Sunday 31 July 2022

MARC OLDEN (aka ROBERT HAWKE) - NARC (1973/2012)



A narcotics agent comes between a dealer and the biggest heroin shipment in history.

One thousand pounds of uncut heroin. Street value: a quarter of a billion dollars. New York's baddest dealer is a preening hustler named St. James Livingston, and his latest scheme will make the French Connection smuggling operation look small-time. The shipment is coming in through a Cuban diplomatic mission, and when it arrives Livingston won't just make a fortune. He'll make history. Only John Bolt stands in his way.

The meanest narcotics agent in the country, Bolt arrests Livingston's supplier during a South American raid. But cutting off the head won't kill this snake. Too many junkies are hungry for smack, and too many crooks are desperate for profits. The biggest shipment in history will also be the bloodiest, and Bolt stands to make a killing.

Marc Olden is an author whose name I have come across frequently in chats in a Facebook Men’s Adventure Paperback Group I belong to. Several members have praised his work, particularly his Black Samurai series. Not having read him before and having scouted out his books I thought I’d start somewhere else – namely with Narc which is the first in a nine book long series of hard-boiled books featuring a narcotics agent, John Bolt.

There’s a lot I liked about the initial premise. I like books set in the 70s, I like crime novels set in New York. I enjoy books that have drugs at their core with dealing, criminal gangs, police operations targeting them, undercover operatives, a big shipment or score, the potential for corruption with the temptation of easy money or sexual favours for a cop or politician who can turn a blind eye, provide information, or facilitate a deal through some high-level contact. I also like the straight arrow cop. The one who is incorruptible and solely focussed on his target and quite happy to cut a corner or two in procedure or process to get him closer to his quarry. John Bolt is such a risk taker. Bolt while mainly concentrating on the case, does also find the time to get down and dirty with his lady friend, someone who gets sucked into his violent world of criminals and is in danger. There’s an extra motivation for our hero to get his man, not that he needs it.

Olden serves up a hard-hitting tale with an exciting pay-off. There’s not too much in the way of flowery prose or detail, but he can deliver a gripping tale and a story that holds the interest and in which I was invested in the outcome. 

I’ll definitely be back for the second one in the series. Hopefully more than that, but time will tell. Roll on Death of a Courier. 

4 stars from 5 

The Harker File from another series of his has been enjoyed before.

Read – April, 2022
Published – 1973
Page count – 169
Source – Kindle Unlimited
Format - Kindle

Saturday 30 July 2022


Synopsis/blurb ….

A thief, a blackmailer, a ruthless politician, this tough, misanthropic Scotsman is one of the vilest cops to have ever graced the page. That said, he’s also one of the most dedicated.

While investigating the death of a young ‘schemie’, Curzon paces the streets of his beloved Glasgow, conversing with junkies, small time coke dealers, a millionairess and even a premier league footballer. The case also brings him back into conflict with his sworn enemy, Fergus Baxter, a highly vaunted though particularly sleazy defence lawyer who acts on behalf of the city’s most lucrative violent psychopaths and any celebrities who happen to fall through the cracks into criminality.

As the truth unravels, Curzon finds himself caught between the interests of justice and those of the local establishment, leaving him with a major dilemma.

The Dirty Rouge is an 80-page opener to what is a long series featuring DCI Patrick Curzon of Glasgow’s finest. There are eleven books to date, the majority of which seem to be full length novels.

I quite liked it, but I’m not rushing to try the next one in the series just yet. Curzon and pretty much everyone in the book, apart from his old primary school headmistress are fairly unlikable. His two police sidekicks might be another exception. We don’t really get to know them.

Curzon is unable to form normal relationships with anyone. As a child he suffered parental abuse and neglect, in tandem with being bullied at school. Scars have been left. He likes no one, he trusts no one and his heroes are hard-boiled fictional detectives like Philip Marlowe and Mickey Spillane. He tries to emulate them in achieving justice for crimes committed. Unfortunately, there are no limits to the lengths he will go to in order to achieve this … intimidation, perjury, planting evidence, losing evidence, fabricating evidence. The result is what counts.

