Wednesday 30 June 2021

JUNE 2021 - 30 DAYS 30 SHORTS!


June and a short story a day, mostly flash fiction if I'm honest.

A bit of a Paul D. Brazill love-in, along with a smidge of Tom Leins and a helping of Margot Kinberg, as well as a few from the archives of the Flash Fiction Offensive, and some visits to a few other sites.

1st - Bill Baber - Pissed (Flash Fiction Offensive)

2nd - Richard WallFinding Pops McCoy (Spillwords)

3rd - Margot Kinberg - Team Project (Margot Kinberg)

4th - Tom Leins - The Deadlands (Punk Noir Magazine)


5th - Trace Conger - Three Years Ago This May (Pseudopod)

6th - Copper Smith - The Legend of Founder's Day (All Due Respect)


7th - K. A. LaitySquid Lord (All Due Respect)

8th - Anthony Neil Smith - Crotchrockets (Punk Noir Magazine)

9th - Andy Rausch The Dog Creek Coven (Author Andy Rausch)

10th - Paul D. BrazillThicker Than Blood (Paul D Brazill)


11th - Paul D. Brazill The Friend Catcher (Paul D. Brazill)

12th - Eric Beetner - Liar, Liar (Flash Fiction Offensive)

13th - Eric Beetner - Brotherly Love (Flash Fiction Offensive)

14th - Kieran J. Shea - Dog Bite (Flash Fiction Offensive)

15th - Tom Leins - Triggerman (Flash Fiction Offensive)

16th - Tom LeinsDeath is My Sleazy Pay (Flash Fiction Offensive)

17th - Matthew McBride - The Cleaner (Flash Fiction Offensive)

18th - Jesse Hilson - Brothel Raiders (Close 2 the Bone)


19th - Albert Tucher - The Sleaze Factor (Flash Fiction Offensive)

20th - Paul D. Brazill - Donkey (Flash Fiction Offensive)

21st - Paul D. Brazill Before the Moon Falls (The Werewolf Detective Episode 1) (Paul D. Brazill)

22nd - Paul D. Brazill Drunk on the Moon (The Werewolf Detective Episode 2) (Paul D. Brazill)

23rd - Margot KinbergSpecial Collections (Margot Kinberg)

24th - Paul D. Brazill - The Missionary (The Werewolf Detective Episode 3) (Paul D. Brazill)

25th - Paul D. Brazill - Black Moon Rising (The Werewolf Detective Episode 4) (Paul D. Brazill)

26th - Paul D. Brazill - The Brain Salad Murders (The Werewolf Detective Episode 5) (Paul D. Brazill)


29th - Paul D. Brazill - Chelsea Girls (Paul D. Brazill)

30th - Paul D. Brazill - In the (Reservoir) Dog House (Paul D. Brazill)


Links to previous short story months below....

Tuesday 29 June 2021

FRANK ZAFIRO - AT THIS POINT IN MY LIFE (2012)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Jack “Mac” McCrae is about to retire. Without children or any family, he looks back over his career and his life and finds himself wondering what, if any, impact he’s had on this world.

Then a young woman reappears with a photograph of her mother — and his old lover — and an unknown child that might be her sister…and his daughter.

Mac agrees to accompany her to a small town in Oregon to get to the bottom of this mystery. Who is the little girl in the photograph? Is she his daughter? And where is she now?

But Mac discovers that no one in this small town wants to answer or even acknowledge these questions. He will have to find a way to overcome the stranglehold that the Tate family has on the town and work his way to the truth about who the little girl is, even if it kills him.

The first book in Jack McCrae mystery series.

One of the highlights of my last couple of years reading has been the discovery of author Frank Zafiro. I've enjoyed his Charlie 316 series, co-authored with Colin Conway (another fabulous find) as well as some of his standalone works. At This Point in My Life from nearly a decade ago was another enjoyable outing.

A detective retires and we spend the last day on the job with him. We see that he was a plodder, a capable detective but not exactly a fire-starter. A few weeks into retirement and a voice from his long past connects with him.  Soon, Jack McCrae is reluctantly involved in the hunt for a missing girl - maybe more of a voyage of discovery as opposed to an active missing persons case. He's tempted by the possibility that the missing child could well be his daughter and Rachel's sibling. Rachel has been stonewalled when presenting the picture of the girl and Rachel's own mother to her uncle, demanding an explanation.

Jack and Rachel head to Oregon for answers and things get more interesting. 

Small town mystery, small town corruption, a small town big shot, small town power, small town secrets and silence, small town bullies, small town fear. Outsiders, questions but no answers, a buy off attempt, a refusal and an escalation. I liked McCrae's investigation. I liked the butting of heads with the local king pin. I liked McCrae's hard headedness in the face of intimidation and violence. I enjoyed the persistence of him and Rachel. Eventually, they wheedle out a small nugget of information and after that the dam bursts. Answers, but no happy endings.

I liked the fact that there wasn't a Disney-esque ending. Life doesn't always give you what you want. There was a realism to the outcome which went well with all we had learned throughout the book. Another winner from Frank Zafiro.

