Wednesday 30 October 2019



FOUR LIVES AT THE CROSSROADS is the latest addition to the Collection of Classic Erotica. But it came very close to being shoehorned instead into the Classic Crime Library.

Back in the late 1950s and early 60s, when I was finding myself as a writer and producing a great quantity of books under pen names, some of the books I wrote were as much crime fiction as they were erotica. Indeed, several of those titles by Andrew Shaw and Sheldon Lord have since been republished under my own name by Hard Case Crime and Subterranean Press—and subsequently astonished me by garnering respectful reviews. BORDERLINE, LUCKY AT CARDS, and A DIET OF TREACLE are examples, and so to a degree is my forthcoming Hard Case title, SINNER MAN. A little light editing made them acceptable crime fiction for a contemporary body of readers.

FOUR LIVES AT THE CROSSROADS almost made the cut. After Charles Ardai at Hard Case considered it and ultimately decided against it, I weighed adding it to my Classic Crime Library. A dark, savage tale of an armed robbery gone wrong, it's not a bad fit for the CCL—but the erotic content is high, and the editing required to make it less an erotic novel and more a crime novel seemed disproportionate. The metaphor that occurred to me, I must admit, was that of putting lipstick on a pig.

I did some light editing anyway, much of which consisted of reversing the helpful contributions of some unnamed editor at Nightstand Books. So here's FOUR LIVES AT THE CROSSROADS, available for the first time since its initial appearance in 1962. I can but hope you'll enjoy it.

Back on more familiar ground here with Mr Block and a tale of a robbery wrapped around the sex lives of most of the participants and those on the periphery of it in Cedars Corner, a village in Indiana. Our main focus centres around two of the participants, unknown to each other at the start of the tale.

An ex-con and no longer practising lawyer, drinking every day after release from prison for killing his wife's lover: a fat voyeur with his hand in all the small town rackets, as well as his pants; a horny teenage couple both virgins, both with different ambitions in life; the town tramp; a widowed school teacher; a local hood also a skilled wheelman and a couple of out of towners flown in for the job - an armoured car heist. Probably closer to eight lives if not more, at the crossroads.

I really liked the inter-weaving of the cast of small town characters, the shifting relationships, the altered dynamics, the planning and plotting, the secrets and the playing, the manipulation,  the progression from girl and boy virgins, to adulthood and adult things and the illusion of having more control over the future, the armoured car job element - the idea, the persuading, the decision to participate, the planning, the doubts, the execution and the double cross and the aftermath.

I'll be honest the bed-hopping and shenanigans also added to the enjoyment of the book, with the cast of characters each enjoying lively encounters..... some liberating, some satisfying, some desperate, some frustrating and some a little bit sad.

I don't know that I ever really totally liked our main couple - Marty McLeod, the ex-con, ex-lawyer and Betty Marie James, the deflowered virgin but they were interesting company and there was a part of me that wanted them to succeed. Time spent in their company was never dull.

Fast-paced, easy listening with a heady blend of crime and erotica.

Another tale with no happy every afters.

4 from 5

Read (listened to) - October, 2019
Published - 1962
Page count - 210 (5 hours, 3 minutes)
Source - Audible download code received from the author's assistant
Format - Audible

Tuesday 29 October 2019


Another new-to-me author that I have yet to try - Glen Erik Hamilton.

Both books are part of Hamilton's Van Shaw series concerning an Army Ranger. To date Hamilton has written four in his series with a fifth coming next year.

From his website......

Glen Erik Hamilton won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics Awards for his debut, Past Crimes, which was also nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero awards. His subsequent novels earned starred reviews. The fourth in the Van Shaw series, Mercy River, was published by William Morrow in the U.S. and Faber & Faber in the UK.

The blurbs on both look good, even if one seems disproportionately long and the other a tad brief.

Past Crimes (2015)

When his estranged grandfather is shot and left for dead, an Army Ranger plunges into the criminal underworld of his youth to find a murderer . . . and uncovers a shocking family secret

From the time he was six years old, Van Shaw was raised by his Irish immigrant grandfather Donovan to be a thief - to boost cars, beat security alarms, crack safes, and burglarize businesses. But at eighteen, Dono's namesake and protege suddenly broke all ties to that life and the people in it. Van escaped into the military, serving as an elite Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, after ten years of silence, Dono has asked his grandson to come home to Seattle. "Tar abhaile, mas feidir leat" - Come home, if you can.

Taking some well-earned leave, Van heads to the Pacific Northwest, curious and a little unnerved by his grandfather's request. But when he arrives at Dono's house in the early hours of the morning, Van discovers the old thief bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. The last time the two men had seen each other Dono had also been lying on the floor - with Van pointing a gun at his heart. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, the battle-tested Ranger knows the cops will link him to the crime.

To clear his name and avenge his grandfather, Van must track down the shooter. Odds are strong that Dono knew the person. Was it a greedy accomplice? A disgruntled rival? Diving back into the illicit world he'd sworn to leave behind, Van reconnects with the ruthless felons who knew Dono best. Armed with his military and criminal skills, he follows a dangerous trail of clues that leads him deeper into Dono's life - and closer to uncovering what drove his grandfather to reach out after years of silence. As he plummets back into this violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren't defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all.

Edgy and suspenseful, rich with emotional resonance, gritty action, and a deep-rooted sense of place, Past Crimes trumpets the arrival of a powerful new noir talent.

Hard Cold Winter (2016)

When an old crony of Van Shaw's late grandfather calls in a favour, he treks deep into the remote forest of the Olympic Mountains in search of a missing girl. Discovering a brutal murder scene, Van finds himself caught between a billionaire businessman on the one side and vicious gangsters on the other.

In an attempt to survive, a desperate Van may just need every ally he can get, especially as someone prepares to unleash a firestorm on Seattle that could burn them all to ashes.

