Friday 31 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

Becker is a British traveler in trouble. Madhurima is a rising star police officer. In these three explosive tales, the two join forces to investigate the city’s crooked high society.

On the way, they take on deluded would-be messiahs in search of Mother Teresa’s stolen millions, encounter fanatics, circus freaks and cannibals, fall in and out of love and pay homage to one of the world’s most beautiful and toughest cities.

Amidst passion, murder and mayhem, is there room for two lovers driven by justice and compassion?

Tom Vater's 'Kolkata Noir' is a riveting crime fiction cycle of three novellas set in the past, the present and the future.

Kolkata Noir was a really enjoyable outing for me, not least because of its setting of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). With the exception of a couple of Brian Stoddart books (A Madras Miasma and The Pallampur Predicament) read years ago I haven't visited India at all in my reading. More fool me.

Vater provides three separate tales, linked by the two main protagonists - Becker, a tourist, a photographer and sort of busy body, poke-your-nose-in-when-asked investigator and a female police officer, Madhurina. 

In addition to three different problems that need attention, there is an obvious deep, enduring relationship between the two characters which transcends time and despite the lack of physical fulfillment nevertheless convinced me of its validity. It provoked a kind of sliding doors, what-if musing regarding the pair and different paths and outcomes and alternate futures they could have enjoyed together. As someone who believes in love at first sight and can actually cite a long-standing marriage (33 years and counting) off the back of such an encounter (well it was love for me initially. She took a bit of persuading) the romantic in me loved and also rued the dynamics of Becker and Madhu's encounters. 
Regarding the plot. I liked the three tales, with the future set, climate damaged world one best of all.

1999 .... murder, marital disharmony, money and scheming.

2019 ... grifters, gangs, kidnap and a recovery mission.

2039 ... a flooded city, an uncertain future, re-location.

Really enjoyable overall. I loved the portrayals of Kolkata, a city and environment far-removed from my own .... the street life, the hotels, trains, the culture, the values, the mores, the professional woman operating in a male dominated world, 
4 from 5

I've enjoyed Tom Vater's work before - The Monsoon Ghost Image back in 2018. 

Read - December, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 208
Source - review copy from author
Format - Kindle

Thursday 30 December 2021


Synopsis/blurb ....

Bill is a conman with a taste for high-end cars, beautiful suits, and top-shelf liquor. But he’s getting tired of the cons he needs to maintain that lifestyle—and he’s sick of the violence that’s sometimes part of the job.

Bill’s girlfriend Fiona doesn’t have a problem with violence, though. She’ll crush anyone who stands in her way—and some days, it seems like the whole world wants a piece of her. She loves Bill, but she’s tired of cleaning up after him.

When Bill decides to “borrow” a couple million from one of New York City’s most vicious gangs and flee for the tropics, it puts their relationship to the test—and while they’re working out their issues, they’ll also need to fend off crooked cops, dimwitted bouncers, and an irate assassin in the midst of the world’s weirdest midlife crisis.

“Love & Bullets” is the story of a 21st century Bonnie & Clyde, a wisecracking duo who’ll blast their way from Brooklyn to Cuba and back in order to stay alive. It’s a wild ride.

6 word review - wacky, wild and loads of fun! 

Love & Bullets is a re-working of three previously published novellas featuring Bill and Fiona. I read these a few years and enjoyed them - Main Bad GuySlaughterhouse Blues and A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps. As such lots of this book was familiar to me, though it was read just long enough ago for the memory banks to have failed enough for this rendering to feel fresh and energetic.

What I like about Kolakowski's work is the fact that all his characters, main and secondary operate outside of the conventional norms of society. They're crims or at the very least, wannabees. Each character was entertaining and good company for however long they stuck around the course of the action. 

The main protagonists are Bill and Fiona. Bill is rash and impulsive and gets the ball rolling by stealing from his boss. Fiona, a little bit miffed by Bill running out on her, is sent by the boss to kill Bill and return the money. She has other ideas and while their relationship is a work in progress, it's a love that can endure, assuming it survives a legion of bad guys head-hunting them.

Plenty of action, thrills, laughs and mayhem. Multiple settings. Satisfying outcome. Bang up entertainment. My kind of book(s).

4.5 from 5

Nick Kolakowski's Boise Longpig Hunting Club has also been enjoyed. I need to get to others from him that sit on the pile - Maxine Unleashes Doomsday and Rattlesnake Rodeo.

Read - November, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 442
Source - review copy from author
Format - ePUB read on laptop

Tuesday 14 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ...

Murder Squad, a group of award-winning crime and mystery writers, celebrate their twenty-first birthday with a bang in this criminally good collection of short stories.

A dawn swim turns deadly in a brand-new short story starring DCI Vera Stanhope . . . Two bored cell-mates play a game with chilling results . . . A hen night in an isolated cottage brings new meaning to ‘I will survive’ . . . A train traveller teaches a valuable lesson in reading labels . . . A day at the seaside turns stormy for a woman who doesn’t care for foreigners . . . A wealthy retiree makes a new friend who connects her to the Other Side . . . and much much more.

Short, sharp and packed with twists, these 21 unputdownable tales showcase Murder Squad’s range and talent throughout the years. So why not treat yourself to a slice of murderously moreish fiction, and join us in wishing the squad ‘Many Deadly Returns’.

