Monday 30 August 2021



Synopsis/blurb ...

COLD CALL by A. Michael Day, is a Psychological Crime Thriller set in London.

Tyrone Williams is struggling to adjust to civilian life after leaving the army. Plagued by recurring nightmares, living in a run down tower block, stuck in a trainwreck of a relationship, and working for a call centre. Things couldn't get any worse...

Not until Tyrone cold calls Mrs Nowak...

After his telephone conversation with Mrs Nowak, Tyrone decides to investigate her for his own personal vendetta, and soon finds himself drawn into London's criminal underbelly. A world of seedy pimps, brothels, and violence. The deeper Tyrone gets, the more he questions whether he's the hero or the villain...

You Never Know Who Will Call...

An enjoyable book, but one which was let down a bit by the lack of a good edit. There are a lot of typos and grammatical errors and a few sentences which are a bit out of place, which kind of detract from an otherwise decent story.

A call centre, a zero hours contract job, a PTSD suffering veteran in a loveless relationship, a struggle to meet sales targets, pressures of life, economics, circumstances, an awkward customer and .... SNAP, something within our main character, Tyrone, a veteran breaks ... an obsession with tracking down the rude customer, a lost relationship, stalking, abusive phone calls, more information on the target, sympathy, a volte face, a desire to help, regrets, shame and very nearly two lives back on track.  

Interesting, enjoyable, a bit uncomfortable in places, a few twists and turns, before a decent ending. I liked the main character who is barely hanging onto his sanity and the little he has. It's also a commentary on modern society and the world of zero hours contracts and those barely getting by, only a missed pay cheque away from total wipeout and the loss of any footholds on the bottom rung of the ladder. 

I did question the helplessness Tyrone felt at times when confronted by indifference and apathy from his partner at home. He exhibits all the qualities of a door mat, which kind of contrasts too sharply with some of his behaviour later in the book. It's almost too radical a change to be plausible. He eventually gets his bags packed for him, but I think him giving his partner the heave-hoh would have made more sense, when I consider all that follows. Apart from this slight frustration with him, Tyrone fully had my sympathies, as did the object of his attentions, Mrs Novak aka Claire.

We also encounter domestic abuse, prostitution, sex workers and low level criminality. Not a side of London that you would ever really want to see. 

3 from 5

Read  - August, 2021

Published - 2021

Page count - 168

Source - Reedsy review site

Format - PDF read on laptop


Synopsis/blurb ....

An icon's life implodes—at two in the morning

World renowned, revered actor Aaron Julian is awakened at two a.m. by his agent who informs him that he has been accused of sexual harassment. Young actresses will break the story on prime-time TV that morning—with their lawyer, the attorney who led the charge in the priests' sexual abuse cases.

Aaron and his celebrity pop-singer wife, Veda, vehemently deny the charges, and hire powerful defense lawyer Raquel Rematti. But when the plaintiffs' lawyer is murdered in Central Park, the stakes sky-rocket and the conspiracies spiral out of control.

Despite revelation after revelation, Aaron continues to proclaim his innocence. And in his defense, Rematti uses every tool in the legal system to produce courtroom drama that is unparalleled.

The outcome—impossible to predict—is guaranteed to stun and to linger with you for a long time.

Fans of John Grisham and Scott Turow will devour this cutting-edge thriller

I do like a bit of crime when it focuses on legal matters, lawyers and the justice system. I just don't read enough of it. Accusation was a fantastic read and another reminder of what I'm missing by ignoring this trope of crime fiction.

Accusation is the third in Paul Batista's Raquel Rematti series but I didn't get any sense of missing out from not having read either of the previous two. Defense lawyer, Rematti is hired by rich actor, Aaron Julian after he has been accused of inappropriate behaviour towards several young women he has encountered either during film work, auditions or in the social scene surrounding his job and celebrity.  

Aaron denies the allegations vehemently, but mud sticks and it's hard to prove a negative, especially when judged in the court of public opinion. His accuser's lawyer gets murdered and Julian is dragged deeper into the mire on the periphery of a murder investigation.

Justice, celebrity, #MeToo, investigations, targets, press releases, court battles, TV interviews, data mining, provocative photos, marital pressures, lawyerly advice and tactics, police stings, escalations, corruption, deceit, Grand Jury sittings, evidence fabrication, whistleblowing, and a helluva lot more besides.

I really enjoyed this one. It's a topical subject and it's a bit of an eye opener, in respect of how perceptions of people can be manipulated by how a story is presented in the media. It was also interesting seeing the lengths some in authority will go to try and secure a conviction. I'm always ready to believe the worst of people in positions in power. For a short book, it's fast-moving and very busy.

I liked the main character.... her calm outlook her wisdom, her capabilities. I enjoyed the dynamics between her and the accused, Aaron Julian and also with Julian, his wife and his manager-cum-fixer. 

Accusation is an exciting, gripping and explosive tale which I was always a little bit unsure in regards to how it would eventually play out. The finale didn't disappoint. I'm looking forward to backtracking and reading the earlier books in this series - The Borzoi Killings and The Warriors.

