Monday 31 May 2021

ALAN PARKS - THE APRIL DEAD (2021)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

When an American sailor from the Holy Loch Base goes missing, Harry McCoy is determined to find him. But as he investigates, a wave of bombings hits Glasgow - with the threat of more to come. Soon McCoy realises that the sailor may be part of a shadowy organisation committed to a very different kind of Scotland. One they are prepared to kill for.

Meanwhile Cooper, McCoy's longtime criminal friend, is released from jail and convinced he has a traitor in his midst. As allies become enemies, Cooper has to fight for his position and his life. He needs McCoy to do something for him. Something illegal.

McCoy is running out of time to stop another bomb, save himself from the corrupt forces who want to see him fail and save the sailor from certain death. But McCoy discovers a deeper, darker secret - the sailor is not the first young man to go missing in April.

The April Dead is the fourth in the Harry McCoy series from author Alan Parks and much like the previous three, Parks nails it again. He's one of my favourite authors and this is a favourite series, 2022 can't come around quick enough for the fifth instalment.

70s Glasgow, a missing US serviceman, a distraught father, a strange bombing campaign (Irish links, possibly?), Special Branch scarers, the TA, gypsies, fairgrounds, a hippie commune, a private army and boyhood pal and hardman gangster, Stevie Cooper fresh out of jail and about to butt heads with another Glasgow pscho. Harry McCoy has his hands full.

Multiple strands of plot to follow, woven effortlessly together by Parks. 

Familiar characters .... McCoy, Cooper, Wattie, Iris, Murray, Lomax, Billy and Jumbo - all bound together by a combination of history, shared experience, criminality, friendship, loyalty, fear, work and opportunity.

Enjoyable dynamics - McCoy and Wattie, an experienced, older detective and a slightly green, younger one; McCoy and childhood pal Cooper, both the products of an abusive upbringing.

McCoy .... 'Sort of remembered being out this way on a day trip from the care home outside Dunoon. Wondered how many other childhood memories he'd lost trying to forget the bad ones. A price he was happy to pay.'  

I enjoy seeing a decent, mostly honest cop, treading an incredibly thin line between duty to his badge and the job and loyalty to Cooper. There's an unbreakable bond between them stronger than any blood ties; forged in fear, shame, abuse and helplessness when wee boys. McCoy is at times put in jeopardy because of his friendship. Resentment, anger, physicality is never far from the surface with these two, both on their polar opposite career paths.

Cracking plot (or plots), great characters, pacing, dialogue, setting, and resolution.

Parks smacks it out of the park again - unsurprisingly.

5 from 5

Bloody January, February's Son and Bobby March Will Live Forever are the earlier entries in the series. Do yourself a favour and check any or preferably all of them out. Thank me later.

Read - May, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 352
Source - review copy from publisher, Canongate 
Format - paperback



 


Sunday 30 May 2021

ALLEN ESKENS - THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING (2017)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

A homicide detective hunts down his wife's killers while struggling between his thirst for revenge and a twinge of conscience forbidding him to take the law into his own hands. Homicide Detective Max Rupert never fully accepted his wife’s death, even when he believed that a reckless hit-and-run driver was to blame. Haunted by memories both beautiful and painful, he is plagued by feelings of unfinished business. When Max learns that, in fact, Jenni was murdered, he must come to terms with this new information—and determine what to do with it. 

Struggling to balance his impulses as a vengeful husband with his obligations as a law enforcement officer, Max devotes himself to relentlessly hunting down those responsible. For most of his life, he has thought of himself as a decent man. But now he’s so consumed with anguish and thoughts of retribution that he finds himself on the edge, questioning who he is and what he stands for. 

On a frozen lake at the US–Canadian border, he wrestles with decisions that could change his life forever, as his rage threatens to turn him into the kind of person he has spent his entire career bringing to justice.

A murder investigation runs in tandem with some deep wrestling of conscience in Allen Eskens' enjoyable mystery, The Deep Dark Descending. Detective Max Rupert receives a tape recording of some unknowns discussing the murder of his wife, over four years ago and we're off and running.

An off-the-books murder investigation, a capable detective - still struggling to come to terms with his bereavement, new evidence, a concerned partner, another cold case, police enemies, Eastern European mobsters, strip clubs, prostitution, people trafficking, a dirty cop, a remote cabin in the wilderness, a pursuit, confrontation, a frozen lake, an ice hole, an interrogation, answers and a decision. 

Busy, interesting, decent cast of characters and a bit of a moral quandary. How far do you push things in the search for justice? Is a revenge of sorts adequate redress, or too much?

Very good, a bit of a page turner. Like the others of his I've read, pretty damn satisfying.

 4.5 from 5 

Allen Eskens has been enjoyed several times before - The Life We BuryThe Heavens May Fall and The Shadows We Hide. There's a couple more of his waiting for me on the pile.
 
Read - May, 2021
Published - 2017
Page count - 288
Source - review copy from publisher
Format - paperback

Saturday 29 May 2021

APRIL 2021 - ADDITIONS TO THE LIBRARY - 6 OF THE BEST!

 A dirty half dozen in April.....

All new to me, 5 male 1 female - some things never change!

            
 
Stephen D. Rogers - Shot to Death: 31 Crime Stories (2021) - Amazon purchase

One from the ever reliable publisher All Due Respect, one of my favourites.

Thirty-one bullets that will leave you gasping for breath…

From hardboiled to noir to just plain human, these stories allow you to experience lives you escaped, and to do so with dignity, humor, and an eye toward tomorrow.

“What sets those particular stories apart is their ability to catch the browns and grays of the characters quickly, subtly and persuasively.” —Barnstable Patriot

“The sometime EQMM poet is so smoothly readable, explores such a variety of inventive situations, and is so ambitious in structure and theme, even the stories that don’t quite hit the mark make enjoyable reading.” —Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

“Each story is fresh and original, set against a New England backdrop, and includes colorful characters from diverse walks of life. Each plot twists and turns to its totally surprising and unpredictable ending.” —Examiner



  John Bowie - Weston - Super - Nightmare (2021) - Competition win

Happy days. Looks like another winner from Close 2 the Bone.