Monday 28 October 2019



Desperate times call for desperate measures in Kalteis's lightning-fast crime caper story

Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on: their land's gone dry, barren, and worthless; the bankers are greedy and hungry, trying to squeeze them and other farmers out of their homes; and, on top of that, their marriage is in trouble. The couple can struggle and wither along with the land or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the others. Clara is all for leaving, but Sonny refuses to abandon the family farm.

In a fit of temper, she takes off westward in their old battered truck. Alone on the farm and determined to get back Clara and the good old days, Sonny comes up with an idea, a way to keep his land and even prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery. He sets the scheme in motion under the cover of the commotion being caused by a rainmaker hired by the mayor to call down the thunder and wash away everyone's troubles.

Another outing with one of my favourite Canadian authors and a trip to 30s drought-ridden Kansas were times are hard for all except the bankers.

Farmers, drought, recession, depression and repossession, marital difficulties for our main couple - Sonny and Clara, a choice between joining the crowd and cutting and running or toughing it out in the hope that fortunes will turn. Clara dreams crushed and worn out by poverty, runs but doesn't get too far, a broken down truck and into the arms of a rain-maker, while Sonny schemes with some friends to pull a bank job; all the while some close brothers of the Klan meet and threaten and burn crosses and terrorise. It's not too long before the couple are reconciled with Clara returning home, still feisty and wanting for more.

Added to the mix a travelling carnival who's owner is in hock to a vicious and impatient money-lender, struggling to pay the myriad of freaks and outsiders on the payroll let alone the vig on his debt and there are some incendiary ingredients ripe for explosion. Sadly in more ways than one, an explosion is what we get.

Tough times and a tough book. Not dissimilar in some ways to the present day - the disparity between the haves and have nots, the ones who offer the most in the ways of kindness and compassion are those usually with the least to give, angry times giving rise to irrational extremism where the black, the Catholic, the Jew, the freak, the outsider is the scapegoat - the obvious cause of everyone's ills.

No happy endings here. Another captivating read from Dietrich Kalteis.

4.5 from 5

Call Down the Thunder is the author's seventh book and the sixth I've enjoyed. House of Blazes still sits on the pile. Previously enjoyed and highly recommended....

Ride the Lightning
Poughkeepsie Shuffle

Read - October, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 325
Source - review copy from author
Format - PDF read on laptop

Sunday 27 October 2019



An emotionally and sexually frustrated divorcée explores her mounting attraction to women.

Rhoda’s divorce has her thinking that romance is not for her. But maybe she just needs to look in a new direction. Megan is an attractive blonde who instantly sees what Rhoda’s love life has been missing: a woman’s touch. As Megan guides Rhoda into the sensuous - but hidden - world of women who love women, the two unlock a passion that may be too hot to contain. There are a lot of beautiful women in the Village, and Rhoda’s just begun her adventure as a freewheeling lesbian.

Another early erotica novel from Lawrence Block and another one which entertained me on the commute without being especially memorable, titillating or explicit.

A young woman, an encounter, confusion, acceptance, romance, a relationship, a wandering eye, jealousy, a break-up, a new partner, a death in the circle of friends, a test, a confirmation.

Not much else to say really. I do kind of scratch my head at the instant proclamations of love towards a partner you've only just met. It seems more a schoolyard playground occurrence, as opposed to something that happens with people in their mid-twenties, but why do I know about lesbians in the New York village fifty years ago.

Definitely of it's time with dollar bills dropped on bar tables to settles a drinks bill and a dollar plus change the price of a cab ride. (Or was that in one of the other Block/Emerson books I've listened to recently? They do tend to blur.)

Overall it did what it was supposed to - entertained. I didn't fall in love with any of the characters, I didn't find the main one too annoying. I was interested in her story, up to a point. I liked Block's writing and the pacing. I think I'd enjoy his writing irrespective of the subject he was writing about.

3 from 5

Read (listened to) - October, 2019
Published - 1965
Page count - 198 (4 hrs 47 mins)
Source - Audible download code received from author's assistant)
Format - Audible

Saturday 26 October 2019



Hester Thursby has given up using her research skills to trace people who don't want to be found. A traumatic case a few months ago unearthed a string of violent crimes, and left Hester riddled with self-doubt and guilt. Caring for a four-year-old is responsibility enough in a world filled with terrors Hester never could have imagined before.

Finisterre Island, off the coast of Maine, is ruggedly beautiful and remote - the kind of place tourists love to visit, though rarely for long. But not everyone who comes to the island is welcome. A dilapidated Victorian house has become home to a group of squatters and junkies, and strangers have a habit of bringing trouble with them. A young boy disappeared during the summer, and though he was found safely, the incident stirred suspicion among locals. Now another child is missing. Summoned to the island by a cryptic text, Hester discovers a community cleaning up from a devastating storm - and uncovers a murder.

Soon, Hester begins to connect the crime and the missing children. And as she untangles the secrets at the center of the small community, she finds grudges and loyalties that run deep, poised to converge with a force that will once again shake her convictions about the very nature of right and wrong....

The Missing Ones is Edwin Hill's second Hester Thursby book after Little Comfort, and while it works well enough on its own, I would probably have benefited from reading the first one before this.

Hester lives with her boyfriend and is caring for her best friend's four year old daughter Kate after Daphne (the mother) disappeared a year ago. Daphne is also the twin of Hector's partner, Morgan. She is also suffering from PTSD after events from Little Comfort and behaves - from the outside - a little irrationally in respect of her day to day life. She has separation anxiety over being parted from Kate and she's been bunking off work for a good while and lying to Morgan about how she's coping with life.

