Sunday 31 January 2021


 A bit of Scottish crime with two from Russel D. McLean.

McLean has written seven novels in total; a couple of standalones of which And When I Die is one of and a five book series featuring a Dundee private investigator, J McNee
Cry Uncle is the last in the series.

The full series list is as follows:

J McNee
   1. The Good Son (2008)
   2. The Lost Sister (2009)
   3. Father Confessor (2012)
   4. Mothers of the Disappeared (2014)
   5. Cry Uncle (2014)

Cry Uncle was enjoyed back in 2015 - thoughts here.

Cry Uncle (2014)

Dundee-based private investigator J. McNee finds himself way out of his depth in his latest undercover assignment

Working undercover on behalf of the police, McNee's mission is to get close to aging gangster David Burns and uncover his secrets. In his role as Burns' new right hand man, he's expected to follow orders and get his hands dirty. But how far can he go before he crosses the line? With the murder of Burns' nephew - supposedly under McNee's protection at the time - the tension ratchets up to breaking point, and McNee finds himself in the midst of a vicious turf war. His cover at risk of being blown at any moment, in this deadly game McNee is beginning to realize he's expendable. To survive, he's going to have to change the rules ... Dark, violent and psychologically gripping, Cry Uncle blends the grit of classic American hardboiled fiction with a distinctly Scottish voice and attitude.

And When I Die (2016)

Families Can Be Murder His family believes he's dead. The police believe he's dead. But Ray Scobie, a killer who can't feel pain, doesn't die so easily. Betrayed by his own father, near-fatally wounded and lying in hospital as 'John Doe', Ray wants payback against his family - who just happen to run one of Glasgow's most brutal crime syndicates. Family secrets and old grudges collide with the dark motives of an undercover cop who's strayed beyond his brief to the point of no return. And the cop's still in thrall to Ray's favourite cousin, with whom he's had an illicit relationship, endangering them both.

Saturday 30 January 2021


Stephen J. Golds' fantastic book, Always the Dead featured on the blog yesterday. 

Stephen was kind enough to submit to a bit of gentle questioning about his reading and writing habits....

I’m guessing the book writing’s maybe not full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

Sure, thanks a lot. 

I’m an English teacher here in Japan. Originally from North London, U.K. Teach at a university and a high school. Been living here for the last 14 years almost. I have two daughters who I couldn’t live a day without. I speak Japanese like Borat speaks English. Love traveling, boxing, collecting old LPs, books and antique clocks and lighters.  

I’m currently reading* your latest offering – Always the Dead which drops soon* – published by Close To The Bone.  Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?

*Done and dusted now and it was released yesterday.

A WW2 veteran/mob hitman on his last legs looking for redemption and love in 1940s California. Semi-fictional, Hollywood noir. Tuberculosis. World War 2. The Mob. Dark. Real.  Not for people who like their crime fiction cosy and comfortable. Put my heart and soul into writing it. 

You’ve not long had Say Goodbye When I’m Gone drop (Red Dog Press) as well as a poetry collection – Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once. Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?

That’s a really tough question. I’m not sure how to answer. It’s like Sophie’s Choice. I think I would have to go with the prose as not a lot of people are fans of poetry, especially poetry in the style that I write it. I try to write prose as poetically as I can so maybe if they liked my prose they’d go and try my poetry out anyway. 

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

Yes, I can. It was a poem that I had published when I was 19 years old in an indie magazine called Zygote in My Coffee. Edited by a great guy called Brian Fuggett. He was one of the first ever people to believe in and champion my work and I’ll always appreciated him. Haven’t spoken to him in years because I’m not on social media but Zygote was a really great magazine and I’m still proud that I cut my poetry teeth there. 

Do you have a favourite format - short story, poem, novella or novel and a favourite genre to work in? 

That’s another tough question. I’d say that, for me personally, it depends what it is that I want to say.
Choose the right tool for the job as they say. Usually I write what I want and stop when it’s done. It might end up as a piece of flash fiction or it might end up as a novel. I don’t really think too much about it before I start writing. 

I would say my favorite genre to read and write in is Dirty Realism. It’s the main reason that I started writing in the first place. It’s just coincidence that my stories and novels lean towards crime. I’d like to say they’re more character studies about desperate people in desperate situations. 

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

No, not at all. I write when I feel like it. Though I do like writing in the early hours of the morning when I can’t sleep because I find that’s when my work is the moodiest. 

Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?

No, I’ve never done that. But, in all of my protagonists there are some fingerprints of myself. Parts of me. I think a lot of writers write the kind of protagonist they fantasize they could be, whereas I’m the opposite. I write protagonists that I’m scared of becoming. 

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

I’m not a plotter. I write on the fly. But while I am writing I make the story into a movie inside my head. I obsessionally think about it. Imagine famous actors playing the roles. When I’ve got a good scene acted out in my head I’ll go home and write what it is I’m seeing in my mind. Maybe that’s why so many people have compared Say Goodbye and Always the Dead to movies. 

Are there any subjects off limits? 

No, and there never should be. If I don’t agree with something or if it might upset me I don’t read it, or I stop reading it. If something is well written, thought provoking it should be published 100% whether I agree with or not. That’s a hill I will always choose to die on. 

How long from conception to completion did Always the Dead take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

Always the Dead flowed out of me. I had the first draft done after around two months believe it or not. I was writing like a demon for most of 2020. Wrote two novels, a novella, twenty five short stories and over one hundred and fifty poems. 

Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?

It actually came out exactly as I had hoped. And I’m very proud of everything I’ve had published thus far. Hopefully my muse will keep me writing throughout 2021 and 2022. 

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

There is. A pitch black semi-autobiographical, comedy/crime novella titled The Piece of Shit. It will probably stay at the bottom of the drawer as I doubt anyone would publish it. 