Here Curzon has a murder victim, dumped at sea and washed up. He’s a local scrote so it’s no big loss to society, but Curzon does his thing.

Family tensions, a love triangle, a sex-obsessed do-gooder, a druggie best friend owed money, a lovesick doormat of an admirer, a football manager with a predilection for young males, a dodgy lawyer, some edgy hierarchy types in the constabulary, a zombie addict for an informer …. all of them on a collision course with our main character before the case is solved.

I quite liked the grit and humour which Geoff Small injects into the story. It did make me chuckle at times, though the book should perhaps come with some sort of warning. Some of the humour and personal habits of Curzon are a bit raw, a bit graphic, possibly also a bit unnecessarily described. They serve a purpose in identifying who and what Curzon is like, but don’t especially advance the story and would possibly alienate some readers from trying the second in the series.

I did like the Glasgow setting. 

3.5 stars from 5

Read – July, 2022
Published – 2013
Page count – 81
Source – purchased copy
Format - Kindle

Friday 29 July 2022




The classic vigilante series is back... for the first time in almost fifty years.

In New York, Vietnam vet Ben Martin lost his business and his family to the Mafia ... and his soul to his one-man war of vengeance. Now he's in Chicago, resurrected after faking his death, to start a new, quiet life and regain his humanity. But in a cruel twist of fate, he faces horrific violence again, and is forced to become a killing machine to teach the most feared men in America the meaning of blind, gut-wrenching terror.

"It's violent when it needs to be, but there's also a great deal of emotional drama. Messmann slowly has unfortunate events consume Ben's life. Ben realizes that he has always wanted to kill again, to right the wrongs, and fight evil. But he also wants to live a normal existence that isn't smeared in blood. Truly fantastic." Paperback Warrior

Fire in the Streets is the second in a series of six Ben Martin books by author Jon Messmann. I enjoyed the first, The Revenger a month or so before this one. I liked this tale just as much.

The book follows a similar pattern to the first. Martin has an altercation with some Mafia hoods who are sniffing around his workplace, Alwyn Beef Products. He sends them off to hospital. The Outfit, led by local kingpin Nick Carboni takes umbrage, pushes back with more force and meets an immovable object that won't yield and in fact can push back harder, and a lot more effectively and violently. Ben Martin has mastered some useful skills during his time in Vietnam and some lessons you don't forget.

Events escalate, there are more casualties. Ben goes on the offensive, going after some of Carboni's men preemptively. He also gets involved with Valerie, the attractive and intelligent wife of his boss, Jordon Alwyn. Jordon is weak and has left his company wide open to be used and exploited by the mob. Carboni tries to assert himself and show the troops and his higher ups who's who and that he can swat this fly. Arrogance and entitlement equal stupidity and blind him to the fury he has just unleashed.

Probably not everyman's cup of tea, but I like these books. There's a bit more to them than the biff, bang, bosh of the premise. Don't get me wrong, I like the action and the one man waging war trope, but there's also some emotion and depth to the book. Ben Martin sees everything in black and white terms, right vs wrong. There's no grey, no shade, no compromise. It's a very simple philosophy and easily employed if you have already lost everything that matters to you. For the rest of us, life is about accommodations and compromises, I'm afraid. It's not hard to root for those who think otherwise. 

There's a splash of romance and sex thrown into the pages. Valerie falls for Ben. She can recognise her husband's weakness and succumbs to an attraction towards Ben; recognising qualities in him that Jordon doesn't possess. Ben deserves a bit of downtime in between his confrontations. Carboni has the usual Mob mistress and treats his wife and girlfriend just like a possession. I like the fire and spunkiness that his wife displayed in the face of his disrespect towards her. 

Overall an enjoyable read. There's a great sense of time and place. 

4 stars from 5

Read - April, 2022
Published - 1974
Page count - 168
Source - Kindle Unlimited
Format - Kindle

Thursday 28 July 2022




A private investigator - a stranger in a strange land - searches for a missing girl in Tokyo.

Two brothers have a life-long pact. But what happens when a deal goes wrong?

A homeless man gives up his drug and alcohol-fuelled life. But is the good life all it's supposed to be?

Stopped by police one night, a group of friends runs into trouble. Soon, one of them must confront his past.