4 from 5

Links to my 10 or so reviews of  Zafiro authored or co-authored tales can be found here


Read - (listened to) June, 2021
Published - 2012
Page count - 277 (6 hrs 1 min)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

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PS, 

The blog has managed to sneak it's way onto Feedspot's list of Top 70 Crime Novel Blogs and Websites. Check out the list here

Monday 28 June 2021

JAY FLYNN - McHUGH (1959)


 

Synopsis/blurb ...

The 1960s' toughest, brainiest, sexiest, and most compassionate spy, is back in print!

Meet McHugh America's#1 Secret Agent a combination of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer and Ian Fleming's James Bond. Like 007, he has an ultra-sophisticated taste for the finest liquors, food, cars, ladies, and hand-tailored suits. Like Hammer he can pound the toughest thugs teeth in with a single punch, bounce back from the most vicious beatings, carries the biggest hand gun around, and isn't slow to use it, and has the most extraordinary gal pal ever.

In this first book in the series, McHugh takes a leave of absence from his spy work to help out his lover's sister who has found a dead Mafioso in her apartment, her boyfriend missing, and half San Francisco's mobsters after her.

But soon, the twisting trail leads back to his home base, and he finds the case involves not only the Cosa Nostra but has a government aspect as well and is ordered back in service by the General who commands his loyalty. Foreign killers, Mafia Killers, it's a killer of a plot involving millions of dollars in stolen gold, international smugglers, and enough shootouts to send 007 screaming into retirement and frighten Hammer into surrendering his PI license. And then there is Loris. What can we say about Loris? You will have to listen about her for yourself. Move over Velda. Make room Moneypenny. There has never been a woman like Loris before. Or a hero like McHugh. You won't be able to wait for his other adventures. They are espionage classics from the Golden Age of the '60s!

Not having read any of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer or Ian Fleming's James Bond books I'm unsure if Jay Flynn's 60s spy-cum-investigator-cum tough guy, McHugh is harder, faster, quicker or sexier than the other two action men, but I am willing to concede that he's good company.

Here he gets the runaround chasing down his girlfriend's sister's boyfriend, who has gone AWOL. 

A missing boyfriend, one who works for the US Government on secret techno-stuff, debts, cops, corpses, mob types, PIs, bars, cars, TV hosts, FBI agents, beatings, shoot-outs, car restorations and a historic robbery with the loot still missing. It's a busy book, plenty of action and nothing too taxing on the brain.

It's entertaining pulp, definitely a bit dated which is reflected in some of the attitudes on display. McHugh gets backs into town and in one conversation with his girlfriend, Loris she mentions that he has trysts when he's away. She's accepting and tolerant of it, as opposed to pissed and reaching for the garden shears. I think the world (some of it at least) has moved on in the last fifty years.

That said I liked it, but it probably won't live too long in the memory banks. I do intend listening to more of the five book McHugh series on Audible in the future. 

Theo Holland's narration, as ever is excellent.

3.5 from 5 

Read - (listened to) June, 2021
Published - 1959
Page count - 134 (4 hrs 21 mins)
Source - Audible purchase    
Format - Audible

Friday 25 June 2021

ROB PARKER - THE WATCHMAN (2021)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

ONE LAST MISSION FOR AN OLD FRIEND. 

It’s sold as an in-and-out jaunt to The Big Apple, to pick up a harmless envelope. But when Ben Bracken is offered the assignment, he’s a little hesitant. He’s a family man now, with a duty to stay alive for his loved ones.

But, with the request coming from fellow former military man and trusted friend William Grosvenor, not to mention the eye-watering payout, one last job can’t hurt, can it?

So begins his American road trip, one that takes him from the city that never sleeps to the misty swamps of Florida. All in pursuit of one highly coveted envelope. Because it turns out, this job isn’t the walk in Central Park it was promised to be.

As he’s pursued by New York’s most dangerous mobsters, factions of federal law enforcement, and American Intelligence, Ben’s hunch is that their joint quarry must hold something of international significance.

He’s not wrong. The contents that’s slipping through these influential fingers contains evidence of the world’s biggest cover-up. Evidence that will rewrite history books and incriminate one of the most powerful men on the planet. It’s probably best it winds up in the right hands..
..
The Watchman is packed with action, underpinned with believable conspirative intrigue, world-class writing and twists you just won’t see coming.

Another cracker from Rob Parker with The Watchman, a really enjoyable conspiracy thriller and the fifth in the Ben Bracken series. 

Bracken, living a quiet life of domestic bliss gets drawn back into the dangerous world of power, politics, secrets, cover-ups and black ops. All because of a favour for a friend. Simples he says, go to New York and pick up an envelope. Nothing is ever simple when Bracken gets involved. The envelope is hot property.

New York, new friends, new enemies, shoot-outs, chases, Mob types, switcheroos, road trips, secrets, questions, answers, Florida, death, loss, bereavement, Dallas, history lessons, pursuit, boat trips, plane rides, hostages and prisoners, a journo and a puppet master, power, control, entitlement, manipulation and comeuppance. Lots more besides - I think the only thing missing was a kitchen sink, but I might have missed that.