‘Bristol builders, sparkies, carpet fitters and plumbers face-off London gangsters in a Wild West showdown…’

A Classic Crime Pulp-Noir… in Weston

The Hell’s Belles was Jimi’s bar. A retirement gift to himself after a hard life’s graft and no one owned the stage but him and his Gibson SG – except ex–strippers, Tammy and Betty.

Matt, the youngest brother to three of The South Bank Cricketers, the infamous London gang, wanted to play – not gonna happen.

Jimi needed back up. He knew some gangsters of his own, and had criminal friends. But that’s not who he was going to call. He needed something tougher, more reliable… made of stone.



                 David Tromblay - Sangre Road (2021) - purchased copy

Sounds like it's a bit weird, a bit quirky, right up my street!

Introducing Moses Kincaid, an ornery, brazen, and possibly punch-drunk bounty hunter who must track down a skip trace into rural Oklahoma, circa summer 1995. Follow along as he comes up against bikers, prison peckerwoods, zombies, pro-midget wrestlers, holes up in no-tell motels and greasy-spoon diners, and gets gifted mouthful after mouthful of heavy-duty pain pills for the bumps and bruises he earns along the way!

Praise for SANGRE ROAD:

“David Tromblay has created a violent and wistful elegy to small-town America that cuts as sharp as an ice pick and goes twice as deep.” —S.A. Cosby, author of Blacktop Wasteland



                        Lee Durkee - The Last Taxi Driver (2020) - Net Galley

A bit of a change from my usual, but I do have a fondness for driver tales.

Hailed by George Saunders as "a true original--a wise and wildly talented writer," Lee Durkee takes readers on a high-stakes cab ride through an unforgettable shift. Meet Lou--a lapsed novelist, struggling Buddhist, and UFO fan--who drives for a ramshackle taxi company that operates on the outskirts of a north Mississippi college town. With Uber moving into town and his way of life vanishing, his girlfriend moving out, and his archenemy dispatcher suddenly returning to town on the lam, Lou must finish his bedlam shift by aiding and abetting the host of criminal misfits haunting the back seat of his disintegrating Town Car. Lou is forced to decide how much he can take as a driver, and whether keeping his job is worth madness and heartbreak.

Shedding nuts and bolts, The Last Taxi Driver careens through highways and back roads, from Mississippi to Memphis, as Lou becomes increasingly somnambulant and his fares increasingly eccentric. Equal parts Bukowski and Portis, Durkee's darkly comic novel is a feverish, hilarious, and gritty look at a forgotten America and a man at life's crossroads.



                         Jarred McGinnis - The Coward - (2021) - Net Galley

Irvine Welsh likes it.

Question: What's worse than being in a wheelchair?
Answer: Being a fuck-up in a wheelchair.

After a car accident Jarred discovers he'll never walk again. Confined to a 'giant roller-skate', he finds himself with neither money nor job. Worse still, he's forced to live back home with the father he hasn't spoken to in ten years.

Add in a shoplifting habit, an addiction to painkillers and the fact that total strangers now treat him like he's an idiot, it's a recipe for self-destruction. How can he stop himself careering out of control?

As he tries to piece his life together again, he looks back over his past - the tragedy that blasted his family apart, why he ran away, the damage he's caused himself and others - and starts to wonder whether, maybe, things don't always have to stay broken after all.

The Coward is about hurt and forgiveness. It's about how the world treats disabled people. And it's about how we write and rewrite the stories we tell ourselves about our lives - and try to find a happy ending.


                         Lisa Lutz - The Passenger (2016) - purchased copy

Recommended to me by a Goodreads, Twitter pal - Jim Thomsen

Tanya DuBois doesn’t exist.   At least not after an accident leaves her husband dead and thrusts her into the uncomfortably familiar position of Suspect No. 1.  She has only one choice: Run. 

 As “Tanya” watches her life recede in the rearview mirror, we realize she was never real to begin with.  And neither is Amelia Keen, Debra Maze, Emma Lark, Sonia Lubovich, or a girl called only Jo.  Or almost any of the things she tells us about herself, her past or where she is going next.  She is “Amelia” when she meets Blue, another woman with a life she’d rather not discuss, and thinks she’s found a kindred spirit. But their pasts and futures clash as the body count rises around them.
 
Shedding identities like snakeskins, it becomes impossible for the people in Tanya’s life – and even herself – to know exactly who they’re dealing with. It’s only as she comes closer to facing her past that she can start to piece together the truth about not only who she was but who she can still be.  THE PASSENGER inverts the traditional thriller, bypassing whodunit for the larger mysteries of who are you, and what is forgivable, and what is not? 

Thursday 27 May 2021

RYAN GATTIS - ROO KICKKICK & THE BIG BAD BLIMP (2004)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Roo Kickkick had been living in the town of Barguss less than two months before someone picked a fight with him and broke his face wide open.

The person who did this to him was ...

Raoul de los Dios, who had six fingers on his right hand. But Roo Kickkick wasn't the first person Raoul beat up. That person was ...

Thorpe Thorpe. He had an electric/acoustic band called Autistik/Artistik. The band had achieved a certain cult status locally and we knew that when ...

Florence Mink went to one of their shows. She was born to be a star and everybody knew it. Roo had a hard pining for Florence but her boyfriend was ...

Monroe Mister Promised To. He was the kid of the guy that practically owned all of Barguss (car washes and strip malls and ice cream stands) and he always looked bored. Then everything changed.

That's the day the blimp came. That's when this starts.

Hmm, I can't lie. I didn't enjoy this one bit. Time Out and The Guardian are effusive in their praise .... full marks, black humour, staying power, zany, intense, surreal

Me? I could share a few soundbites .... dire, uninteresting, boring, nearly every page was like swimming through treacle. Instead of humour, I'm sure I caught tumbleweed blowing through the book every chapter or so. Obviously humour is quite subjective anyway, but I kind of got a Tim Robbins vibe from the writing. And my one occasion reading him didn't go too well. 