A "come and get me" text from Daphne sets the wheels in motion here........ a thinly populated island, isolation, everyone knows everyone, everyone knows everything about everyone, or so they think, a ferry, secrets, secrets that aren't actually secrets, and ones that are, a missing kid, an un-missing kid, a drug house, suspicion of strangers, tension between the island cop and the State policeman, unrequited love, an affair, drugs, an overdose, another missing kid, an assumed identity, a dead body and murder, arson and more.

I enjoyed it without feeling it was the best book ever if I'm truthful. I don't think I ever truly sympathised or was on-board totally with the main character, Hester. That said her heart was in the right place in respect of trying to do the right thing.

I liked a few of the supporting characters..... the State policewoman, Morgan the boyfriend. The setting was interested with the island location and the inhabitants all at the mercy of the tides and weather concerning getting on and off the place. There's a moment near the end which gave me pause for thought - totally jaw-dropping - and which I wasn't 100% sure I understood correctly. If it means what I think it means - WTF. I'm guessing there may be repercussions further down the road.

Decent plot, reasonable pace. I liked the author's style of writing and the narration of the story. I wasn't totally invested in the outcome, probably because I couldn't really feel much of anything for Hester, other than mild irritation maybe.

Enjoyable overall, just missing any real spark for me.

3.5 from 5

Read - October, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 261
Source - Net Galley
Format - ePub read on laptop

Thursday 24 October 2019




It’s 1987, and Soho is in the grip of another hot summer. While working part-time in The Red Lion, Joe finds himself agreeing to help a notorious gangster search for her missing girlfriend.
Antonia The Gecko Lagorio is daughter to the ruthless but ageing gang boss, Tony The Lizard Lagorio. When her girlfriend, Charlotte Fenwick, goes missing, Antonia turns to Joe for help, believing her to have been kidnapped by a rival gang.

Charlotte Fenwick is daughter to multi-millionaire, Charles Fenwick—who also happens to be one of Freddie Gillespie’s bigger clients. Keen to keep any hint of a scandal out of the public eye, Charles Fenwick had already asked Freddie to recruit Russell and Joe to help him find his daughter discreetly.
With both of them on the case, Joe and Russell find themselves trying to stop a turf war between the two rival gangs while uncovering all manner of dark secrets about the missing heiress and her troubled life.

Meanwhile Freddie Gillespie has a run in with an old foe that could see him lose both his job and his relationship with Russell.

Crazy For You is the fourth entry in T.S. Hunter's Soho Noir series of novellas and it's as pleasing and enjoyable as the two other I've read previously.

Late 80s Soho, our recurring double act of Joe and Russell and a missing girl who's disappearance needs to be investigated on the Q.T.

Wild child behaviour, a rich daddy, a drunken mother, an unhealthy friendship with a young man who is part of a criminal family, drugs, drinks, money issues, sexuality, an obsessed girlfriend with a mob family, criminal rivalries, a potential turf war, a ransom note, ergo - a kidnapping, relationship complications for Russell, a familiar figure reappearing - with our local corrupt cop pulling the same old stunts, drag girls hitting the streets, a pair of puppies, a pile of the best Bolivian, a fire and a mystery solved.

There's a lot crammed into this busy little book. There's not as many song references as in previous books, which I kind of missed. They do have a way of firmly establishing the time frame of events. I did enjoy the trip back in time to Soho, when the streets were a little more vibrant and there was a manic energy to the place.

I enjoyed the story line and the ease with which Joe and Russell work together. There's a firm friendship and a real level of trust between the pair. All in all another decent outing and an enjoyable quick read.

4 from 5

Tainted Love and Careless Whisper have been enjoyed before. Who's That Girl sits on the pile.   

Read - October, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 132
Source - review copy from publisher - Red Dog Press

Format - paperback

Wednesday 23 October 2019




- stealing into someone else's house, testing the chairs and the porridge and especially the beds. Goldilocks, the other woman ...

- something more than a murder mystery. A story which begins with the slaughter of the innocent and goes on to reveal, piece by dazzling piece, a guilty world of other women and other men, double-lives and creaking marriages.
A world stained with moral murder of which few are innocent ... for Goldilocks visits everyone, and everybody knows Goldilocks ... 

"Perhaps his best since he left the 87th Precinct ... Compulsive, and very cunningly contrived with a stunning and not unduly contrived solution." - The Observer

Ed McBain is probably better known for his long 87th Precinct series of books, as opposed to the dozen or so books, featuring a Florida attorney Matthew Hope. Goldilocks is the first in the Hope series.

Only 200-odd pages long, it was a disappointment. We open with Hope called to the scene of a triple murder. His friend and client, Jamie Purchase has discovered his second wife, Maureen and their two young children stabbed to death.

Over the course of this plodding book, we have....... a triple murder, dodgy alibis, lies, interrogation, infidelity, a confession from the victim's step-son and half sibling - somewhat shaky and possibly false, an ex-wife, mistresses, a pity party, secrets, ultimatums, broken promises, gallery parties, an attempted suicide, a dead cat, a confrontation or two, the appearance of another family member, another confession and our outcome.

I wasn't really expecting a high energy book, I think McBain's books portray a realism regarding police work and the everyday drudgery and routine. I was expecting something with a bit more fizz though. Hope isn't a crusading lawyer as such, he kind of sits in on interviews, asks a few questions, offers advice - mostly ignored and for the most part concerns himself with his own marital issues, somewhat brought into focus by the deceits and betrayals surrounding the players involved in the murder case.

I didn't especially find him a likeable or sympathetic character. He's cheating on his wife and he's semi-committed, hmm ... more a bit vague about leaving her and asking for a divorce, but there's always an excuse or a reason not to rock the boat. This is a situation which causes friction with the other woman. He loves his step-daughter. He's cold towards his wife, in return she's frosty and they are both argumentative. He seems a bit of a coward to be honest. You don't really see his lawyerly skills or expertise to any great degree.