These and other lives collide in Tokyo Jazz & Other Stories, a collection of crime and literary stories set in Japan and Australia.

This book contains graphic violence and is not suitable for readers under the age of 18.

Tokyo Jazz and Other Stories is a cracking collection of fifteen short stories from Australian author, Sean O'Leary.

The stories are primarily about people and relationships. 
Some have a criminial undertone ... drugs, cops, prison, lawyers, death, mistakes, poor choices.
Some don't ... drugs, death, mistakes, accidents, poor choices, memories, regrets, travel, friendships, romance, family, histories, secrets.

Each of the fifteen held my interest and had me wanting to know what was going to happen to the characters. Not everything has a life altering event at it's heart, but it's often the little dramas involving everyday folk that puts you in other people's shoes and holds the attention.

Table of contents...

Tokyo Jazz ... a missing girl, a case, a trip to Japan

Connections ... old friends, a prison cell, a debt, fear, a daughter, protection, a family addition

The Pledge ... promises, family, almost brothers - two paths - a lawyer and a dealer, an arrest, maybe prison time, a deal with the cops, give a little, take a little

Shooting Stars ... friends, life is fun, a bit of dealing, a bit of using, a pub, a fight and everything changes in a flash 

Sasha ... a relationship, care, mental health, dealing with life, meeting strangers, coping 

Opal Beach ... a past, some shared history, a return, a family unit, jealousy, a not so subtle warning, a confession, a connection, a trip 

Jazz ... relationships, regrets, memories. I think it's a universal fact that all relationships are unequal insofar as both partners don't hold each other in the same regard as they are held in. One always loves a little bit more than the other, always gives a bit more than the other, always gets hurt a bit more than the other.

The Past ... friends, a run in with a cop, life changes

Fremantle ... a couple, a move, as a single or a double?

Ode to Darwin ... life on the bottom rung of the ladder

Satellite City ... couple plans

Stars ... life, accidents, death, enduring 

Bully ... school life, home life, a dad, an enemy, bunking off, a train, a gun, a pawnshop, the cops, a heart to heart, secrets and confessions 

Under the Milky Way ... a relationship, mental health, schizophrenia, treatment, one person moves on, one person stays stuck

The Streets... a relationship, drugs, a death, guilt

4.5 stars from 5

Sean O'Leary's work  has been read and enjoyed before - Wonderland and Going All the Way

I enjoyed Jorge Jaramillo's narration which added to the stories.

Read - (listened to) April, 2022
Published - 2022
Page count - 197 ( 4 hrs 46 mins)
Source - review copy from author
Format - Audible

Tuesday 26 July 2022



Synopsis/blurb ….

A collection...of collection

What leads one person to collect stamps and another coins, one fine art and another butterflies? Who can say? But one thing is certain: those who've got the collecting bug care passionately - sometimes violently - about the objects of their obsession. No one covets like a collector; and as you will find in the chapters of this brand new anthology from MWA Grand Master Lawrence Block, a truly dedicated collector will ignore the other nine commandments, too, in his quest for his personal Holy Grail.

From Joyce Carol Oates's tale of the ultimate Marilyn Monroe collectible to Dennis Lehane's book seller with a penchant for other people's tragic correspondence, from Lee Goldberg's Hollywood hustler with a collection of unaired TV shows to Joe R. Lansdale's stylish foray into noir, culminating in Lawrence Block's own classic story of a killer with a unique approach to choosing his victims, Collectibles illustrates the range of the collecting impulse and the lengths people will go to in their hunger to possess the perfect piece.