What’s the current project in progress?

Finishing off my third novel now. It’s a prequel to Say Goodbye and Always the Dead, about  a corrupt 1940s vice detective struggling with OCD, trying to forget a rough childhood, and losing his grip, slipping into a violent mental breakdown during a very bad week triggered by a photograph in a newspaper. 

What’s the best thing about writing?

It’s extremely therapeutic for me. To be frank, writing saved my life. 

The worst?

The self-doubt that crawls at the back of your mind constantly. 

Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read?

They were -

Brainquake by Samuel Fuller 

Nobody’s Angel by Jack Clark 

One is a Lonely Number by Bruce Elliot 

The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott 

Rock and a Hard Place issue 4 

All excellent and highly recommended. 

Who do you read and enjoy?

True Crime, Dirty Realism, Noir, Pulp in all its forms, Sci-Fi, Poetry, Hard-boiled. Damn… It’s probably easier to ask me what I don’t enjoy reading. 

Is there any one book you wish you had written?            

It would be a toss up between One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Kesey or Ham on Rye by Bukowski. They’re both deeply moving and beautiful books that inspire me a little more every time I read them. 

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Traveling. I love to getaway and lose myself in strange cities. Hanoi has been one of my favorite places in Asia so far. Spectacular place with so much character and beauty.   If I’m not traveling, or writing, I’m in the boxing gym. Nothing puts things in perspective more than getting punched in the face. Repeatedly.  

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

It didn’t really rock me, but last week I watched the sequel to The Shining which is one of my favorite movies of all time. I really liked what they did with the story linking it so closely to the first Kubrick movie, a lot more than King did with the novel. 

The last movie to really rock me was Joker. I loved it. It said so much about today’s current society and was a really important movie in my opinion. 

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

I don’t really watch all that much television. The most watched show is probably Ozark at the moment. Rewatching series two right now. I love the Snells. Really enjoy The Sopranos, Narcos, Family Guy and The Twilight Zone has been on a lot in my house recently. 

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

Not exactly your question but I’m going to say the last 3 albums I downloaded were by

The Lumineers 

Smashing Pumpkins 

Bright Eyes 



What’s your favourite vegetable?

Onion? I like to cry while I eat vegetables. 

When did you last have a fist fight?

With boxing gloves on, today. A light sparring match. 

Last actual fist fight was in August, only lasted about twenty seconds outside a railway station in the very early hours of the morning. Surprisingly it was a fellow British guy. Started in on me for no reason at all. Unfortunately for him I was happy to oblige because I’d been practicing a 5 punch combo in the gym for the last 3 weeks and wanted to try it out on someone other than a sparring partner. 

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

Too many times, embarrassingly. Once the bouncers threw me off the premises of a club in Osaka and then kindly called an ambulance for me. Which was thoughtful of them.  

Do you have any tattoos?

I have many. Tattoos are a big interest and pleasure of mine. 

Getting work done is like acupuncture for me. And because of my OCD I don’t like to have any gaps. The patches of emptiness really grate on me and I obsess over them and breathe a sigh of relief when they’re finally filled in. 

What was your first pet’s name?

Stinky the Hamster. I wasn’t the most creative child. 

What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

The one that put me in the hospital with serious food poisoning when I lived in Hong Kong. 

Do you have any irrational fears?

Answering a question about my irrational fears. 

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

Okinawa. I love everything about the place. Everything. Try to spend as much of my time there as possible. It’s like Hawaii. 

When did you last tell a lie?

I told my boss I needed the day off because I was sick but actually was just hungover. 

Saying that though, I hate liars and try my best not to lie to people I care about a lot.  

Life’s too short for BS. 


Many thanks to Stephen for his time.

Always the Dead dropped yesterday. It's well worth a look in my opinion.

Los Angeles, California. 1949.

Scott Kelly is a World War Two Marine veteran and mob hitman confined to a Tuberculosis sanatorium suffering from consumption, flashbacks and nightmares from his experiences of The Battle of Okinawa and a botched hit for Bugsy Siegel.

When his movie actress girlfriend disappears, he bribes his way out of the sanatorium to search for her.

What follows is a frantic search, a manic murder spree, stolen contraband, and a briefcase full of cash.

A story that stretches from the war torn beaches of Okinawa, all the way to the playground of the rich and famous, Palm Springs, California.

An exploration into the depths of L.A crime, PTSD and twisted love.

A semi-fictional novel based around the disappearance of Jean Spangler.

Friday 29 January 2021



Los Angeles, California. 1949.
Scott Kelly is a World War Two Marine veteran and mob hitman confined to a Tuberculosis sanatorium suffering from consumption, flashbacks and nightmares from his experiences of The Battle of Okinawa and a botched hit for Bugsy Siegel.
When his movie actress girlfriend disappears, he bribes his way out of the sanatorium to search for her.
What follows is a frantic search, a manic murder spree, stolen contraband, and a briefcase full of cash.
A story that stretches from the war torn beaches of Okinawa, all the way to the playground of the rich and famous, Palm Springs, California.
An exploration into the depths of L.A crime, PTSD and twisted love.
A semi-fictional novel based around the disappearance of Jean Spangler.

My first taste of author Stephen J. Golds work, but definitely not my last after this dark, thrilling, pitch-black, pitch-perfect slice of noir.

Scott Kelly survived the war ... the madness, the brutality, the horror, the combat, the slaying of the enemy as well as the innocents, the death of friends, the oceans of blood, the severed limbs, the shattered bones and the rest of the carnage .. but it still rages in his head - in his nightmares, infecting his memories of his long departed wife and young daughter. It's a permanent battle scar.

In peacetime, he's done his share of killing for the mob. And he's fallen deep for the wrong woman.

His girl, Jean has gone missing and Kelly, despite his debilitating tuberculosis, despite her frequent betrayals of him, despite his episodes of violence towards her, wants her back.