The husband of the deceased doesn't really feature that much. None of the extended family including the ex-wife solicit much sympathy either. The dead wife and children do. Hope's wife doesn't. I didn't like the cat either, though that's purely out of principle. I'm a dog person! The only character I kind of took to was the investigating detective, Ehrenberg. His instincts tell him that something is a bit off with the first confession from Michael Purchase. He has concerns about an innocent man taking the rap for a crime he didn't commit and getting sent to death row.

The first 160 pages dragged and I don't really think it was my reading mood, I think it was the story. The last forty pages or so, picked up. I kind of planned to read a chapter a day to finish the thing by the close of the weekend, but 160-170 improved, 170-180 maintained so I just toughed it out.

Overall borderline 3 because of the last quarter or so of the book, but nah 2.5 from 5 is more on the money.

I've read McBain before, but none of his 87th Precinct books. I still intend to somewhat ambitiously read my way through the series (over 50 of them). I have more of the Matthew Hope series on the pile.

My McBain's to date are
Downtown (1989)Guns (1976)Driving Lessons (1999)

Read - October, 2019
Published - 1977
Page count - 208
Source- owned copy
Format - paperback 



From master storyteller Lawrence Block comes one girl's journey toward self-discovery and sexual freedom.

Karen Winslow is starting over. But she's not sure how to move forward when her deepest secret haunts her and keeps her from enjoying her carefree youth. She's a sweet but troubled young thing, and not until she meets Rae, a confident young lesbian, does she realize what she's been missing. Meanwhile, she's also intrigued by a man and can't help but wonder if a normal life will put an end her sorrows for good.

Another early non-mystery, non-crime related book by Lawrence Block and an enjoyable enough accompaniment for the weekly commute to and from work. A bit erotic in places; it's fifty-year old lesbian fiction but very tame due to censorship laws at the time. Not that racy, if I'm honest.

One woman's path of self-awakening, through a broken hetro-romance, a pregnancy, a termination, a suicide attempt, confinement, new lodgings, a new job, a sexual encounter with a lady, denial, anger, shame, followed by eagerness and enthusiasm, a full-on romance, a caring employer, the yings and yangs of a love affair, another break-up,
a no-strings, non-physical friendship with an older man, self doubt, a test and finally acceptance of her sexual identity.   

Interesting enough. I quite like the kindness and understanding shown to Karen by the two older guys in the story - her employer and one of his client's who befriended her. It probably won't live too long in the memory banks, but it was far from the worst book I've ever read.

I liked the dynamics of her various relationships, including the failed romance and the maturing of our main character throughout the book. From insecurity, naivety and a bit of a pity party - albeit she's at an admittedly low point in her life, feeling very isolated and vulnerable to a much stronger, level-headed, capable and confident young woman by the end.

3 from 5

The narration from Emily Beresford - I've listened to her before - was pleasant enough.

Read (listened to) - October, 2019
Published - 1965
Page count -  192  (4 hours 26 mins)   
Source - Audible download code from the author's assistant (cheers David)
Format - Audible

Monday 21 October 2019


A couple from Kate Atkinson. She's not an author I have read before or ever really considered until recently when a couple of Goodreads friends posted reviews for her Jackson Brodie series.

Atkinson has written five books in her Jackson Brodie  series and at least half a dozen other works. The Brodie's are the ones I think I'll enjoy the most.

Heartbreak, humour, thrills, intricate plot...... what's not to like?

Early 2020, I'll find out. I'm kind of hoping he's a bit like Jackson Lamb - you never know!
Probably not, but it would be nice to be mates with two Jacksons, I'd only be three short then and I could form a band.

Jackson Brodie
1. Case Histories (2004)
2. One Good Turn (2006)
3. When Will There Be Good News (2008)
4. Started Early, Took My Dog (2010)
5. Big Sky (2019)

Case Histories (2004)

The scene is set in Cambridge, with three case histories from the past: A young child who mysteriously disappeared from a tent in her back garden; An unidentified man in a yellow jumper who marched into an office and slashed a young girl through the throat; and a young woman found by the police sitting in her kitchen next to the body of her husband, an axe buried in his head. Jackson Brodie, a private investigator and former police detective, is quietly contemplating life as a divorced father when he is flung into the midst of these resurrected old crimes. Julia and Amelia Land, long having given up hope of uncovering the truth of what happened to their baby sister, Olivia, suddenly discover her lost toy mouse in the study of their recently-deceased father. Enlisting Jackson's help they embroil him in the complexities of their own jealousies, obsessions and lust. A woman named Shirley needs Jackson to help find her lost niece. Amidst the incessant demands of the Land sisters, Jackson meets solicitor Theo Wyre whose daughter, Laura, was murdered in his office and, now that the police case has been closed, is desperate for Jackson to help him lay Laura's ghost to rest. As he starts his investigations Jackson has the sinister feeling that someone is following him. As he begins to unearth secrets that have remained hidden for many years, he is assailed by his former wife's plan to take his young daughter away to live in New Zealand, and his stalker becomes increasingly malevolent and dangerous. In digging into the past Jackson seems to have unwittingly threatened his own future.This wonderfully crafted, intricately plotted novel is heartbreaking, uplifting, full of suspense and often very funny, and shows Kate Atkinson returning to the literary scene at the height of her powers.

When Will There Be Good News? (2008)

On a hot summer day, Joanna Mason's family slowly wanders home along a country lane. A moment later, Joanna's life is changed forever...

On a dark night thirty years later, ex-detective Jackson Brodie finds himself on a train that is both crowded and late. Lost in his thoughts, he suddenly hears a shocking sound...

At the end of a long day, 16-year-old Reggie is looking forward to watching a little TV. Then a terrifying noise shatters her peaceful evening. Luckily, Reggie makes it a point to be prepared for an emergency...

