copy editing. A cover was designed and a marketing plan was laid out. By the time the final book went to press, the better part of another year had gone by.

Once a story leaves my desk, I’m working on the next one, putting the completed one out of mind until it comes back from my editor. That works since it lets me look at the first story more objectively having been away from it for a longer period. It doesn’t feel like backtracking since it gives me a final chance to improve it and catch anything that slipped by.

It's your sixth novel and you've been churning them out regular as clockwork - one a year (two in 2016) since 2014, no problem with writer's block then?

I’ve never had writer’s block, although depending on what’s going on at any point in time, I may get distracted by real life, so I might have less focus and time for my imaginary world. I try not to worry about it too much; I don’t adhere to a quota of a minimum of words or pages per day. I just show up every morning and do my best, and most of the time I get right into it, and I write until noon, and sometimes later.

Back-tracking on my notes from your earlier books, the first three were set present day, House of Blazes in the early 1900s, last year's Zero Avenue was the 70s and this one is in the 80s. Are you gradually working your way back to present times?

The next one to be published is set in the late 30s, and the one I’m currently working on is set in the early 70s, so no there’s no pattern.Time is just part of the setting, and I choose an era I think will work best for a particular story. Sometimes present time seems right, and sometimes the past gives a particular story something special.

What can we look forward to next in 2019? Any hints or teasers?

Call Down the Thunder (the one set in the 30s) will be out in 2019, although I’m not sure of the exact pub date yet. The story centers around a young married couple who come up with a hell of a way to survive the hard times during the dustbowl days of Kansas.

I also have a short story called “Bottom Dollar” included in the Vancouver Noir anthology by Akashic Books, coming out this November.

Bio: Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), and Zero Avenue. His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast. 

His website is, and he regularly contributes at the blogs Off the Cuff:

And at 7 Criminal Minds:

You can also find him on Facebook:


Jeff Nichols - a man strong of conviction but weak of character - is fresh out of the Don Jail, looking for work - any kind of work - and a way back into Ann Ryan's good graces. She waited for his return from prison but is quickly running short on patience. An ex-inmate and friend gets Jeff a job at Ted Bracey's used car lot, selling cars for commission only. But it's not enough to keep him and Ann afloat in mid-80s Toronto, and the lure of easy money soon gets Jeff involved in smuggling guns from upstate New York. With that sweet Poughkeepsie cash, now he can keep his promises to Ann; he even buys them a house, but conceals the source of the money. As Jeff gets in deeper and deeper, everyone around him learns how many rules he's willing to bend and just how far he'll go to get on the fast track to riches. That he's a guy who doesn't let lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score.



Dietrich and his books previously on the blog....