Wednesday, 1 July 2020

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH S.W. LAUDEN


It's a pleasure to welcome Steve Lauden to the blog today to answer a few questions on his latest book, Good Girls Don't.

That'll Be The Day its predecessor was enjoyed a year ago, thoughts here 
















I’m about to read your latest book, Good Girls Don’t: A Second Power Pop Heist. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?

Couple of musician brothers from Oklahoma. Jack’s an ex-con, Jamie owns a record store. An eccentric multi-millionaire offers to fund a reunion album for their band, but in return they have to help him steal rare rock ‘n roll memorabilia. This time around they’re after a specific guitar in Hollywood that pits them against a violent gang of rival collectors. (Exactly 50 words!)

How long from conception to completion did Good Girls Don’t take?

I write these books to be quick summer reads, like the power pop songs that inspire them and act as their soundtrack. Because of the shorter length (about a hundred pages each), I’m more conscious of pace. At that length, there isn’t a lot of room for exposition and tangents. The plotting mostly happens in my mind, where I chew on the concept for about a month (sort of slowly telling myself the story) before I sit down to write out a quick outline. From there the first few drafts come relatively fast. Next I have two old friends give me unforgiving and often hilarious feedback. Then it’s more revisions before I send it to my editor, Elizabeth A. White. Revise and finalize.

What was the question again? Oh yeah…the whole process took about five months.

Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

I’ve never found writing fiction particularly easy, but with the narrow focus of these books I feel like I’ve at least given myself a foundation to work from. I believe (hope!) both books stand on their own, but the main characters and the universe they inhabit are pretty fully formed, which leaves me more room to explore the individual storylines and, of course, all the associated music.

I believe it’s your seventh work of fiction. A few of your books seem to have the backdrop of music to the plot, I’m guessing it’s an important part of your life. Do you perform yourself, or are you just a fan?



My entire young life was shaped around music. My parents weren’t huge music fans, but my two brothers—8 and 9 years older than me—definitely were. They got me into hard rock and heavy metal really young, which became my foundation. From there I discovered punk, new wave, college rock, alternative music. I took up drums as a tween, played in countless high school and college bands, and eventually signed a couple of record deals in my twenties (S.W. Lauden is my nom de plume; Steve Coulter is my nom de drum—neither are household noms). I recorded a few albums and got to tour parts of the world. It was all a lot of blurry fun.

I did that “professionally” for about a decade (although we were mostly broke since we never sold many records) before hanging it up 15 years ago. I started publishing crime fiction in the interim, but recently returned to recording and playing the occasional show, mostly for fun.

Which is a long way of saying, I guess I “write what I know.” In my mind, the music industry is the perfect environment for crime fiction with all the shady characters, back room deals, sex and drugs and alcohol, huge egos, and high stakes. I’ve written and published stories that didn’t revolve around music, but it doesn’t come as naturally for me.

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

Funny enough, the first short story I ever published was about (surprise!) a murderous rock band. This was back before I published my first Greg Salem punk rock PI novel, Bad Citizen Corporation. The story got accepted by none other than Tom Pitts, when he and Joe Clifford still ran Out of the Gutter. The story is called “Dead Beats” and was recently republished in the excellent Rock-N-Noirror anthology from 10th Rule Books.

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

I wrote a psychotic, sprawling alternative history of rock and roll in the early 2000s. More literary fiction than crime. I’m guessing that one will never see the light of day.

Other than that, I’ve written two more recent novels. I’m trying to decide if I should self-publish them, like the Power Pop Heist novelettes, or shop them around, like my previous books. Also working on some more music non-fiction, in the vein of the essay collection I co-edited with Paul Myers last year, Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation Of Power Pop.


What’s the best thing about writing? The worst?

My favorite part of writing is coming up with crazy stories and letting myself think them all the way through. The hardest part about writing is taking those ideas and translating them to the page in an interesting way.

Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read?

·       The One And Only Ivan by K.A. Applegate—Recommended by my 10-year-old daughter. It was great. I believe it will be a movie soon. I’m going to read the sequel, The One And Only Bob, next.

·       All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir by Kathy Valentine—Go-Go’s bassist. She wrote their hit “Vacation.” I based a story on that song for the Murder-A-Go-Go’s anthology curated by Holly West for Down & Out Books (the collection was recently nominated for an Anthony Award).