These three lives come together in unexpected and deeply thrilling ways in the latest novel from Kate Atkinson, the critically acclaimed author who Harlan Coben calls "an absolute must-read."

Sunday 20 October 2019



A compelling and timely debut novel from an assured new voice: Three-Fifths is about a biracial black man, passing for white, who is forced to confront the lies of his past while facing the truth of his present when his best friend, just released from prison, involves him in a hate crime.

Pittsburgh, 1995. The son of a black father he’s never known, and a white mother he sometimes wishes he didn’t, twenty-two year-old Bobby Saraceno has passed for white his entire life. Raised by his bigoted maternal grandfather, Bobby has hidden the truth about his identity from everyone, even his best friend and fellow comic-book geek, Aaron, who has just returned home from prison a newly radicalized white supremacist. Bobby’s disparate worlds crash when, during the night of their reunion, Bobby witnesses Aaron mercilessly assault a young black man with a brick. Fearing for his safety and his freedom, Bobby must keep the secret of his mixed race from Aaron and conceal his unwitting involvement in the crime from the police. But Bobby’s delicate house of cards crumbles when his father enters his life after more than twenty years, forcing his past to collide with his present.

Three-Fifths is a story of secrets, identity, violence and obsession with a tragic conclusion that leaves all involved questioning the measure of a man, and was inspired by the author’s own experiences with identity as a biracial man during his time as a student in Pittsburgh amidst the simmering racial tension produced by the L.A. Riots and the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-nineties.

A hard-hitting novel regarding ....... identity, denial, acceptance, friendship, family, separation, loss, racism, alcoholism, upbringing, insecurity, marital break-up, working class struggles, low paying employment, money worries, addiction, prison, belonging, confrontation, a violent act, fear, a chance meeting, an unexpected re-union, a glimmer of hope, a light extinguished.

It would be difficult to say that this was a book I enjoyed. It would be hard to take pleasure from reading about Bobby's life, his relationship with his mother, Isabel and Aaron his only real friend; the inner conflict he has regarding how he presents and identifies racially, drawn sharper into focus with his complicity in a racial attack by Aaron and the re-appearance of his black father into his life.

In addition to Bobby's story, we get a glimpse of his mother's struggles, her battles with the bottle, her failings and broken promises, her past and her pregnancy, her relationship with Bobby's father, her insecurities, her life with Bobby and her racist father, blown apart by her revelation about Bobby's father. We also have some focus on Robert, Bobby's father. He's a doctor and he's still grieving the recent break-up of his marriage after the loss of an unborn child. He's in ignorance of the fact that he has a grown-up son, until a revelation by Isabel informs him of the fact.

Three-Fifths I found to be incredibly powerful and moving. You would need a heart of stone not to be affected by Bobby's life story and his struggles to accept his own self for who he is. No happy ending for anyone concerned here.

Characters, plot/story line, pacing, style of writing, setting - O.J. Simpson's trial as a back drop to events, length, outcome - all plusses.

4.5 from 5

Three-Fifths is John Vercher's debut novel. I'll be interested to see what he comes up with next.

Read - October, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 176
Source - Net Galley, courtesy of Agora an imprint of Polis Books
Format - ePub read on laptop

Saturday 19 October 2019


Another dirty half dozen to drool over and hopefully read sometime soon ....

Frank Westworth - Czech M8 (2019) - from author

I've enjoyed a couple of Frank Westworth's JJ Stoner stories in the past, but ought to do myself a favour and catch up with them, before enjoying his longer works.

Fifth Columnist (2016)
Third Person (2014)
First Contract (2014)


The life of a contract killer can be complicated.
JJ Stoner’s boss wants him to kill someone. His best friend’s girlfriend also wants him to kill someone. His best friend could kill him for getting cosy with the wrong woman.
Stoner just wants to ride his Harley – but the forces of law and order have other ideas…

"Stoner’s right hand moved with great speed and considerable accuracy. The forefingers of the hand ran up into the nostrils of the would-be brawler, and Stoner reeled his arm back in, bringing the nose – and attached face – with it and into violent contact with the table top.
"Blood – very bright blood – poured from the nose around the fingers anchored in it.
"‘Yuk’, Stoner remarked."

A pithy mix of hardboiled humour and blunt force trauma. Recommended for readers who enjoy Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block and Stephen Leather.
CzechM8 is a self-contained short story which features characters from the Killing Sisters crime-thriller novels and the Stoner stories. It fits in between Seven Hells and A Last Act Of Charity, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story without reading the other books. Go on… Live dangerously!

Please note that the Stoner stories are intended for an adult audience and contains explicit violence.

Thomas Perry - A Small Town (2020) - Net Galley

Early peek at Mr Perry's next one. To be honest the last couple from him haven't rocked my world, but I have it on good authority he's back on form with this one.

The Burglar (2019), The Boyfriend (2013)


In A Small Town, twelve conspirators meticulously plan to throw open all the gates to the prison that contains them, so that more than a thousand convicts may escape and pour into the nearby small town. The newly freed prisoners rape, murder, and destroy the town-burning down homes and businesses. An immense search ensues, but the twelve who plotted it all get away.

After two years, all efforts by the local and federal police agencies have been in vain. The mayor and city attorney meet, and Leah Hawkins, a six-foot, two-inch former star basketball player and resident good cop, is placed on sabbatical so that she can tour the country learning advanced police procedures. The sabbatical is merely a ruse, however, as her real job is to track the infamous twelve. And kill them.

Leah's mission takes her across the country, from Florida to New York, from California to an anti-government settlement deep in the Ozarks. Soon, the surviving fugitives realize what she is up to, and a race to kill or be killed ensues. Full of exhilarating twists and surprisingly resonant, A Small Town will sweep listeners along on Leah's quest for vengeance.