Batten down the hatches and strap yourself in for a wild ride.... mobsters, old acquaintances, old enemies, War-time comrades, family memories, botched jobs and vendettas, dirty cops, stolen H, hot money, roadside diners, car chases and shoot outs in the company of a ferocious ally and a lot more besides.

Vivid, brutal, surprisingly tender in places. I loved it. Scott Kelly is definitely a troubled man with many flaws, but I was rooting for him nonetheless. 

In a harsh novel, Golds manages to inject some lighter moments. My favourite line....

Beth, my ex-wife, had told me once that any man who rode the bus after the age of thirty was a loser in life. I wish she could have seen me then. She always loved to be right.

I also enjoyed the fusion of real life characters into the narrative. Famous and infamous names from the past - Micky Cohen, Bugsy Siegel, Elizabeth Short, Kirk Douglas all feature at some point. As does Jean Spangler. (I'm not actually sure if her surname is mentioned in the book, or just the blurb.)

Great setting, interesting plot, damaged developed characters, perfect length, satifying outcome.

4.5 from 5

Read - January, 2021

Published - 2021

Page count - 219

Source - review copy from author

Format - PDF read on laptop 


Thursday 28 January 2021





Holland March is a private eye with a defective nose and a broken arm. Jackson Healy is the tough guy who put him in a cast. Not the two most likely men to team up for a missing girl, or look into the suspicious death of a beautiful porn star, or go up against a conspiracy of the rich and powerful that stretches from Detroit to D.C.. Hell, they're not the most likely pair to team up to do anything. But there you go.

And if they somehow survive this case, they might just find they like each other.

But let's be honest.

They probably won't survive it.

Another one of those books that I read a while ago, probably enjoyed - or at least wasn't bored to tears by - but can't remember Jack all about. It's a novelisation of a film of the same name and I've never seen the film either. If I cross paths with it, I'll give it a watch, but I'm not busting a gut to track it down.

On the face of it, this one ticks a lot of the boxes regarding tropes in crime fiction that I enjoy.... PIs, a missing person case, a dead porn star, conflict between the Is and conspiracies. I think I was probably just jaded, coming to the end of what seemed like the longest ever year on record. Read another time in another mood, it might have rocked my boat.

From memory - a few laughs were had,. I liked Holland's daughter sticking her nose into the case and defying her father. I liked that it gave March and Healy an additional problem to worry about as she puts herself in jeopardy. I was amused by the dynamics of the three of them and how the relationship developed from physical violence and animosity to an almost friendship.

The rest I can't really recall.

3 from 5

I have something else from Ardai or his pen name Richard Aleas on the pile, that I'll get to at some point in the future.

Read - December, 2020
Published - 2016
Page count - 288
Source - Library loan
Format - Paperback  

Wednesday 27 January 2021





Dick Moonlight can't help himself. Moonlight, the private detective known as Captain Head-Case due to the piece of bullet lodged in his brain, should be grateful for his current job. But when it becomes clear the cash-starved brain surgeon he's been hired to drive around is protecting his son from a rape conviction, Moonlight becomes disgusted.

Worse, when the charges turn into a case of "reckless murder," Moonlight's the only one trying to keep the kid from the electric chair, though the young lady - a state senator's daughter - clearly committed suicide. Then Moonlight and his unwilling assistant, a fat Elvis impersonator who owes him money, stumble into a much bigger plot and are soon dodging Hollywood obsessed drug-running Russian thugs, corrupt government officials, and the specter of Moonlight's recently deceased girlfriend.

New York Times bestselling author Vincent Zandri delivers another fast-paced thriller in the ITW Thriller and PWA Shamus Award Winning Dick Moonlight PI series, offering readers plenty of wry humor, bullets, car chases, and Scarface references. For fans of Michael Connelly, Don Winslow, Joe Landsdale, Eric Beetner, Frank Zafiro and more.

Scroll up now and grab your copy today!

*****WINNER of the 2015 PWA Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original and the 2015 ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original!*****

Moonlight Weeps was another one enjoyed back in December via Audible and was my second Vincent Zandri outing. It's the eighth book in a ten book series and while I liked it, I don't feel compelled to go and hoover up the other nine. I think I have the first in some format or other anyway - so the other eight then.

Dick Moonlight  - helluva name - is a PI with a damaged brain. He's never gotten over the loss of his dead girlfriend and that's about all I can really recall about him. Oh, he was an ex-cop and a lot of his former colleagues wouldn't wee on him if he was on fire. He blew the whistle on some police corruption a few years back. A bit of a straight arrow guy then.

Here he enlists a fat Elvis impersonator to assist in an investigation into a girl's suicide which the cops are trying to pin on his doctor client's son as rape, with culpability in her subsequent death.

A dirty Doctor, his crazed off-spring, mad Russian mobsters, dodgy politicians and plenty of drugs - for sale and for consumption.

I liked it. I enjoyed the narration by Andrew B. Wehrlen, who brings the character fully to life. There's plenty of action, humorous dialogue and banter - particularly between Dick and fat Elvis. There's fisticuffs, gun fights, a car chase and the odd sex scene. 

Dick gets distracted as he keeps seeing his dead girlfriend wandering the streets. After getting sacked off the case and re-hired a few times, he eventually ends up in opposition to his former employer, trying to take down a drug ring.  

Good fun, never boring, never wanted to be in another book when I was listening to this one. Did exactly what it said on the tin.

4 from 5

Zandri's Tunnel Rats has been enjoyed previously. There's more from him on the pile.

Read - (listened to) December, 2020
Published - 2014
Page count - 391 (5 hrs 40 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible 

Tuesday 26 January 2021




From USA Today bestselling author Brett Battles comes the origin story to the Jonathan Quinn thrillers.