With stories by Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis, Margaret Murphy, Chris Simms and Cath Staincliffe, as well as John Baker, Chaz Brenchley and Stuart Pawson.

Twenty-one short stories enjoyed via Audible, courtesy of Isis Audio and a chance to catch up with and enjoy some of Britain's best known crime fiction authors. Many years ago I read and enjoyed a book each by John Baker and Stuart Pawson. Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Chris Simms and Cath Staincliffe (as well as more Baker and Pawson) sit on the TBR pile. I guess I'm not the only one with more books than actual time to read them.

These 20 plus stories were enjoyed early morning accompanied by black coffee in a comfortable chair before the rest of the household was awake. Typically the stories feature such crime fiction staples as  murder, adultery, revenge and family.

I think it's harder to remember a barrage of short stories consumed one after the other than it is to absorb the salient points of a novel that is being read. That said I think there was only one story which didn't really deliver for me. The others all had a decent set up and pay off. 

Highlights were Skeleton Crew and The Passenger by Chris Simms, as well as The Fox and the Hens by Kate Ellis. Pawson's Ultra Violent was very good as well. I enjoyed meeting Vera Stanhope in Wild Swimming and an overheard conversation on a train journey from Martin Edwards (Bad Friday) was well worth a listen. Simms story The Passenger was quite topical and relevant with some food for thought. Most of the others seemed to reinforce the old adage that crime doesn't always pay. Sometimes it does.

Lots more to like here than not and a bit of a reminder to try and get to some longer offerings from these guys. I think Chris Simms will be elevated to the top of the TBR pile for January, 2022.

For my OCD completist self, the full story list was as follows:

Margaret Murphy – Foreword 

Martin Edwards – Introduction 

Ann Cleeves – Wild Swimming 

Martin Edwards – Lucky Liam

Cath Staincliffe – Scorpion 

Chris Simms – Skeleton Crew 

Kate Ellis – The Fox and the Hens 

John Baker – An Old-Fashioned Poisoning 

Margaret Murphy – Read the Label 

Kate Ellis – My Oleander 

Ann Cleeves – The Queen of Mystery 

Chaz Brenchley – For Kicks 

Cath Staincliffe – Two Birds 

Margaret Murphy – Big End Blues 

Martin Edwards – Bad Friday

Chris Simms – The Passenger 

Kate Ellis – The Confessions of Edward Prime 

Stuart Pawson – Ultra Violent 

Cath Staincliffe – Perfect Storm 

Chris Simms – Gaffed 

Martin Edwards – The Other Life 

Ann Cleeves – A Winter’s Tale 

Editor - Martin Edwards
Margaret Murphy – Still Life

Overall - a great early morning eye-opener for the drab and dreary early December. 

4 from 5

Read - (listened to) December, 2021

Published - 2021

Page count - 194 (9 hrs 13 mins)

Source - review copy from Isis Audio

Format - Audible

Friday 3 December 2021


I do like the odd Western in my reading. I just think they are another sub-genre within the broad sphere of crime fiction. I guess I like a Splatter Western too, though I've not yet read one.

I don't know if it's a label appropriated or invented by Death's Head Press. Anyways I like the cut of their jib and the look of their books. Here's two from their canon.

Christine Morgan - The Night Silver River Run Red (2020)

Some things, according to Cody McCall, are worth risking a whipping. Such as, sneaking out with your friends after dark for a peek at the traveling show setting up just outside of town. Oddities, the signs promise. Marvels. Grotesqueries. Exotic attractions and mysterious magics.

Not as if they'd be allowed to attend otherwise, not with parents and preacher and schoolmarm all disapproving. But how often does a chance like this come along? There isn't much else by way of excitement in quiet, peaceful Silver River, a once-prosperous boom town slowly gone bust.

Worth risking a whipping, sure. Worth risking life and limb, and maybe more? Worth risking being ripped to pieces by ravenous, inhuman brutes? Worth crossing paths with those strange, silent cult-folk from the high valley? Worth all the fire and bloodshed and horror and death?

Because something far worse than any ordinary traveling show has come to town, and one thing is for certain: those who survive, if any, will never forget the night Silver River run red.

(All Splatter Western books are stand-alone stories. Read them in whatever order you please!)

C. Derick Miller - Starving Zoe (2020)

To most, 1865 was an eye-opening year. The American Civil War was officially over and the soldiers fortunate enough to survive the bloody conflict returned home to collect the pieces of their former lives. To young Arizonan, Robert Jack, the fateful desert homecoming marked the end to all he once knew.

Forgiveness is overrated. Death is final. Revenge, however, dances between the fine lines of mortality and eternity.

Love always finds a way.

(All Splatter Western books are stand-alone stories. Read them in whatever order you please!)

Thursday 2 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ...

In Dorothy Gilman's best-selling mystery series, loveable grandmother Emily Pollifax has captured the hearts of millions with her secret CIA missions. Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist whisks the gray-haired agent into a perilous web of intrigue that spreads across the drifting sands of the volatile Middle East. An old CIA friend, Farrell, must collect an inflammatory manuscript smuggled out of Iraq into Jordan. Farrell has a simple request for Emily-provide cover during his trip to Jordan by posing as his fun-loving elderly cousin. But before the plane even lands, danger begins stalking the sprightly Mrs. Pollifax. Outwitting her wily opponents with her keen eye for the truth and her impeccable karate, Mrs. Pollifax is the lively senior citizen everyone dreams of someday becoming. You'll feel you know the aging spy and her colorful opponents personally with Barbara Rosenblat's outstanding narration.