Table of contents…

Lawrence Block – The Elephant in the Living Room (An Introduction)

Junior Burke – The Evan Price Signature Model

S. A. Cosby – Blue Book Value

… From Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Obsession: Introduction

Janice Eidus – A Collection of Friends

Lee Goldberg – Lost Shows

Rob Hart – Bar Wall Panda

Elaine Kagan – God Bless America

… From Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Obsession: Memoires de Vidocq Francoise-Eugene Vidocq

Kasey Lansdale – Resonator

Joe R. Lansdale – The Skull Collector

Dennis Lehane – A Bostonian (in Cambridge)

Joyce Carol Oates – Miss Golden Dreams 1949

... From Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Obsession: Lingo Dan Percival Pollard

Thomas Pluck – The Green Manalishi with the Two-Pronged Crown

David Rachels – Devil Sent the Rain Blues (PM 13040)

S. J. Rozan - Chin Yong-Yun Meets a Mongol

Kristine Kathryn Rusch - The Demise of Snot Rocket

… From Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Obsession: Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett

Alex Segura – First Appearance

Lawrence Block – Collecting Ackermans

About Our Contributors

About Lawrence Block

A Block essay, sixteen short stories and some pieces from Otto Penzler on books and collecting.

I'm a bit of a collector/hoarder myself so I could very easily relate to the stories, although some of the items were a little bit far out for me. In my fifty plus years on the planet, I've variously collected badges, football programmes, coins, cigarette cards, stamps, first day covers and now just books, though I'm endeavouring to curb that particularly nasty habit.

A few months on memories have faded on some of them. Ok most of them. Lee Goldberg's story sticks in the mind, as does S. A. Cosby's. Ditto Lawrence Block's. I don't think I loved them all, but that's to be expected. I've encountered some of the authors before and was happy to make the acquaintance of some new guys and gals. 

Entertained, satisfied, happy??? Yes, yes, yes. 
It's a collection I'll listen to again in another year or so's time.

4.5 stars from 5

Read – (listened to) March, 2022
Published – 2021
Page count – 300 (10 hrs 29 mins)
Source – review copy from author
Format – Audible




Would you help an old friend if it cost you happiness?

After years of turmoil, John Cutler’s life is on level ground. He’s reconnected with his daughter, started a business, and found new love.

Now, an old friend rolls into town with a simple agenda—prove the innocence of his ex-wife. She’s in jail for murdering her husband and needs someone like Cutler to find the true killer.

Helping will come at a steep price for Cutler. It means getting sideways with the local cops, crossing gang members, and upsetting his girlfriend.

Cutler’s willing to risk it all so an innocent woman can go free. Because that’s what friends do—even those who haven’t spoken to each other in years.

Hot on the heels of Cutler's Chase I read the next one, Cutler's Friend. Fair to say the series continues on an upward curve.

Events are set in the mid-2000s. Cutler is seeing Erika, a black waitress/hostess from the club he bounces part-time at. He also does a spot of private investigating, but business isn't exactly booming.

An old friend, Mike Davoli drops by. Mike was his patrol partner when he was a cop back in the Seattle days. They had a bit of a falling out, John left the force under a cloud and they kind of drifted apart. Mike is divorced but still carries a big torch for his ex-wife.

The aforementioned ex-wife, Tina is in a bit of a jam. Her new husband, a pro baseball player has been murdered and she's been arrested for it. Between Mike, Tina's attorney and Tina herself, Cutler is persuaded to do some investigating for the lawyer to try and establish some of the facts about the case.

An investigation with the cops having it as a slam dunk, a lying defendant, a lying friend, an unhappy marriage, infidelity, sauce for the goose, divorce on the cards, a secret boyfriend, racism, gang links, burglary, cop run-ins, and whole lot of other things going on.

Racism is an important undercurrent in the novel. We see both sides of the race coin. Cutler's girlfriend Erika is sensitive to how people address her and perceive her. Her mother and uncles suffered after being raised in the south in the 60s and the scars have been passed on. She's alert to Mike Davoli's prejudices and it causes friction in her relationship with John. How could he be friends with Davoli, knowing his views on black people? Cutler struggles to convince her that he isn't Mike, that Mike isn't the guy he used to be friends with. Mike is openly hostile to black people. He uses terms and names that are unacceptable. It's probably more out in the open present day, with his ex-wife having married a black professional athlete. He's no longer able to suppress and mask his true feelings. Cutler hates what Mike has become but struggles to convince Erika that he doesn't hold those views himself.

I liked the relationship dynamics in the book. I liked Cutler doing his thing, unconstrained by the boundaries that hold back the police, but then the police were never going to be looking too hard at alternative suspects. It's funny how he gets answers and evidence illegally which would help Tina's assertions of innocence, but then struggles to explain how he came about it and how it can be used in her defence.

Pace, setting, story, character, outcome - all ticks in the box. 

4.5 stars from 5

Cutler's Return, Cutler's Chase and the next Cutler's Cases have all been enjoyed.  

Read - April, 2022
Published - 2022
Page count - 276
Source - review copy from author
Format - Kindle

Monday 25 July 2022



What would you do for a murdered friend?

When a friend is murdered, John Cutler is determined to find those responsible. This means running afoul of the local police department, a drug-running crew, and a wanted man who’s eluded capture for more than a decade.

Now, danger lurks around every corner and in the shadows, but Cutler isn’t easily intimidated. Instead, he’s the type who will doggedly pursue justice at risk to his own life.

Soon, bodies appear wherever Cutler’s been—a trail of destruction left by a desperate man to cover his tracks.

As John Cutler closes in on the truth, can he catch a killer before he escapes the law once again?

Cutler’s Chase is the second book in an exciting new series from Colin Conway, the author of the 509 Crime Stories and the Flip-Flop Detective. If you want gritty crime fiction at a whiplash pace, then this book is for you.

Cutler's Chase was another enjoyable entry in the four books (to date) series from Colin Conway.

It's a busy book .... nightclub bouncing for a job, an altercation, some downtime, a f-buddy friendship, domestic abuse, another altercation, a story, a missing fugitive, a dead man's family, a murdered friend, a new woman on the scene, pet adoption, a hunt for a killer, an alliance with a cop, an alliance of sorts with a local criminal king-pin, a drug gang, new identities, a kidnapping, a beat-down or two and a lot more besides.

Interesting story line with plenty of action, pace, character and more than a few twists in the plot.

I liked John Cutler in this book a bit more than the last one. He's not as abrasive, he's more considered and less angry. He's much more rounded and much better company as a result. I liked how he tried to do the right thing for his dead friend, how he tried to help the lady down the hall and also tried his best for the villain of the piece's family. He also shows honesty in his relationship with the opposite sex. This series is a definite grower.

4 from 5

Cutler's Return was read previously. The 3rd and 4th books - Cutler's Friend and Cutler's Cases have subsequently been enjoyed.

I look forward to Colin Conway writing a 5th series entry! 

Read - March, 2022
Published - 2021
Page count - 281
Source - review copy from author
Format - Kindle

Saturday 23 July 2022


Synopsis/blurb …

Detective Jack “Mac” McCrae has lost his hero. Without children or any family, the retired detective takes the death of his mentor hard. When the man's son reaches out to Mac with a mysterious letter containing a startling confession, asking for his help, Mac finds he can't say no.

He interprets the cryptic letter and begins to search for answers. Who did his hero wrong? And why?

Mac's investigation reveals a decades-old case in which a bad man was sent to prison. But was it right or wrong? Just or corrupt? And regardless of the answers to those questions, a larger one looms -- what to do now?

Mac discovers that some answers can lead to harder questions... and at times, this life requires even more from us.

The second book in Jack McCrae mystery series.

(*NOTE: Jack McCrae mysteries take place in the same universe as Frank Zafiro's SpoCompton series and Sandy Banks thrillers)

All That This Life Requires is the second entry in Frank Zafiro's Jack McCrae series, ten years after At This Point in My Life appeared.

Retired cop Jack McCrae digs into the case files of recently passed Sergeant Perry “Akeela” Williamson at the behest of his son. Akeela was McCrae's mentor and a straight arrow in all his dealings. Or so Jack thought. A letter left to the son, casts some doubt on that and his son needs some answers. McCrae agrees to look into things for him.

McCrae is assisted in his quest by his friend and former partner on the job, current homicide detective Angie Scialfa. Angie can access all the old case files and between her and Jack they spend days searching through Akeela's cases. They aren't really sure what they are looking for..... anomalies, discrepancies, something out of the usual pattern of reports and interviews.  Cases are reviewed, assessed, eliminated, narrowed down and a possible/probable contender is identified.

Akeela's former partner on the job meets with Jack and arranges for our man to get roughed up and leaves him with a warning to leave well alone.

Jack is persistent if nothing else.