Most careers begin with an interview and a handshake. Others require a little … something more.

Meet Jake Oliver. The day will come when he's one of the best cleaners in the business, a man skilled at making bodies disappear. 

At the moment, however, he’s a twenty-two year old rookie cop, unaware his life is about to change.

In a burning barn a body is found—and the fire isn't the cause of death. The detectives working the case have a pretty good idea about what went down. 

But Officer Oliver thinks it’s something else entirely, and pursues a truth others would prefer remain hidden—others who will go to extreme lengths to keep him quiet.

Every identity has an origin. This is Quinn’s.

My first taste of Brett Battles and his series character Jonathan Quinn. Battles is an author I've managed to ignore for a fair few years after buying and not reading his debut novel, The Cleaner a good while ago. (15 actually) More fool me.

Quinn isn't Quinn yet; he's Jake Oliver, a patrol cop and he's a nosey so and so and his smart instincts are about to land him in a heap of trouble.

At a crime scene which has been set up to look like something it isn't, our man picks up the little hinks in the cover up and after doing a bit of snooping and creative investigating he has an inkling as to what's gone down. A day or two later and he has a photo of a couple of men he thinks were responsible for murder. 

Bringing it to the attention of his superiors, instead of praise he's handed his ass. He's also painted a target on his back, his meddling having come to the attention of the network who organised the operation. His meddling comes at a high cost to one of his friends in the police service.

I had great fun reading this one. I quite like the one man against the machine type of scenario. Jake is a target only he doesn't know it. Fortunately for him, the cleaner (name forgotten, having read this a month ago) responsible for the semi-successful (the target is dead), but botched (someone is onto them) operation, is having a bit of friction with his handler and one of his teammates. He also thinks the young cop, having put things together from starting point zero, might be a worthy ally if he can bring around to a certain way of thinking.

Interesting characters, interesting set-up and plot. I like conspiracies and black op books with renegades working in the shadows and blurring the lines between the good guys and bad guys. I enjoyed the conflict in the book, especially the resistance Jake felt to his future mentor and the eventual alliance that sprang up between them.

I think this might be a series I'll enjoy. Now where's my copy of The Cleaner?

4.5 from 5

Read - December, 2020
Published - 2011 
Page count - 218
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle

Monday 25 January 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

Kieran Elliott's life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran's parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away...

My third outing with author Jane Harper after enjoying two of her previous three books - The Dry and Force of Nature. The Survivors is another gripping read, one which I kind of thought I had a handle on where it was heading and what had happened, but which ultimately showed me to be clueless as Harper neatly managed to outfox me.

Kieran Elliott, his wife and baby daughter return to the town of his childhood to help his mother with her relocation. His father has dementia or Alzheimers - I forget which and needs to be homed in order to provide the best level of care for him and allow his mother some respite. Kieran doesn't return home too often. 

Home is a painful place, full of unresolved grief and guilt and trauma, which affects not just Kieran, but his family, his childhood friends and the wider community. Kieran's brother Finn drowned along with a friend years ago, an event which Kieran bears responsibility for. Another event of a tragic nature occurred around the same time - read the book to discover what.

Barely back in town 24 hours and Kieran is already the target of some barely restrained hostility. A few more hours pass and a body is found on the beach - murder.

The book leads us through the present day police investigation and back into the past where we eventually discover what actually happened and it's connection to the killing which has just transpired. 

I really enjoyed this one. I listened to it over a month ago on Audible and I was quite taken by the narration. I think it added to my enjoyment. Events, unless I'm mis-remembering are mostly seen through Kieran's eyes. He's a likable character. I wouldn't class him as damaged because of events of the past, but I would say it has affected his relationship with his parents. The loss of his brother was never really discussed openly and it has sort of festered, like an untreated wound. There's no rejection or rift as such, it's just the bloody big elephant in the room. His father's condition doesn't lend itself to a frank discussion and a baring of the soul. Reconciliation and forgiveness doesn't seem a likely prospect.

I enjoyed how the author developed the plot and relayed the tale. I'm a sucker for a kind of dual timeline narrative where we flip flop back into the past and forward to the present. There were a few likely suspects for the present day murder, which kept me on my toes guessing. Similarly I was sucked in by an event in the past, which had me patting myself on the back prematurely as I had everything all sorted and solved in my head. Jane Harper knew better.

Aussie crime, Aussie setting - tick. 
Tragedy of the past, murder in the present - confusion, possible scenarios and happenings, secrets, misunderstandings - multiple suspects - plenty of intrigue - big tick. 
Characters - well-developed, credible, interesting relationship dynamics, conflict, love, hatred, guilt, separation - big tick.
Outcome - satisfying, all questions answered.
Pace - worked for me. I probably enjoyed it more as an Audible book, than I might have done on the written page. I perhaps would have taken a lot longer to get through it and as a result it might not have had the same impact.
Length - okay. No real sense of padding or drag or boredom at any point.

5 from 5

Despite a massive TBR pile, I think Jane Harper is an author I want to try and follow with each new book. I do still have her third - The Lost Man to get to at some point. Sooner rather than later.

Read - (listened to) December, 2020
Published - 2020
Page count - 385 (11 hrs 57 mins)
Source - Net Galley - audible copy
Format - Audible

Sunday 24 January 2021



God created the world in one week. In six days Pastor Tom destroyed his own. On the seventh day he rested. Post-Troubles Belfast. One flawed pastor believes he can still make a difference. Hardened, ageing paramilitaries make a last grab for power. Murder, kidnapping, corruption. Pastor Tom strives to make a positive difference in his community, but secrets from his past still haunt him. One bad decision follows another as he tries to do “the right thing.” Will he soon be shackled to a path leading him far from redemption?

An absolute ripper from Simon Maltman with Witness. 