·       Agency by William Gibson—I’ve dug his writing since a German psych rock guitarist I know handed me a copy of Neuromancer in the late 90s.

·       Mark Rothko: From The Inside Out by Christopher Rothko—One of my favorite painters. I read a lot of rock bios, but not a lot of artist bios. This one was written by his son, but maintains a critical distance. Dense, but fascinating. Not a beach read.

·       Diary: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk—This one was recommended by the Amazon algorithm. I’ve read a few of his other books, but hadn’t come across this title from 2004. It’s a really interesting concept for a novel, and he’s obviously a great writer.





Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I read a lot, more non-fiction than fiction these days. I like documentary films, especially about music. I recently watched all of “Jazz” by Ken Burns, which was pretty mind blowing. And I just saw the new documentary, “Rolling Stone: The Death Of Brian Jones,” by Danny Garcia. My wife and I binge every new season of “Bosch” that gets released. I also often ride my bike around the foothills where I live—that’s when I clear my mind and come up with a lot of my short story and book ideas.



RANDOM TRIVIA QUESTIONS…..

What’s your favourite vegetable?


I really like the smell of roasted fennel. Mouthwatering.

When did you last have a physical fight?


Been quite a while since I got clobbered. Even longer since I threw a punch myself. You can do the math.


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

Yes. Many. Too many, but also many years ago.

Do you have any tattoos?

No.

What was your first pet’s name?

Teddy. He was a beautiful, peaceful mutt.

What’s the worst meal you’ve ever eaten?

Revenge. It was cold and bitter.

Do you have any irrational fears?

I am eternally suspicious of leftover food. I may have been poisoned in a previous life.




What’s your favourite holiday destination?

I like the sensation of paddleboarding out onto a lake by myself.




When did you last tell a lie?

My Good Girls Don’t pitch at the beginning of this interview was actually 60 words—not 50. I feel so dirty.
-------------------------
Many thanks to Steve for his time.

You can catch up with him at the following haunts

Websitehttp://swlauden.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/swlauden/

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/swlauden


Good Girls Don't is available now


In this follow up to That'll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, the Sharp brothers head to Los Angeles for a recording session at a legendary studio. Bullets fly when they steal a famous guitar from a Hollywood music store, crossing paths with a violent gang of rock & roll memorabilia collectors. The brothers soon find themselves racing across the country to protect their family and save their own skin.

Praise for "Good Girls Don't: A Second Power Pop Heist"

"Lauden sets this crime thriller series to a brilliant soundtrack featuring music royalty. The Beatles and The Who. Lauden reminds you of the songs and lets the tempo take you for a ride. Dwight Twilley, Mathew Sweet, and Raspberries. Each story moves forward like a song. Spanning Austin, Memphis, Hollywood, and back, these books take the reader on a feverishly fun ride through rock & roll history." — Marietta Miles, "May" and "Route 12"

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH MICHELLE DUNNE

Michelle Dunne, author of the brilliant While Nobody is Watching - thoughts on the blog yesterday here, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me on her reading and writing habits. 























I’m about to start reading your latest novel, While Nobody is Watching, soon to be published by BAD PRESS iNK. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?

Take a former soldier with PTSD and mix vigorously with the cities ‘troubled youth’. Add some addicts, a hooker and a menacing stalker and boil until the mixture explodes. The ending... you won’t see it coming.

Do you think it's your best work to date?

I do! I’m so in love with each and every character in this book, I really don’t know how I’ll leave them behind. I know for a fact that I'll be taking Lindsey Ryan along on my next adventure.

Did it end up being the book you envisaged when you sat down to commence writing it?

I didn’t quite know what I envisaged when I sat down to this one. I got a spark of inspiration for two characters, Lindsey and Frank (her German Shepherd dog). The youth centre and all the characters and storylines there just sort of happened, but they took the book in a direction I hadn’t anticipated and now I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

How long from the germ of an idea to completion did it take?

My first drafts always happen very quickly. When inspiration strikes, I’m in a mad rush to get it all down on paper, so usually about 3 months. But then I become very, very critical and the final draft ends up being a million miles from the first. This one took about a year in total.

Any doubts or major bumps in the road along the way? How difficult was it to find a home for the book?