Nick Kolakowski - Maxine Unleashes Doomsday (2019) - from author

Mr Kolakowski has been enjoyed once or twice before........

Boise Longpig Hunting Club (2018)
Slaughterhouse Blues (2018)
A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps (2017)

I'm looking forward to this one.


The United States has collapsed. Bandits stalk the highways, preying on the weak and unaware.

In order to transport goods between heavily fortified cities, companies hire convoy escorts. Maxine is the best of these new road warriors: tough, smart, and unbelievably fast. But she also has a secret: She’s the niece of New York’s most notorious outlaw, a man hunted by what’s left of the nation’s law enforcement.

Maxine wants to live a normal, upstanding life. But a bad incident on the road leaves her mauled, penniless…and fired. If she wants to survive, she’s going to need to embrace her outlaw roots—and carry off the biggest heist that the post-apocalypse has ever seen. It’s a journey that will take her through obstacle after obstacle to the edge of death itself—and beyond.

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday smashes the gritty frenzy of Mad Max: Fury Road with the top-notch suspense of a crime saga like Heat. It’s a brutal thriller that offers a terrifying glimpse of our future.


“Take one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and throw it in the blender with DVDs of Mad Max and The Warriors. Guess what? You just broke your blender. Find solace in this book, which is what you should have done in the first place.” —Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse and New Yorked

Andy Rausch and Chris Roy (ed.) - A Time For Violence (2019) - purchased copy

A couple of top names - Joe Lansdale, Max Allan Collins whose work I have enjoyed before - a no-brainer purchase.


"If you enjoy short, gritty crime fiction, you need to check out this anthology!" — Debbi Mack, The Crime Cafe.

Joe R. Lansdale

Richard Chizmar

Richard Christian Matheson

Max Allan Collins

John A. Russo

Stewart O'Nan, and more…

Throughout the years countless wordsmiths have produced their own story collections, but the book you are now holding is a love letter to the great anthologies of yesteryear, assembling stories by a variety of talents, packaged neatly and often connected by a singular theme.

Richie Narvaez - Roachkiller and Other Stories (2012) - purchased copy

Hipster Death Rattle from the author still sits on the pile. This collection won an award. I really need to read both of his.


Winner of the 2013 Spinetingler Award for Best Anthology/Short Story Collection!

From R. Narvaez, an exciting new voice in noir . . .

“If there is any justice in the world, [R. Narvaez] should become a giant on the literary noir scene within the next couple of years.”
—Anthony Neil Smith, author of Yellow Medicine, on the story “Roachkiller”

"'Roachkiller" is an accomplished debut from an author in full and firm control of his voice. Narvaez is definitely a name to watch."
—Eva Dolan, Crime Factory

A pregnant single mother who becomes a numbers runner in 1970s Brooklyn; an ex-con fighting against insurmountable odds not to kill again; a middle-aged tax lawyer who’s discovered the secret to happiness—at any cost: these are just a few of the hard-luck characters you’ll meet in Roachkiller and Other Stories, the debut collection of short stories from exciting noir writer R. Narvaez. Included are 10 hard-boiled tales, many with a dash of dark humor. Get-rich schemes gone violently awry. A slacker detective far out of his depth. A reformed criminal who can’t get past his killer instincts. The action moves from Brooklyn to Puerto Rico, from the ’70s to the near future, from deadly divorces to homicidal hipsters. Narvaez travels down the dimly lit side streets of noir you’ve never seen before.


In the Kitchen with Johnny Albino
Santa’s Little Helper
Ibarra Goes Down
Watching the Iguanas
Rough Night in Toronto

“Juracán” is also available as an ebook single under the title “Hurricane”!

Geoff Smith - Burning Crowe (2019) - purchased copy

Speculative punt, maybe not so speculative as I think it was an Amazon Freebie, but it has a few decent reviews against it's name. Slight Debbie Downer is it's over 400 pages long!


Two teenagers, both alike in indignity. Will they be civil? Or will there be blood?

Bartholomew Crowe is 18 years old. His dad dead, and deserted by his stepmother, he's running seriously low on justice. And when he is hired to find a rich kid gone AWOL, it isn't just a job; it's a chance to do good, a chance to fix things up, to make things right.

Handsome and loaded, Zack Richards has it all. A beautiful girlfriend. A burgeoning sideline in music management. Hell, he's even semi-famous! But for all his good fortune, Zack Richards is angry. He's addicted to trouble. And he's gone into hiding.

But Bart isn't the only one with Zack in his sights. And as tensions rise and bullets fly, Bartholomew Crowe learns that the only things he can count on are friendship, and love.

Friday 18 October 2019



Law professor Thomas Jackson McMurtrie literally wrote the book on evidence in the state of Alabama. But when a power-hungry colleague uses a recent run-in between McMurtrie and headstrong student Rick Drake to end his career, he is left unsure what to do next.

Meanwhile, a devastating trucking accident in Henshaw, Alabama, leaves a young family dead. Drake, now a fledgling lawyer, takes the case against the freight carrier and soon begins to uncover the truth behind the tragedy that is buried in a tangled web of arson, bribery, and greed. On the eve of the trial and with his case unraveling in the midst of a dangerous cover-up that threatens to silence his star witnesses, Drake realizes that only his estranged mentor, Professor McMurtrie, can help him now.

With everything to lose and only justice to gain, will McMurtrie and Drake overcome bad blood to defeat a ruthless adversary? Can the Professor turn back the clock and recover all that he's lost?

It's been a while since I read a legal thriller, too long really, especially considering how much I enjoyed this one. (Note to self - don't leave it so long next time.)

A bit of a good vs evil here, with some added drama thrown in regarding conflict, secrets, career twists, health issues, suspicion and mistrust - that's just on the side of the guys with the white hats and ambition, arrogance, control, manipulation, greed, witness tampering, bribery and murder on the dark side of the fence, culminating in the two sides doing battle, metaphorically speaking in a court of law.