The book is populated by eccentric small town characters. Things happen to some of them. Others bear witness to events. A filmmaker comes town, makes a movie about aforementioned events. Barguss is the centre of attention with the film and the death of the director. The film airs, sinks and Barguss goes back to obscurity. The characters pick up their lives.

I just couldn't get into it. The style of writing I found annoying. The characters, I couldn't relate to. The humour went over my head. Apart from that it was brilliant. I didn't like it, that doesn't mean to say others won't.

2 from 5

Ryan Gattis' latest book, The System, recently read knocked it out of the park. I'll read him again in the future.

Read - May, 2021

Published - 2004

Page count - 256

Source - purchased copy

Format - paperback 


ANDREA CARTER - THE WELL OF ICE (2017)

 


Synopsis/blurb .....

December in Glendara, Inishowen, and solicitor Benedicta 'Ben' O'Keeffe is working flat out before the holidays. But on a trip to Dublin to visit her parents, she runs into Luke Kirby - the man who killed her sister - freshly released from jail. On the surface he appears remorseful, conciliatory even, but his comment as she walks away makes her realise he is as foul as ever.

Back in Glendara, there is chaos. The Oak pub has burned down and Carole Kearney, the Oak's barmaid, has gone missing. And then, while walking the dog up Sliabh Sneacht, Ben and her partner, Sergeant Tom Molloy, make a gruesome discovery: a body lying face down in the snow.

Who is behind this vicious attack on Glendara and its residents? Ben tries to find answers, but is she the one in danger?

A bit of Irish crime to brighten up an otherwise dull and dreary month, with a series book from Andrea Carter - The Well of Ice.

Small town, coastal setting, amateur detecting, a secret (not really a secret) romance, a missing person, a fire, a dead body, Christmas and New Year, tangled family histories, community, wills, inheritance, death, disappearances, imprisonment, children, an unwelcome blast from the past, control, manipulation, investigation and outcome.

I enjoyed this one. I like the main character. I've seen her likened to a modern day Miss Marple and despite only ever reading some short stories featuring the character, I get the reference and think it's quite apt. 

Ben O'Keeffe is a bit of a shit magnet and can't help but be drawn into the problems of other people. As the local solicitor she's the confidant of many and her relationship with the local cop kind of draws her closer to police investigations, though her fella does his best to keep her out of things. Unlike Marple, she actually is the target of one of the other characters in the books. Their connection and history is frequently referenced, so not having previously read any of the earlier books, wouldn't be a hindrance to enjoying this one.

While O'Keeffe is the focus of some of the events in this books, her discovering the body of a missing woman, gives us other things to ponder.

Great setting, decent plot, a busy book, lots going on, satisfying outcome.

4 from 5 

Treacherous Strand, an earlier book in the Inishowen Mystery/Ben O'Keeffe series has been enjoyed before. The next in the series, Murder at Greysbridge waits on the kindle. 

Read - May, 2021
Published - 2017
Page count - 336
Source  - purchased copy (Net Galley previously, but link expired before I read it)
Format - paperback

Wednesday 26 May 2021

BRIAN KNIGHT - DEATH IS BLIND (2018)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

When the shattered remnants of a planet killing meteor called The Fist of God hits earth, death and destruction threaten to end human civilization, but The Fist of God is only the beginning of Earth’s tribulation.

A terrible Pale Rider leads the dead against survivors in the small town of Orofino, Idaho, killing and converting them.

One teenage girl is the key to humanity’s survival, but first she must survive the Pale Rider and his army of the dead.

A bit of Audible horror to mix things up a bit, with a shortish novella from Brian Knight - Death is Blind.

Thoughts .... I enjoyed the characters, in particular the convict and his coming back into contact with his estranged daughter after the meteor hit, caused a fire and then turned some of the people into .... well non-humans, led by an enigmatic pale rider. 

There's a confrontation between the survivors and the pale rider and his followers. The young girl mentioned above has suffered trauma in her past and was half destroyed in a fire, which was caused by her dad and which killed her mum. There's some connection between her and the pale rider, which I didn't quite comprehend, but hey hoh.

I vibed the convicts, the fire fighting, the confrontation on the bridge with the cops and the bus, the history and back story of the convict, his brother-in-law and the little girl, the escape, the trip home to try and save the cop's wife and his damaged niece (also the convict's daughter), and the ensuing fight with the community spirit on display to fight for each other. 

I'm possibly thinking there might be a continuation of this drama in a future story from Knight. 

I enjoyed this without being blown away by it. It entertained, it passed time, it did what it was supposed to.

3.5 from 5

Brian Knight's A Face Full of Ugly was enjoyed earlier in the month. 


Read - (listened to) May, 2021
Published - 2018
Page count - 77 (2 hrs 3 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Tuesday 25 May 2021

STEVE GOBLE - CITY PROBLEMS (2021)


Synopsis/blurb ....

A moment of violence—a snap judgement—a life changed to the core

Ed Runyon bolted from the NYPD after a runaway teen case fell through the cracks and turned into a nightmarish murder. Now, he's learned to bury the rage that consumed him, cope with depression, and enjoy life as a Mifflin County sheriff's detective in rural Ohio.

Ed is trying to relax on his day off when Columbus PD Detective Shelly Beckworth comes to Mifflin County in search of a girl who vanished after a pop-up party. The clues are scarce—a few license plates, a phone shattered on the roadside—but the trail leads to Ed's neck of the woods.

He tries to shove everything else aside to keep this case from ending in another tragedy, but a cop can't pick and choose which calls to duty he'll answer. Frustrated, Ed watches a happy ending slip beyond sight—this one he cannot run away from.

Charging forward, Ed breaks rules and takes risks leading to a bloody confrontation where everything he believes as a cop and every ghost in his head clash—a moment of avenging violence that will ultimately change his life to the core.

An okay small town, rural police procedural/murder investigation which sadly sounded a bit better than it was. I enjoyed the mystery and the puzzling together of what happened to the Columbus girl who went AWOL after a gig. I liked the investigation element and the difficulties involved in getting people who were at the gig to talk. Initially it's a missing persons case, but ramps up to murder after the girl's dumped body snags in some river debris.