Northern Ireland setting, religion - almost as a main character - but not in the traditional context of Catholic and Protestant animosity, a man with links to a Paramilitary past - under severe pressure and ill-advisedly rekindling lost connections, hopefully as a means of a way out. 

Pastor Tom has some difficulties to confront - financial, career-wise and family. This man with a troubled past and extremely stressed, initially seeks solace at the bottom of a whisky bottle. Bad decision begets bad decision. Each one leading him further and further away from the light and deeper into darkness. 

It's a gripping propulsive page-turner which is akin to rubber-necking at a car crash. You sense early on that things may not end well for chief protagonist, Tom but it's surprising how quickly his one way descent into hell transpires. There's some comfort in him not making the trip on his own.

Interesting main character, not totally likable, definite flaws, a little bit naive and idealistic but unable to leave the past back where it firmly belongs. I enjoyed the setting and the back-drop of a "new" religion with Tom's evangelical mission critical to the plot and all that ensues. 

There's a decent supporting cast of characters which add flesh to the bones of the book. Tom's interactions with his young daughter in particular offer a temporary respite from his problems. There's a lot of guilt to contend with as he recognises his failings and the ways in which he is disappointing his wife, his father-in-law and his flock. 

It's been a while since I smashed out a 300 plus page book midweek while still working, but I found it hard to put this one down.

4.5 from 5

I've enjoyed reading Simon Maltman before - The Sidewinder, Bongo Fury and More Faces - but this one represents a massive step up in class in my opinion. 

Read - January, 2021

Published - 2020

Page count - 314

Source - review copy from author

Format - ePUB read on laptop

Saturday 23 January 2021


A couple from Reavis Z. Wortham, another new author I have yet to try and a series set in 60s Texas with a bald-headed, pot-bellied hero. My kind of guy, I reckon!

Wortham has written eight books in his Red River Mystery series, as well as penning a separate series of books featuring a Texas Ranger, Sonny Hawke. He has the odd standalone novel to his name also.

The full list of books in the series which interests me most is as follows:

Red River Mystery
   1. The Rock Hole (2011)
   2. Burrows (2012)
   3. Right Side of Wrong (2013)
   4. Vengeance is Mine (2014)
   5. Dark Places (2015)
   6. Unraveled (2016)
   7. Gold Dust (2018)
   8. Laying Bones (2021)

The Rock Hole (2011)

In bald-headed, pot-bellied Ned Parker, Wortham has created an authentic American hero reminiscent of the best heroes and antiheroes in a story that blends country humor with heart-pounding suspense and ends with a stunning climax that may well shock our civilized sensibilities.

It's a whole other country out there.

In 1964, when Ned Parker, farmer and part-time constable, is summoned to a cornfield one hot morning to examine the remains of a tortured bird dog, he discovers that there is a dark presence in their quiet community of Center Springs, Texas. Ned is usually confident handling moonshiners, drunks, and instances of domestic dispute. But when it comes to animal atrocities-- which then turn to murder--the investigation spins beyond his abilities.

Ned combines forces with John Washington, a well-known black deputy sheriff from nearby Paris, Texas, to track down a disturbed individual who has become a threat to their small community.

As the case takes a dizzying series of twists and brings forth eccentric characters as well as several dead ends, Ned's cranky friend, Judge O. C. Rains, is forced to contact the FBI. Then, sinister warnings that his family has been targeted by the killer lead Ned to the startling discovery that he knows the murderer very well. After the failed abduction of his precocious grandchildren, Top and Pepper, the old lawman becomes judge and jury to end what has become a murder spree in the Red River bottomlands. And it signals the end of an era in Center Springs.

The Right Side of Wrong (2013)

In 1965 Constable Cody Parker's frightening dreams of gathering storm clouds for the tight-knit Parker family from Center Springs, Texas, proved accurate. Cody is ambushed and nearly killed on a lonely country road during an unusually heavy snowfall. With that attack, the locals fear that a disturbed murderer "the Skinner" has returned to their community.

While his nephew recovers, Constable Ned Parker struggles to connect a seemingly unrelated series of murders. As the summer of 1966 approaches, rock and roll evolves to reflect the increasing unrest in the country, and the people of northeast Texas wonder why their once-peaceful community has suddenly become a dangerous place to live. Ned's preteen grandchildren, Top and Pepper, are underfoot at every turn. The two lawmen, along with the Deputy John Washington, cross paths with many colorful citizens, including cranky old Judge O. C. Rains; the jittery farmer Isaac Reader; and the Wilson boys, Ty Cobb and Jimmy Foxx. And then there's the arrival in their small community of a mysterious old man named Tom Bell.

Now recovered, Cody decides to follow his main suspect across the Rio Grande and into Mexico. Ned understands that to save his nephew, he will have to cross more than a river - he will have to cross over to the right side of wrong.

Humor, suspense, horror, precognition, and life in the tumultuous 1960s all play a part in the solving of this mystery....

Friday 22 January 2021




Former FBI agent and psychological profiler Robert Payne is on the trail of a serial killer. A 12 year old girl has been murdered and mutilated, and the detective assigned to the case wound up dead. Now Nora Conners, the girl's wealthy mother, has hired Payne to solve the murder and bring closure. After narrowing his search to three men, a televangelist, a honey salesman, and an art teacher, all living in the small Iowa town of New Hope, Payne begins to narrow the field, posing as a journalist.

That's just the start. As the daughter of one of the suspects joins the list of victim, and the woman who hired him is murdered, Payne finds himself on a race to solve the case before he himself is implicated.

Taut, suspenseful, and filled with the quirky details and character flaws that are the hallmark of Ed Gorman's fiction, Blood Moon is a wonderful introduction to a very memorable character. Be sure to follow his adventures through the other three Robert Payne novels, Hawk Moon, Voodoo Moon, and Harlot's Moon.