4.5 from 5

Read - August, 2021

Published - 2022

Page count - 224

Source - review copy from Edelweiss - Above the Treeline site

Format - Kindle 

Saturday 28 August 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

Retribution and Time

An everyday Friday night out. A few too many drinks.

A few harsh words said. No one was hurt.

All easily forgotten.

Both can heal

Except he didn’t forget. Their threats. How they made him feel…

They must pay - with their lives.

But one will always leave a scar…

A young woman goes missing. She’s done it before, but Detective Inspector April Decent senses this time it’s serious. Can she convince her colleagues she’s right before it’s too late?

My second time with Malcolm Hollingdrake and his Merseyside Crime Series. Catch As Catch Can, the series opener was enjoyed a couple of months ago. Syn features the same investigative team, initially looking into a missing persons case. The case quickly escalates to murder, and within a short period of time - murders plural.

I'm not the world's biggest fan of books featuring multiple murders and a race against time by the cops to prevent further victims, but when I do read them I can get invested if the writing is good and the raison d'etre for the crimes plausible. Here Hollingdrake alternates the narrative so we get a feel for the murderer and his plan, and also the investigation and the steps taken to catch up with him. 

I could understand the motive here, though the murderer's response is a bit extreme to say the least. Who hasn't wanted to achieve some measure of retribution for times when we have felt wronged or humiliated? Forgiveness or the ability to forget and move on doesn't always come easily. Not everyone is well-adjusted and balanced, even if they possess the skills and intelligence to plan and plot the downfall of others. 

Where Hollingdrake scores high is in the likability of some of his characters. The police team all work well together. There's no testosterone overload or egos battling for attention. They all do their jobs, either researching background details, analysing data - phone records and social media accounts, or the legwork, interviewing witnesses - sympathetic to some, applying pressure to others where they feel cooperation is not totally forthcoming. Some of the detectives are more prominent than others, Skeeter in particular comes to the fore here. Hollingdrake provides enough personal background to make her more than just a cop in the job. I liked the level of care she provided for one of the vulnerable witnesses that was quickly eliminated from the enquiry. 

My favourite character though was one of the friends and work colleagues of the women, Carla who went missing in the first instance. Brian aka Carlos was a real sweetie without a malicious bone in his body. His naivety and willingness to trust elevates the tension later in the book.

Overall I really liked the story and while the motive for all that occurred seemed a little weak to me, I was happy enough to go where the author took us. I did find myself trying to second guess things, as some of the characters sucked into the drama had their own secrets to protect, and while they obviously weren't the murderer, they knew more than they were letting on.

Decent pace, a bit of a page turner and an enjoyable setting of Southport, Merseyside. The author shows his love for the area with the local history he effortlessly drops into the narrative. Lots to like.

3.5 from 5

Malcolm Hollingdrake is definitely an author I'd be interested in reading again in the future. Either another Merseyside Crime book (assuming there are more in the series to come), or something from his other Harrogate Crime series. 

Read - August, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 286
Source - review copy from publisher Hobeck Books
Format - Kindle

Friday 27 August 2021


Synopsis/blurb ....


Ike Randolph left jail fifteen years ago, with not so much as a speeding ticket since.
But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.

Ike is devastated to learn his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah's white husband, Derek. Though he never fully accepted his son, Ike is broken by his death.

Derek's father Buddy Lee was as ashamed of Derek being gay as Derek was of his father's criminal past. But Buddy Lee - with seedy contacts deep in the underworld - needs to know who killed his only child.

Desperate to do better by them in death than they did in life, two hardened ex-cons must confront their own prejudices about their sons - and each other - as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

A provocative revenge thriller and an achingly tender story of redemption, this novel is a ferocious portrait of grief; for those loved and lost, and for mistakes than can never truly be undone.


'Superb...Cuts right to the heart of the most important questions of our times.' MICHAEL CONNELLY
'The very definition of a white-knuckle ride' IAN RANKIN

My third rodeo with author S. A. Cosby after having previously enjoyed Blacktop Wasteland and My Darkest Prayer. Razorblade Tears was much enjoyed, but probably a fraction less than the other two.

It's a hard-hitting revenge thriller, as two long in the tooth, ex-cons seek answers for the murder of their gay sons. 

Bereavement, family, regrets, intolerance, mistakes, racism, homophobia, sexuality, conspiracy, power, a kickass take no prisoners amateur investigation and after a lot of spilled blood some street justice.

I liked the story. It's fast-moving, exciting, violent with more than a few twists and turns along the way. Ike and Buddy Lee butt heads and more with a gang of bikers and it's always a good thing when racist dunderheads get their asses handed to them on a plate. The revelation of the puppet master pulling the strings was a tad predictable, but it did tie in with the rest of the book. And I suppose there's a 'well who else could it be' question that I wouldn't be able to answer.

The two bad hombres made for a formidable pairing and it was enjoyable seeing them easily fall back into some habits of their pasts. I think what I found sad was that enlightenment and the realisation of the depth of their love for their sons only happened after they had died. The quest for revenge made themselves feel better, but their sons were still in their graves. Sort of too little, too late. You should have loved them better when they were alive.

Interesting, topical, relevant and a satisfying read.

4 from 5

Read - August, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 337
Source - Net Galley
Format - Kindle


 A couple from the legendary Thomas Perry.

Perry has written approximately 30 novels in a forty year career. I've maybe read four, which means I've a bit of catching up to do. A couple have been hit and miss, but there's always enough there for me to keep wanting to read him.

The BurglarThe Boyfriend, Metzer's Dog and The Butcher's Boy are the ones I've encountered thus far. 

He has a couple of well regarded series - Butcher's Boy and Jane Whitefield - that I'd like to read all of.  

Poison Flower (2012)

Poison Flower, the seventh novel in Thomas Perry's celebrated Jane Whitefield series, opens as Jane spirits James Shelby, a man unjustly convicted of his wife's murder, out of the heavily guarded criminal court building in downtown Los Angeles. But the price of Shelby's freedom is high. Within minutes, men posing as police officers kidnap Jane and, when she tries to escape, shoot her.

Jane's captors are employees of the man who really killed Shelby's wife. He believes he won't be safe until Shelby is dead, and his men will do anything to force Jane to reveal Shelby's hiding place. But Jane endures their torment, and is willing to die rather than betray Shelby. Jane manages to escape but she is alone, wounded, thousands of miles from home with no money and no identification, hunted by the police as well as her captors. She must rejoin Shelby, reach his sister before the hunters do, and get them both to safety.

In this unrelenting, breathtaking cross-country battle, Jane survives by relying on the traditions of her Seneca ancestors. When at last Jane turns to fight, her enemies face a cunning and ferocious warrior who has one weapon that they don't.

Eddie's Boy (2020)

Michael Shaeffer is a retired American businessman, living peacefully in England with his aristocratic wife. But her annual summer party brings strangers to their house, and with them, an attempt on Michael’s life. He is immediately thrust into action, luring his lethal pursuers to Australia before venturing into the lion’s den—the States—to figure out why the mafia is after him again, and how to stop them.

Eddie’s Boy jumps between Michael’s current predicament and the past, between the skillset he now ruthlessly and successfully employs and the training that made him what he is. We glimpse the days before he became the Butcher’s Boy, the highly skilled mob hit man who pulled a slaughter job on some double-crossing clients and started a mob war, to his childhood spent apprenticed to Eddie, a seasoned hired assassin. And we watch him pit two prominent mafia families against each other to eliminate his enemies one by one.

He’s meticulous in his approach, using his senior contact in the Organized Crime Division of the Justice Department for information, without ever allowing her to get too close to his trail. But will he be able to escape this new wave of young contract killers, or will the years finally catch up to him?

As the San Francisco Chronicle said about this Edgar Award-winning series, “The best thing about Thomas Perry’s thrillers are the devilishly ingenious schemes his protagonists devise to outwit their pursuers . . . Perry can really write.”

Thursday 26 August 2021



Synopsis/blurb ...

Behind the scenes, nothing is what it seems.

Gord Stewart, 40 years old, single, moved back into his sub­urban childhood home to care for his widowed father. But his father no longer needs care and Gord is stuck in limbo. He’s been working in the movie business as a location scout for years, and when there isn’t much filming, as a private eye for a security company run by ex-cops, OBC. When a fellow crew member asks him to find her missing uncle, Gord reluctantly takes the job. The police say the uncle walked into some dense woods in Northern Ontario and shot himself, but the man’s wife thinks he’s still alive.

With the help of his movie business and OBC connections, Gord finds a little evidence that the uncle may be alive. Now Gord has two problems: what to do when he finds a man who doesn’t want to be found, and admitting that he’s getting invested in this job. For the first time in his life, Gord Stewart is going to have to leave the sidelines and get into the game. Even if it might get him killed.

Every City etc is my first John McFetridge book for a few years. Black Rock was read back in 2014, Swap in 2011. Having enjoyed both, in particular Black Rock as much as I did, I can't actually believe it's only the third book I've read by him in the past ten years.

In Every City we have main character, Gord Stewart reluctantly looking into a missing person case for a work colleague. Stewart works as a location scout in films, with a fall back investigative gig with a security firm, OBC. 

Logic and a cursory police investigation seem to indicate his client's missing uncle abandoned his car and strode off into the woods to kill himself. McFetridge seems to use to book as a klaxon call for a discussion on the rise of male suicide. (If not a full-on discussion, male suicide and mental health particularly in the demographic of middle-aged men is at least flagged as a subject worthy of some attention.)

Stewart shows his capabilities as an investigator, following a trail of breadcrumbs around several towns and cities and while not actually finding his quarry does enough to disavow the notion that the uncle took his own life. His man is out there somewhere.

On set, Gord starts a fledgling romance with an actor, Esther. There's an interesting dynamic between Gord and his widowed father that Esther eases into. Gord has moved back home, ostensibly to look after his father, a man who seems pretty capable on his own. Perhaps it's a way of combatting his own loneliness. His father himself might be back in the dating game. The home situation adds some humour to the book. 

About halfway through the book we break off on a tangent with a secondary situation concerning Gord's sometime employer and their current hot news case. OBC is using its considerable powers to try and suppress, intimidate or discredit potential witnesses in a up-coming high profile rape case against one of its clients. Danger alert - Stewart and his actor girlfriend find themselves in the crosshairs of a formidable opponent. 

Situation B gets resolved and we then switch back to missing person mode. Stewart, the client and the missing man's wife and the reader get answers as to what happened and most of the why. 

I'm kind of conflicted about the book if I'm honest. I liked the characters, the situation, the story, the investigation, the bits in and around the film world, the understanding and sympathy extended to a man who behaves from the outside in an inexplicable, incomprehensible way. It felt personal. I can see how the authorities under pressure of case load and resource issues might go for the easy outcome. Not saying it's right, but I can understand it. 

The other bit of book with the separate situation that Gord found himself in the middle of, seemed at odds to the rest of the tale. It was almost as if it had been inserted as some filler to flesh out the page count. It added some tension and danger and some action to an otherwise enjoyable book, but one bereft of any real excitement. Some food for thought though.

Overall 3 from 5  - It's not my favourite book from the author. 

Read - August, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 344
Source - Net Galley
Format - Kindle

Wednesday 25 August 2021


Author Philip Elliott - Porno Valley and Nobody Move - stops by for a bit of gentle interrogation. 

Both his books were 5 STAR reads for me and are highly recommended.

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

Writing is actually, for the first time, full-time for me at the moment. Whether or not that remains true depends on how some projects unfold over the coming months, including the sale of my novel Porno Valley, out August 24, so, everybody reading this—please buy my book and keep me far away from minimum-wage retail!

*I’m about to read your latest offering – Porno Valley.  Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? (* All finished!)

In Los Angeles during years 1998-2000 three plot lines intersect to deadly consequence: A 78-year-old PI investigates the disappearance of a porn star in his final case, a young Compton woman turns to selling drugs to make ends meet, and two increasingly-desperate junkie newlyweds return to LA in search of the perfect score.

I absolutely loved your debut, Nobody Move. Are the two books linked in anyway? I've seen them bagged as Angel City #1 and #2.

Thank you so much! They are linked in that they are set in the same universe and share a single character, twenty years apart.

Do you have a favourite out of the pair? Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?

Porno Valley is definitely more special to me. Nobody Move was the novel I cut my teeth on; with Porno Valley I was exploring my voice. In some ways, Porno Valley is intentionally almost an anti-Nobody Move in that I tried to play with every expectation a reader of Nobody Move might have coming into Porno Valley. While Nobody Move was plot-focused and tightly written, Porno Valley is more concerned with character and the plot intentionally wanders around a bit, and it's a lot longer. Nobody Move was a comedy-thriller, Porno Valley is more of a dark mystery novel that slowly morphs into something else. As a friend and great writer Tex Gresham said, "rather than a whodunnit, Porno Valley is a why- or howdunnit."

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

Amazingly, I cannot! Clearly, I am not sentimental. However, I remember the first piece published that made me feel like I was finally getting a hold of this "writing fiction" concept and gave me the confidence to keep learning. That piece is titled "Inpatient" and was published in Ghost Parachute in 2017 and you can read it right here.

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

I write 7 days per week, from about 9 a.m. until 5 or 6. I often have to then do other work after that but if I don't, I might write for longer. If I'm not writing on a given day, it's because I'm researching for a writing project or editing one.

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

Oh god, no. Not intentionally, at least!

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like?

I do! I always write with the ending in mind. Not exactly intentionally, but the ending always presents itself to me before I touch pen to paper. It's a good thing, though, as I believe that writing with the ending in mind creates a stronger story as everything is pushing naturally toward that ending. It certainly makes revising easier. In my experience, outlining is a massively powerful tool. Especially when writing a screenplay, for which structure is king, but for all projects, too. An outline need not be super specific to be helpful, and may even benefit from a little wiggle room as long as the main plot points are known, but writing without one is always a shot in the dark.

Are there any subjects off limits?

I wouldn't say there are, exactly, but there are certainly topics I do not feel qualified to write about. I go where my interests take me. By the time I'm writing anything I've accumulated a natural passion for the topic and some knowledge to get me started. The research process is vital to every project as well.

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

It took a long time, actually, about two years, because I was interrupted by several major life problems along the way, including moving twice and one of those times across the entire country of Canada, and also because for most of that period I was working several jobs. It was to complete also because it was a complicated story to write in that it contains three plotlines which are each one year apart, and each follow a different protagonist. These plotlines slowly come together by the end of the story and so each plotline slowly provides information about the other two, which means that the placement of scenes was absolutely crucial to the formation of the story. Finding the right order in which to place scenes while trying to avoid plot holes or otherwise becoming tripped up was actually quite a nightmarish process during early drafts. At one point I almost gave up!

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

Porno Valley is unique for me as it's about as close to what I envisioned as I could have realistically hoped. I find that, as writers, we never quite achieve the vision we have in mind for a story (if we did we'd never need to write another), so getting close to what I envisioned with this one is a nice feeling. I'm happy with how it turned out.

What’s the current project in progress?

I am currently writing a feature-film screenplay adaptation of Porno Valley. I can't say much about it at the moment but I hope I get to see a film of it one day.

What’s the best thing about writing?

The best thing about writing is that all you need is a pen and paper and you can make anything happen.

The worst?

How damn slow it is. Like watching paint dry. While battling relentless self-doubt. For no money most of the time.

What is the last book you read?

Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood... novelization. I wasn't really into it. Sorry, Quentin!

Who do you read and enjoy?

My favorite writer is probably Denis Johnson. Elmore Leonard is an icon to me. Jim Thompson is my favorite writer of dark hardboiled stuff—his black humor and writing are sublime and perfect. Fellow up-and-comers I love to read are Niall Howell, Mike Thorn, Randy Nikkel Schroeder, Tex Gresham, Scott Semegran.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

There are many! If I had to choose one, though, it would be Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280. An astonishingly brilliant, hilarious, dark-as-hell, noir-to-the-bone satirical masterpiece.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Listening to music. I am virtually never not listening to music. Mostly rock 'n' roll and punk rock.

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

I watched Pumpkinhead last night, one of those insane '80s horrors that goes full throttle from beginning to end, with some masterful practical SXF (I miss practical effects!). I have a special love for horror movies. I find them to be the perfect escapism.

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

I was a TV addict back when I had time for actually enjoying things! My all-time favorite show is Breaking Bad, which, like ancient Greek tragedy, I believe represents a pinnacle of artistic achievement.

What’s your favourite vegetable?

All of 'em, baby. I've been vegan for years and years which means literally everything I eat is a plant.

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

More times than I can remember. I was pretty wild before I married my wife. I'm sober now, though! Two years in October.

Do you have any tattoos?

I have many! I don't actually know the number without trying to figure it out. Two are related to literature: "NOIR" tattooed on the knuckles of my left hand, and on my right tricep is the logo for the concept for "ka" within the universe of Stephen King's books (I think that logo may even have been designed by King himself).

Do you have any irrational fears?

Dinner parties! Especially now that I'm sober. (If I was any more introverted, I'd be inside myself.)

Many thanks to Philip for his time.

You can catch up with him at the following places

Do us both a favour check out his latest book Porno Valley and keep the man writing!

Porno Valley

“Nobody knows Los Angeles until they’ve been entranced by it, corrupted by it, cast out from it, and returned to it on their knees begging it to save them, and Richie knew Los Angeles. He knew it better than anyone. This time he would tame the beast and make it his own—this time he would win.”

It’s the year 2000 and 78-year-old Mickey O’Rourke has been a Los Angeles PI for a very long time. He’d thought he’d seen it all until the disappearance of porn star Jeffrey Strokes sends him from the sex-filled studios of the San Fernando Valley to the desperate streets of Compton where Mickey’s final case becomes his biggest test.

Flash back to 1998 and struggling hair salon employee Jemeka Johnson, suspecting boyfriend Ray-Ray of infidelity, follows him one night from their East Compton home to what turns out to be a drug deal gone sour where a twist of fate finds Jemeka tossed onto a dark and dangerous path—one that offers huge reward for someone bold enough to seize it.

Meanwhile, in 1999, tired of robbing small-town diners and shooting bad dope in filthy motel rooms, newlyweds Richie and Alabama return to LA in search of the perfect score.

Paths cross and past meets present as bad decisions hurtle toward worse consequences—and no one will ever be the same.

Tuesday 24 August 2021


Synopsis/blurb ...

“Nobody knows Los Angeles until they’ve been entranced by it, corrupted by it, cast out from it, and returned to it on their knees begging it to save them, and Richie knew Los Angeles. He knew it better than anyone. This time he would tame the beast and make it his own—this time he would win.”

It’s the year 2000 and 78-year-old Mickey O’Rourke has been a Los Angeles PI for a very long time. He’d thought he’d seen it all until the disappearance of porn star Jeffrey Strokes sends him from the sex-filled studios of the San Fernando Valley to the desperate streets of Compton where Mickey’s final case becomes his biggest test.

Flash back to 1998 and struggling hair salon employee Jemeka Johnson, suspecting boyfriend Ray-Ray of infidelity, follows him one night from their East Compton home to what turns out to be a drug deal gone sour where a twist of fate finds Jemeka tossed onto a dark and dangerous path—one that offers huge reward for someone bold enough to seize it.

Meanwhile, in 1999, tired of robbing small-town diners and shooting bad dope in filthy motel rooms, newlyweds Richie and Alabama return to LA in search of the perfect score.

Paths cross and past meets present as bad decisions hurtle toward worse consequences—and no one will ever be the same.

Porno Valley is a fantastic second novel from Philip Elliott which more than matches up to his superb debut, Nobody Move

Here the stories of three sets of characters intertwine and collide in a spicy tale set around the end of the nineties. 

LA ... a couple of grifting drug addicts with petty crimes to commit to support a spiralling habit, a geriatric widowed PI on his last case, a porn studio and some of its stars - missing and present, and an insecure hairdresser who loves but doesn't quite trust her man - cross paths explosively. Philip Elliott pulls the pin on the grenade and lets his characters loose on the world and each other, with events unfolding over the period of a couple of years. 

Around a back drop of a missing person case, drug use, dealing, hairdressing and the adult film world, essentially we have relationship dramas fuelled by love, loss, infidelity, trust, disappointment, ambition, a struggle for survival, desperation, fear, jealousy, desire, greed, and a search for truth and peace.

Our conflicts result in violence and death. All the lives of our players are changed irrevocably during the course of the narrative.

I absolutely loved this one. I don't think I've warmed to a character such as Mickey O'Rourke in a long time. Mickey, on his last job seeks a missing porn star to a client he almost comes to regard as a daughter. There's an innate decency in the man that oozes from his every pore and bursts from the page into this reader's heart. He's brave, honest, careful, diligent and dogged. There's also a sense of melancholy about him as he bears the loss of his wife, his life partner and true love stoically. He's ready to be with her again, but is in no particular rush to join her. He's making the best of things in an imperfect unjust world.    

In the lives of our other characters, we plumb the depths of addiction and its consequences - poor choices, impulsive decision making, ever wilder criminal schemes and an inevitable outcome. Love did not come close to conquering all. We also see the pain of poverty, debt and insecurity and the obsessional, irrational lengths to which one person will go to for their own slice of the American dream.

Every character in the book had a tale to tell. Each one felt alive. The relaying of their stories, separate at the beginning but increasingly woven together and twisted and tangled was dazzling. There's a kicker at the end. One which I did glimpse just before it came, but even that kind of blind-sided me to a degree.

Bloody fantastic. What a talent Philip Elliott is.  

5 from 5 

Read - August, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 304
Source - Edelweiss - Above the Treeline review site
Format - Kindle

Monday 23 August 2021


Author Frank Zafiro - too many books and series and collaborations to mention - was kind enough to submit to some gentle questioning......

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

It is now, as of 2017. I was a police officer from 1993 to 2013, and wrote a number of books during that time frame. Upon retirement, I taught police leadership all over the US and Canada for about four more years before going full time as a writer.

*I’m about to read your latest collaborative offering – No Dibs on Murder, co-authored with Lawrence Kelter.  Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? *( book now read and enjoyed - thoughts on No Dibs on Murder)

Five college friends. Four of them want to kill the fifth, Tanner Fritz. Why? Because he did them wrong – stole love, money, health. So they plot. But as each tries to do the job, the others thwart the effort. Dark comedy. With a meta twist.

You’ve written a ton of solo books and collaborated with a few authors as well – Lawrence Kelter, Jim Wilsky, Eric Beetner and Colin Conway.
Unfair question, do you have a favourite co-author? Who is the most difficult to work with?

Very unfair. Seriously, each one was great in his own spectacular way (and you left out Bonnie Paulson, who was also great). I mean, the hardboiled nature of the Wilsky books was a blast, the range of the Kelter books always interesting, the dark romp of the Beetner titles was fun as hell, and the Conway titles feel like a great story with some literary weight. How the hell do I choose?

Recency bias is probably the only tie-breaker. Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked the most with Colin, and we have a mutual editing partnership for our solo work, too. So if Sophie has to make a choice, that’s the most pragmatic.

But damn you.

Hardest to work with? Literally none of them. It’d be a photo finish if I had to choose.

Have all the collaborations worked the same way? I’m always curious to understand how it works. Writing a solo book, seems like climbing Everest to me, a collaboration seems to be
potentially twice as difficult.

This is part of why the previous question was impossible. While each experience has had some similarities, they’ve been pleasantly different. But to your latter point, I’d say that writing a book with the right collaboration partner is actually twice as easy.

The process has worked in two distinct ways. Early on, we utilized a dual first person narrative with alternating chapters. So I wrote one character and my partner the other. We both wrote in first person and the chapters alternated back and forth between these two characters. This was the process we used for my first collaboration (Some Degree of Murder with Colin Conway), all four Ania books with Wilsky, all three Bricks & Cam Jobs with Beetner, and my one-off with Paulson (The Trade-Off).

The Lawrence Kelter threw a wrench in the works. He was okay with first person but wanted a single POV character for The Last Collar. I agreed but was a bit concerned that this character would end up sounding schizophrenic. In the end, that didn’t happen, though. I’d credit a little bit of planning but mostly the fact that both of us edited with a heavy hand. So, by the time we got a finished draft, the voice was distinctly its own, a melding of our two voices.

With that experience working out so well, I was on board for doing the same with a multiple viewpoint third person approach for Fallen City. And when Colin approached me about Charlie-316, I was comfortable in using that same format for that series (which was the only way it would work).

Nuts and bolts, Colin and I use a write-and-revise method that looks something like this:  Say I write chapter one (or chunk one, whatever our detailed outline dictates). I send it to him. He revises chapter one and writes chapter two. I review the chapter one revisions, accepting, revising again, or commenting (or arguing). Then I revise his chapter two. Then I write chapter three. This back and forth continues through the first draft. The result makes for a more consistent tone and voice, as well as a tighter first draft.

Out of all your books, which is your favourite and the one you are most proud of? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?

My favorite? I guess I have a soft spot for Waist Deep. Most proud, though? Tough call. I feel like Code Four, the culmination of the Charlie-316 arc, stands up against anything in its weight class. First book for a new reader? Honestly, the first book in whatever series fits their favorite subgenre. I’ve got the mystery field covered there, except for cozy (but I’ve got a suggestion for you there).

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

Published? I really don’t, although I think I still have a submissions log in a box in the closet somewhere. But paid publication, I do recall. On 7/5/1990, I received $2 for a poem (I’d have to go check that aforementioned log to see what it was), and about a month later, on 8/9/1990, I was paid $15 by Wide Open Magazine for a short story called “Bill’s Son.”

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

I never used to. Summers are always a little loosey goosey, as my wife is off from teaching. I like to spend time with her during that opportunity. But outside of that, I’ve started to instill more a schedule into my writing life. Up early, write for several hours, take a break, do other writerly work. That’s about the size of it.

Thing is, for the majority of my career, I had to carve out time to write, so it was never on a schedule. It’s taken me a while to figure out I can be on one now and to implement it.

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

I try not to. Maybe a quirk or a turn of phrase but never a wholesale character.

There are two glaring exceptions. I based a main character in the River City series, Thomas Chisolm, on an idealized version of a veteran officer I admired. When I told him about it, he was flattered and gave it his blessing. It was something more than an homage, as there are a ton of similarities. Of course, once the character hits the page, he takes off in his own direction.

The other instance was intended as a minor homage to one of the best detectives I ever knew. He had a couple of small scenes in Charlie-316. When that turned into a four-book arc, the role of that detective increased significantly. While the fictional version is his own man, I’d say he is about eighty percent the same as his real-life counterpart.

But you’ll notice both instances are favorable. Any negative quirks or behaviors that made it into the books have been disguised beyond recognition.

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like?

A majority of the time, yes.

Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

I used to fly by the seat of my pants more often. Even if I knew the destination, the route getting there was left to the muses. For the last six or seven years, though, I’ve been more of a plotter. Not a granular one, though.

Are there any subjects off limits?

I don’t think anything is off limits, per se, if the story or the character is there. I guess the only thing that would make something off limits would be if it simply didn’t interest me.

How long from conception to completion did No Dibs on Murder take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

Oh, man. This was one of the toughest books, actually. We finished up an outline in April 2019, and had been talking about it for a long while before that. The first draft wasn’t done until January 2020, and a final draft took until December 2020.

This was a different kind of book for me – to emphasize humor. While the Beetner titles had humor, they were action titles first – a dark action comedy – whereas this book was a dark comedy with some action, if that makes sense.

Humor is so hard, and so subjective. Getting something we were both happy with took a lot of work.

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

It actually ended up being pretty close to what we originally wanted. There’s the straightforward character(s) journey, with some humor and action in it, and then there’s a bit of a meta tale happening, too. I think we pulled it off.

Was there one spark or germ of imagination which started the story off in your minds?

Not that I recall. We decided to write a third title together and even started some outlining on a project I intended to be a solo work. Ultimately, I felt like I needed to write that one myself, and even more pressing, I needed to work on something a little lighter. So the idea of a black comedy came up and we just started brainstorming.

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer? 

Unpublished, yes. Gems, no.

What’s the current project in progress?

I’m writing something called THE RIDE-ALONG. It will be set in the Charlie-316 universe a couple of years after that four-book arc ends. I’m writing the first draft of this one before we tear into it as collaborators.

The premise? A good cop gets a ride-along who is also a good person, a community activist for police reform. Sparks fly, and not of the romantic kind. Eventually, some ideas are shared. And, because I write crime fiction, some bad shit happens. The theme, hopefully, will touch on the concept of listening to each other, something that isn’t happening a lot these days.

What’s the best thing about writing?

Taking a story that’s in my head, making it live outside of my head, and then seeing someone else connect to that story and those characters.

The worst?

Trying to be heard in an increasingly large field. 

Last writing/publishing question….. Scalise? Zafiro? I’m assuming Zafiro is a pseudonym, but you’ve published under both. How come?

I’ve used Zafiro for my crime fiction and Scalise for mainstream work (which is basically some hockey books at this point). I chose to use a pen name because I was an active duty cop at the time I started getting published. I simply didn’t know how my agency would react. There were some employment agreements in place that may have given them some footing to say, “We don’t like what you’re doing. Stop it.” I figured using a pen name and changing Spokane to River City at least gave me something to argue back if it came down to it.

Any particular reason for Zafiro? When I browse the local bookshelf the Zs are my last stop. Wouldn’t you have been better going for Frank Aardvark or something similar?

It would have! But Zafiro was the name a number of us used for our film production group in high school, so it had some sentimental value to it. Plus, while Z is last, it’s also not a crowded field. And while some may struggle to pronounce it, they don’t mistake it with anyone else.

Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read?

SPQR by Mary Beard

The Value in Our Lies by Colin Conway

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie (okay, that’s a cheat)

Later by Stephen King

Black Label by James L’Etoile

And I’m currently reading Apprehension by Mark Bergin

Who do you read and enjoy?

I tend to alternate between a history book and some good fiction, usually crime fiction or fantasy/sci-fi. I’ve been staying away from what’s hot lately because I’ve frankly been disappointed in books not living up to the hype. I also listen to a fair number of audiobooks and podcasts in the car or while exercising.

Is there any one book you wish you had written? 

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 had it all – crime, history, time travel.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I’ve been trying to get better at playing guitar for the better part of two decades. I enjoy it even though I’m not very good at it. I also like working out, whether that’s the gym, walking/running, or getting a chance to go kayaking. And, of course, reading and watching good TV.

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

Good question. It’s been a while. I used to watch way more films than TV but the ratio has gradually shifted to television to the tune of 90/10. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by Triple Frontier.

TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Scalise (Zafiro) household?

Absolutely. This is where it is at for me in terms of visual entertainment. The quality of shows out there now is high. There are some that fall into the overlap portion of the Venn diagram of my wife’s and my own preferences – shows like Ozark and Dead to Me come to mind. Lately, I’ve discovered Justified and Letterkenny, both of which I enjoy for very different reasons. And we just did a re-watch of The Sopranos for the first time in a decade or so, and boy, does it hold up.

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

I’d have to check my Spotify list but I can pretty much guarantee you it’s classic rock, and almost certainly two of the three will be from Bruce Springsteen (though probably not the songs you’d expect).


What’s your favourite vegetable?

I like peas but I’ve been told that doesn’t count anymore.

When did you last have a fist fight?

Oh, man. Gotta be at least before 2007. I’m a peaceful man, Col.

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

No, though I probably should have been tossed from the Riviera in Vegas back in 2008 or so. White Russians are a dangerous drink, my friend.

Do you have any tattoos?

One. I have a Springsteen lyric on the inside of my left forearm.

What was your first pet’s name?

First I really remember was Kilo, a shepherd/coyote mix. Yes, we lived in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. And yes, my dad partook of the leaf.

What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

My ex-wife’s grandmother made French toast once. It was pretty gross and whenever the cook’s back was turned, my ex was slipping her toast onto my plate.

Do you have any irrational fears?

Snakes. The poisonous ones. But that’s not irrational, is it? If not, I’d say I’ve got a weird thing about my eyes. 

What’s your favourite vacation destination?

So far, I think Ireland has been the best, though Italy was a blast. And we keep making the return trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. 

When did you last tell a lie?

Somewhere in this blog, I’m pretty certain. Can’t help it. I write lies for a living.


Many thanks to Frank for his time.

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

Website -

Twitter @Frank_Zafiro

Facebook - FrankZafiroAuthor

Instagram frankzafiro370

Details of two of Frank's latest books below. Check them out.

No Dibs on Murder (2021) (with Lawrence Kelter)

Tanner Fritz has it all—he’s good-looking, well-liked, fabulously wealthy, and has a beautiful wife. He’s a veritable well of goodwill and happiness.

So why do his four best friends want him dead?

Each of them believes they have a genuine reason—he stole Marty’s wife, swindled Carson out of a fortune, caused Barry’s traumatic brain injury, and… well, no one is exactly sure why Serena wants to kill him.

The foursome’s grievances quickly escalate into something truly terrifying, planning Tanner’s murder—only to run into a seemingly insurmountable hitch. Who actually gets to do the deed? Who has suffered the most at his hands?

A cacophony of bumbling exploits follow as each tries to off Tanner Fritz, while the other three sabotage those efforts. Sprinkled with site gags and belly laughs to tickle both the cultured and the philistine, No Dibs on Murder pulls no punches… and neither do these harebrained would-be killers.

From the authors of Fallen City and The Last Collar.

Hallmarks of the Job (2021) (a PI Tales double feature with Michael Bracken's Aloha Boys)

Two thrilling detective novellas in one exciting volume!

In Frank Zafiro's Hallmarks of the Job, Meticulous private investigator Stanley Melvin likes to keep his work grounded in reality, not at all like the classic detective novels he has read incessantly since childhood. But his best friend and annoying neighbor Rudy quickly points out that his routine "cheater" case is rapidly taking on all of the features that Stanley steadfastly insists are mere fictional tropes of the genre.

In Michael Bracken's Aloha Boys, Private investigator Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette is still adjusting to his new digs above Millie’s Tattoos and Piercings when a homeless woman hires him to find her missing half-brother. Searching for the young man sends Boyette through the depraved underbelly of the local university, reunites him with a mob boss best left in his past, and leads him to question everything he thought he knew about families.


Each installment of the P.I. Tales Double Feature series consists of two lightning-fast detective mystery novellas, some featuring beloved P.I. Tales series characters, others operating as standalone stories featuring new protagonists. The goal of the series is to combine the elements of a long-form mystery with the speed and precision of short-form narratives. Every Double Feature volume contains two independent stories that can each be read in one sitting without skimping on the essential elements of mystery and suspense that discerning readers adore!