There's a lot of enjoyable elements to the story .... a distrust of the police, government and authority, manifesting itself in an unofficial militia, armed to the teeth and loving their reinforced clubhouse and just itching for Armageddon to happen; the local heroes - the high school footballers and jocks, legends in their own minds and full of rage and testosterone; the local band - high energy riffs and noise pollution. I liked the female out of town detective coming to Mifflin County to try and track the girl initially.

What I didn't vibe and which kind of bumped me out of the book was the main character, Ed Runyon. I get that he's damaged and most likely suffering PTSD after a breakdown which caused him to flee a big city position. He's almost another victim; broken after the brutal murder of a teenage girl in New York. He's full of rage, depression, mood swings and alcohol invariably. I just didn't find him especially sympathetic or good company. He's impulsive and reckless, prone to rash decisions and his judgment is shaky. Other than that he's pretty amazing. It's strange most of the time in my reading I love a maverick and a risk taker. Here I just felt he was a masssive tool.   

Decent storyline, great setting, interesting investigation, satisfying outcome. I liked the way other incidents and events distracted from Runyon's attention on the murder case. It added a plausibility to what happens with police work. The pace was ok, not breakneck, nor saggy. Most of the characters, I vibed. Just the one I probably needed to like was a pain in the bum. 

3 from 5

Steve Goble's work has been enjoyed before - The Bloody Black Flag

Read - May, 2021
Published - 2021 (July, I think)
Page count  - 256
Source - Edelweiss Above the Treeline site, courtesy of Oceanview Publishing
Format - Kindle


Sunday 23 May 2021

APRIL 2021 - FILMS + TV

 A mixed bag of viewing, more enjoyed than not, truth be told. 


                               Bull - Season 1 and Season 2 (2016/17) - TV Drama series

I watched some of the first series of this a few years back and enjoyed them. I pretty much forgot about them, but my TV box didn't and started recording some episodes which had obviously aired on some obscure channel.

We watched maybe four or five of these, some of which I could dimly remember from before. No problem though, as I do like the cast and in particular the main lead actor, Michael Weatherly. I've enjoyed seeing him in NCIS for years.

It's a bit far-fetched, but who knows maybe there are people doing exactly what Bull and his team do here?

From Wikipedia ....

Premise
The series follows the employees at Trial Analysis Corporation (TAC), a jury consulting firm headed by Dr. Jason Bull, who is a psychologist and trial-science expert. Bull uses his skills and those of his team not only to select the right jurors for his clients, but also to help his clients' lawyers decide which type of argument will win over jurors best. Bull is inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw, who also serves as an executive producer.


    
                                              Outlaw (2007) - DVD Film

A revenge/vigilante thriller featuring Sean Bean, Danny Dyer and Bob Hoskins. Best film ever? No, but it was enjoyed and there wasn't anything else I wanted to be doing when watching it.

From Google ....

Veteran Sgt. Daniel Bryant finds himself trapped in a world of urban violence. He feels that the law enforcement agencies have cheated him. He forms a vigilante task force to establish public order.



And When Did You Last See Your Father (2007) - TV Film)



I was reminded a bit of Big Fish here, with the depiction of a difficult father, son relationship. One which doesn't get resolved really while both are alive. Jim Broadbent is excellent as the sometimes feckless father, as is Colin Firth as the resentful son. 

From Wikipedia ....

And When Did You Last See Your Father? is a 2007 British drama film directed by Anand Tucker. The screenplay by David Nicholls is based on the 1993 memoir of the same title by Blake Morrison.

Plot
While Blake Morrison, his mother, and younger sister Gillian tend to his father, Arthur, on his deathbed in his Yorkshire home, Blake has a series of flashbacks of moments he shared with his father. Despite Blake's success as a writer, poet, and critic, his father – a rural general practitioner – never accepted his decision to pursue a literary career or acknowledged his achievements.

Bullying, blustery, and boorish, Arthur blunders his way through fatherhood, regularly calling his son a fathead and intruding into the boy's private moments with a sense of entitlement. He has a penchant for exaggeration when he is not telling outright lies, and publicly humiliates his long-suffering wife Kim with his shameless flirting with various women and an affair with Beaty, a friend of the family.

At other times, he seems genuinely interested in bonding with his son, taking him camping so they can test supposedly waterproof sleeping bags he has made or allowing him to practise driving in the family's Alvis convertible on a wide expanse of deserted beach with reckless abandon. As a result, Blake is left with mixed feelings for his father, ranging from deeply rooted anger to compassionate acceptance. Only after Arthur's death is he able to set aside his resentment and recognise him as someone whose flaws ultimately helped mould his son into the better man he is.




                                              Unforgotten Series 4 (2021) - ITV Drama

My new favourite series. Where the hell was I when the first three series aired?
Series four finished with a bang. Off to track down the other three! Started in March, finished in April.


From IMDB ....

Episode #4.1
 
When a headless and hand-less body is found in a North London scrapyard, the team led by Sunny are called to investigate.
  
Episode #4.2

Cassie and Sunny continue to investigate Fogerty's driving offence.
 
Episode #4.3
 
Cassie and Sunny interview each of the four suspects, who deny knowing the victim. Boulting discovers Walsh was cautioned three weeks before his death, while Collier locates the rest of Walsh's body.
 
Episode #4.4
 
Cassie and Sunny discover Walsh was chased by all four suspects on the night in question. Willets realizes Fiona's blood sample may have been deliberately lost by Liz. The pathologist identifies Walsh was murdered.
 
Episode #4.5
 
Cassie and Sunny interview two of the suspects again and get closer to the truth of what happened to Walsh. Balcombe believes she may have found the cause of death.
 
Episode #4.6
 
Despite a shocking event, the Bishop Street team start to piece together which of the four was responsible for the murder of Matthew Walsh but it is pathologist Leanne Balcombe who provides the crucial piece of evidence.



                                                    The Nun (2018) - Netflix Film

A bit of Netflix horror and not one I would have picked. That said I quite enjoyed it. Maybe because it had a credible plot and I wasn't too scared or disturbed by it.

From Wikipedia ....