It's busy and fast-paced. For long spells the reader and Brakcen and his new pal, Luca Jr are kept in the dark about the contents of the envelope and their significance. Usually when a conspiracy-cum-secret gets a big build-up when the reveal comes it lands with all the impact of a slowly leaking balloon. I was braced for disappointment, but actually I find it quite believable, more so towards the climax of the book as the hidden adversary was finally revealed and the motives understood.

I do like Ben Bracken as a character. I admire his physical chops. He has a cool head in a fight, equally adept with weapons or fists. He's not all about brute force though. He's intelligent, loyal, and dutiful - perhaps sometimes too much so. For a clever man, he does allow people to take advantage of him.

Great book, interesting settings - it was fun seeing Bracken on an overseas outing. Decent plot, which lived up to the expectations it set itself during the early part of the narrative and a satisfying ending. What more do you need? (Mumble from the back ..... what's that you say? A 6th Ben Bracken book. Agreed.)  

4.5 from 5    


The first four in the series have all been read and enjoyed. It's nice to be on top of things for a change! They are in reverse order - Till Morning is Nigh (2019)The Penny Black (2019), Morte Point (2018)  and  A Wanted Man (2017) 


Read - June, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 300
Source - review copy received from author
Format - paperback

Thursday 24 June 2021

BILL PRONZINI and BARRY N. MALZBERG - PROBLEMS SOLVED (2003)

 


Synopsis/blurb ...

Two legends!

Today, Bill Pronzini is famed for his private-eye stories about the Nameless Detective and for his Shamus-award winning short stories, and Barry N. Malzberg is one of America's premier science fiction writers, but back in their salad days they collaborated on a number of stories, which have now become legendary.  

Many fans have heard of them, but very few have had the privilege of listening to them - until now.  

Problems Solved collects all their crime and mystery collaborations, mostly written during the 1970's and early 1980's, and a few recent collaborations (including two new stories written especially for this volume).  

The stories range from suspense ("Night Rider") to irony ("What Kind of Person Are You?") to twists-in-the-tale ("Problems Solved") to science-fictional detection, including three stories about an unnamed Luna Immigration Inspector. Others emphasize sports ("What's a Chicago Cub?" asks an entrepreneur of the future), and one, "Another Burnt-Out Case," is, in Bill Pronzini's words, "a weird comic Hitchcockian crime fantasy with a carnival setting, whose last two lines elicit gleeful chortles from both of us to this day."    

The cover design, illustrating both "Another Burnt-Out Case" and "Night Rider," is by Juha Lindroos, a Finnish artist working in the United States.

A collection of short stories that I listened to at the start of the month and despite enjoying them, three weeks on I can remember Jack-shi* about them. Well I think I enjoyed them. I don't recall wanting to pour bleach in my ears at least, so we'll go with enjoyed.

The collection comprises.....

Preface: Long Time Passing
I Ought to Kill You
A Matter of Life and Death
Multiples
A Matter of Survival
Problems Solved
What Kind of Person are You?
Night Rider
The Last Plagiarism
On Account of Darkenss
Birds of a Feather
Bill Pronzini
Another Burnt-Out Case
Rebound
Clocks
Million-to-One Shot
Final Exam
The Lyran Case
Whither Thou, Ghost
Vanishing Point
Demolition Inc.
The Man Who Loved Mystery Stories
Me and Mitch
Afterthought
Afterword: Crossing the Border

Barry N. Malzberg
There were a couple featuring a space immigration agent which I liked. There was another about a basketball player who played the game of his life then disappeared, before a journalist tracks him down many years later. I think I've crossed paths with this one before but it was fun hearing it a second time.

 And, and .... that's about it for the old memory banks. Insofar as I started blogging to serve as an aide memoire for me when I wanted to look back and remember my reading and what I enjoyed or disliked about certain books, I think I've failed this time around.

One thing I do know is that I prefer Pronzini's longer Nameless books to his short stories.

3 from 5 for the story collection. 1 from 5 and pelters for the review.

Read - (listened to) June, 2021
Published - 2003
Page count - 166 (4 hrs 30 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Wednesday 23 June 2021

JACK BYRNE - UNDER THE BRIDGE (2021)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

WHEN SECRETS RESURFACE THE PAST REACHES OUT...

2004

The discovery of a body in the Liverpool docklands unearths long forgotten secrets. Reporter Anne McCarthy is keen to prove herself and dives into the case with abandon. There she finds Michael, an old Irish caretaker who knows far more than he’s letting on and may have a connection to the body.

Vinny Connolly is starting a postgrad degree, researching Liverpool’s migrant history and a burgeoning Scouse identity. But Vinny has been neglecting his own family history and stranger Michael might know about his father’s disappearance in the 70s.

1955

Escaping poverty in Ireland and fresh off the boat, Michael falls in with Wicklow boys Jack Power and Paddy Connolly, who smuggle contraband through the docks, putting them at odds with the unions. While organisers rally the dockworkers against the strikebreakers and rackets. A story of corruption, secret police, and sectarianism slowly unravels.
But will the truth out?

As the conflict heightens, Michael questions the life sprawling out ahead of him, while in the present, Anne races to solve the mystery, but is she prepared for what she’ll find?

Under the Bridge is a really engaging, enjoyable novel. There are a lots of facets to it which I really liked..... Irishness, identity, loss, and a murder mystery at heart.
 