Actually, for the first time, I had no doubts on this. I started submitting and early in the process I found BAD PRESS iNK, a new and, clearly from their website, different publishing house. Within a few weeks, Pat (editor extraordinaire) got in touch and following a chat via Skype, I knew that this was the right home for my baby and I wasn't wrong.

I believe it’s your third book to be published but your first in the suspense/mystery/crime field. Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader first?

It would depend on the person and what they want to get from a book at the time. The one thing that each of my books has in common is that they each lack the saccharine element. They're rooted in real life with real problems, but while The Turbulent Series (Did Someone Order Cactus? and It's Just Turbulence) appeal more to a female audience, While Nobody Is Watching is more of a thriller with a military twist and some younger characters who I feel bring another dimension to the book. This one has something for everyone, so would be easy to recommend to any reader.






















Do you have a favourite of the three?

That’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is! I don't have a favourite! *Whispers out the side of her mouth* THE THIRD ONE!

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

I used to. Before I had a child. Now I just tote my laptop around with me and write whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.

Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters? Would they recognise themselves?

Short answer, no. But all of my characters have elements of people I know.  I’ve met so many real characters during my lifetime that I can write just about any type of person, good or bad or very different, and I'll be able relate them in my own head to someone I've come across in real life. People might recognise some of their personality in one of my characters, but generally speaking, they’re all fictional.

Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

I totally make it up as I go along. I'll have an outline of a story in my head, or in this case, strong characters and a theme (PTSD and mental health), but after that, I don't know what’s about to happen until it happens! Then I hone it and improve upon it in later drafts. I don’t know if I’d enjoy the process as much if I spent too much time planning.

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

I have one that’s been a bit of a labour of love for me, called Playing the Game. It's a fictional book based on my time in the army and with the UN. I actually began writing it out of annoyance after reading yet another very negative account of what it’s like being a woman in the army. My experience shaped me and was overall very positive, but I’d never seen a positive account written. I discovered pretty early that I’m not suited to non-fiction writing, so I wrote about a group of fictional characters (my military friends will recognise themselves and five others in each character), their day to day life and the challenges they face while serving at home and overseas. And of course the camaraderie that drags them through.

What’s the current project in progress?

I’m working on a follow-up Lindsey Ryan novel called The People Upstairs. It's a stand-alone book, but I did tell you that Lindsey Ryan would be coming along on my next adventure!

What’s the best thing about writing?

The escapism. You’re creating this whole other world and when you’re ‘in the zone’, you're there, living someone else’s life. Then your actual life comes calling and you have to try to tune back into the real world again. Until next time.

The worst?

When I'm really excited about where my story is going, but life prevents me from being able to sit down and disappear into it (for hours and hours and hours). I find I get a bit cranky around then.

Moving on...

What are the last five books you’ve read?

1) Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
2) Shantarum by Gregory David Roberts
3) The Guardians by John Grisham
4) The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter
5) Blue Moon by Lee Child

 



Who do you read and enjoy?

My taste in books is quite broad, but I love a good thriller, so Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Patricia Cornwell – I'll pretty much buy their books without even reading the blurb. I know they’re gonna be good.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Where the Crawdads Sing – it’s stunning.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I do love taking a wander up a mountain. Nothing beats the cuppa at the top!

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

I loved Hacksaw Ridge and pretty much anything directed by Clint Eastwood. I'll probably watch Baz Luhrmann’s Australia a few more times before I die too.




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

I love a good series! Homeland was one of my favourites and I'll watch The Pacific and Band of Brothers from the start every time they roll them out again. Game of Thrones obviously, but I also love the lighter stuff like Chicago Fire, Grey’s Anatomy, Blue Bloods – stuff that you can switch off to for an hour.



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

This is very random but 1) Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have you ever seen the rain 2) Maroon 5 – Sunday Morning 3) Sweet Child O’Mine (Sheryl Crow version)





RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS 

What’s your favourite vegetable?

Roasted peppers.

When did you last have a physical fight?

Never.



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

No.

Do you have any tattoos?

No.

What was your first pet’s name?

Nico (a fish)

Do you have any irrational fears?

Yes – fish. (I know... the irony)



 What’s your favourite holiday destination?

Anywhere. Literally. A holiday is a holiday as far as I'm concerned!

 When did you last tell a lie?

When I said that I'd never been thrown out of a club (and that I didn't have tattoos) :-D
-------------------------

Many thanks to Michelle for her time.