Plot
In 1952 Romania, two nuns living at the Saint Cartha's monastery are attacked by an unseen evil force after entering a tunnel to retrieve an ancient Christian relic. The surviving nun, Sister Victoria, flees from the attacker, a demon appearing as a nun, and hangs herself. Her body is discovered by Frenchie, a villager who transports supplies to the nuns.

The Vatican learns of the incident and summons Father Burke to Rome, where they ask him to travel with Sister Irene, a nun in her novitiate, to Romania in order to investigate the situation. While Sister Irene is teaching children the relationship between religion and science in a school, her Mother Superior interrupts her and informs her that Burke has arrived in order to request Irene's accompaniment in his trip to Romania.

The pair travels to Romania and meets with Frenchie, who leads them to the abbey. They discover Victoria's body and take a key from her corpse. Inside, they encounter the Abbess, who informs them that the nuns observe a period of silence during the night and offers them lodging at the attached convent if they wish to return tomorrow. Frenchie is attacked by a demon as he returns to the village, but escapes. Burke tells Irene that a boy he exorcised in the past, Daniel, was fatally injured during the ritual, and Burke has carried the burden of the boy's death with him ever since. Irene reveals that as a girl, she had visions and each of them concluded with "Mary points the way", causing the Church to take an interest in her. That night, Burke is rescued by Irene after being buried alive in the graveyard by the demonic entity.

The next day, Irene and Burke return to the abbey, but only Irene can enter as it is cloistered. She meets some of the other nuns and learns that they are praying constantly, swapping in shifts, to keep the evil entity at bay. Sister Oana reveals the abbey's history: it was built in the Middle Ages as a castle by a duke obsessed with the occult. The duke summoned the demon through a rift in the catacombs but was killed by Christian knights, who sealed the rift with a vial filled with the Blood of Christ. However, the bombings during World War II accidentally reopened the rift, unleashing the evil entity once more. Burke identifies the demon as Valak and discovers the Abbess has been dead all along.

Frenchie heads back to the abbey to help Irene and Burke. Irene is attacked by Valak and joins the nuns in desperate prayer to ward off the demon. When the group reunites, Irene discovers that none of the nuns she had seen and talked to were real and she had been praying alone, later realizing that Victoria had been the last nun in the abbey and had sacrificed herself to stop Valak from possessing her body and unleashing evil.

Theorizing that Valak can only be stopped if they seal the rift with the blood of Christ contained in the reliquary, the trio retrieves the vial with the key Victoria possessed. Irene then informs Burke that God has called her to make her solemn vows as a nun and asks Burke to elevate her to the status of a professed nun, which he does in the abbey's chapel.

After the trio unlocks the tunnel door, Irene is lured into a pentagram and possessed by Valak. Frenchie smears some of the blood of Christ on her face, casting out the demon. Burke is wounded by Daniel's ghost as Valak starts to drown Irene in a flooded chamber. Irene expels the blood of Christ in the demon's face, banishing it as the blood of Christ seals the rift. After Frenchie resuscitates Irene, he reveals his real name is Maurice. Unbeknownst to the others, Maurice has been possessed by Valak, as evidenced by an inverted cross on his neck.

Twenty years later at a university seminar, in Wakefield, Massachusetts, Carolyn Perron watches as Ed and Lorraine Warren present footage of their attempt to exorcise a possessed Maurice. In the footage, Maurice grabs Lorraine, giving her visions of Ed dying, which initiates the Warrens' investigation of the Perron farmhouse haunting.





                            The Righteous Gemstones (2019) - TV Comedy/Drama Series

Biff, bang, bosh - what a cracking show. Funny AF. From afar I've always thought US TV evangelists to be a right bunch of dodgy fuckers. This hilarious send-up doesn't do much to dissuade me of that notion. A couple of episodes watched, a few more to enjoy during May.

Favourite character - Jesse Gemstone and his impressive mutton chop sideburns. John Goodman and Walton Goggins feature. I loved Goggins in Justified. The rest of the cast are very good, but unknown to me.

From Google ....

Well into the second generation of a grand televangelist tradition, the world-famous Gemstone family is living proof that worship pays dividends in all sizes. Patriarch Eli, the man most responsible for the tremendous success of the family's megachurch, is in mourning over the loss of his wife. Jesse, the eldest of the three grown Gemstone siblings, looks to lead in his father's footsteps, but finds his past sins jeopardizing the family ministry. Next in line comes middle sister Judy, who secretly lives with her fiancé and dreams of escaping the Gemstone compound. Rounding out the dysfunctional trio is pseudo-hipster Kelvin, the youngest of the preachers and a thorn in Jesse's side. As the family battles numerous threats to their renowned religious empire, they continue to spread the good word... and make a solid buck doing so.



                                                   The Ice Harvest (2005) - DVD Film

A film I've been wanting to see for a few years now, ever since I read the book by Scott Phillips
It didn't disappoint. I always enjoy seeing Billy Bob Thornton on screen.

From Google ....

A shady lawyer attempts a Christmas Eve crime, hoping to swindle the local mob out of some money. But his partner, a strip club owner, might have different plans for the cash.



                                           Briarpatch (2019) - TV Drama Series

A few more episodes watched and the less said the better. Suffice to say it hasn't really improved in my estimation.

From Wikipedia ...

Briarpatch is an American television series starring Rosario Dawson based on the 1984 Ross Thomas novel of the same name. The series was picked up in late January 2019 by USA Network, after being ordered to pilot in April 2018.

In advance of its broadcast premiere, several episodes of the series received a preview screening in the Primetime program of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

The series premiered on February 6, 2020. On July 17, 2020, the series was canceled after one season.

Premise

When Detective Felicity Dill is killed in a car bombing, her sister Allegra Dill, an investigator working for a senator, returns home to San Bonifacio to find her killer. In the process of her investigation, she uncovers a web of corruption in the small Texas town.



                                                 Papillon (2017) - TV Film

Loved the original book by Henri Charrière. I still have a copy. Loved the original film featuring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Enjoyed this fairly recent remake. I do like a prison story, especially if it's based on real life events.

From Google ....

The epic story of Henri "Papillon" Charrière, a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega, who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon's escape.



                                                The Boy (2015) - Netflix Film

Another Netflix punt and an enjoyable dark, dark film about a nine year old boy who just isn't right. Jeez, if you'd hate to cross paths with him at this age, you'd do well to avoid him in adulthood. 

I enjoyed David Morse's performance as the boy's father. I liked him in The Green Mile.

Dark and disturbing. One I won't forget too quickly.

From Wikipedia ....

The Boy is a 2015 American horror film directed by Craig Macneill, written by Macneill and Clay McLeod Chapman, and starring Jared Breeze, David Morse, and Rainn Wilson. It was based on a short film by Macneill and Chapman, Henley, which was in turn loosely inspired by a novel written by Chapman, Miss Corpus. Breeze plays the titular boy, a budding serial killer.

PETER LEONARD - SWEET DREAMS (2020)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Kate McGraw, the lone female on the US Marshals fugitive task force, is on the trail of homicidal bank robber when she is shot by a drugged-up ex-con. While she is in the hospital recuperating, a mysterious stranger leaves a bouquet of flowers in her room. Days later Kate is discharged. Still recuperating, she sees a man in a car parked on the street watching her apartment. This is the third time she has seen him. Kate gets the license number, follows and confronts him and discovers he’s her estranged father, Frank Galvin who disappeared when she was six. Frank tells her he’s been in prison for the last eighteen years, arrested for armed robbery. Indignant, Kate asks him what he wants. He tells her he can help her catch the bank robber.

As Kate and Frank try to rekindle their relationship, Frank helps Kate and her team zero in on Ray Skinner, the dangerous sociopath who has now robbed seven banks and murdered two people. Feeling the heat of law enforcement breathing down his neck, Skinner discovers the identities of the US Marshals who are pursuing him and goes after Kate. He wants to find out what they know about him. Filled with real-life characters and pitch-perfect dialogue, Sweet Dreams will have you on the edge of your seat until the climatic final scene.

High energy, fast-paced and exciting. 

A prolific bank robber, a team of Marshalls, an ex-con, White supremacists, a judge in danger, a family re-union, cross-border flight, police cooperation, investigation, surveillance, stakeouts, boat rides, back-story and history, drugs, criminal partners, a patsy and a helluva lot more.

My kind of book. I do prefer thieves and robberies and heists and con men in my fiction to reading about murder and serial killers, so the plot of the book was one which attracted me. And it was well-executed by the author.

I liked the dynamics of the relationship between Kate, our main protagonist and Frank her ex-con father. I enjoyed seeing them re-establish a connection after some lies in their past. It was a wee bit of a stretch, Kate involving her father in the case, while shutting out the rest of her team, but I was happy to go where the author was leading and it didn't bump me out of the book. 

Decent support cast of characters..... the other cops, the villain of the piece - Skinner, his girlfriend and the lecherous judge. Leonard, like his father before him, creates excellent scenes of dialogue and confrontation with just the right amount of humour in the exchanges.  

Great story, satisfying ending. One I'll be happy to listen to again in a couple of years when I need an adrenalin boost in my reading. 

4 from 5

Peter Leonard has been enjoyed before - Voices of the Dead and Back from the Dead. The good news is, there's plenty more from him on the TBR pile.

Read - (listened to) April, 2021
Published - 2020
Page count - 320 (7 hrs 40 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Saturday 22 May 2021

ROB PIERCE - THE THINGS I LOVE WILL KILL ME YET (2016)


Synopsis/blurb ....

Escape. Lust. Revenge. Rob Pierce writes with an understanding of the darkness in the hearts of people who’ve been struck and need to strike back. From gun dealers to murders to the simply self-destructive, The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet is filled with stories of men and women whose dreams can never take them out of their realities.

Praise for THE THINGS I LOVE WILL KILL ME YET:

“Pierce’s style is spare and hard-hitting, and The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet delivers a knockout.” —Sam Wiebe, author of Last of the Independents

Twenty plus stories from one of  All Due Respect's top authors. Full list below ....

Thanksgiving, 1963 
Whorehouse Blues 
Ella 
The Real Thing 
Under the Bridge 
The Leaves 
Empty Kitchens 
Walkin’ the Dog 
A Small Knife or a Large Vehicle 
Killing Animals 
As Good a Cop 
The Judge 
Broken Window 
Mud People 
A Small Crew 
Hemingway Drank Shots 
Pancake Collection
Stomach Punches 
The Humanity of Dogs 
All My Exes Die in Texas 
Twine 
Dead Soldiers 
Cornered

My favourite was the opener, Thanksgiving, 1963 which was worth the price of admission on its own. A tense Texan Thanksgiving family re-union set before, during and after Kennedy's Dallas assassination. Family issues, alliances and fault lines are brought into sharp focus. An important College Football game provides a distraction, or conversely serves to focus attention on an strange time for America. Additionally, brawling and selling guns - both ticks in the boxes.

The others see us engaged with .... whores, bars, drinkers, motels, winos, homelessness, romance, pool, competitiveness, bar fights, bloodshed, dog troubles, marriage woes, revenge, burglary and consequences, mud people - a weird one, pirates and midgets, troubling following you around, love issues, war, the fight game and a lot more besides.

Not every story rocked me, but more often times than not they satisfied. Overall an enjoyable 
collection.

4 from 5   

This was my fifth encounter with Rob Pierce's work, after reading Uncle Dust, Vern in the Heat, With the Right Enemies and Tommy Shakes. Just Blood by Choice left to catch up on.

Read - April, 2021
Published - 2016
Page count - 186
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle

Friday 21 May 2021

STEPHEN FRANKS - THE MILAN CONTRACT (2020)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

'Except for the ugly brown bullet hole, the corpse could have been the image of the man in the mirror.'

Lukas Stolz, an ex-East German math's guru is shot dead outside the Hotel Napoli in Milan. But Lieutenant Conza of the Guardia di Finanza is not convinced the bullet was meant for Stolz. His investigations lead him to Nyala Abebe, a young Ethiopian emigre who may be a vital witness.