There's a multiple timeline aspect to it. 2004 is our present day in the novel when an unidentified body is found on a building site. We hark back to the mid-50s and spend time in the company of a loose group of Irish immigrants, involved in some slightly dodgy stuff on the Liverpool docks. The story expands to follow some of these chancers on and off through to the 70s.

In the present day, our two main characters are friends Vinny and Anne. Vinny works a zero hours contract at a retail shop, while trying to pull together a pitch for a Masters degree - his subject, post-War Liverpool and Scouseness. Anne is a junior reporter itching to get her teeth into a big story. The puzzle of an old body, death by unnatural causes might be the making of her.   

I liked the flip-flop style of the narrative, backwards and forwards in time. I enjoyed the investigative angle into the mystery, with the police, or more accurately one detective in particular on-board and with more than a keen interest in Anne. I liked the merging of the past and the present with security man Michael, grudgingly giving up his secrets to Anne and Vinny. There are a lot of blanks concerning Vinny's past and his father who disappeared one day when he was a boy. It's an uncomfortable subject for him and one which is the elephant in the room whenever he gets together with his mother. Michael offers a tangible link to his past and his absent father. There's also the discomfort of knowing that his own relationship with his son from a broken relationship is in danger of similarly vanishing into nothingness.

I really enjoyed how the author introduced facets of Liverpool's history and past into the story. Several of the snippets dropped were surprising to find out. I've often heard Liverpool referred to as the capital of Ireland, but Byrne reflects that it hasn't always been a welcoming place for immigrants, despite the popular mythology that the city espouses. 

Other information drops concerned .... worker's rights, unions, militancy, class, Irishness, Chinese deportations, the Troubles, smuggling, Special Branch, sectarianism, Antony Gormley and his artwork, the Orange Order, St Patrick's Day parades - or the absence of, industry - the rise and fall of, re-generation, relocation, the loss of community. There's never any sense of information over-load as the author skillfully blends the city's secrets into the narrative. Liverpool is as big a character in the book as any of the combatants or allies.    

Setting, story, character, pace, outcome, information - all ticks in the box.

Overall, a really entertaining and satisfying read.

4.5 from 5

I look forward to whatever author Jack Byrne delivers next.

Read - June, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 266
Source - review copy from author
Format - ePUB read on laptop

Tuesday 22 June 2021

DEREK BARTON - ELUDE: PART THREE (2019)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Stepping blindly into a horrific murder scene, a young ex-con, Vicente Vargas, must flee from the police while eluding the real killer who continues to pin more bodies on him in this intricate cat-and-mouse game. Cut off from all friends and family, tried and convicted by the press, Vic must survive on his wits and cunning on the gritty streets of Phoenix, Arizona long enough to clear his name.

Hmm ... an okay conclusion to a short episodic series of three from Derek Barton. An ex-con and an innocent young teenage girl get set up for murder and more in the first episode. A detective on the case(s) is haunted by dreams and is a bit too suspicious of all the convenient evidence against the pair. Something smells fishy and it's ..... telepathy and mind control from a gang of sibling crims. I was disengaged from this point onwards.

I quite liked the main characters and the quandary they were thrown into, but wasn't thrilled by the path the author went down. I think I can tolerate a supernatural, unexplainable element in my reading if I know that's what I'm getting into from the start. The series gave off a crimey- thrillerish vibe at the get go and I was disappointed not so much by where it ended up, but how it got there.

Plenty of action which I like, as well as a decent setting of Phoenix, Arizona. Fast-paced and an ok outcome. Overall some likable bits, overshadowed by some elements that served to throw me out of the story. 

3 from 5
  
Elude Part One and Elude Part Two were previously read via Audible. 

Read - (listened to) June, 2021
Pulbished - 2019
Page count - 92 (1 hr 57 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Sunday 20 June 2021

CHUCK MORGAN - CRIME UNKNOWN (2021)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

CBI agent Buck Taylor is back in book 7 of the CRIME series by Chuck Morgan, 2020 Pacific Book Awards Best Mystery Winner for Crime Denied (Book 5).

Copper Creek, Colorado is a picturesque mountain town that is home to an exclusive private college, and that backs up to Rocky Mountain National Park. On the outside, it appears to be a peaceful town. The perfect place to raise a family, but underneath, Copper Creek holds some dark secrets.

When the body of a young black student is found hanging in the basement of one of the college buildings, Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Buck Taylor and his team are sent to Copper Creek to investigate the apparent suicide. Was this just a suicide or could it be a possible hate crime? With little cooperation from the local authorities, Buck's investigation leads them to some startling conclusions about the suicide and uncovers a criminal enterprise that has been going on for over a hundred years. An enterprise that will rock this idyllic town to its core.

Second time around for me with author Chuck Morgan and his main series character, Buck Taylor. Crime Unknown is the 7th in the Taylor series. Crime Exposed, the 4th was enjoyed last year.

Taylor is sent into the small town of Copper Creek to investigate the supposed suicide of a black student who was found hanging. As a reader we already know the death wasn't suicide, but murder. Taylor quickly encounters resistance and obstruction in his efforts to take a look. He receives a warning from the local police chief who wants him gone in 24 hours and his every move is surveilled. Spidey senses alerted, Taylor thinks something is seriously wrong with the town of Copper Creek.

I quite enjoyed the set-up and Taylor and his team's efforts to unpick the truth about the supposed suicide and the town's secrets in general. The plot is a slight stretch insofar as serious corruption and wrong doing could conceivably be kept under wraps for so long, with so many people party to it. My other minor gripe was Buck Taylor himself. He presents as just a little bit too much of a Peter Perfect character ... no flaws, no vices, no failings, no weak spots. He's a bit too good to be true.

Those little niggles aside I really enjoyed this. I liked the investigation, the conflicts throughout, the uncovering of current and historical crimes and the eventual solution with answers and outcomes to all the questions posed. There's a lot more going on that the covering up of a student's death.

I do like a small town tale of corruption. Interesting characters, a fast moving story and lots more to like than dislike. 

4 from 5    

Read - June, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 350
Source - review copy from Reedsy
Format - PDF read on laptop





Saturday 19 June 2021

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH STEPHEN FRANKS

Stephen Franks' fantastic debut, The Milan Contract was recently enjoyed.



Stephen was kind enough to submit to a bit of gentle questioning for the blog....

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

Writing is sadly only part-time at the moment although I have ambitions in that respect! I am ex-forces (both Royal Air Force and British Army). I then trained as a barrister and was called to the bar five years ago. I own a couple of legal consultancy businesses and also offer advice to families of disabled dependents regarding probate and trust matters. 



I recently enjoyed The Milan Contract. Was this your debut publication or have you other stuff out there?

The Milan Contract was my debut novel although I have written a couple of plays (as yet unpublished) in the past – as well as some pretty awful poetry.

Can you pitch The Milan Contract to a new reader in fifty words or less?

A sort of Italian Maigret with its roots in the cold-war. A tale of two immigrant families living in Milan who manage to get caught up in an international story of betrayal and murder. 

How long from conception to completion did The Milan Contract take? 

From the first time the story came to me – about twenty-five years! However, from writing the first chapter to publication, around three months.

Was there one seed or spark of inspiration that set you off and got you started on this book?

The book (almost entirely in its published form) came to me as I stood on the steps of a Milanese hotel one sunny morning sometime in the nineties. On that fateful day, a lone cyclist rode by carrying a large pannier of bread….and the story was born!

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

It is almost entirely as I had first imagined it, with some minor changes – particularly the ending.

Were there any bumps in the road along the way?

Not really. My first draft was way too long, and I spent a couple of weeks cutting it down, but generally it went pretty well. One of the issues I came across was re-reading everything (multiple times) and not seeing where the faults were.

How did you set about getting the book published?

I tried a few agents without any luck (along with half a million other wannabe authors), so I formed my own publishing house (Mooncat Books Ltd) and set about trying to break into the market. I am still open to agent offers, but I don’t hold my breath. I’ve learnt an enormous amount about writing and publishing over the past year and the one thing I am sure about is that it is a highly congested market and you need a large slice of luck to get your book noticed (or you could work as a quiz show presenter on the BBC – then it’s fairly easy!). 

Have you spent any time in the locations that feature in the book, or was it researched, or have you just winged it?

I have spent time in all the locations mentioned in the book, so much of the places reflect my personal memories. However, I did carry out some research too.

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

No – I just tend to ‘splurge’ what is in my head at the time and then edit later. I tend to write chapters in the order that I think they will appear in the book, which means that with several ‘flashbacks’, I am not writing along a linear timeline. However, I prefer to do it this way as I want to write as I believe others will (hopefully) read.   

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

Not directly, but I do model nearly all my protagonists physical and/or emotional characteristics on real people who I know (or have known) well.

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your stories – 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?

For The Milan Contract I always knew how it would end (although it was adjusted somewhat during editing). I tend to have the whole story in my mind, but it does sometimes ‘bend’ with writing. In my new book, I have followed the same formula – I know the beginning and end in detail and the middle in loose terms. I genuinely follow where the characters take me. It’s an odd process – almost as if it is they who are telling me the tale and I am just recording it.

Are there any subjects off limits?

I don’t think any subjects are ‘off-limits’ but I would never feel comfortable writing about something that I hadn’t experienced or researched.  

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

A couple of plays maybe, but they both deal with matters that are too close to my own life, so they will probably stay there!

What’s the current project in progress?

The new book (as yet unnamed) is about one-third written. I will never be the sort of author who can churn out 10 books a year. The writing experience is a very personal one to me. I need to invest a part of me in each word, chapter and character and that takes me time.

What’s the best thing about writing?

Getting to tell a story that hopefully people will love. I have always been a reader and I appreciate the craft of story-telling. I genuinely consider it a privilege to have strangers read my tales.

The worst?

The moment after publication when you have to wait while others judge you and your hard work. I would love to be the sort of writer who doesn’t care what others think, but to me, what others think is the entire reason why I started writing.

Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read? 

Our Game – John le Carré

Ordeal by Innocence – Agatha Christie

The Jurisprudence of Lord Denning – Charles Stephens

Kissinger’s Year: 1973 – Alistair Horne

Elizabeth – David Starkey


Who do you read and enjoy?