The 13th of 14 Mrs Pollifax books from Dorothy Gilman was my 3rd encounter with the elderly spy. I enjoyed the book overall without being amazed at any point. I think there are a certain number of books that I read and enjoy and am entertained by, but which are pretty forgettable. A month on, I had to read the summary to remind myself of what it was about. I suppose it's a bit like fast-food. Something that satisfies a particular need at a certain point, but isn't in any way memorable.

I enjoyed the story as it was. Pollifax and Farrell in Jordan trying to retrieve a manuscript. Nothing is straightforward. It never is, otherwise it would be slim pickings of a book. Frustrations and diversions and mishaps, before an outcome and both Farrell and Pollifax live to fight another day.

Gilman has an easy style of writing. The main character is sympathetic and engaging. The story was logical. There's some action, drama, and humour, without any real tension or edge of the seat thrills. It's engaging enough just seeing how it all plays out.

Overall 3.5 from 5

Mrs Pollifax Pursued and The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax have been enjoyed before. 

Read - (listened to) November, 2021
Published - 1997
Page count - 226 (6 hrs 8 mins)
Source - Audiobooks
Format - Audible

Wednesday 1 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

A father and daughter living in the remote Appalachian mountains must reckon with the ghosts of their past in Kimi Cunningham Grant's These Silent Woods, a mesmerizing novel of suspense.

No electricity, no family, no connection to the outside world.

For eight years, Cooper and his young daughter, Finch, have lived in isolation in a remote cabin in the northern Appalachian woods. And that's exactly the way Cooper wants it, because he's got a lot to hide. Finch has been raised on the books filling the cabin’s shelves and the beautiful but brutal code of life in the wilderness. But she’s starting to push back against the sheltered life Cooper has created for her—and he’s still haunted by the painful truth of what it took to get them there.

The only people who know they exist are a mysterious local hermit named Scotland, and Cooper's old friend, Jake, who visits each winter to bring them food and supplies. But this year, Jake doesn't show up, setting off an irreversible chain of events that reveals just how precarious their situation really is. Suddenly, the boundaries of their safe haven have blurred—and when a stranger wanders into their woods, Finch’s growing obsession with her could put them all in danger. After a shocking disappearance threatens to upend the only life Finch has ever known, Cooper is forced to decide whether to keep hiding—or finally face the sins of his past.

Vividly atmospheric and masterfully tense, These Silent Woods is a poignant story of survival, sacrifice, and how far a father will go when faced with losing it all.

These Silent Woods is a fantastic story of family, loss, and peril. A man makes a difficult choice to build a life of sorts for him and his baby daughter. A life of isolation, frugality and loneliness, a life where interaction with society, strangers and the everyday is to be avoided at all costs, lest his momentous past decision crashes their fragile world. Cooper and Finch, father and daughter alone, apart from each other.  

Already Cooper feels a hostage to the whims of his neighbour Scotland. Scotland knows what's he's done and their relationship and interactions are uneven ... knowledge equals power and it is met with hatred and suspicion, rightly or wrongly. 

Already their world has been tipped sideways. Their confidant and chief replenisher of yearly supplies, Jake hasn't appeared this year. His sister shows instead, late. Jake has passed and a different kind of normal emerges.  

A stranger comes into their midst and everything changes. A girl, a camera, curiosity, a fight, a death, and before long the police. Time is running out on them.

I really enjoyed this one. There's a fantastic sense of place and solitude, with an escape from the minutiae of everyday life. There are strong characters in Cooper and Finch. The father is dominant but also ever fearful. He is hasty in his decision-making and judgments, something which becomes a cause of regret later in the book. Finch is young, curious and pushing her boundaries and sometimes her father's buttons. Anyone who has had children knows the inevitability of those minor conflicts. I enjoyed their interactions with the neighbour Scotland. They serve as a constant reminder of Cooper's permanent alertness and near-paranoia. Finch, however has no such misgivings.

I enjoyed the story and where the author went. There are moments of genuine tension and drama, something which heightens in the latter part of the book. I loved the author's writing. I really enjoyed Kimi Cunningham Grant's previous book - Fallen Mountains a couple of years ago. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. 

4.5 from 5 

Read - October, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 288
Source - review copy from publisher, Minotaur Books - after a little nudge from the author. (Thanks!)
Format - trade paperback

Friday 26 November 2021


One of my favourite authors, Dietrich Kalteis kindly dropped by to answer a few questions on his latest book, Under an Outlaw Moon.

Your latest offering, Under an Outlaw Moon has just dropped from ECW. Can you sell it to new or old readers in 50 words or under?

Under an Outlaw Moon is the true story of Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson. He’s out for kicks and she longs to feel wanted. When they pull a bank robbery to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, the ensuing fireworks are more than they ever bargained for.

It's another dip into the past. Was there one spark or germ of imagination that got you up and running with this one?

In 1938, Bennie and Stella Dickson robbed two banks shortly after her sixteenth birthday. They did it without a shot being fired, yet soon found themselves the focus of a nationwide FBI manhunt, wanted dead or alive. The punishment didn’t fit the crime, and that was the spark.