The gang behind the murder will stop at nothing to cover their tracks and Lieutenant Conza finds himself in conflict with powerful and influential adversaries.

He soon realises he's out of his depth as he seeks answers and begins to uncover the secrets behind the Milan Contract.

Very tense. Very twisty. A fantastic plot. Great writing. Interesting characters. European setting. 
What more do you want?

From the get go, this one grabbed me. A man is murdered outside a hotel. A man who looks just like him witnesses the crime and flees. Who is the target? Fortunately we have Lieutenant Conza on the case.

Our murder investigation, inevitably embraces a couple of missing person cases - the doppelganger and the young kid who fled on the moped. In Conza, we have an interesting, capable, honest detective, who with the backing of his boss manages to avoid stepping on too many toes within the various branches of the Italian police and authorities to dig for answers.

Assassination, disappearance, organised crime, black ops types, government secrets, gangsters, big business, family history, East German upbringing, split loyalties, the Stasi, betrayal, death, immigrant innocents, manipulation, coercion, control, surveillance, CCTV, tapes, flight, fugitive, a manhunt, an investigation, police corruption, police cooperation, a hitman cleaning house and tying up loose ends.

Brilliant, fascinating, complex, engrossing, compelling.


It's hard to believe this is a debut novel. I'm looking forward to what Stephen Franks serves up next.  

4.5 from 5

Read - April, 2021
Published - 2020
Page count - 322
Source - review copy from author
Format - paperback

Thursday 20 May 2021

ROBERT LITTELL - THE COMPANY (2001)

 


Synopsis/blurb .....

Robert Littell does for the CIA what Mario Puzo did for the Mafia ...

Robert Littell's The Company is an engrossing, multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic yet utterly entertaining and candid saga bringing to life, through a host of characters - historical and imagined - the nearly fifty years of this secretive and powerful organization.

In a style intelligent and ironic, Littell tells it like it was: CIA agents fighting not only 'the good fight' against foreign enemies, but sometimes the bad one as well, with the ends justifying the means as CIA-organised assassinations, covert wars, kidnappings, and topplings of legitimate governments. Behind every manoeuvre and counter-manouevre, though, one question spans the book..... Who is the mole within the CIA?

The Company - an astonishing novel that captures the life and death struggle of an entire generation of CIA operatives during a long Cold War.

A proper beast of a book. A little bit intimidating, I'm not going to lie. At close to 1300 pages and spanning the period from 1950 until the mid-90s, it was one tackled in bite-sized chunks over about four months. I really enjoyed it and more than once found myself applying the brakes to stick to my reading plan of 11 pages a day.

CIA recruitment, post-War Berlin operations, Albanian nationalists, Hungarian uprising, deep-set Soviet infiltrators, Bay of Pigs, Cuba, Kennedy, Krushchev, a papal assassination, KGB, Berlin Wall, Reagan, Gorbachev, reform, reaction, espionage, counter-espionage, inter-agency rivalries, interrogation, torture, capture, Afghanistan, family, friendship loyalty, trust, betrayal and about a gazillion other things.

It's an ambitious book and one I really enjoyed. I did find myself thinking about the author's depiction of events and found myself wondering if he had the fast track to inside information or a fertile imagination. For example the death of the first Pope John Paul after about a month in office - heart attack, natural causes or as Littell would have us believe a hit to prevent an investigation into the Vatican Bank laundering money for a foreign agency. 

Interesting, enjoyable, topical. I enjoyed the way the author used family and subsequent generations to provide some continuity in the depiction of events unfolding over decades. I do like espionage books. I like characters brimming with secrets and duplicity, where you present one face to the world while your real intentions are concealed.

4.5 from 5

This was my first outing with Robert Littell, but definitely not my last. At least his other books on the TBR pile are all a bit shorter. 
  
Read - January-April, 2021
Published - 2001
Page count - 1298
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback 

Tuesday 18 May 2021

SCOTT GRAND - SPORT (2014)

 


Synopsis/blurb ...

Hi. I’m Sport. My mother died, my dad hates me and I work for Russian mobsters. I run money collection for their bookie. But I have my best friend Gun by my side. So what could go wrong? It’s Sacramento in the 80’s.

Oh yeah. I hate the color yellow. Go Rivercats!

My second outing with author Scott Grand after his enjoyable All Due Respect debut - The Girl with the Stone Heart. This one came highly recommended and didn't disappoint.

A fast-paced one sitting read featuring tropes that are familiar to me, but which I often crave in my reading ..... criminality, delinquency, friendship, a crap family - mum dead, father - a drunk and a bully, Russians, debt collecting to pay a debt, school (sometimes), confrontation, violence, 80s Californian setting,  

My cup of tea and another author to keep an eye on.

4 from 5

Read- April, 2021
Published - 2014
Page count - 96
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle

WARREN READ - ONE SIMPLE THING (2021)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

When his father leaves town, twelve-year-old Rodney Culver’s mother takes up with Otis Dell, a fry cook at the local diner—and a well-known petty thief. While Rodney resists the man’s influence at first, Otis soon draws the boy into his small-time criminal world. After a simple heist goes violently wrong, Rodney becomes an unwitting fugitive, swept away from his mother to the primitive mountain sanctuary of the mysterious Lester Fanning. But with Lester’s skeptical lady friend in the way, and the town sheriff grappling with a curiously placed corpse, what once seemed like an easy plan quickly devolves into a knot of complications.

Another new-to-me author than I'm going to have to keep tabs on after this enjoyable outing.

Marital woes and desertion, seen though the eyes of a twelve year innocent, Rodney as his father leaves his mother. Sadness, bewilderment, disappointment and a lack of comprehension at the adult world. He soon starts to grow up, after getting caught up in some of his mother's boyfriend's criminal escapades.  

Further down the road, Rodney and miscreant mentor, Otis cross paths with the ruthless Lester Fanning and his current girl in tow, Nadine. Lester is a cohort of Otis' and reluctantly happy to help him until such time as he isn't. At which point, Rodney's safety is in jeopardy. Cue, the third wheel in our drama, an aging sheriff, grappling with a few personal issues ie. an awkward brother suffering the onset of early dementia and a dead body. He's a man with Lester in his sights. A collision of sorts is inevitable.

Lots going on here ..... a rural setting of Hope, Wyoming which for Rodney offers everything but; marital drama; a sort of cuckooing from Otis with Rodney a reluctant assistant to his crimes; other relationship dramas with Nadine and Lester. Nadine has probably bitten off more than she can chew with Lester, or it could be the other way around. I do like a strong female character. There's also a spotlight on dementia and the difficulties associated in looking after a headstrong and sometimes confused relative.  

Small town crimes - robbery, stolen goods, fencing mesh with bigger issues - human trafficking and death.

Lots to like here. Rural crime fiction with a splash of literary undertones.

4.5 from 5

Warren Read's earlier novel, Ash Falls sits on the pile. Go big or go home is my motto. 


Read - (listened to) April, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 280 (7 hrs 49 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Monday 17 May 2021

JOHN SANFORD - MAKE MY BED IN HELL (1939)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Aaron Platt has spent every day of his life breaking his back to scrape a living from the rocky, played-out fields of the Adirondack farm he inherited from his sadistic father. One winter morning, he follows footprints in the snow to his barn and discovers a man freezing to death in a horse stall. What unfolds between the two men, past and present, is a brisk, gritty depiction of crime and punishment. But their harrowing story is more than that, exposing the shocking hypocrisy of the people who live in the nearby, bucolic town—a legacy of hatred that reaches back to the violent founding of the nation.

This literary masterpiece, back in print for the first time in over 60 years, includes a new Afterword by Jack Mearns, author of John Sanford: An Annotated Bibliography

"A first-rate story of violence and congealed hate." New Republic

"The story is electrifying." Saturday Review of Literature

"A brief, fast book, and those pages are terse. Sanford has injected the drama of spilled blood that made America." Los Angeles Times

"An unusual book with some brilliant pieces of writing, exceeding Celine and Faulkner in depravity and language." Kirkus Reviews

A depression era tale of hardship, poverty, resentment, cruelty and violence which I liked even if I didn't fully understand everything the author was trying to convey. 

In the middle of the book is a long winding poem (16 pages or so) which recounts America's bloody past. (Thanks to the afterword from Sanford scholar, Jack Mearns for a heads-up.) I suppose my lack of knowledge on early American history (I'm in the UK) might be a hindrance towards comprehension, or maybe I'm just thick. The tale told here, could be a reflection of America's violent history, but on a more personal level.

I enjoyed the story which is relayed in a non-linear fashion and which you kind of have to work at to un-pick. I read the book about a month ago and details are fading, but there is conflict at it's core.

Sex, history, jealousy, bullying, small mindedness, morality, farming, family, schooling, abuse, death, consequences. Probably a lot more besides.

I think I may have to re-read this one at some point to better understand it, which would be no major imposition. I think I was surprised by how graphic some of the details were. It seems very ahead of it's time for an eighty year old book.

A book I enjoyed, even if I'm at a loss to articulate exactly why. 


4 from 5

I have another Sanford title - The Old Man's Place to get to some time soon.

Read - April, 2021
Published - 1939 (re-issued 2021 by Brash Books)
Page count - 184
Source - review copy from publisher (thanks to Lee Goldberg)
Format - PDF read on laptop 

Sunday 16 May 2021

MARK HASKELL SMITH - NAKED AT LUNCH (2015)



Synopsis/blurb ....

People have been getting naked in public for reasons other than sex for centuries. But as novelist and narrative journalist Mark Haskell Smith shows in Naked at Lunch, being a nudist is more complicated than simply dropping trou. "Nonsexual social nudism," as it's called, rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century. Intellectuals, outcasts, and health nuts from Victorian England and colonial India to Belle Epoque France and Gilded Age Manhattan disrobed and wrote manifestos about the joys of going clothing-free. From stories of ancient Greek athletes slathered in olive oil to the millions of Germans who fled the cities for a naked frolic during the Weimar Republic to American soldiers given "naturist" magazines by the Pentagon in the interest of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, Haskell Smith uncovers nudism's amusing and provocative past. Naked at Lunch is equal parts cultural history and gonzo participatory journalism. Coated in multiple layers of high SPF sunblock, Haskell Smith dives into the nudist world today. He publicly disrobes for the first time in Palm Springs, observes the culture of family nudism in a clothing-free Spanish town, and travels to the largest nudist resort in the world, a hedonist's paradise in the south of France. He reports on San Francisco's controversial ban on public nudity, participates in a week of naked hiking in the Austrian Alps, and caps off his adventures with a week on the Big Nude Boat, a Caribbean cruise full of nudists.

A bit of non-fiction from Mark Haskell Smith with Naked at Lunch. Smith offers up a history of naturism across the globe, or more specifically in Europe and North America .... its origins and roots as well as the evolution of naturism with frequent opposition to the movement in the form of local political outrage and reactionary laws introduced to curb it, both historically and in recent times.

While the history of the subject was interesting, the best bits of the books related to Smith's own experiences, shedding his inhibitions and getting naked. Some of his observations I found incredibly funny....

"A skeletal man in his eighties wandered around the ship wearing only a fluorescent thong, his loose skin draped around his bones like freckled frosting,"

"I wondered how someone could get a sunburn on the underside of his scrotum and then go out the next day and do it again and again. Isn't once enough? Isn't a toasted nutsack a warning sign?"

"I stood naked in front of a mirror and checked my body. What was I looking for? Gravy stains? Some physical deformation that was so humiliating that I should just call this whole thing off for humanitarian reasons?"

"Have you ever seen a seventy-year old woman with her pubic hair shaved into what's called a landing strip? I have."

"The spray-on sunblock that I had so scrupulously and thickly applied had turned my dick into something resembling a solar flare. I could've sent a distress signal to a search and rescue team. Fortunately, I did not get an erection."  

4 from 5

I've enjoyed Mark Haskell Smith's fiction before. Raw was read back in 2013. Moist was enjoyed back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Delicious and Salty sit on the unread mountain.

Read - April, 2021

Published - 2015

Page count - 320

Source - purchased copy

Format - paperback