I am a massive John le Carré fan and re-read his books on a regular basis. Ironically, The Milan Contract was first published on the day le Carré died and the fatalistic side of me sometimes dreams that a tiny fraction of his indomitable brilliance was gifted to my debut novel as he passed by on his way to authors’ heaven. 

I love Agatha Christie and hold both Christie (for her narrative prose and le Carré for his ability to evoke tension) as the royal family of story-telling. I also read quite a bit on historical figures: William Wilberforce, Disraeli, Churchill, etc. 

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy by John le Carré




Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I still play the odd game of cricket and I have always been a keen follower of both county cricket and football. I also love watching my sons playing for their respective county cricket teams. My wife and I owned and ran a restaurant once and I still love to cook when time allows.


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

Never Let Me Go. It genuinely shocked me how much of an affect that film had on me. I still think about it when the ‘black dog’ barks.



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

I’m not a great TV watcher, but I enjoyed The West Wing series and felt a little empty when it concluded. I think the writers were blessed with a touch of genius. I do like Morse and Endeavour and was hooked by Game of Thrones. Other than that, I watch quite a bit of football and cricket when time allows. I avoid the news (especially BBC News) but will watch crime drama on occasions.



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

While writing this, I have just listened to:

Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

All Rise – Blue

Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty

-----------------------------------

RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite vegetable?

Parsnips and sprouts – no, I really do! My wife is a vegetarian and I have acquired a keen taste for vegetables of all shapes and sizes, although she has failed to overcome my loathing of fennel.


When did you last have a fist fight?

I had to fight my way out of a street mugging in Paris about four years ago! Three lads tried to snatch my backpack and passport. I ended up with a bruised face, but I think one of them went home with a broken nose. 



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

Stringfellows 1979…but it’s a long story which I won’t bore everyone with.


Do you have any tattoos?

No – but many years ago I went with a friend to have a tattoo done but his took so long we had to leave to catch a flight. I still think about doing it - my boys would love it.


What was your first pet’s name?

Mauser - my pet tabby (Mauser was the name of the cannon that was carried by the Tornado F2/F3 in which I flew during the nineties). She lived for 12 years and was my closest buddy for much of that time. She was an enormous comfort when my father passed away and I genuinely believe she understood that I was grieving. 


What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

I have had a few! However, the one that immediately springs to mind was a supposedly Indian dish served on a cruise ship – the chef had used about a kilo of cinnamon, and it was inedible as a result. I have no idea what he was thinking but he certainly couldn’t cook! I made the restaurant manager taste it and he nearly puked…so funny!

I also had an Andouillette sausage in France that tasted of poo…no really – apparently, it’s supposed to!


Do you have any irrational fears?

Flying – which is crazy considering I have 2500 hours flying in my logbook! My long-suffering wife says it’s a power and control thing and who I am I to argue…



What’s your favourite holiday destination?

Love the Greek islands, Canada, the Rhineland and Norway.





When did you last tell a lie?

I have never told a lie (except that one).

------------

Many thanks to Stephen for his time.

You can catch up with him at the following haunts....

Websitehttps://mooncatbooks.com/

Twitter@LtdMooncat



Check out The Milan Contract below....

'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.

Friday 18 June 2021

MEGAN ABBOTT - THE LITTLE MEN (2015)

 


Synopsis/blurb ...

In 1950s Hollywood, an actress is haunted by a bookseller’s death: A novella from the Edgar Award-winning author of Give Me Your Hand.

In 1953, Penny is just another washed-up, wannabe Hollywood actress who is past her prime. She has settled in to a quiet lifestyle, and when she finds a low-rent bungalow in Canyon Arms, it’s a dream come true; Penny takes to the place instantly.

But the dream cottage with its French doors and tiled courtyard may not be as perfect as it seems. Penny’s new neighbors start filling her head with stories about past tenants, whispering voices, and a suicide that may not have been a suicide at all. Soon enough, Penny starts hearing strange noises and she can’t help but wonder about the true fate of the bookseller who died in her home a dozen years earlier. Her suspicions are only fueled by the ominous inscription that she discovers in a book that’s closely guarded by her landlord . . .

From the national bestselling author of Dare Me and other thrillers, this is a spooky mystery set on the dark fringes of glamorous Los Angeles.

The Bibliomysteries are a series of short tales about deadly books, by top mystery authors.

An enjoyable filler read tackled inbetween a couple of longer books and my first encounter with author Megan Abbott.

Creepy, atmospheric, Hollywood, romance, a spurned woman, lodgings with a history, death, loss, haunted dreams, visions, noises, a suspicious landlady, stories from neighbours, and more.

Very moody, very unsettling. I was never quite sure what was real and what was Penny's imagination.

Great setting with the placing and time frame of the story. Inequality between the sexes features - power and control. Not sure how much has changed in the past 60-odd years, judging by the recent #MeToo movement. I don't think that was the main focus of the story, but it kind of stuck with me.

I wouldn't say I loved this one. I'm never quite sure with physchological dramas whether I'm on the same page as the author and I'm a bit too OCD to enjoy too much ambiguity in my reading. 

Overall - 3.5 from 5

I definitely need to read more from Megan Abbott. Something I've probably been saying for ten years. 