Over the last few months I've become acquainted with some of Ed Gorman's works. I've enjoyed my encounters thus far without being blown away - Nightmare Child and Murder on the Aisle, I enjoyed with reservations and now Blood Moon. For a while I thought this was the one that would knock me off my chair. Alas.

It's an interesting set-up. Ex-FBI man, Robert Payne is employed to try and identify a killer which his former friend and nearly business partner has whittled down to three suspects. His friend is now dead. (Murdered?) Soon his employer is. Payne works undercover to try and catch the killer.

I liked it, but just felt there were a few too many twists as we get to the climax of the book. It was almost as if the author was trying more to outwit the reader, with revelation upon revelation, shock after shock, as opposed to bringing the story to a cohesive and credible conclusion.

I'm not usually a massive of the serial killer type thriller anyway, with probably the exception of John Sandford's early work. Gorman hasn't really done anything as such to disabuse me of my reading inclinations.   

Interesting small town setting, credible main character though I did get frustrated at his refusal to reveal his true identity to the small town cop he was getting close to. It irritated me after a while. The jig was up, she's onto you, ergo stop being a tool. 

Plenty of unlikable sorts in here....... a creepy, corrupt TV evangelist, a floosy type hanger-on, a dodgy drifter also part of the pastor's posse, his alcoholic wife, and his dead client's estranged father, as well as some peripheral characters who get drawn into blackmail and victimhood. 

Overall probably a 3 from 5. Maybe 3.5 at a push. I think the ending just shaved it down half a mark. I'm interested in trying more from Gorman and more from this series, so in that respect it hasn't put me off. I think some books you read and enjoy and they kind of act as fillers until the next truly impressive book falls into your hands.

Read - (listened to) December, 2020
Published - 1994
Page count - 320 (8 hrs 36 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Thursday 21 January 2021




Family – might be the death of you…
The Glass family business is crime, and they’re good at what they do. Vengeance took Luke Glass behind bars – but now he's free and he's never going back. Luke wants out of the gangster life – all he has to do is convince his family to let him go.

His brother holds the reins of the South London underworld in his brutal hands - nobody tells Danny Glass no and expects to live - not even DCI Oliver Stanford, bent copper and one of the Met's rising stars. The way Danny sees it, his younger brother and sister Nina owe him everything. The price he demands is loyalty, and a war with their arch enemy gives him the leverage he needs to tie Luke to the family once more.

Luke can't see a way out, until Danny commits a crime so terrible it can't be forgiven. Love turns to hate when secrets are unearthed which pit brother against brother. Left with no choice but to choose a side, Nina holds the fate of the family in her hands.

In the Glass family, Owen Mullen has created a crime dynasty to rival the Richardsons and the Krays. Heart-pounding, jaw-dropping with non-stop action, Family is perfect for fans of Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers and Mandasue Heller.

A busy new book from Scottish author Owen Mullen and one that takes the reader to a vicious gangland world of South London. It's a fast-paced read, violent and populated mainly by a bunch of aspirational criminals, assorted hangers-on and the odd bent policeman or two.

At its heart is the Glass family comprised of Danny - leader and chief nutcase, Luke - fresh out of prison and Nina - part of the firm but sick of Danny's controlling ways. Luke wants out. Nina's trying to build a nest-egg. Danny is trying to rule with an iron rod while propagating the myth of "Team Glass" and family.

As well as the in-fighting and separate agendas there's a rival mob looking to take down the Glass family as payback for the death of Albert Anderson - the crime for which Luke Glass got incarcerated. Hot-head Rollie Anderson, son of the aforementioned Albert wants vengeance.

During the course of the book, we discover various secrets which sees the illusion of Glass family unity finally fragmenting. We see the cruel depths to which Danny will sink to establish his empire for once and for all. We see the impetuousness of youth and the consequences of disregarding caution and sound advice. We see the accommodations and the sacrificing of principles that the corrupt are willing to make, in order to stay protected and in comfort. We get confirmation that some families, just aren't cut out for happy.

Along the way we rub shoulders with betrayal, secrets, disfunctional families, corruption, criminality, nightclubs, bars, old-fashioned patriotism, surveillance, mistrust, theft, sex, romance, date rape, estrangement, kidnap, arson, hitters-for-hire, loss, social media, deaths - multiple - both main players and the innocent as collateral damage and a final reckoning, involving a bit of torture and a new dawn with a new alliance - a sort of a last men standing moment.

Best book ever? No, but I had a good time reading it. Plenty of twists and reveals, not too many whiter than white Mother Teresa types, but I'm quite happy when reading unlikable characters. They're a lot more interesting. That said our main focus, Luke has a sense of right and wrong and some moral fibre. He's just caught up in a situation not entirely of his own making. He's not a total innocent either. 

Overall 4 from 5  

Owen Mullen's books have been enjoyed before - Deadly Harm, In Harm's Way and Out of the Silence

Read - January, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 429
Source - review copy from author
Format - Kindle read on laptop

Wednesday 20 January 2021




The last two years have been tumultuous ones for the Spokane Police Department. On the surface, the agency has suffered from scandal and police officer deaths. Underneath, a secret and deadly game of cat and mouse has played out.

Now the Department of Justice has sent investigators to determine if federal intervention is needed. Their presence disrupts everyone’s agenda and threatens to expose dark secrets. Goals shift from winning situations to simply surviving.

Not everyone will.

In this tense and explosive final installment of the Tyler Garrett saga, everyone’s true nature is laid bare. Garrett scrambles to maintain what he has built. Chief Baumgartner tries to protect his department. Captain Farrell’s plans crumble around him, and Officer Ray Zielinski’s career is at risk. Meanwhile, DOJ supervisor Édelie Durand diligently follows the facts where they lead. And through it all, the unflappable Detective Clint keeps his eyes firmly on the prize—Officer Tyler Garrett.

Best til last, with an absolute banger from Colin Conway and Frank Zafiro to close out their four book Charlie 316 series.  

Policing, corruption, undercover investigations, murder, suspicion, career jostling, professional rivalries and jealousy, surveillance, stakeouts, suspensions and just to put the cat among the pigeons a Department of Justice visit to see whether the Spokane PD is running a tight ship. A red flag has been run up because of events from the past couple of years - a couple of high profile shootings and a dead cop in addition to some bad press coverage. Some chickens are definitely coming home to roost. 

I think what I liked most about this one was seeing a more rounded Honey Badger aka Wardell Clint, setting aside the chip on his shoulder and embracing an element of "team playing" in trying to bring Tyler Garrett to book. Clint has always been enigmatic, interesting, very prickly and a huge pain in the arse. Here, he dials down the attitude a notch and he's more successful because of it. His new charisma implant, doesn't go unnoticed by the other officers he interacts with.

It's also interesting getting a fly on the wall view of a large organisation, long used to self-regulation and limited external oversight, suddenly panicked when a bigger, more authoritative body starts sniffing around and dissecting its actions, culture and decision-making.

I think this series and this book in particular had a bit of everything ..... pace, a decent story - with a compelling over-riding ARC, intriguing characters, massive conflict and a resolution. I usually gravitate towards books where an outlaw or law-breaker gets up to mischief. It's fun when those strands are enacted by some of those that the community looks to protect and serve them.

5 from 5

The prevous three books in the series are Charlie 316, Never the Crime and Badge Heavy. Its a series well worth reading in my opinion.

Read - December, 2020
Published - 2020
Page count - 385
Source - review copy from author
Format - Kindle read on laptop 

Tuesday 19 January 2021


Eric Beetner, author of Two in the Head which was enjoyed and on the blog yesterday was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding his writing, his books and brussel sprouts, as well as a few other things.   

I’m guessing the book writing’s maybe not full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

Good guess. I’m very lucky in that my day job is also a creative endeavor. I’m a TV editor and
producer. So I’m not a cubicle jockey in a tie and dress shoes. My whole world is story and structure and keeping things lean. I think a lot of that translates into my fiction. I’m working on a show you would certainly know - Top Gear. But the U.S. version which I have to say this latest iteration is the best yet. And I mean that sincerely. I’ve long admired the editing style of Top Gear UK as the best in the biz so it’s quite an honor to be the Co-Executive Producer and lead editor of the US version.

I’m currently reading your latest offering Two in the Head which drops soon – published by Down and Out Books. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? 

(Finished reading - very good, plus it's now available!)

It’s a weird book and my hardest yet to summarize. Basically it’s this: A crooked DEA agent tries to extricate herself from the drug lords who pay and control her. They try to kill her in retaliation and she ends up splitting into two people - her good side and her bad side. The bad Samantha tries to destroy the good Samantha and everything she loves. A whole lot people die and things blow up.

You’ve written over twenty novels, including several short series and several collaborations with other authors, novellas and multiple short stories, across several genres. You have a popular podcast and you design book covers. Is there anything you don’t turn your hand to?

Not much. I’ve done western and horror too. I’m lousy at traditional mysteries and I wouldn’t even try a locked room story. I’m not smart enough to extricate myself from a plot like that. I admire those who do it well.

I’ve also been a musician, a painter, an actor. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Do you have a personal favourite among your prodigious output? Is that like asking if you have a favourite child?

My favorites are usually the ones not published yet. Someday I hope they make it out into the world so I can see how wrong I am.

Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?

I usually steer new readers to either Rumrunners or The Devil Doesn’t Want Me. Based on reader feedback and reviews, etc. those are my most popular books and I think they both represent me well as a writer. If you like what you see there you can trust you’ll like the other books too. 

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

I don’t and I should! It had to be an online zine short story in one of the webzines that is long since dead. Thuglit published a story of mine, Ditch, and that was one of the first, but not the first. It was a big deal for me, though

Do you have a favourite format - short story, novella or novel and a favourite genre to work in?

I think I like novels best, though shorts give you that immediate satisfaction. And my books tend to be on the shorter side. Maybe my ideal length skews more toward a novella, but I like a story where many things happen and a character can go through changes. And I like straight ahead crime stories and noir best, though neither of those sell all that well.

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

I’m a late night writer. I do it after my family goes to bed. There is less distraction from the world in general at night, which is I prefer it for all aspects of life.

Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters? 

Sometimes. For Two In The Head I borrowed more names than usual. Calder and Rizzo are sons of a good friend. They were about 5 years old at the time I wrote the book. They still have a ways to go before they can read it. But it’s a slippery slope using names because the assumption is the character is also a proxy for the name, but most of the people I write about aren’t anyone you’d want as your namesake. Naming a character after someone isn’t always a compliment, sometimes it’s revenge.

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

I am an outliner. It comes from my screenwriting background. I like to know where I am going so I don’t waste time meandering on the way there. I’m not big on rewriting or revisions so I try to have it set in an outline before I really get going. It’s another film production technique. Pre-production is key to a smooth shoot so why not pre-produce your book so the writing itself goes easily?

Are there any subjects off limits? 

I’m not big on torture or rape. I don’t like serial killers but they’re not off limits. Generally, unless
you’re trying to be shocking with excessive violence or violence toward women or children which is off-putting, then nothing should be off limits. There is an audience for everything. 

I'm curious to know how a co-authored project works. Is it a vastly different process to a solo project? 

Every team works a bit differently. I’ve had really good luck. I was smart enough to team up with great writers who are also nice people. The books I’ve co-written were also done as two first person narrators so the writing is still fairly solo. The plotting takes place by kicking emails back and forth and agreeing on a storyline. From there you go off and write your chapter, hand it off and wait for the other chapter to come back and you make minor adjustments and tweaks as you go. 