Busy, engaging, interesting, a decent main character and support cast, a great plot and story line, lots of dramas and tangents and connections and shared histories between some of the main characters. Lots of evolving dynamics between the main players. Plenty of nervousness as the case unfolds and the conflict moves from evidence gathering, interviewing - very often thwarted, to the courtroom and some vicious verbal sparring. Some violence, some sex - not especially graphic, some if it voluntarily conducted, some of it forced, plenty of excitement and tension.

I really, really liked it and I'm kind of annoyed I've had it five years on the pile unread, after acquiring access to it back in 2014 on Net Galley. 

The Professor is I think Robert Bailey's debut novel and the first in four books featuring Professor McMurtrie to date. I look forward to reading the next, sometime soon-ish - ie before another five years has passed. Roll on Between Black and White.

4.5 from 5

Read - October, 2019
Published - 2014
Page count - 416
Source - Net Galley
Format - Kindle read

Wednesday 16 October 2019



THIRTY, as intensely erotic a book as I’d ever written, is what happened after I stopped writing erotica.

Beginning with CARLA in 1958, I spent half a dozen years laboring in the vineyards of Midcentury Erotica, writing no end of books for Midwood, Nightstand, Beacon, It was a wonderful training ground, a comfortingly forgiving medium, and I’ve never regretted the timer I spent there, although for a time I wanted to disown the work I produced. (That changed with the passage of time, and now I’ve been eagerly reissuing much of that early work in my Collection of Classic Erotica. I like to tell myself this represents great progress in self-acceptance, but I have a hunch Ego and Avarice play a role here.)

Never mind. I went on writing for Bill Hamling’s Nightstand Books until a break with my agent deprived me of the market, and I can’t regret that, either, because it’s safe to say I’d stayed too long at the fair, and would have stayed longer still if given the chance. Instead, I took a job editing a numismatic magazine in Wisconsin and went on writing fiction in my free time. I placed some stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART with Gold Medal, and then I wrote THE THIEF WHO COULDN’T SLEEP, which turned out to be the first of a series about a fellow named Evan Tanner.

This was the first book in a voice that was uniquely mine, and the most satisfying work I’d ever done. I went on to write a total of seven books about Tanner (an eighth would follow after a 28-year interval) along with a couple of other crime novels, and then one day I got a call from my agent, Henry Morrison. Berkley Books wanted to launch a line of erotic novels, but on a different level from the old Midwood/Nightstand/Beacon ilk. It was 1968, censorship had essentially vanished, and American letters from top to bottom was embracing the sexual revolution and the new freedom. As Cole Porter might have put it, some authors who’d once been stuck with better words were now free to use four-letter words.

Meanwhile, I was going through a period of discontent with the whole notion of fiction. I had nothing against the idea of making things up, but the artificiality of the novel suddenly rubbed me the wrong way. Narration, whether first person or third person, was a weird voice in one’s ear. Who are you? Why are you telling me this? And why should I believe you?

What appealed more were books that presented themselves as documents. Fictional diaries, fictional collections of letters, whatever. Yes, of course they were novels, we knew they were novels, but they took the form of actual documents.

Thus THIRTY, which would take the form of a diary kept by a woman in her thirtieth year. I had just reached that age myself, and while I recognized it as a landmark, it seemed to me that turning thirty was rather a bigger deal for a woman than for a man, that it was very much a turning point. So I plunged in, and I strove throughout to write what Jan would have written in an actual diary, leaving things out, skipping days altogether, and letting characters come into and go out of her life, and events pile one on the other, the way they really do, with less pattern and logic than one typically demands of fiction.

I just read the book prefatory to writing this book description, and I was surprised how much I liked it. (And how little of it I recalled.) I decided from the jump to put Jill Emerson’s name on it, a name I’d shelved after WARM AND WILLING and ENOUGH OF SORROW. THIRTY is, to be sure, a creature of its time, as one knows when Jan whines about having to pay $375 a month for a Grove Street apartment. But I think the book holds up.

In any event, Jill was back in business, and she’d go on to write two more books for Berkley’s sexy new series, both of them pseudo-documents like THIRTY.

Another Audible book consumed over the course of a week or so's driving to work and back. My commute is about 20 minutes, sometimes longer each day which allows the opportunity to get about 3-4 hours more "reading" in a week. Happy days.

Here we have a diary of a woman, plotting her journey from slightly dissatisfied housewife to a single sexually liberated free woman. I'm not too sure if she is any happier at the end of her journal than she was at the beginning, but she's had a fair few adventures along the way.

No crime or mystery to this one, which is what you can usually expect from Lawrence Block, but as he explains above it's a different book written for a different audience at a different time in his writing career. This is quite graphic with it's prose and the level of explicitness in its descriptions of our main character's sexual liaisons. It's quite a contrast to a couple of his other early books that I listened to previously - 21 Gay Street and Of Shame and Joy. Between the early 60s and 1970 you can definitely see a relaxation in censorship laws.

In short then..... a 29 year old woman, married and bored, a chance remark from a friend and a different outlook on life, a fumble at a party, a treat for the kid shovelling snow, a packing of the bags and a move to the city - New York, a series of encounters - single men, two men, one woman, a woman and a man, new experiences, a control freak, enjoying it, enduring it, a whole tick list of variations and possibilities from A-Z - probably a few more as well, giving it away, selling it, making new friends and acquaintances, falling pregnant, an abortion, an encounter with an old neighbourhood friend, an encounter with the estranged husband, pick-ups and trysts in bars, hotels, taxis, apartments etc etc.