You can catch up with her at the following haunts


Twitter - https://twitter.com/NotDunneYet  


While Nobody is Watching is available now.


A semi-inflated football and a curious little girl.

They called it peacekeeping. For Corporal Lindsey Ryan it was anything but.

It’s been three years since that bright day in the Golan Heights and the explosion which killed two and changed the survivors forever.

Now Lindsey deals with the many problems of the city’s troubled youth, to distract her from her own. But as damp days turn to night the kids return home, or somewhere like it, and she returns to her own private war. One that exists solely for her.

Certain that she’s being watched and certain that she’s losing her mind, Lindsey battles with the demons of post traumatic stress, while a very real threat edges ever closer until she finds herself face to face with someone who wants nothing more than to finally help her to die.

And it’s the last person she ever could have seen coming.

Blue helmets and blurred lines - While Nobody is Watching delves into the dark world of PTSD and a battle scarred soldier struggling to find a place in her new world.

MICHELLE DUNNE - WHILE NOBODY IS WATCHING (2020)


Synopsis/blurb....

A semi-inflated football and a curious little girl.

They called it peacekeeping. For Corporal Lindsey Ryan it was anything but.

It’s been three years since that bright day in the Golan Heights and the explosion which killed two and changed the survivors forever.

Now Lindsey deals with the many problems of the city’s troubled youth, to distract her from her own. But as damp days turn to night the kids return home, or somewhere like it, and she returns to her own private war. One that exists solely for her.

Certain that she’s being watched and certain that she’s losing her mind, Lindsey battles with the demons of post traumatic stress, while a very real threat edges ever closer until she finds herself face to face with someone who wants nothing more than to finally help her to die.

And it’s the last person she ever could have seen coming.

Blue helmets and blurred lines - While Nobody is Watching delves into the dark world of PTSD and a battle scarred soldier struggling to find a place in her new world.

A powerful novel which I'm not ashamed to admit, brought me close to tears on several occasions.

I think the book worked for me on two levels. Firstly, there's a mystery to be solved. Lindsey Ryan, our main protagonist is in danger. Someone is out to get her. Lindsey initially has suspicions and a heightened spidey sense of being followed and the paranoia of maybe imagining it. Events escalate throughout the book, definite confirmation and increasing threats, vandalism and physical attack with a more permanent fate in mind for her from her enemy.

Initially reluctant to involve the police or share with her ex-army friends, during the course of the book, Lindsey comes to rely more on people and become less isolated and solitary, though she's still extremely private and independent. There are a few candidates for stalker-cum-killer which come in and out of focus throughout the book, before the identity of the actual threat is revealed. I enjoyed this aspect of the book and the plot held together. I was surprised by the culprit, but didn't feel as if the author had cheated on me in the set up. I just honestly hadn't considered them as a possibility.

The other elements of the tale which had a deeper affect on me was the generosity of spirit, the warmth, the compassion and the humanity on display from more than one broken and damaged character. And without sounding like a pseudo knit-your-own-yoghurt hippy there's also the healing powers of the countryside, the mountains, the fresh air, the exercise, the get away from it all peace of nature vibe, which from personal experience I can testify does wonders for mental health.

Back to the characters....

Lindsey herself, working with troubled and wayward youth...... guiding, supporting, mentoring, listening, caring - all maybe part of an unconscious therapy for herself, deflecting attention from her own problems and issues and giving herself time to heal. But how can you ask a teenager to trust you if you aren't willing to open yourself up to others?

Kathleen, the quayside whore, doing what she has to do to survive but retaining compassion for a broken soul.

Sheila, the kitchen help at the youth centre, devoted to the children and putting in long hours and hard miles for the sake of the youngsters. A mother hen to Lindsey, with a warm word or a harsh one depending on the circumstances.

Mr Hennessy, the kindly neighbour; Sinead, the Garda and her colleague; Jason - the caring paramedic; Adam - the gym owning ex-army best friend and guardian angel.... all offering friendship, love, support, advice, all non-judgemental and all proferred without calculating a return for their efforts.

Lastly, Frank the dog. Loyal, brave, obedient and sensitive to Lindsey's moods and what she needs. How can I not love Frank when our own family dog is the named the same. If only my Frank was like her Frank......

Lots to like here - a story with an interesting problem to be solved, some PTSD on the loose and at large, plenty of raw emotion and current day issues rearing their ugly heads... drugs, family problems, abuse, a lack of hope and direction, intriguing characters, a Cork setting and not over long.

4.5 from 5

Hopefully, Michelle Dunne will have a second Lindsey Ryan book coming down the pike at some point.

Read - June, 2020
Published - 2020
Page count - 213
Source - review copy received from publicist Wiley Saichek
Format - PDF read on laptop

Monday, 29 June 2020

MICHELLE DUNNE - WHILE NOBODY IS WATCHING - BEHIND THE BOOK

Irish author, Michelle Dunne's third book - While Nobody is Watching was published a couple of days ago. (It's very good!)

Michelle was kind enough to offer some insight into its origins.....






















Behind the Book

While Nobody Is Watching came about quite by accident really and all because I got fired up about something else entirely!

Let me explain. My first ‘real’ job was that of infantry soldier in the Irish army. On my very first day as a recruit, I met some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for and my experiences, both at home and overseas with the UN were a mix of good, bad and crazy, but they amounted to the most positive learning curve of my life. The types of relationships that form in frontline services like the defence forces are second to none. They help shape the kind of person you become and they can inspire you in a million different ways.

My career as a writer came later and actually my first two books, Did Someone Order Cactus? and It’s Just Turbulence fall into the women’s fiction genre. Although my time in the army left a very positive impact on me, it never occurred to me to write about it… until I read a memoir written by an Irish female soldier, which told a very, very different story from mine. It was awful. Every page told of bullying and harassment and none of it surprised me. Not because I’d experienced much of it myself, though narrow minded bullies are everywhere, sadly. But the good massively outweighed the bad in my experience, and likewise it seemed for most of the women that I served with. The reason why this depressing account of life as a female soldier didn’t surprise me was because it seems only the negative accounts ever get told! This bothered me immensely and I got right up on my high horse about it. I had a little rant to an editor I was working with at the time, who suggested that I write it from another point of view, if it bothered me that much. So I did. Or at least, I started to.

Turns out, I’m not suited to non-fiction writing. I don’t tend to bank away details of who said what to whom and I feel those tidbits are too important to get wrong, so instead, I wrote another work of fiction, based on my own experiences with the army and UN, called Playing the Game. The characters were made up of all the different real characters I’d met through the years and I loved it.

Or at least I did until someone suggested that it needed a love interest or some kind of romantic angle and I stupidly listened. Before I knew it, Playing the Game was too far from where I wanted it to be, so I filed it away until such time as I can return to it with fresh eyes and bring it back to where it’s meant to be.

I decided then that it was time to take a break from writing and my resolve in this lasted all of fifteen minutes. Or as long as it took for me to make a cup of tea and have a scroll through my phone, because that’s when it happened. I clicked on a video about service dogs. Why wouldn’t I? They’re only the most amazing creatures on this planet. The owner of this particular dog, at first glance, didn’t look like the kind of person who needed any assistance at all. He was a big, burly guy whose good looks made it easy for him to have the confidence that he seemed to have. But when he started to speak, it became clear that the four legged wonder by his side was more than just a dog to him. The man was a US army veteran living with PTSD and his dog was his lifeline.

My untouched tea turned cold as two characters appeared, already fully formed, in my mind. One was a German Shepherd named Frank and the other, his owner, Lindsey Ryan, and because my mind was already filled with military characters at that point, it was no surprise that Lindsey was a former soldier in the Irish army, whose life is changed forever while serving with the UN, as the Irish have done for so many years. I opened my laptop and the book wrote itself. I believe that everything in life happens as and when it should and this combination of experiences and annoyances led me to writing a book that I otherwise might not have. And it’s a book that I love with all my heart.

While Nobody Is Watching delves into the dark world of PTSD and that of a former soldier struggling to find a place in her new world. But her new high risk lifestyle has gained her the unwanted attention of a menacing stranger and Lindsey is left to decipher which threats are real and who, other than herself, might want her dead.

While Nobody Is Watching - published by BAD PRESS iNK on June 27 PTSD awareness day 2020. For your copy, ask your local bookshop. Alternatively all Michelle Dunne books are available on Amazon and through www.michelledunnebooks.com





A semi-inflated football and a curious little girl.

They called it peacekeeping. For Corporal Lindsey Ryan it was anything but.

It’s been three years since that bright day in the Golan Heights and the explosion which killed two and changed the survivors forever.