More scope for disagreements and stress, or double the fun? (Though I don't actually know that writing is fun, it seems like bloody hard work from this reader's limited knowledge.)

I’ve had good luck as I said but I don’t always recommend it to others. It is fraught with pitfalls and it if fails you have to be able to walk away and stay friends and say it didn’t work out but no harm.

Back to the current baby, how long from conception to completion did Two in the Head take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?  

It went smoothly. It’s a wild concept so keeping the rules I had given myself for this story that departs from reality was the hard part. Giving good Samantha limitations on what she could do, since she literally can’t do anything wrong - like speeding when she is trying to rush home to save her fiancé’s life - was tough but also really fun writing myself out of those limits.

Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?

It’s what I imagined. I tried to channel my inner Duane Swierczynski or Victor Gischler for this one. I had a lot fun just going for broke with the action. 

Not having gotten too far along with my reading, and without spoiling it for me, is there scope for a continuation with your main lead character from Two in the Head, or is it a one-shot only outing?

This one is a standalone. I wanted the stakes to be real. Anyone can die at any time. Nobody is safe.

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

I am sitting on five unpublished manuscripts currently. Working on a new one, too. Gems? We shall see. So far, no agent wants to take me on so the books might all suck. Who knows? 

What’s the current project in progress?

I’m very early on to a new novel about an old guy settling a very old score. I like writing about people with age and history. I find them rich mines of stories to tell. Plus, I’m not so young anymore myself.

What’s the best thing about writing?

Getting to see a story you’d want to read come to life. I write because I think of a story and I say, “Oh, I’d want to read that” So I get to!

The worst?

The business of it is really heartbreaking most times. It’s that meeting of art and commerce that is a necessary evil of any creative endeavor. 

Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read?

The Hundred Dollar Girl by William Campbell Gault

I’ll Bury My Dead by James Hadley Chase

The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado

Murder In Old Bombay by Nev March 

When These Mountains Burn  by David Joy

Who do you read and enjoy?

I always look forward to a new Joe R Lansdale book. Owen Laukkanen never lets me down. Brett Battles. Laura McHugh, Ken Bruen, John Rector. And I love diving into my shelf of vintage novels and finding old books that have been forgotten.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Only about a million of them.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I love volleyball and I haven’t been able to play since Covid. I miss it terribly.

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

A French Thriller called Lost Bullet I really enjoyed.

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

It’s my business so I watch a lot of TV guilt free. My viewing habits are totally different from the rest of my family. I keep trying to get my wife to watch Ted Lasso, though. It’s not too dark for her, even though she’ll watch hours of true crime documentary stuff that is way darker than the shows I watch. 

My daughter will watch The Office (US version, sorry) on a loop 24/7 if we let her.

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

I constantly have music on. I recently got a new guitar so I’ve been plucking away at learning some songs lately. I will spare anyone from having to listen to me, though.



What’s your favourite vegetable?

Brussel Sprouts. If my ten-year-old self could hear that he’d think I’m nuts

When did you last have a fist fight?

Never. I’ve come close, but I’ve avoided them all my life. 

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

Nope. I don’t drink so I think that gets back to why I’ve never been in a fistfight either.

Do you have any tattoos?

Surprisingly, no. By all accounts I’m exactly the kind of person who would. Now my wife doesn’t want me to so despite having several that I’d probably like to get, I remain ink free

What was your first pet’s name?

Fang, a cat

What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

Hard to say. It’s about context really. I’ve had some dreadful tasting meals, but sad roadside grease bomb food when there is just no other alternative is often the worst. Or that one time meeting my girlfriend’s parents and they had so badly over-salted the meal that none of us could choke it down but I did my damndest to be polite and make a good impression. That was pretty bad.

Do you have any irrational fears?

No. I’m not afraid of much. Probably should be.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

Anywhere with my family, really. We don’t get to go many places so I don’t have a lot of experience to pull from, but as long as we’re together we can make any place a good time.

When did you last tell a lie?

I lie to my kids all the time. It’s fun


Many thanks to Eric for his time.

Visit him at his website -   

Catch his Writertypespodcast - here

Follow him on Twitter@ericbeetner

and check out his books! Starting with his latest.....


When Samantha awakes she is half buried in bricks and the smoke still swirls in the air. The car bomb didn’t kill her—small miracle. Her unfocused eyes see a figure coming nearer. A shape she recognizes somehow. As the person passes by the orange glow from the car fire’s light, she sees the face. Her face. But how?

The other Samantha stands over her and regards her twin. Something is off about this new face. It is her, sure, but harder somehow. The new Sam turns and walks away, back toward the building she came out of before her car exploded. Back to see the two drug kingpins in the top floor offices. And somehow Samantha knows—back to take the deal she just turned down.

Samantha Whelan is a DEA agent, and not always a straight and narrow one. She’s been taking bribes and doing favors for Calder and Rizzo—twin brothers and big players in narco traffic in southern California—for years. She turned down a deal that night, a deal to make her millions, but it meant killing her fiancé, an assistant district attorney building a case against Calder and Rizzo. And it meant betraying her DEA brethren more deeply than she had so far. It was too much. So Calder and Rizzo tried to blow her up.

What happened then…she split. Samantha became Samantha and Sam. Two halves of the same person. The good side and the bad side. The two opposing forces living within her for so long were now free to fight it out to see who will win control.

So begins a nightmarish rocket ride for Samantha to save her life and the lives of everyone she holds dear before Sam, her bad half, can burn it to the ground.

Praise for TWO IN THE HEAD:

“Two In the Head is a straight shot between the eyes. A gangbusters plot, punch-drunk pace, and gut-punch action propel this black hearted thriller fr