I was fairly entertained by the shenanigans, without every feeling any great warmth or affection for our main character, Jan. Scrub that probably no affection for her. I did fear for her at one time, in her encounters with the controller Eric. He comes across as sadistic and inhuman, as opposed to some sort of liberator and mentor, freeing Jan from her shackles emotionally, from a personal level and those imposed by respectable society. Maybe around the mid-point he kinds of fades from the scene.

A week or two on from listening to this, I can't exactly remember where we left off with Jan, which is no great source of regret. I enjoyed the time spent in her company, Fifty years on, it would be interesting to have a catch up with her now and see what she's been up to in the last half a century. I'm betting she'll have calmed down a bit. I hope she's happier than at this stage of her life.
Without ever coming close to being the author's most enjoyable book ever, I did have fun with this one.

An enjoyable listen, with a pleasant narration from Emily Beresford.

3.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) - October, 2019
Published - 1970
Page count - 190 (5 hours 11 mins)
Source - Audible access code received from author's assistant
Format - Audible

Tuesday 15 October 2019


One of my favourite contemporary authors is back with a new book.

Call Down the Thunder from Canadian author, Dietrich Kalteis dropped earlier this week and Dietrich was kind enough to stop by for a few questions.....

Photo: Andrea Kalteis

It's been a year or so since our last chat, what have you been up to in the past 12 months or so? 

Relating to writing, I finished one novel, and I’m halfway through a new one. I also worked on edits, organized and took part at various readings and events, and I’m getting set for another trip down the coast to California to promote the new release.

Another book dropping imminently (out now actually) - Call Down the Thunder
Can you pitch it to readers in a few words?

Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on. The land’s gone dry, barren and worthless. And the bankers, greedy and hungry, make life even more impossible, squeezing farmers out of their homes. The couple can wither along with the land, or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the other farmers. But Sonny comes up with a way for them to stay on their land and prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery.
At time of writing, I've still to get my teeth into my copy, but I read somewhere ...... bankers, loan sharks, the Ku Klux Klan—not to mention ferocious dust storms - late-1930s Kansas. So another historical novel as opposed to a more contemporary setting, how did you do the research for this one?

To get a solid feel for the times, I read many archived newspapers, historical accounts, agricultural bulletins, studies, memoirs, and I viewed hundreds of photos and maps of the damage inflicted by the dusters and drought.

I've probably asked before, are there different challenges to approaching a book set in the past as opposed to present times? I'm guessing the same levels of blood, sweat and tears are needed?

There’s an old saying, “Write what you know.” And I think that’s true. I’ve set stories in present time, in Vancouver where I live, or in Toronto where I used to live. And as much as I have lots of memories to draw on, those stories still need a degree of research. 

To write a story set in a place and time I’ve never experienced, I have to do a lot more research. If possible, I go to where I’m writing about to get a feel for it. If it’s set in another time, then I dig up enough to become familiar with it. But there’s not so much blood, sweat and tears; I enjoy the digging, learning about the people and how they survived and adapted to whatever came.

Do you have a preference between past and present?

I don’t. When I come up with a story, I just want to set it in what I feel will serve it best. 

Did the end result mirror your expectations?

I never know how a story will turn out when I start writing. I loved writing about the hard, yet simple times of the thirties, and it felt solid right from the beginning, so I’d say yes, the results met my expectations.  

At the risk of getting ahead of myself, what's next? What can we look forward to in 2020?

I won’t mention titles yet, but the next one is set in present-day Vancouver and involves a cheating couple being pursued by a gangster husband who’ll stop at nothing to catch them. It introduces readers to some new characters and takes them on a wild ride up through northern British Columbia and into Alaska. 
The one after that is also complete and based on a real-life bank robbing couple – lesser-known than Bonnie and Clyde – who were at large in the central States in the latter 1930s and topped the FBIs most wanted list. 

Random question time.....

What’s your favourite vegetable?

It would be easy to just say eggplant, but you know, Col, it also depends on setting. For instance, in the early springtime here in the northwest we get great wild fiddleheads, followed by fantastic asparagus. Then summer squash, and there’s savoy cabbage in winter. Hard to pick a favorite.

When did you last have a fist fight?

Once it a while it’s tempting, but generally I leave the rough stuff to my characters.

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

Again, I leave that to my characters.

Do you have any tattoos?


What was your first pet’s name?

Freddy, the talking parrot.

What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

Back when I first learned to cook, I tried a recipe for corned beef crepes. It didn’t turn out looking like the photo in the book and had to be one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted. After tossing it in the bin, I ordered a pizza and it wasn’t bad.

Do you have any irrational fears?

My fears are all logical and reasonable. Although, I’m not partial to heights, or being in deep, murky water. So heights and depths. Generally, I’m okay with everything in between – oh, and needles, I don’t like needles.

What’s your favourite vacation destination?

There are many places that I’ve enjoyed visiting, but for the past several years I keep ending up in California, so I guess you could say it’s a favorite destination.

When did you last tell a lie?

I can’t think of anything specific, and I’d really like to say I don’t, but then I’d be lying. 

What's the best book you've read in this year?

The Border by Don WInslow.


Many thanks to Dietrich for his time.

Call Down the Thunder is available now.....

Desperate times call for desperate measures in Kalteis's lightning-fast crime caper story Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on: their land's gone dry, barren, and worthless; the bankers are greedy and hungry, trying to squeeze them and other farmers out of their homes; and, on top of that, their marriage is in trouble. The couple can struggle and wither along with the land or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the others. Clara is all for leaving, but Sonny refuses to abandon the family farm. In a fit of temper, she takes off westward in their old battered truck. Alone on the farm and determined to get back Clara and the good old days, Sonny comes up with an idea, a way to keep his land and even prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery. He sets the scheme in motion under the cover of the commotion being caused by a rainmaker hired by the mayor to call down the thunder and wash away everyone's troubles.

Links below....


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

Ride the Lightning

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 ClubTriggerfishHouse 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: