Friday 28 February 2020



Lawrence Block's new collection assembles seven works of fiction written over a period of sixty years.

"Hard Sell," a story ghost-written under Craig Rice's name, appeared in the first issue of Ed McBain's Mystery Magazinein 1960, and features Rice's hard-drinking yet clear-thinking lawyer, John J.Malone.

"Dead to the World," which appeared under a one-shot pen name in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, has been lost for years, and the story of how it was lost and found is as interesting as the story itself.

The same is true of "Whatever It Takes," written over a quarter of a century ago and never submitted anywhere, because the author filed it away and forgot about it; he came upon it, dusted it off, and sent it to AHMM where it was published.

"I Know How to Pick 'Em" was written for Dangerous Women, the George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology, and a holdback clause in the contract kept it out of LB's previous collections.

"Autumn at the Automat" was also written for an anthology, LB's own In Sunlight or in Shadow, and won an Edgar Allan Poe award as Best Story of the Year. 

"Gym Rat" has never appeared in print; it was ePublished as part of a Center for Fiction project. While readers have suggested the protagonist might return for further appearances, LB is doubtful. Still, he's been mistaken before. 

"Resume Speed," the title novella, was published in hardcover (by the stellar Subterranean Press) and as a Kindle Single (by the author). Subterranean's edition is out of print and hard to come by, and the story now appears in paperback for the first time. While it was written only a couple of years ago, it has its roots in a story the author overheard perhaps 40 years ago. All of the circumstances of its origin, and a good deal more about each of these stories, may be found in LB's foreword. But, if you don't care, you can just skip it and go straight to the stories themselves.

A cracking collection of short stories/novellas from Lawrence Block. All but one of the pieces were new to me, which is hardly surprising since the entertaining author introduction recounts "losing" and refinding a couple of them. I've enjoyed Resume Speed, the title piece before and it hasn't lost any of its power in a second visit.

Introduction .... informative, entertaining, the opposite of boring and apparently about 3300 words long

Hard Sell ...... one death, two deaths, three deaths, four - and a panicking magazine owner pleading to our hard drinking lawyer to find out who is killing his men and trying to ruin him.

Dead to the World ..... a woman, a marriage, a death, a widow..... repeat

Whatever it Takes ....... cops seek an informer to turn evidence, who cracks first - the potential witness, the target, the cop

I Know How to Pick 'Em ..... a bar, one woman, two men, pick one. The wrong one.

Autumn at the Automat ...... a woman practices her loved one's teachings at a diner

Gym Rat ...... two guys, one with a proposition

Resume Speed .... a stranger comes to town, makes a life and leaves abruptly

I'm hard pushed to pick a favourite. Three standout for me in particular - Autumn at the Automat, which I think one Mr Block an Edgar for best short story, Gym Rat and Resume Speed.

I think what's quite unusual is that in every collection or anthology of stories there's always one or two that pass me by where I'm scratching my head. Here that's not the case. 

Bars, diners, short order cooks, customers, widows, wannabe widows, wannabe widowers, drink, pills, sex - exciting, incestuous, calculating, fatal, memory loss, bereavement, plans, a con, debt, gambling, unhappy marriages, death and more

None of the stories seem rushed or hurried, all unfold at a leisurely pace. All have a decent payoff - except for the last which haunts me and leaves me wondering if only or why.

Great writing, great attention to detail, interesting characters with different agendas and motivations. Highly recommended.

5 from 5

Smooth narration as per usual from Theo Holland.

Read - (listened to) January, 2020
Published - 2018
Page count - 176 (4 hrs 56 mins)
Source - Audible download code received from author's assistant
Format - Audible

* Resume Speed was also released by Lawrence Block as a standalone and enjoyed previously in 2016

A man on a bus disembarks before his ticketed stop and constructs a new life for himself in Cross Creek. Bill, our man gets a job, finds lodgings and settles into a routine. He's cautious, he's wary of possibly being followed or being the subject of unwanted curiosity. He makes friends with his boss at the diner, who likes his ideas and his reliability. Bill seems to settle. There is a growing friendship with the divorced librarian. Dinner soon followed by sleepovers. He buys a car, he discusses an offer to buy the diner and he's making plans for a future in the town.

If this was a fairy tale, they'd all live happily ever after, but this is Lawrence Block. Bill has his secrets; secrets that not even he fully knows, but he has his suspicions......

Superb in every way..... character, setting, pacing, an ever increasing tension infused with hints of paranoia. As soon as it finished, I was half tempted to start it over again. Genius Block.

5 from 5

I've read Lawrence Block many time before. I only wished I had discovered him ten years earlier than I eventually did!

Read in December,
Published - 2016
Page count - 97
Source - Kindle Unlimited
Format - Kindle




The Nameless Detective is called upon to find out how rare books and maps are being stolen from an antiquarian bookshop with a faultless alarm system. He goes undercover in the store, only to be foiled when a theft occurs right under his nose. Then, as he ponders the case (while on a date with the lovely Kerry), he's violently struck from behind by a car that seems bent on driving him off the road. Will Nameless survive this attempt on his life and solve the case?

©1982 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust. All rights reserved. (P)2011 BBC Audiobooks

A second outing for this audiobook after having first listened to it back in 2015.

At the time of first listening to it I was immersed in Pronzini's Nameless series and was trying to read my way through it at a pace of a book a month. I was familiar with our PI's quirks and foibles and romance and pulp magazine collecting hobby.

Second time around and having temporarily abandoned (it's only 4 years or so since my last) the Nameless reading project I had a bit of distance on the character. Here I'm kind of less enamored by him. He seems a tad desperate and needy in the throes of his fledgling romance with Kerry.

The case is interesting, though I did remember who the guilty party was and also the outcome. There are elements of a locked room mystery and possibly an author hat-tip to an earlier age. Or I'm talking nonsense as I don't read that many - scrub that, any really.

A timely reminder to get back to the series books at some point.   

A four star tale last time - probably a three and a half this.

Read - (listened to) February, 2020
Published - 2007
Page count - unknown (2 hours 7 minutes)
Source - Audible Free Download
Format - Audible

* For the sake of completism, last time's thoughts below.....

My take......

My first audio-book ever and a bit of spooky synchronicity. I was doing a chore or two around the house and it would have been impractical, nay on impossible to complete with a book in one hand, so having spotted this earlier in the month as a free audible download on Amazon, it was a case of kill two birds with the one stone.

By good fortune events in Booktaker take place several weeks after Nameless’ last case Hoodwink, which I only read a fortnight ago. (Booktaker in print is part of the Casefile collection of short stories which was the 11th or 12th release in the series, so something I’ll be seeing again in a few month’s time!)

A new experience for me then and an enjoyable one as the narration is quite smooth and soothing. Nick Sullivan is the voice. I can’t say that the face or name or even the voice is immediately familiar, but looking at his website – he has added his dulcet tones to many a recognisable book.

Anyway back to the case at hand and Nameless is engaged by antiquarian book seller in order to discover who among his staff is responsible for the recent glut of theft of valuable maps from his store. Nameless, bored and alone as new-found love Kerry is working out of town for a few days, takes the case and starts work in the store as a new clerk.

With a staff of four, Nameless tries to get close to all of the employees with limited success. When another map goes missing, this time when Kerry is in store book browsing, the owner’s patience is severely tested. An employee quits in disgust at being requested to submit to a body-search and the rest of the staff aren’t carrying the map on their person.

A frustrated Nameless is on his way to dinner with Kerry an hour or two later, when a chance remark from her sets his brain cogs turning and the solution is at hand. Before its revealed our love-struck pair are nearly run off the road by a motorist. More than coincidence, as our book thief has realised the mistake he’s made and is endeavouring to take murderous retribution before he’s exposed.

127 minutes long and an enjoyable encounter.

4 from 5

Audible freebie from Amazon UK.

Listened to in August, 2015

Thursday 27 February 2020



Eddie Nelson is a professional poker player, testing his skills in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker for the first time. Unfortunately, he's on the worst run of his life and can't afford his buy-in to the Main Event. Then he meets a shadowy figure called Raphael who offers to back him for a fifty-fifty split of any winnings. But if he loses, he has to play in a private tournament of Raphael's choosing...

Drawing Dead is a tale of poker and vampires by Scott McKenzie, author of One Day in Gitmo Nation, Death by Autopen and Rebirth.

I read this one a few years back and enjoyed it. With an Audible edition somehow in my library, I thought I could stand re-visiting this 90 page novella.

Not usually one for vampires here the story worked for me. I think what I particularly liked most was McKenzie's depiction of how Eddie Nelson fell into full-time gambling. A passing interest, turning into an online obsession - the lost hours, the secret nature developing, the damage to a relationship, the loss of employment - all of them happening but less damaging at the time to Eddie because it's all on the up and up. He's winning, he's making a name for himself and he has ambitions.

Cue Vegas and a continuation of the good times before the inevitable crash and burn and with a new backer and a second chance, though whether it's all for the good is debatable. A second important character gets introduced near the end - a female version of Eddie and the cycle begins to repeat.

There's a lot of tension on display as Eddie navigates his high-stakes poker games. I got the gist of most of the action but some of the rules regarding Texas Holdem kind of eluded me and TBH I've zero interest in digging in to find out more. I kind of think I'd rather undergo root canal surgery without anaesthetic that take a trip to Las Vegas and the gaudy strip and casinos. But hey that's just me.

I quite liked the narration, though maybe the Manc accent wasn't quite nailed on.

4 from 5

Read - (listened to) February, 2020
Published - 2014
Page count - 90 (1 hr 47 min)
Source - purchased copy
Format - Audible

* 2014 REVIEW BELOW......

A bit off the usual track as far as my reading tastes are concerned, but an enjoyable 90 page excursion to Vegas in the company of an aspiring poker professional.

I do like books that delve into the mindset of the gambler, whether it’s the suave, ice-in-the-blood professional with the stony countenance, or the sweaty, fidgety, small stakes hustler whose life flashes before him as he desperately awaits the turn of the final card, bringing either temporary salvation or ruin.

I’m less fond of vampires myself, but it was an interesting tale, well told and it kept my attention. Great setting with the bright lights and strip well described, as well as the seedier side away from the glamour of the big casinos. I got a feel for Eddie’s hopes and dreams and fortunes which rose and fell on the turn of the cards. Our poker games were explained and strategized as the hands unfolded, with McKenzie ratcheting up the tension as the games climaxed. This was done without ever feeling as if I was reading a “how-to” guide.

Scott McKenzie
The ending was slightly telegraphed and a bit predictable, but overall a decent way to pass a couple of hours. I usually ask myself after finishing something whether I’d want to read more by the author in future. On this occasion – it’s a yes, but probably on the proviso that the vampires stay in the closet next time around and the tale has all its roots firmly in the real world.

4 from 5.

I accessed this one when it was a freebie over on Smashwords either late last year or earlier this.

The author has his website here.

Tuesday 25 February 2020



Isaac Reid, a former professional thief, has just finished a ten-year stint in prison for a botched job turned bloodbath. Now all he wants is to go straight and make amends with his wife and young son. On his first night of freedom his loved ones are brutally slain by a bitter enemy. Surviving the encounter, Isaac struggles with his choices: do right by his late family’s wishes and abide by the law, or seek vengeance. But he’ll need to decide quickly, as another mysterious force from his past is now in play: a cold killer wearing a wolf mask, leading a band of pig-masked assassins. To Isaac, these men are strangers, but they’re prepared to kill any who get between them and him.

A book from Book Sirens review site that I was attracted to initially because of the cover. I think I'm equally enthralled and repelled by animal masks. (Dead President's masks have a similar effect.) Add a pig mask to a horror film, however lame and I'm hiding behind the sofa. Once I'd seen the image I needed to look at the book.

Interesting premise - an ex-con (always a tick in the box) just out and looking to go straight. Until his wife and child are murdered. So basically a tale of revenge and street justice as events from the past come back into play, though we have more than one candidate looking for retribution.

Our sympathies lie with Isaac, the now family-less ex-con, though because of the speed of the demise of his wife and son, I didn't really feel the loss as intensely as our main man. Maybe if we had spent more time reconnecting with the family after a ten year incarceration, I would have been more invested emotionally in the book.

There's a decent story. Events today are triggered from the fall-out from a botched kidnap which saw Isaac put away for ten years. Determined to go straight and win back his family, he's severed ties with his former accomplices. The demise of his family and with two different pursuers on his back - one known and one unknown - sees him reluctantly reconnecting with his former criminal "family."

I liked the action, the fast-pace, the way in which the author reveals the events of the past and the character's shared histories leading us up to the present antagonism and situation. There's a rekindling of former friendships with some initial awkwardness but no lack of trust.

As the story takes hold we have plenty of casualties.  There's a high body count, but not insanely so. The book's a bit of a page turner. I kind of blasted through 120 pages one morning, 30 more in the evening and the final 130-odd the next morning.

Decent characters with believable motivations, decent action scenes, decent outcome. I liked the Chicago (mostly) setting. It's a quick read and I enjoyed it, though more as an impartial observer than with any real stake in the outcome.

3.5 from 5

Pigs is author, Daniel James' debut novel.

Read - February, 2020
Published - 2019
Page count - 283
Source - Book Sirens review site
Format - PDF read on laptop

Monday 24 February 2020


The halfway stage on the trek through the alphabet.

M is for .....

Miami - I've a few to choose from Jeff Lindsay and Dexter, a bit of John D. MacDonald (sort of - Miami adjacent apparently with Travis McGee), the odd James W. Hall, or Carl Hiaasen. 

Instead I'll have a bit of....

Charles Willeford and Miami Blues - the first in Willeford's Hoke Moseley series

Miami Blues (1984)

Freddy "Junior" Frenger, psycho fresh out of San Quentin, flies into Miami airport with a pocketful of stolen credit cards and disappears leaving behind the corpse of a Hare Krishna. Soon homicide detective Hoke Moseley is pursuing the chameleon like Frenger and his airhead hooker girlfriend through the smart hotels, Cuban ghettoes and seedy suburban malls of Miami in a deadly game of hide and seek.

My second Miami book is

Les Standiford and his first Johnny Deal book - Done Deal

Done Deal (1994)

Building contractor Johnny Deal does things the hard way, always on the edge of Miami society. Deal is developing a piece of land and his wife is pregnant, so maybe things are going Johnny's way. But after a crash on the highway, Deal's car is recovered, but not his wife's body.

M is for ....

Malcolm Mackay - one of my favourite Scottish novelists, scrub that one of my favourite novelists per se.

With Mackay I can't really look any further than his Glasgow Trilogy of novels along with a short Kindle single making a fourth of sorts.

Glasgow Trilogy
   1. The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (2013) - thoughts here
   2. How a Gunman Says Goodbye (2013) - thoughts here
   3. The Sudden Arrival of Violence (2014) - thoughts here
    Anatomy of a Hit (2013) - thoughts here

He's written a further five novels since then, all of which I have and none of which I've read yet. Go figure.

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (2013)

An arresting, gripping novel of dark relationships and even darker moralities: introducing a remarkable new voice in crime fiction.

A 29-year-old man lives alone in his Glasgow flat. The telephone rings; a casual conversation, but behind this a job offer. The clues are there if you know to look for them. He is an expert. A loner. Freelance. Another job is another job, but what if this organisation wants more? A meeting at a club. An offer. A brief. A target: Lewis Winter. It's hard to kill a man well. People who do it well know this. People who do it badly find out the hard way. The hard way has consequences.

An arresting, gripping novel of dark relationships and even darker moralities, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter introduces a remarkable new voice in crime fiction. The second book in the Glasgow Trilogy How A Gunman Says Goodbye will follow soon...

M is for ....

Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale, which is the second book in Lansdale's long series featuring Hap and Leonard, a couple of friends - one black, one white, one gay, one straight both usually neck deep in trouble.

Mucho Mojo (1994)

When Leonard Pine's Uncle Chester dies Leonard is not expecting to inherit - after all, his Uncle never came to terms with the fact that his nephew was gay. But it seems that $100,000, a house and its contents have all been left to Leonard - along with a mysterious key which doesn't seem to fit anything in the house. But when Leonard and Hap move in to repair the house, they discover a crack house next door and, far worse, the skeleton of a child, hidden in a trunk underneath the floorboards. It seems that Uncle Chester's life was not exactly the way Leonard and Hap imagined it to be . . .

Previous Alphabet entries.....














Another author I haven't yet read, but one who my wife quite likes - S.J. Rozan.

Rozan aka Sam Cabot has written about a dozen novels in her Bill Smith, Lydia Chin series.

The series started in the 90s with China Trade in 1994. The latest Paper Son was published last year. I think I have a couple of the early ones and these two which are the 7th and 9th. I suppose if I love the first, I might delude myself into thinking I can take on another series and get it read.

Her work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story. She’s also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon Award and recently received the Life Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. 

New York settings mostly and a couple of PIs - what's not to like?

Blood Rites (2001) 

S.J. Rozan's reputation grows with every new installment in her lively series starring the redoubtable Lydia Chin, a twenty-something New York PI and her partner Bill Smith. Here Lydia's venerable family friend Grandfather Gao dispatches the twosome to Hong Kong to deliver a jade amulet to the grandson of Wei Yao-Shi, whose American family knew nothing of the son and heir he left in Asia. A simple assignment quickly turns into a kidnapping, as Chin and Smith make their way through the complex world of triad politics, Asian intrigue, and the smuggling of Chinese antiquities. Along the way, Rozan treats us to an insider's view of Hong Kong; if someone you know is headed in that direction, this would be a great guidebook as well as a diverting plane read.

The relationship between the two protagonists has a nice subtext; there's sufficient sexual tension to spice up the narrative, but not enough to slow down the action. Rozan excels at pacing, and her characters are complex enough to linger in the reader's mind after the last page is turned. This is a standout performance from a writer who ought to break out in the bestseller ranks with this eighth in a series that keeps getting better. --Jane Adams

Trail of Blood (2009)

With The Shanghai Moon, S. J. Rozan returns to her award-winning, critically acclaimed, and much-loved characters Lydia Chin and Bill Smith in the first new novel in the series in seven years. Estranged for months from fellow P.I. Bill Smith, Chinese-American private investigator Lydia Chin is brought in by colleague and former mentor Joel Pilarsky to help with a case that crosses continents, cultures, and decades. In Shanghai, excavation has unearthed a cache of European jewelry dating back to World War II, when Shanghai was an open city providing safe haven for thousands of Jewish refugees. The jewelry, identified as having belonged to one such refugee - Rosalie Gilder - was immediately stolen by a Chinese official who fled to New York City. Hired by a lawyer specializing in the recovery of Holocaust assets, Chin and Pilarsky are to find any and all leads to the missing jewels.However, Lydia soon learns that there is much more to the story than they've been told: The Shanghai Moon, one of the world's most sought after missing jewels, reputed to be worth millions, is believed to have been part of the same stash. Before Lydia can act on this new information, Joel Pilarsky is murdered, Lydia is fired from the case, and Bill Smith finally reappears on the scene. Now Lydia and Bill must unravel the truth about the Shanghai Moon and the events that surrounded its disappearance sixty years ago during the chaos of war and revolution, if they are to stop more killings and uncover the truth of what is going on today.

Saturday 22 February 2020



"This is either the funniest dirty book or the dirtiest funny book ever written!" —Isaac Asimov

Somewhere around 1969 I began to grow dissatisfied with the underlying principle of most novels---that a disembodied voice in the first or third person was telling us a story. I liked the idea of novels passing themselves off as documents, and drew inspiration from Mark Harris's WAKE UP, STUPID, and Sue Kaufman's DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE, the first ostensibly a collection of letters, the second, duh, a diary. (One could, of course, go back further, to the very beginnings of the English novel in the works of Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson.) I also found myself interested in writing with greater candor about sexual topics. I had knocked out dozens of soft-core paperbacks, and wanted to try anew with greater freedom and more realism.I wrote three paperback original novels for Berkley under the pen name Jill Emerson, two of them in diary form, the third a presumed collaborative novel written in concert by the three viewpoint characters. These were fun to do and worked out well, and they led to RONALD RABBIT IS A DIRTY OLD MAN. I riffed on the experience of my friend George Dickerson, who like the novel's protagonist had the magazine he was editing folded out from under him; George went on reporting to his empty office for several months, until they found him out when they noticed he'd stopped using his expense account. (A man of many talents, George went on to serve as a reporter for Time Magazine for several years, then segued into a career as an actor; he had a principal role in Blue Velvet.) I spliced in an experience of my own, when I drank for hours at the Kettle of Fish on Macdougal Street, emerging only to be picked up by a carful of rich Catholic schoolgirls from the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Noroton, Connecticut, who essentially kidnapped me and drove me back to school with them. These things happen. I wrote the book in four furious days in an apartment on West 35th Street. I did so thinking it would be another pseudonymous paperback, and that no doubt gave me the freedom to write it as I did; after it was written, the friends who read it liked it so much that I was persuaded to publish it as a hardcover novel, and under my own name. My agent sent it to Bernard Geis, a quirky publisher whose editor—Don Preston—loved the book. Bernie had offices on two floors in midtown Manhattan, and had installed a fireman's pole in case one wanted to get from 9 to 8 in a hurry. All I recall of Don is he told me to avoid seeing Carnal Knowledge, which he hated, and that I must hurry to see McCabe and Mrs.Miller, which he loved. Once I'd managed to sit through McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I knew I'd love Carnal Knowledge.Around the time Ronald Rabbit was published, Bernard Geis slid into Chapter Eleven. I can't think this had a salutary effect on sales. Martin Levin in the New York Times Book Review pointed out that the book was written in the form of a series of letters, which was also the case with Richardson's Pamela, generally acknowledged to be the first English novel. And that, Mr. Levin said, was as much as he had to say on the subject.Well, that's fair. I had the publisher send a copy to Isaac Asimov, whom I'd met a few times over the years. "That's either the funniest dirty book or the dirtiest funny book I've ever read," Isaac told me. "That would make a wonderful blurb," I said. "Over my dead body," he replied.Well, okay. Isaac's been gone over 25 years now, and while I wish he were still around, he's not. And so I'll just remember him fondly, and thank him for giving Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man a helping hand, all these years later.

Possibly a Marmite book for fans of Lawrence Block. Not a crime book, no mystery, some graphic sex, some vulgarity and a couldn't care less attitude on display by the main character.

There are plenty of sexual shenanigans during the course of the book allied with some riotously funny episodes, mostly taking the form of letters to various people....... a wife, an ex-wife, a best friend who has run off with the wife, a former employer, his secretary, his former father-in-law, his landlord and various Catholic schoolgirls of his acquaintance. Very probably we have a few more letters to others.

As per usual I mostly listened to this one on the commute to work. I was tickled pink and laughed like a drain and may have attracted some strange looks from fellow motorists sat in traffic around me. A real mood lifter and fun piece of writing.

Off-hand I can't actually remember the name of our main protagonist, though he is referred to as The Poet, by his adoring posse of schoolgirls. The plot as such is outlined above in Block's recounting of the origins of the story. I loved our man's demeanor, his honesty, his lack of tact, his way with words and his fecklessness.

Marriage, love, sex, employment, unemployment, money troubles, relationship break-ups, alcohol, sex (it does feature a fair bit), lawyers, a road trip or two, and the art of letter writing.

Definitely one that I will listen to again when I've exhausted all the other books in my Audible library.

As ever Theo Holland's narration is pitch perfect.

4.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) January, 2020
Published - 1971
Page count - 194 (3 hrs 59 mins)
Source - Audible download code from the author's assistant, though I do have a physical copy in my collection. I wonder if it's as funny when read as it is listened to?
Format - Audible



Five-time Edgar winner and MWA Grand Master Lawrence Block wrote a monthly column for Writers Digest Magazine for fourteen years. The Liar's Bible consists of previously uncollected columns, chosen to illuminate the often dimly-lit path of the writer of fiction.

Here's what one reviewer said on Goodreads:

"I am fascinated by the creative process and there are few excellent examples of this that I have found – there is Koestler’s The Act of Creation insightful in a general way– but I have found only two worth their salt about working creators – Trauffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock collected in Trauffaut/Hitchcock and Thomas Hoving’s two interviews with Andrew Wyeth – published as Autobiography and Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth – but reading Lawrence Block’s collected columns on writing from Writer’s Digest I have discovered outstanding examples of this somewhat mysterious creative process.

"Now I am anxious to read his other collected columns – Block of course writes so fluidly that, as one Stephen King fan commented, I would probably read his grocery list – but he also asks brilliant questions of himself and does a terrific job answering and commenting on these.
"This is a must read for anyone intrigued by writers, artists, the creative process or those eager to write whether already published or hoping to be soon."

Despite harboring absolutely no aspirations or inclinations to take up writing I was quite happy to listen to this audible edition of a collection of Lawrence Block columns previously published monthly in Writer's Digest.

Handy hints, writing tips and strategies for overcoming negativity and reinforcing positive thoughts towards achieving your very own writing goals. There's also some anecdotes about writing some of his books - the Scudder offering - Eight Million Ways to Die in particular.

What also struck me is the banished notion that anything that flows on the page and is easy to read must have been easy to write. Far from it. I mourned for discarded prose, manuscripts over 100 pages long abandoned because the story wasn't working in the author's mind.

What shines through is Block's dedication to his craft and his professionalism. And his willingness to share some of his lessons learned along the way with other aspiring writers.

An easy narration from Michael Bonner made the progress through this collection a pleasant journey.

4 from 5

Another of Lawrence Block's writer's guides was enjoyed recently - Spider, Spin Me a Web (1988)

Read - (listened to) January, 2020
Published - 2011
Page count - 294 (11 hrs 8 mins)
Source  - Audible download code received from author's assistant
Format - Audible

Friday 21 February 2020



Hacker and thief Zoe Zimmerman and her team have been responsible for some of the most inexplicable and ingenious heists of the last few of years but what does a professional thief do for Christmas?

Zoe uses her ill-gotten gains to take her decidedly un-criminal Gran and sister to a luxury country hotel. It should be all fine wine, gourmet food and luxury spa treatments and perhaps it would have been if Zoe hadn’t decided to pull a job right under their noses.

Unfortunately, without her team, Zoe has to watch her own back. And without eyes in the back of her head will she be able to see who is coming to destroy her plans?

A festive Kilchester offering from author Adam Maxwell, which somewhat predictably I didn't manage to read during the holiday season. Late January for me.

Here Zoe the leader of her gang of outlaws is riding solo as far as her latest criminal caper is concerned, though she has a couple of family members in tow. A hotel break over the festive period is the perfect cover for her latest scheme. Unfortunately the rest of her party prove to be a little bit distracting. We get to meet the maverick grandmother and her sister ....... and there's plenty of spikiness and sibling rivalry on display with the two sisters a bit resentful and distrustful of each other. It's a thin line between love and hate apparently.

Best book ever? No, but lots to like. We get to know our main character a bit better and as usual Maxwell serves up some slapstick humour with a few scenes that had me chuckling.

Probably not a spoiler to advise that one of our outcomes sees a bit of peace and harmony restored to the family Zimmerman.

4 from 5

Adam Maxwell has been enjoyed before.
Kill it with Fire (2018)
The Dali Deception (2016) 
The Defective Detective: Murder on the Links (2011)
Dial M for Monkey (2006)

Read - January, 2020
Published - 2019
Page count - 93
Source - review copy from author
Format - Kindle

Wednesday 19 February 2020



Two candles flaring at a Christmas crib. A nurse who steps inside a church to light them. A gunshot emptied in a man’s head in the creaking stillness before dawn, that the nurse says she didn’t hear. It’s 1947 in the snowbound, war-scarred City of London, where Pandora’s Box just got opened in the ruins, City Police has a vice killing on its hands, and a spooked councilor hires a shamus to help spare his blushes. Like the Buddha says, everything is connected. So it all can be explained. But that’s a little cryptic when you happen to be the shamus, and you’re standing over a corpse.

An enjoyable if not at times difficult read for me. I had the misfortune to time the reading of this book with a house move for an elderly mother-in-law and all that that entailed...... solicitors, estate agents, a chain, utility companies, removal men, emails, phone calls and lots more besides. Allied with some year end work pressures and faced with a small type set (37 lines to a page) and old jaded eyes and my December reading plans were doomed before the start.

Once I got into things properly I really liked the book. Clever, complex, dense and it demands that you pay attention - something I'm not always renowned for.

London, post-war, a murdered man and throughout the course of the book a few more victims, and an American investigator, Newman hired to look into the death - and bound by a sense of duty - the subsequent ones.

Property, planning, city development, delays, photographs, diaries, Roman ruins, illicit and at the time illegal liaisons, a police department looking for some easy answers and a patsy, a gangster, lawyers, architects and academics, husbands, siblings, war heroes, affairs, surveillance, domestic violence, the river, a medical examiner with a conscience, an attempted cover-up, money, power, blackmail, kidnap, and after a merry, frenetic dance an outcome.

Some of the detail in Roger's writing is superb and you really get a feel for a London of 70 years ago. Bars, restaurants, clubs, lodgings, barber shops, taxis, hospitals - all seem authentic and you have to wonder that it wasn't written in the time it takes place.

I liked the connections and motivations that were revealed once Newman tied everything up for us. I was kind of reminded of some of the labyrinth like plotting of some of James Ellroy's American Quartet books. Seemingly innocuous meetings and conversations and casual connections later found to contain important detail in respect of the outcome. I think I kind of gave up early on trying to second guess the author and where we were going. I just took my time and enjoyed the ride.

4 from 5

Read - January, 2020
Published - 2019
Page count - 376
Source - review copy from Matador - an imprint of Troubador Publishing courtesy of the author.
Format - paperback

Tuesday 18 February 2020



In this "captivating" crime novel (People), Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is on the hunt for a missing boy -- but it's the boy's family of white supremacists who are his real target.

9-year-old Levi King knew he should have left for home sooner; now he's alone in the darkness of vast Caddo Lake, in a boat whose motor just died. A sudden noise distracts him - and all goes dark.

Darren Mathews is trying to emerge from another kind of darkness; after the events of his previous investigation, his marriage is in a precarious state of re-building, and his career and reputation lie in the hands of his mother, who's never exactly had his best interests at heart. Now she holds the key to his freedom, and she's not above a little maternal blackmail to press her advantage.

An unlikely possibility of rescue arrives in the form of a case down Highway 59, in a small lakeside town where the local economy thrives on nostalgia for ante-bellum Texas - and some of the era's racial attitudes still thrive as well. Levi's disappearance has links to Darren's last case, and to a wealthy businesswoman, the boy's grandmother, who seems more concerned about the fate of her business than that of her grandson.

Darren has to battle centuries-old suspicions and prejudices, as well as threats that have been reignited in the current political climate, as he races to find the boy, and to save himself.

Heaven, My Home is the second Darren Mathews book from Attica Locke after Bluebird, Bluebird. I've enjoyed both books without feeling the need to backtrack on the author's earlier works, of which there are a few. (Three)

Here Mathews is forced into an investigation into the disappearance of a boy; the boy's father (incarcerated) and step-father have links to white supremacist groups. Mathews with a potentially career ending event and investigation from an incident in the first book hanging over him, sees the opportunity to solve the crime and manipulate the outcome to save himself. Whether he can also save his marriage is debatable.

Race, politics, a missing child, tension and conflict in a community, FBI involvement, a strained friendship, a more strained marriage, lies, hate, land, history, decline, influence, family, the water, Aryan Brotherhood, an investigation..... and lots more besides.

I quite like Darren has a character. He has his flaws, he might be guilty of some rash decision making and mistakes and he's in a difficult predicament. His heart is in the right place. He's more on point here and less beholden to alcohol as a crutch and he's hopeful he can save the boy when everyone else seems to have given up on him. That he might be able to manipulate events to relieve some pressure on him is understandable.

Race is very important here and plays a big part in the aims of the FBI, with events foreshadowed by the impending Trump administration taking office.

I liked the history element Locke introduces to the narrative, which helps sustain the story. I enjoyed the setting of the book and the tensions and conflict surrounded race added layers to a missing child case. The outcome and the speed at which we came upon it all worked for me.

There is still the over-riding story ARC concerning Darren and his career and marriage still to be resolved, but I didn't feel manipulated by the author into issuing a BOLO for the next book in the series. That said I'll probably want to read it at some point although I'm unaware of a third book coming down the pike.

4 from 5

Thoughts on Bluebird, Bluebird here.

Read - January, 2020
Published - 2019
Page count - 308
Source - initially a Net Galley book, but borrowed from Leighton Buzzard library to read
Format - hardback


Week 12 and the L's have it.........

L is for .....

Le Crime by Peter Steiner.

Steiner is a novelist and cartoonist and this novel from 2003 is the first in his Louis Morgon series, of which I have a few. I suppose I ought to read them sometime

Peter Steiner - Le Crime (2003)

A cross between The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and A Year in Provence, this ingenious thriller gets stunning raves from one and all:

"A beautiful crime novel."
---Thomas Perry, New York Times bestselling author of Nightlife

"Le Crime est superbe."
---Jim Fusilli, author of Hard, Hard City

Former State Department expert Louis Morgon finds a murdered body on the doorstep of his charming little house in France, and he and the local gendarme team up to solve the murder. Thriller and mystery lovers: Bon appetit!

This book was first published by St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books as A French Country Murder.

L is for.......

Leonard - old man and favourite Elmore or son Peter?

I'd be here until next month if I start on Elmore. Peter it is.

Quiver is his unread debut from 2008.
I have enjoyed a couple from him though. Voices of the Dead (2012) and Back from the Dead (2013)

Peter Leonard - Quiver (2008)

One of the most riveting and powerful new voices in crime fiction, Peter Leonard delivers a razor-sharp debut thriller.

Kate McCall's husband has been killed by her son, Luke, in a tragic bow-hunting accident. While Kate struggles with her son's surly guilt, her first love, Jack, an ex-con, reappears, along with a crew of his former "colleagues." While Jack must convince his partners in crime that he really did lose the heist money, his appearance sets into motion a series of events culminating in a life-and-death confrontation with a gang of killers.

Leonard displays remarkable maturity for a first-time novelist in both the plotting of the story and the language of his protagonists. The twists and turns of a love affair, an unrequited crush, and a kidnapping/extortion plot complement a tightly drawn, intimate cast of memorably quick and dim-witted characters.

Quiver marks the breakthrough of a new force in thriller writing---an explosive and unforgettable debut.

L is for......

Los Angeles.

I do like crime fiction set in the US and I've enjoyed a fair few  books set in Los Angeles.... most notably the Harry Bosch series from Michael Connelly and Robert Crais with his Elvis Cole books. Plenty more besides........... James Ellroy, Walter Mosley, T. Jefferson Parker etc etc

I'll pick a couple of slightly less well known authors

P.G. Sturges and The Shortcut Man - it's the first in his four book series featuring Dick Henry.

P.G.Sturges - The Shortcut Man (2011)

A smart and entertaining crime series debut set in the underbelly of Los Angeles, with a cast of characters that runs the gamut from saints to sinners. In the City of Angels, not everyone plays by the rules. When people need a problem fixed fast, and discreetly, they call Dick Henry. Henry is known as a "shortcut man," someone who believes that the shortest answer to many problems may not always be legal. As he cuts through the red tape for his clients, who range from an elderly woman ripped off by shady contractors to a landlord with a tenant many months behind on the rent, Henry always gets the job done, no matter what the cost. In Shortcut Man, Henry spends his days hunting down slimy con men and his nights seducing Lynette, an intoxicating, long-legged vixen. But when Henry gets an assignment from porn producer Artie Benjamin, his life suddenly becomes much more complicated. Now Henry must complete the job, avoid being killed, and somehow figure out what to do with Lynette. Filled with dark comedy, whip-smart writing, and a memorable cast of characters, Shortcut Man evokes Chandler and Hammett - hard-boiled crime at its best - and is an exciting beginning to a crackling new series.

Philip Reed and some car noir! Bird Dog from 1997, was followed by Low Rider in 1998.

I did enjoy one from him a few years ago - Off and Running (2015)

Philip Reed Bird Dog (1997)

Bird Dog In his explosive debut, Philip Reed suggests the best of Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen as he guides you on a lethal joyride you won't forget. Harold Dodge is pushing fifty, going gray, and carrying a few extra pounds. He's a good man. But in LA, good men some-times have to do bad things. Harold lives for women and cars...he just never figured on dying for them.

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