I've probably asked before, is it a different kind of process writing 'historical' as opposed to contemporary crime?

There was more research and fact-checking involved in following actual events as opposed to writing contemporary fiction. Since Under an Outlaw Moon was based on a true story, I kept to the actual timeline of events. Once I got to know the couple through the research, I fleshed out the characters, and I just started writing.

Was it a book conceived in lockdown, or did it's creation pre-date the madness of the COVID/post-COVID world?

I came upon an old news story of Bennie and Stella while doing research for Call Down the Thunder, which was set in the same era. This was in 2018, and I set the idea aside until I finished my work in progress. By the time I started working on it, we were in the early stages of lockdown.  

How has the pandemic impacted on you and yours? Hopefully you have all been safe?

My family and I have stayed safe. And I’ve been able to stay focused and able to disappear into my stories. That said, I sure miss gathering with friends and family, and I sure miss taking part in public reading events too.

Did lockdown have any discernible effect on your creativity?

The trick has been to stay positive so I can focus on my writing. So far, so good.

Regarding Under an Outlaw Moon, how long did it take from the first word to last to complete?

From the time I started gathering research to the time I laid out the timeline and wrote my way through several drafts, it took about nine months. Then there was another month or so spent on story and copy editing.  

Is it the same book you anticipated when setting out, or is it markedly different?

Since the story followed actual events, it turned out as I expected. I was pleased with how the scenes I made up flowed in, and how the characters came to life through their interactions and dialogue.

I believe it's your ninth book. Is it your best work?

I’m too close to it to say it’s my best work. I do think it’s consistent with everything I’ve written to date. And I can say I’m more sure of my writing now; I don’t second guess myself as much as when I started, and I’m better at knowing when a novel is done, and when it’s time to send it to my publisher.

Do you have a favourite of the nine? Which would you press into a new reader's hands first?

I don’t have a favourite. When anyone asks about my books, I try to find out what they’re into, and hopefully I’ve written something that might appeal to them.  

What's next?

Nobody from Somewhere is set to be released by ECW Press next June. It’s a crime story set in present-time Vancouver. Here’s the pitch: 

When long retired cop, Fitch Henry Haut, sees two men forcing a runaway girl into their vehicle, he steps in and gets the upper hand. He and the girl escape in his broken-down Winnebago, and as Fitch listens to her story, he realizes the men will come after them. A bond forms as he and the girl struggle to escape out of town. Anyone interested can find out more on ECW’s website here.

Thank you for inviting me over, Col.

Many thanks to Dietrich for his time.
Check out the his latest and thank me later!


Under an Outlaw Moon

Meet Depression-era newlyweds Bennie and Stella. He’s reckless, she’s naive. Longing for freedom from tough times, they rob a bank, setting off a series of events that quickly spin out of their control

Under an Outlaw Moon is based on the true story of Depression-era bank robbers Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson. She’s a teenage outsider longing to fit in. He’s a few years older and he’s trouble. They meet at a local skating rink and the sparks fly.

They marry and Stella dreams of a nice house with a swing out back, while Bennie figures out how to get enough money to make it happen. Setting his sights on the good life, he decides to rob a bank. Talking Stella into it, he lays out his plan and teaches her to shoot. The newlyweds celebrate her 16th birthday by robbing a local bank.

They pull it off, but the score is small, and Bennie realizes the money won’t last long, so he plans a bigger robbery. What lays ahead is more than either of them bargained for. After J. Edgar Hoover finds out they crossed state lines, he declares them public enemies number one and two — wanted dead or alive. So much for the good life. The manhunt is on, and there’s little room for them to run.

You can catch up with Dietrich at the following haunts.

Thursday 25 November 2021


 A couple from US author, Brian M. Wiprud

I read Wiprud's debut Sleep with the Fishes sometime between 2000 and 2009  and enjoyed it, without being blown away. I think when I bought that and these I was seeking something similar to a Carl Hiaasen vibe. I'm not sure that Fishes quite got there.

Twelve years is a long time, so I ought to give these a work out.

Pipsqueak (2002)

Tuning forks, thugs in plaid cummerbunds, digital TV, a dead biker, a stuffed loon and an old cartoon show? What's all this got to do with a ratty old squirrel puppet? That's the Pipsqueak story, featuring Garth Carson, a New York City taxidermy collector, and his gal Angie. After a murderous melee in an obscure antique store, the puppet goes missing and they find themselves entangled in a deadly swing band conspiracy and Soviet-era secrets.

"...the wildest mystery to come down the pike in a stuffed squirrel's age." --Publishers Weekly

Crooked (2006) 

Nicholas Palihnic is a natty, tweed-suited hustler who knows every nook and cranny of New York - and a thousand ways to break a girl's heart. Beatrice Belarus is a Manhattan art dealer with an insatiable appetite for money - and for anyone who gets in her way. And a painting titled Trampoline Nude, 1972 has neither nudity nor a trampoline. But when Nicholas is hired by an insurance company to find the recently stolen painting, a murdered art thief points him to a trove of gold buried beneath Manhattan - and suddenly all roads are leading back to Beatrice. As fortune hunters, lovers, and other strangers gather around him, there's one thing Nicholas must remember above all else: in this business, it's better to be crooked than dead....

Friday 19 November 2021


 A couple from the legendary Edward Bunker ...

Eddie Bunker wrote six novels, one of which was published posthumously in 2007. Bunker had passed in 2005. From his biography page at Fantastic Fiction it's clear he led an interesting life ...

Edward Heward Bunker was an American author of crime fiction, a screenwriter, and an actor.

He wrote numerous books, some of which have been adapted into films.

Bunker was a bright but troublesome child, who spent much of his childhood in different foster homes and institutions.

He started on a criminal career at a very early age, and continued on this path throughout the years, returning to prison again and again.

He was convicted of bank robbery, drug dealing, extortion, armed robbery, and forgery.

A repeating pattern of convictions, paroles, releases and escapes, further crimes and new convictions continued until he was released yet again from prison in 1975, at which point he finally left his criminal days permanently behind and became a writer.

Bunker stayed out of jail thereafter, and instead focused on his career as a writer and actor.

I enjoyed seeing him in Reservoir Dogs, many years ago. Pretty sure I've read and enjoyed most of his books - including these two, but not that I can recall them too much. My last outing was back in 2010 with his short story collection - Death Row Breakout & Other Stories. The novels have all been saved for a re-read sometime.

The Animal Factory (1977)

Drawing on a lifetime's experience of the sordid, horrifically violent world of America's prisons, Edward Bunker's novel The Animal Factory tells a tale of two convicts. 

Ronald Decker, guilty of a minor drug dealing charge, is put away in San Quentin. 

Earl Copen takes it upon himself to instruct the younger man in the brutal protocol of San Quentin and the strategies essential for survival. 

Their growing friendship is tested when Ron's rejection of a homosexual advance by another con leads to an act of fatal violence, and they seize upon a remote chance of escape. 

The Animal Factory is the ultimate prison novel.

Dog Eat Dog (1996)

three men ... two convictions ... one last score ... no more chances!

Troy, an aloof mastermind, seeks an uncomplicated, clean life but cannot get away from his hatred for the system. 

Diesel is on the mob's payroll and interest in his suburban home and nagging wife is waning. 

Mad Dog is possessed by true demons within, that lead him from one explosive situation to the next.  

One more hit, one more jackpot, and they'll all be satisfied ...

'A relentless freight train of a novel, obsessively readable, driven and dark' - Los Angeles Times

Thursday 18 November 2021

G. L. RIX - BROWN (2019)

Synopsis/blurb ....

Name: Brown (just Brown, ma’am)  

Physical Appearance/Demeanor: Bear (That’s grizzly - consider yourself warned.) 

Occupation: Private Dick 


San Antonio’s Finest 
Area’s most notorious gang boss 
World renowned artists 
Olmos Elementary School entire third grade class

Find some body and return them to their forever home.
Find wife-beating boyfriend before contracted hitman does.
Perform background checks on the bad guys.
Find lost animals.
Most admired: Columbo 

Brown: Private Eye - At Your Service

Some you win, some you lose. One plus was I got to spend some time in the company of entertaining narrator Theo Holland, even if the words that spewed from his lips left me indifferent.

We started off ok. Our main character is a PI named Brown and he is in a car park with the corpse of a grafitti artist. And then it all went downhill.

One case, kind of slid into another, then another, followed by a different one. There was no real drama, tension, mystery, humour or intrigue. It was all pretty pointless. A total mess that led nowhere, unfortunately. 

The writing was ok. The main character and some of the underlings were interesting enough as individuals, or might have proved to be if there was any real purpose to their movements. There wasn't. There was some scope for drama between Brown and Mrs Casey. There was a real spark of sexual chemistry that offered some possible respite from the rest of the nonsense the book was, but that went unconsumated and the opportunity was lost.

Oh well. I won't die wondering. I liked the cover. I didn't hate the book, I just kind of wondered the whole point of it was. Writing for writing's sake. 

Rix has written a second book, Browner which I won't be touching. I think a better title for this one would have been Brown Stuff.  

2 from 5 

Read - (listened to) November, 2021
Published - 2019
Page count - 168 (5 hrs 25 mins)
Source - Audible
Format - Audible

Wednesday 17 November 2021



Synopsis/blurb ...

A gripping novella from the New York Times best-selling author of the Inspector Banks Mysteries and a "master of the art" (Boston Globe)

Retired Cambridge professor Donald Aitcheson loves scouring antiquarian bookshops for secondhand treasures - as much as he loathes the scribbled marginalia from their previous owners. But when he comes upon an inscription in a volume of Robert Browning's poetry, he's less irritated than disturbed. This wasn't a gift to an unwitting woman. It was a threat - insidious, suggestively sick, and terribly intriguing.

Now Aitcheson's imagination is running wild. Was it a sordid teacher-pupil affair that ended in betrayal? A scorned lover's first salvo in a campaign of terror? The taunt of an obsessive psychopath? Then again, it could be nothing more than a tasteless joke between friends.

As his curiosity gets the better of him, Aitcheson can't resist playing detective. But when his investigation leads to a remote girls' boarding school in the Lincolnshire flatlands, and into the confidence of its headmistress, he soon discovers the consequences of reading between the lines.

Peter Robinson is one of a long list of authors whose work I want to give some proper attention to, but never actually consider when choosing what to read next, or even next week/month. I'm pretty sure I read either his first Inspector Banks book, or an early standalone years ago, but then moved on. My memory fails me and the recording of my reading was only instigated in 2010. I guess I'll never know unless I happen to re-read it and I recognise elements.

An opportunity to get stuck into something from him not overly long and on Audible (with the flexibility that format affords me) was worth a punt. The fact that it was a mystery from the Bibliomystery oeuvre and centred around books was a bonus.

We have a somewhat crusty retired academic, doing some sleuthing after reading a sinister dedication in a recently acquired book. Professor Aitcheson, nosey old git that he is might wish he hadn't bothered by the end of it. Conversely he may be glad he did. 

It was an enjoyable couple of hours nearly, with some book shop browsing, some white lies told, some amateur sleuthing, the odd pub lunch, a girl's boarding school, an unlikely alliance with the possibility of something more in the future, a quarry located, an interview, a confession, and several unexpected consequences.      
I quite liked the story, though it was maybe a bit of a stretch initially buying into the creepy inscription  triggering everything that followed. I've read names, dates, dedications in books before and they never induce more than a fleeting thought. I think my favourite find at the start of a book is a library stamp and its borrowing history - that gets me thinking. But hey that's just me.

The pace was fairly pedestrian, but I was happy getting where we were going in the author's own sweet time. I liked the style of writing, even if the main character was a bit of an odd-ball. That element probably added to the sense of enjoyment as opposed to detracting from it.  

Overall 3.5 from 5

I'll have to keep Robinson in the forefront of my mind when figuring out 2022's reading plans.  

Read - (listened to) November, 2021
Published - 2018
Page count -  50 at a guess (1 hr 46 mins)
Source - Audible 
Fomrat - Audible

Tuesday 16 November 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

This year, the fireworks will be red hot…

Skates Farrington is a changed man. Gone are the smart suits, the dull meetings and the extra pounds. Nowadays, he gets his thrills at the skate park and from whatever substances his dealers send his way. The only thing missing from his life is his ex-wife. She’s shacked up with a respectable partner in an isolated farm and striving to create the perfect life. Skates is convinced that she will come back to him when she sees his new self, but when attempts to win her heart all over again are thrown back in his face, he decides a little gentle persuasion is in order. Now he can include murder and abduction among his new-found skills.

DI Oliver Wilson, leading the investigation, has more than a few things on his mind. The case and imminent arrival of his third child should be at the forefront of his thoughts, but the arrival of a sequence of unusual gifts is making him nervous. The packages are sending him a message, he just can’t work out what they’re trying to say.

Ain’t That A Kick In The Head is the explosive follow up to Let It Snow and My Funny Valentine.


“Nigel Bird knows his characters inside and out—what they want, how they think, how they grow and how they fail. Ain’t that a Kick in the Head might be his best work yet. A convincing, engrossing portrayal of what life is like for cops and criminals alike.” —Chris Rhatigan, All Due Respect Books publisher

Ain't That a Kick in the Head is the third in Nigel Bird's Rat Pack series. Just putting it out there - it's one of my favourite contemporary crime fiction series. (For a sense of completism; Let it Snow and My Funny Valentine are the two earlier entries.)

Here the focus is on solving a murder and the search for a missing woman - Justine, the girlfriend of the murdered man. From the police's perspective she's possibly a suspect, possibly a kidnap victim. We have the same team of cops investigating as those encountered in the previous books, though it's a slightly pared down team with less characters than before. DI Oliver Wilson. DI Mike Marsalis and DS Sue Nolan are our main cop characters. Our local king-pin villain, Johnny Yen, a constant and sometime confidant of one of our cops also makes a welcome appearance.

Marital disharmony, jealousy, regret, obsession, delusions, and some extreme measures taken to woo back a partner who has grown up, moved on and left you behind. If a six stone weight loss, a new lifestyle and some gentle persuasion won't win Justine back from new love Colin, perhaps Skates Farrington might need to go a bit nuclear. Ergo murder, kidnapping, drugging and incarceration in his basement until the apple of his eye comes around to his way of thinking.

As a reader we know who's done what and to whom plus the why, but it's fun seeing the cops trying to catch up. Particularly when they are a little bit distracted by impending fatherhood and some odd happenings (DI Wilson I'm thinking of you) and in the case of Marsalis and Nolan, an ever increasingly confusing friendship set ablaze by sexual tension and scorching testosterone levels with restraint competing against reckless impulse. It's a wonder any investigating got done!

Quite fast-moving. Plenty of dark humour in the dynamics of the police relationships and in the time spent inside Skates Farrington's head. We get a satisfying conclusion to the drama, realistic as opposed to happy. There's also an answer to Wilson's bizarre deliveries, which is some fallout from one of the earlier books.

Ain't That a Kick in the Head works well as a separate entity, but I think it would be slightly more satisfying if it were read after the two earlier books. It's a short series. My advice, get on board now. 

4.5 from 5

Read - October, 2021

Published - 2021

Page count - 196

Source - review copy from a generous author

Format - PDF read on laptop

Monday 15 November 2021


Synopsis/blurb ....

A missing salami leads Mrs. Pollifax to a shocking discovery: a woman is hiding in her house. Even more unsettling is the revelation that ever since the young woman had a chance encounter with the heir to the throne of Ubangiba, she has been followed by deadly hitmen. What do these men want?

The last thing Mrs Pollifax expects to find in her closet is a young woman hiding.

Kadi Hopkirk insists that she is being followed by two men in a dirty white van. Under the cover of darkness, Mrs Pollifax tries to drive Kadi back home, only to have a dark green sedan give them a run for their money and, she begins to suspect, their lives.

Ever resourceful, Mrs P. puts in a call for help to her CIA colleague, Carstairs, who installs them in a safe house. Before she knows it, a dash to safety expands into an assignment that leads to hair-trigger violence in exotic places ...

Armed with only an open mind and a little karate, Mrs Pollifax is the most unlikely and lovable of international spies.

Mrs Pollifax's eleventh outing as Dorothy Gilman's unlikely CIA operative was my second time with the series and author. The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, the series opener was enjoyed a month or two ago. 

Here Emily Pollifax is drawn into a mystery concerning a high profile kidnapping and a pursued girl, both connected to the unstable African country of Ubangiba.

Car chases, salami, a travelling circus, millions of dollars and a thirst for power all feature in another fun adventure featuring our aged agent. We have a bit of hide and seek in the US, before our drama plays out at the Presidential Palace in Ubangiba with Emily's CIA boss, Carstairs taking a rare trip into the field to pull the strings.

Best book ever? No, but enough to keep me amused and entertained throughout. I enjoyed the narration by Barbara Rosenblat, who brings Emily to life for me. In the first book, Mrs Pollifax was widowed. Here she has acquired herself a new husband, presumably a consequence of one of her earlier adventures. Calm, unflappable and capable of adapting to whatever strange circumstance she finds herself in, Mrs Pollifax is a recent discovery for me and a welcome one. 

3.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) November, 2021
Published - 1994
Page count - 242 (5 hrs 58 mins)
Source - Audiobooks
Format - Audible

Saturday 13 November 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

In the first of six witty short stories, 60s-something English barrister, Horace Rumpole, takes on the younger generation both at home and in the hallowed courtroom-while offending his esteemed colleagues and his draconian wife, Hilda.

A collection of stories featuring Rumpole of the Bailey, including "Rumpole and the Younger Generation", "Rumpole and the Alternative Society", "Rumpole and the Honourable Member", "Rumpole and the Married Lady, "Rumpole and the Learned Friends" and "Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade".

A bit of a trip down memory lane insofar as I can dimly recall the TV series featuring Leo McKern as Rumpole. The show aired in the late 70s and ran on and off until 1992.

Six stories and six different cases which Rumpole defends with varying degrees of success. His motto is to never plead a client guilty. A lot of the stories comprise Rumpole philosophising on life in chambers, his home life, with his marriage to Hilda and his son, Nick; as well as on the state of the nation. There's a drinking culture surrounding the legal profession and Rumpole is usually partial to a taste post-chambers as well as a drop or two at home.

I quite like the observational nature of the tales which are now quite dated. We encounter the hippie culture in one of the stories and the outrage that induces in the middle classes. Almost a hang them for having long hair mentality. There's a subtle humour to all of the stories. Mortimer pokes fun at class and authority. This was a time when the word of the police would be accepted unquestionably.

Rumpole frequently defends the same criminal family and is the go-to-barrister for some south London villains. He negotiates the politics at work, has limited career expectations and always seems to be a disappointment to Hilda, his more ambitious wife. 

Other memorable stories feature an MP accused of rape and a divorce case where the opposing parties are being manipulated by their mercenary, avaricious son.

I enjoyed the nostalgia the book resurrected for me. My dad enjoyed the TV series, so it was nice to be reminded of him. Narration was by Patrick Tull, which was enjoyable with just the right amount of gravitas. 

There are plenty more Rumpole books to enjoy if I want to go down that route and while I wouldn't rule it out in the future, I think I'm satisfied for now.

3.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) October, 2021
Published - 1978
Page count - 208 (8 hrs 28 mins)
Source - Audiobooks
Format - Audible


Where to start? 3 new-to-me authors who I ought to have tried a while back. 3 who've been enjoyed before.

Antti Tuomainen - The Rabbit Factor (2021) - Audible purchase

I think I have four or five of Tuomainen's earlier books on the pile and I still haven't got to him. Go figure. This is his latest and might be a good place to start.b

Just one spreadsheet away from chaos…

What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.

And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.

But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri's relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…

Warmly funny, rich with quirky characters and absurd situations, The Rabbit Factor is a triumph of a dark thriller, its tension matched only by its ability to make us rejoice in the beauty and random nature of life.

Hansjorg Schneider - Silver Pebbles (2022) - Edelweiss - Above the Treeline review site

Another new author and the second in his Hunkeler series. Time for a visit to Switzerland!

A hunt for drug gang diamonds is keeping Basel Inspector Hunkeler on tenterhooks.

Basel, nestled at the border of Switzerland with Germany and France, has been hammered by a huge snowstorm, cars and trams can barely move, trees are groaning under the weight of the recent snowfall, the cathedral and city roofs are smothered. An elegant young Lebanese man carrying diamonds in his bag is on the train from Frankfurt to Basel, a drug mule on the return journey. At the Basel train station, Inspector Hunkeler is waiting for him after a tipoff from the German police. The courier manages to get to the station toilet and flushes the stones away. Erdogan, a young Turkish sewage maintenance worker, finds the diamonds in the pipes under the station. To him they mean wealth and the small hotel he always wanted to buy near his family village. To his older Swiss girl-friend Erika, employed at a supermarket checkout counter, the stones signify the end of their life together. She knows that Erdogan has a wife and children in Turkey. For the courier, finding the stones is a matter of life and death. His employers are on their way to “tidy things up”. For Hunkeler the stones are the only way to get to the people behind the drug trade. They turn out to include not only the bottom-feeding drug gangs but bankers and politicians very high up the Basel food chain.

Tom Vater - Kolkata Noir (2021) - review copy from author

Tom Vater had been enjoyed before - The Monsoon Ghost Image. This is his latest.

Becker is a British traveler in trouble. Madhurima is a rising star police officer. In these three explosive tales, the two join forces to investigate the city’s crooked high society.

On the way, they take on deluded would-be messiahs in search of Mother Teresa’s stolen millions, encounter fanatics, circus freaks and cannibals, fall in and out of love and pay homage to one of the world’s most beautiful and toughest cities.

Amidst passion, murder and mayhem, is there room for two lovers driven by justice and compassion?

Tom Vater's 'Kolkata Noir' is a riveting crime fiction cycle of three novellas set in the past, the present and the future.

Sean O'Leary - Going All the Way (2021) - review copy from author

Australian crime. O'Leary's short story collection - Wonderland - was reading time well spent.

Travis is the night manager at the Cross Motel in Sydney’s notorious late-night district, Kings Cross. His life takes a drastic turn after a sex worker is brutally murdered on his shift.

Having broken up with his girlfriend and lost his dream of becoming a professional AFL player, Travis's life is in shambles. With the police breathing down his neck and his ex-girlfriend asking him to find her missing partner, Travis has got his plate full, and more.

His search takes him to Melbourne, where he also has to find two missing girls. Travis realizes there's only one way out: find the people responsible and bring them to justice. But can he make it out alive?

Peter Ritchie - Where Angels Rest (2021) - review copy from author

One of my favourite Scottish authors. Previously enjoyed - Our Little SecretsWhere No Shadows Fall and Maxine's Story

Grace Macallan is back in major crime investigation.

The arrest of a Finnish contract killer and the subsequent murder of an Edinburgh reporter seem unconnected – until a ghost from the past appears in the investigation.

The horrors of past misdeeds in Northern Ireland, contract killers, military secrets and organised-crime feuds collide on the streets of Edinburgh and the Irish Republic, drawing Macallan into brutal score-settling on Dublin’s streets and a life-or-death race against time.

CB McKenzie - Burn What Will Burn (2016) - purchased copy

A second novel from McKenzie. His debut - Bad Country also sits on the stack.

A noirish crime novel set in rural Arkansas from award-winning author C. B. McKenzie.

Bob Reynolds doesn't recognize the body in the creek, but he does recognize the danger of it. He's a newcomer to town, not entirely welcome and not entirely on good footing with the sheriff. So far he's kept his head down, mostly over the bar at the Crow's Nest. But he has interests other than drinking and spending his inheritance, including one that goes by the name Tammy Fay Smith and who may have caught the sheriff's eye as well.

Bob Reynolds would rather pretend he never saw the body, but when it disappears he begins to doubt what little he knew about this secretive town, one that seems to become more unwelcoming by the day. But he can't just forget the body, despite the advice he's given to do so and despite the evidence to suggest that he might be disappearing along with it.

Following his acclaimed, Edgar-nominated debut, C. B. McKenzie's Burn What Will Burn will appeal to fans of such literary crime authors as Daniel Woodrell, Tom Franklin, Joe R. Lansdale, and Nic Pizzolatto.

Friday 12 November 2021


 A couple from Indigenous Canadian author, Wayne Arthurson.

Arthurson was someone who had eluded my radar until a recent mention by Sam Wiebe had me seeking his work out. I've not tried him yet, but am looking forward to these two.

He has other works to his name. There's a three book series featuring an amateur detective, journalist and compulsive gambler - Leo Desroches. And there's a couple of other standalones. Surprisingly for me I'll stick with these two for now.

The Traitors of Camp 133 (2016)

Captain Mueller is dead. Hanged, apparently, by his own hand. But ex-police officer and war hero Sergeant August Neumann doesn't think it's quite so simple. How could it be with blackshirts, legionnaires, and communist sympathisers vying for control of the camp?

Now Sergeant Neumann must navigate these treacherous cliques to find the truth while under the watchful eyes of his Canadian captors.

The Red Chesterfield (2019)

M is a bylaw officer, living with two brothers, in their parents' old house. While investigating a 
suspicious yard sale, M discovers a red chesterfield sitting in a ditch. Looking closer, M finds a running shoe-and a severed foot.

Now M is involved in a murder investigation. Meanwhile, older brother K's work for a new political party begins to seem suspicious, while younger brother J navigates the complicated world of young-adulthood, and boss Rhonda demands more and more attention, M must navigate a world of Russian gangsters and neglected wives, biker gangs and suspicious coincidences. On top of everything else, M is determined to track down the owner of that red chesterfield and make sure they get a ticket.

The Red Chesterfield is a delightful, unusual novel that upends the tropes and traditions of crime fiction while asking how far one person is willing to go to solve a crime, be it murder or the abandonment of a piece of furniture.