Read - June, 2021

Published - 2015

Page count - 36

Source - Freebie from publisher Mysterious Press

Format - ePUB read on laptop

Thursday 17 June 2021

LAWRENCE BLOCK - A WRITER PREPARES (2021)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Sometime in 1953, I knew with unusual certainty what I intended to do with my life. I would become a writer.

By the time I was 25, I had published more than 50 books. Most of these bore pen names, and for a time I resisted acknowledging my early pseudonymous work. Then, in one astonishing and feverish week in 1994, I recalled those early years in 50,000 words of memoir.

A publisher contracted to bring out my memoir once I'd completed it. Instead I put it on a shelf and never looked at it again. Early in 2020, I had a fresh look at A Writer Prepares. By the time I was ready to stop, I'd written about my life as a writer well into 1966, when I'd completed The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep.

A Writer Prepares, an examination of the first quarter century of one writer's life, is arguably the work of two writers. There's the middle-aged fellow who wrote about half of it at a blistering pace in 1994, and there's the octogenarian who finished the job another quarter century later. The older fellow brought less raw energy to the task, and his memory is a long way from infallible, but one can only hope he's offset these losses with a slight edge in judgment, in perspective, in maturity.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to bring an unbiased view towards this book. I absolutely love this man and his incredible body of work. It's probably safe to say I've read more of his books than any other author living or dead. That said I don't think I've loved all his books equally, a couple have irritated me along the way, but - the majority..... hell yeah, give 'em to me again.

In A Writer Prepares, mostly written over 25 years ago, Block recounts tales of his upbringing, his parents, education, college life, Buffalo, New York, his ambitions, his early writing and sales and his time spent working with Scott Meredith - a New York writing agency which he soon came to understand was little more than a con game designed to part would-be-authors from their money. There's life after Meredith and the transition from pseudonomously written pulp and erotic novels to finding his own voice and what he feels is his arrival as a proper established writer. We also learn a bit about his first marriage and fatherhood as well. 

Some of the anecdotes and reminiscences have been shared before elsewhere, but it's not something I could ever get tired of hearing about. The main focus of the book though is the journey as a writer, with the personal snippets offered somewhat grudgingly to provide context for certain decisions taken and paths followed. I can understand and respect that public figures have private lives and not everyone wants or feels the need to unburden themselves. 

I think my unashamed admiration for Block as an author, has me hanging on every snippet of information he chooses to divulge whether it's about his life as a writer, hanging out with fellow authors, or a walk around a neighbourhood. I would be entertained reading Block's shopping list.

The man's an absolute treasure, legend, icon and the fact that he's still going strong at nearly 84 is inspirational. 

A Writer Prepares was really enjoyable and not just one for the fans.

5 from 5 

Mr Block has been read many times before. The good news is, I've as many from him on the TBR pile as I've actually consumed. Let the good times roll.... 


Read - May, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 265
Source - review copy from one of LB's assistants
Format - Kindle

*This one drops next week on his birthday.

Wednesday 16 June 2021

STAN PARISH - LOVE AND THEFT (2020)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

When Alex Cassidy and Diane Alison meet by chance at a party in Princeton, New Jersey, there are instant sparks. Both are single parents living in wealthy suburbia, independent, highly competent and seemingly settled in their lives. She runs a successful catering business. He's part of a crew that robs banks, casinos and jewellery stores around the world. Neither realises initially that their lives have overlapped before, or that their shared history and burgeoning relationship will come to threaten everything they love. As Alex prepares for one final, daunting job, he discovers that he's not the only one with secrets - and that both of them are playing for the highest stakes imaginable.

An enjoyable, fast-moving heist book with a few extras thrown in - namely a splash of romance and a helping or two of kidnapping.

I liked the opening to the book, which is a Vegas jewel robbery conducted skillfully by villains on motorbikes. It's a robbery which is captured on camera and becomes a You Tube and social media sensation and a talking point at parties.  

After the robbery, Alex one of the leaders of the gang meets, Diane. A relationship starts to develop between the two. This extends to each of their adult kids mimicking the parents on a Mexican get-to-know-you-better break. At some point Diane discovers Alex is the thief who's the star of the internet.
She has the hump and gives him an ultimatum. Alex decides to give up the life of crime for the woman he now feels he loves.It's perhaps a decision he's been pondering for a while, he just needed sufficient motivation to act on it.

Of course, life doesn't always go the way you want. One last job beckons - a hobson's choice situation and inevitably the brown stuff hits the fan.

Overall, the book did what it said on the tin.
I liked the main characters, I liked the plot and the back stories of the individuals. There's probably a bit of reliance on coincidence to advance it, but I was happy enough to go along with the author. I liked the settings..... Vegas, NJ, Mexico and sunny Spain. And the ending worked for me. 

There are plenty of thrills and excitement, which comes across with an excellent narration from Angelo Di Loreto. Lots to like. I'll be interested in seeing what Stan Parish comes up with next after this entertaining offering.


4 from 5

Read - (listened to) May, 2021
Published - 2020
Page count - 233 (7 hrs 21 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Tuesday 15 June 2021

GEORGE V. HIGGINS - THE DIGGER'S GAME (1973)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

The Digger, a Boston Irish bar owner, takes a curious package trip to Las Vegas at the invitation of the Regent's Sportsman's Club Inc. He wakes up with a savage hangover and a large debt to a person or persons unknown - which is worrying. He discovers he is in debt to the Greek - which is terrifying.

The Greek's interest rates are brutal and his debt-recovery techniques uncomfortably old-fashioned.

A fast, violent novel, The Digger's Game adds another chapter to George V. Higgins' unfolding portrait of modern America which began with The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

'(Higgins) has been blessed with an unerring ear - his style is bouncy, rich in nuance and humour, and his dialogue is informed by intelligence and wit . . . There is never a Higgins scene that isn't seamlessly fashioned or a character who rings false.'                    
Mordecai Richler, GQ Magazine

I do like 70s US crime fiction. There's something about it that just cries out to me ..... READ ME! I think I often get too caught up trying to keep on top of all the latest hot offerings and ignore the nagging inner voice, which is my own fault. (Note to self .... read more older books!)

70s Boston, Vegas, gambling, debt, deadlines, interest rates, family issues, criminal sorts, enforcers, chancers, money lenders, a priest for a brother, falling outs, other crimes, law enforcement, hostile takeovers, and a probably reckoning in the not too distant future.

I'm a month out from reading this and a lot of the finer details are vanishing into the ether, but from what I can recall.....  

Great characters, dialogue, conversations, interactions. Most of the characters are kind of blue collar, working class sorts, a bit shady, a bit dodgy, happy to pick up a few extra bucks doing a job, no questions asked. There's a hard edge to them. The men run their households, control the wives and the money. The women raise the kids and don't complain too much about the drinking and the gambling and the whoring around.

I love how Higgins relays his tales, mostly through conversation. I like how you get to discover the story, as much through what he doesn't say and show as through what he displays. The ending in particular leaves the reader at a point where his imagination joins up the dots.

Strong, solid entertainment. Overall verdict - I liked it, but probably a little bit less than others of his. 

4 from 5

After a long absence, ten years or so, in the past couple I've been revisiting Higgins work - The Friends of Eddie CoyleCogan's Trade and The Rat on Fire were all enjoyed in 2019.


Read - May, 2021
Published - 1973
Page count - 224
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback

Monday 14 June 2021

ED GORMAN & TOM PICCIRILLI - CAST IN DARK WATERS (2002)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Her name was Crimson...and she was a legend. A beautiful pirate queen who plundered the 16th Century Caribbean sea by day and confronted voodoo and vampires during the steaming tropical nights.

Cast in Dark Waters is an original dark adventure tale by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli.

This will be a Crossroad Press production.

A collaborative effort from Tom Piccirilli and Ed Gorman and one which while not actually disliking wasn't really my vibe.

Pirates, the Caribbean, Virginia, London's East End, an absent daughter and a mercenary rescue mission to a haunted island populated by supernatural non-human beings. 

Conflict, battles, negotiations, arguments, family dramas, loss, bereavement, dreams and nightmares.  

The story was entertaining enough without ever feeling like I was overly interested in the outcome.
Ed Gorman
The writing was good, the story was alright, the character's were interesting enough. A week or so on from listening to it, I can't say I've remembered too much finite detail and in another week or so's time I'll probably forget everything about it. 

There's worse ways of spending two hours of your time andat least I won't die wondering about what I might have missed.

3 from 5

Gorman and Piccirilli have both been enjoyed in the past. Too many times to mention. No doubt I'll enjoy them both again in the future. Hopefully with a tale more firmly rooted in reality and the crime-mystery-thriller genre. 


Tom Piccirilli



Read - (listened to) June, 2021
Published - 2002
Page count - 100 (1 hr 56 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Friday 11 June 2021

ANDERSEN PRUNTY - KILL YOUR NEIGHBOR (2017)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

When Emma and Kip Dupree bought their first home together, they got a lot more than they bargained for. They wanted to get out of the city and get on with their lives on the quiet cul-de-sac. Instead, an object of obsession brings their lives to a screeching halt.

Who is the woman living next door?

Why does she do the curious things she does?

Why do Emma and Kip feel like their lives have been so disrupted?

How do they get her to stop?

The Duprees are only sure about one thing: the social contract must be upheld at all costs.

A short book so a short review.

Every homeowner or renter's nightmare - a difficult, irritating, unreasonable neighbor.

Our young couple, Emma and Kip move to, if not the house of their dreams, one which is at least affordable. You buy the house, but you don't buy the neighbors. The old woman next door rebuffs friendly overtures and over the next few months along with her dogs (and the product of their bodily functions), makes life hell for our twosome.    

Communication issues, disagreements, outright hostility, escalation allied with a reduction in rational thought and behaviour. The situation spirals out of control. Peace and a sense of tranquility is restored but at a price.

I quite liked this one. It's easy to relate to a difficult and sometimes impossible to resolve situation. I can't imagine being driven to those extremes, but hey who knows what we're all capable of if enough of our buttons are pushed.

4 from 5

Mr Punty has been enjoyed before - The Driver's Guide to Hitting Pedestrians and Jack and Mr Grin


Read - (listened to) June, 2021
Published - 2017
Page count - 42 (1 hr 10 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible