Friday 31 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 30 December 2021


Synopsis/blurb ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 from 5

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

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

Tuesday 14 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Murphy – Foreword 

Martin Edwards – Introduction 

Ann Cleeves – Wild Swimming 

Martin Edwards – Lucky Liam

Cath Staincliffe – Scorpion 

Chris Simms – Skeleton Crew 

Kate Ellis – The Fox and the Hens 

John Baker – An Old-Fashioned Poisoning 

Margaret Murphy – Read the Label 

Kate Ellis – My Oleander 

Ann Cleeves – The Queen of Mystery 

Chaz Brenchley – For Kicks 

Cath Staincliffe – Two Birds 

Margaret Murphy – Big End Blues 

Martin Edwards – Bad Friday

Chris Simms – The Passenger 

Kate Ellis – The Confessions of Edward Prime 

Stuart Pawson – Ultra Violent 

Cath Staincliffe – Perfect Storm 

Chris Simms – Gaffed 

Martin Edwards – The Other Life 

Ann Cleeves – A Winter’s Tale 

Editor - Martin Edwards
Margaret Murphy – Still Life

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

4 from 5

Read - (listened to) December, 2021

Published - 2021

Page count - 194 (9 hrs 13 mins)

Source - review copy from Isis Audio

Format - Audible

Friday 3 December 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. Derick Miller - Starving Zoe (2020)

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

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

Love always finds a way.

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

Thursday 2 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ...

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

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

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

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

Overall 3.5 from 5

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

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

Wednesday 1 December 2021



Synopsis/blurb ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 from 5 

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