Now Lindsey deals with the many problems of the city’s troubled youth, to distract her from her own. But as damp days turn to night the kids return home, or somewhere like it, and she returns to her own private war. One that exists solely for her.

Certain that she’s being watched and certain that she’s losing her mind, Lindsey battles with the demons of post traumatic stress, while a very real threat edges ever closer until she finds herself face to face with someone who wants nothing more than to finally help her to die.

And it’s the last person she ever could have seen coming.

Blue helmets and blurred lines - While Nobody is Watching delves into the dark world of PTSD and a battle scarred soldier struggling to find a place in her new world.


Sunday, 28 June 2020

ROB PIERCE - VERN IN THE HEAT (2016)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Vern is a dangerous man—he makes illegal exchanges safe. Until someone tries to rip off a drug deal he’s working and he gets blamed. Now both gangs involved are after him, including the one he works for. And he’s going to clear his name, no matter who he has to kill in the process.

Praise for VERN IN THE HEAT:

“Rob Pierce is one of the more imaginative literary voices in our new emerging era of noir.” —James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor

“Rob Pierce is urban noir’s high priest from the mean streets.” —Joe Clifford, author of Lamentation and December Boys

“Rob Pierce is a new talent that cuts deep into the underbelly of society and rips the guts and heart out of his protagonist.” —Lou Boxer, Noircon

Third outing with author Rob Pierce after enjoying Tommy Shakes earlier this year and Uncle Dust prior to that. I enjoyed it but it's my least favourite of his so far.

All the usual themes that I enjoy were present....... a law breaker and outlaw as a main character, a drug deal going wrong, deceit and a double cross, beer, heat, some conflict at play and a few issues to be settled with thought, applied intellect, negotiation and no little measures of violence before our main man Vern gets things back into what passes for kilter in a gangster's world. Along the way he has old flame Deria as a partner..... sex, romance,  and maybe love for our modern day Bonnie and Clyde.

Decent story,  interesting characters, great dialogue, fast pace, Berkeley setting, and not over long.

I think what I was missing was some real empathy or connection that made me concerned with Vern and the overall outcome.

3.5 from 5

Read - May, 2020
Published - 2016
Pge count - 176
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle read

Saturday, 27 June 2020

MIKE MONSON - WHAT HAPPENS IN RENO (2014)


Synopsis/blurb......

Matt Hodges is not a good husband. He’s unemployed, a drunk, and a compulsive gambler. His wife Lydia has basically written him off. However, with a small inheritance coming, Matt promised Lydia he’d not only pay for the cosmetic surgery she so craves, but that he’d also get them out of debt. Unfortunately for Lydia, as soon as the check is cashed, Matt heads for Reno to try his hand at high-stakes poker, and to stay as drunk as possible for as long as possible. Meanwhile, back home in Modesto, Lydia plots with a local violent criminal (who happens to be her new lover) to find Matt and get the cash for themselves before it’s all gone. What happens when they all finally meet in Reno will be our little secret, okay?

An entertaining one-sitting read of a book, following the misadventures of a train-wreck of a man breaking more promises to his wife and fecklessly embarking on another whirlwind gambling trip to Reno. A trip which is funny and sad, filled with incident and never less than entertaining. 

A marriage on the rocks, broken promises, comfort elsewhere with infidelity, though a better choice of partner might have been wiser, an inheritance, another poor choice fuelled by an overwhelming compulsion to gamble, a rescue mission launched - if the man's beyond saving, maybe the money isn't.

Addiction is ugly and whatever the poison, it's an illness that impacts greatly not just on the addict himself but the close family surrounding him. Never truer than here, with a myriad of casualties suffering the chaos that ensues from Hodges' trip to Reno.

Fast-moving, violent, irreverent, humorous but also serious and uncomfortable reading in places.

4 from 5

I've enjoyed a collection of short stories from Mike Monson in the past - Criminal Love and Other Stories in 2014. There's more from him on the pile.

Read - May, 2020
Published - 2014 originally. I read All Due Respect's 2015 edition.
Page count - 136
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

LAWRENCE BLOCK - DEAD GIRL BLUES (2020)


Synopsis/blurb....

You might as well know this going in: Lawrence Block’s new novel is not for everyone. It’s recounted in journal form by its protagonist, and begins when he walks into a roadhouse outside of Bakersfield, California, and walks out with a woman.

And rapes and murders her.

But, um, not in that order.

Right. But it’s what he does with the rest of his life that’s really interesting…

Lawrence Block has been writing and publishing crime fiction for sixty years. He’s received recognition for lifetime achievement in the US and the UK. His books have won awards and occasionally show up on bestseller lists. Several of them have been fimed.

Here’s what he’s said about DEAD GIRL BLUES:

“I don't think it's terribly commercial. And there are elements that will put off a lot of readers.

“But, see, Dead Girl Blues doesn't owe me a thing. I hadn't planned to write it, so it doesn't have to bring in money to justify the time I spent on it. The book is its own justification. I'll publish it myself, on my 82nd birthday, and all of y'all can buy it or not buy it, read it or not read it, and like it or not like it.

“I've shown it to some friends whose opinions I trust, and they told me that Dead Girl Blues is one of the very best things I've ever written. And then they added that they could see where it might have problems.

“So I read it again last week, and I realized DGB was exactly the book I wanted it to be. And how often does that happen? And what more could an old man possibly ask for?”

A new Lawrence Block novel on his 82nd birthday, what more could a fan of his work want?

A confessional novel in the form of a journal, as a man recounts events of his restless youth when he murdered and raped a woman he met in a bar, before leaving behind that life and reinventing himself as a new man.

We look back at the monster and try and reconcile these events with the happily married man, with the successful business, the cozy suburban life, the well-adjusted children and the respect of the community.

In the reading of his journal, we are privy to more insight than the sanitised confession to his son and wife. The family are somewhat surprisingly undisturbed by his revelation. It's a marked contrast to I think how my own would react to me confessing to a murder I committed in my long distant past, based on previous conversations we have had.

The journal reveals a more sadistic and spirited predator, albeit one that has managed to exercise supreme self-control for the vast majority of his life. His consensual sex life with his wife and their shared fantasy offering release and catharticism for his urges.

In the lead up to the family news and story time, our man wrestles with a few dilemnas. His murder victim is the subject of a cold case investigation and his son has unwittingly set in motion a chain of events which may preface an unwelcome knock at the door.

Disturbing, yet enjoyable. I wonder what it says about a reader who can enjoy a book like this.

4.5 from 5

Read - June, 2020
Published - 2020
Page count - 218
Source - review copy from one of the author's assistants
Format - Kindle read on laptop

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

DON WINSLOW - THE FORCE (2017)


Synopsis/blurb....

‘Probably the best cop novel ever written’ Lee Child

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Cartel – winner of the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for Best Thriller of the Year – comes The Force, a cinematic epic as explosive, powerful, and unforgettable as The Wire.

Everyone can be bought. At the right price…

Detective sergeant Denny Malone leads an elite unit to fight gangs, drugs and guns in New York. For eighteen years he’s been on the front lines, doing whatever it takes to survive in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone himself is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash. Now he’s caught in a trap and being squeezed by the FBI, and he must walk a thin line of betrayal, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Don Winslow’s latest novel is a haunting story of greed and violence, inequality and race, and a searing portrait of a city on the edge of an abyss. Full of shocking twists, this is a morally complex and riveting dissection of the controversial issues confronting society today.

‘There won’t be a better cop novel this year than The Force by Don Winslow. Not next year, or the year after that, either’ Linwood Barclay

13 hours and 26 minutes of my life I'll never get back. Only joking.

It's been a few years since I read anything by Don Winslow, despite seeming to accumulate his latest books whenever they get released. Far too long really and a mistake I won't make again going forward.

The Force is pretty special ........ New York cops, an elite team let by a man with a massive ego and balls that he probably carts around in a wheelbarrow - Denny Malone. Malone and his crew are tough and charged with keeping the streets safe and they're dirty.

Complex, layered, and one which left this reader conflicted.

Lots of drugs, aggressive policing, independence, cop on skell action, CIs, mean streets, targets, pressure from above, rivalries, criminal gangs, race, family, loyalty, heritage, infidelity, team, friendships, dirt, corruption, suspicion, take-downs, murder, entrapment, conflict, dilemna, betrayal, separation, politics, neighbourhood, investigation and a zillion other things besides.

Not a lot of black and white, loads of grey on display, with plenty of compromises and accommodations and ambiguity. Malone is interesting as a character, but he's not particularly likable. He gets bad guys off the streets, but he fills his pockets at the same time. He inspires loyalty and his guys would run through brick walls for him. He's the alpha male in the pack with an ego to boot. He treats his wife appallingly, but professes to love her. He has enemies within and outside of the force and when his nuts are caught in a vice. He has a choice.... hobson's choice maybe.

One to read again in print at some point in the future. This audible version had a fantastic narration by Dion Graham. There's a real intensity and passion to his narration that puts you in the head of Malone and which drives the book forward.

As well as an examination of one man's choices and conflicts and weaknesses. There's also a wider look at how a police force operates within a community, how it serves those people and sometimes fails them.  How there's a real us and them mentality within the force and that the badge and motto to protect and serve, only goes so far and can be subverted to self interest - protect the force and close ranks. Similarly the City Hall powers operate in a bubble, concerned with appearances and presentation. Image more important than justice, fairness or truth.

I'm in slight disagreement with Lee Child and Linwood Barclay over whether this is the best cop novel ever. I think I'd go with Ellroy's LA Confidential ahead of this one. It's close though.

4.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) May, 2020
Published - 2017
Page count - 496 (13 hrs 26 mins)
Source - purchased copy
Format - Audible

Monday, 22 June 2020

COLIN CONWAY and FRANK ZAFIRO - NEVER THE CRIME (2020)


Synopsis/blurb...

The Tyler Garrett Saga Continues…

Spokane Police Officer Tyler Garrett is a man of many different images. To the public, he is a once-maligned and now redeemed cop, the victim of public prejudice and city politics. To the Chief of Police and the Mayor, he is a good cop, falsely accused and thankfully back to work. To his wife, a man she no longer knows. And to those who know his secret, he is the most terrible thing any police officer can be—a traitor to his badge.

Clear of the controversy that surrounded him less than two years ago, Garrett is moving on and getting his life back in order. Meanwhile, Detective Wardell Clint remains on the hunt for any evidence against him that proves what Clint already knows—that Tyler Garrett is dirty. Clint has vowed to stop at nothing to bring down Garrett once and for all.

In the midst of Clint’s efforts, a rash of new city hall scandals break out, including a suspicious death, and Tyler Garrett inserts himself into the investigation. But he isn’t the only one. No one seems immune to being drawn into the web of dirty politics. Officer Gary Stone, assigned as a liaison to city hall, finds himself thrown into the midst of this maelstrom, struggling as his loyalties and ethics are challenged. The mayor, the chief, councilmembers, police captains, and news reporters all square off, each with their own agenda.

Before it ends, everyone will learn that it’s never the crime that causes downfall, but the following cover-up.

The follow on from the fantastic Charlie 316 and one I enjoyed nearly as much as its predecessor.

The events of Never the Crime still take place in Spokane, Washington and the cast of characters is similar to the previous book, with some new players introduced into the drama and some minor characters given more of a voice. My favourite, the incorruptible Wardell Clint, doesn't feature quite as much in the early stages of the book, but comes to the fore later on.

Similar in theme to the previous book...... dirty doings at City Hall, inappropriate behaviour, media outings, the court of public opinion, corruption, under the table payments, a teenage suicide, a hush hush investigation, a fake friendship, murder, press leaks, a female cop in command and trying to prove her worth, a patrol cop under pressure, inter agency cooperations, mental health issues, interactions in the community, complaints and career jeopardy, an ambitious politician, a slippery old foe - the mayor, the police chief and Tyler Garrett - the main player in the last book and an ongoing thorn in Wardell Clint's side.

Another fast read, another page turner and one probably best enjoyed after reading the first, Charlie 316, in my opinion.

Topical in tone with the behaviour of the police hierarchy and politicians exposed and under scrutiny, their motivations and scheming explored and examined from opposing viewpoints. We also see the daily routine of a good guy patrol cop, the decision making, the snap judgements, the frustrations, the balancing act between firm authority and over the line aggression, the fears, the bravery, and the doubts .

A satisfying read and again an over-riding and unresolved story arc still very much in play. Roll on book 3.

4.5 from 5

Charlie 316 the first in the series was enjoyed earlier in the month. Thoughts here.

Colin Conway

Frank Zafiro














Read - June, 2020
Published - 2020
Page count - 444
Source - review copy received from co-author Frank Zafiro
Format - Kindle read on laptop