It's a book which poses an interesting question about justice and all its guises. Is justice truly served by manipulating evidence to secure a conviction of a guilty party, who would otherwise walk free? Would it be right for a 100% nailed on, guaranteed child molestor to skate, if the evidence didn't exist to put him away? Who gets to decide? 

McCrae's actions here have repurcussions for his relationship with Angie and have an unintended consequence for a victim in the case he is investigating. 

It's a really intriguing book with a moral dilemna at its heart. Can doing the wrong thing for the right reasons ever be justified? It was also interesting to see what Jack was prepared to sacrifice personally just to see things through until the end. It's almost as if he is trying to prove to himself he could have been better when he was on the job, as opposed to mediocre, an unfulfilled man going through the motions. 

Guilt, decisions, outcomes, impact, relationships, regret, and more. Things are rarely black and white. Life's a lot more complicated. 

I liked this one a lot. Fingers are crossed for a third McCrae book, hopefully not in another ten years time.

4.5 stars from 5 

Read – July, 2022

Published – 2022

Page count – 215

Source – review copy from author

Format - Kindle

Friday 22 July 2022


Author Paul J. Garth, submits to a gentle interrogation on his reading and writing habits.

Paul's novella - The Low White Plain - part of A Grifter's Song series was enjoyed last month. 

Is the writing full time, part time, a hobby? Is there a day job? Can you offer us a potted biography of yourself?

I have a full time day job, and a wife, a kid, a dog, and a house, so I’m stretched thin already, before I can even think about writing, but I approach this as something just as important to me as my full time job. The difference is, obviously, I can’t put the same amount of time in to it, but I take it as seriously as the job that pays my bills. 

A biography? Sure! I was born in the Midwest, grew up in the south, then came back to the Midwest. I’ve been in punk bands and metal bands and partied a lot. Went to college for American literature, got jobs related to technology, started writing stories, got married, became a dad, and kept writing, and in between all that I ate some excellent tacos, drank some smooth bourbon, and read a lot of great books. 


I’ve recently read and enjoyed The Low White Plain.  

Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?

Sam and Rachel, two professional cons, have their back against the wall; their last job went south in a hurry, so they’re forced to take something that doesn’t smell right. But even their finely honed noses can’t detect how bad this job actually is, or the ghosts that will come back to haunt them. 


I might be mistaken, but I think it's your first published longer work? Can you confirm?

Yeah, this is the first thing over 8k words I’ve had published, but far from the first longer work I’ve written. One of the really great things about this project was, before I wrote word one, I knew it was going to be published, which allowed me to get out of my own way. When you’re writing something longer, it feels like every paragraph has the potential to be the thing that collapses the rest of it. Or, at least, that’s how it’s been in my experience. But with THE LOW WHITE PLAIN, I didn’t have the luxury of worrying about that, I had to just keep my foot on the pedal and push through. 

Two of my trunked novels will never see the light of day, for very good reason, but I have hope for the third, a book about train-hopping criminals, depression, family, and heists, called BLOOD BENDS THE RAIL. But THE LOW WHITE PLAIN taught me a better way of working on longer stuff, so, whether its something I’ve already written, or something I’m going to be starting on soon, you’ll definitely see me tackling longer work going forward. 


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

The most difficult thing was coming up with the story. Sam and Rachel are grifters, and I knew there had to be some kind of con at the heart of the book, but I don’t really have a brain for cons. I mean, I can obviously spot one in the real word, but coming up with one? I could not think of anything that would be exciting or interesting. But when I figured out the book didn’t have to be about the con, but instead the weight of living the kind of life Sam and Rachel live, things really took off, and I was able to come up with a nice, simple con for them to get wrapped up in. 


I believe TLWP is the (checks notes) 27th published story in the ongoing adventures of a couple of grifters, Sam and Rachel. I might be wrong but I think Sam and Rachel are two characters created by Frank Zafiro, then loaned out to an assorted bunch of miscreant authors to see what scrapes they can get involved in.  

How did you get involved with the project, did you reach out to Frank and pitch him an idea? Or was it him to you?

Frank read a story I wrote in the The Eviction of Hope anthology, called “The Hope of Lost Mares” and sent me a very nice email inviting me to the project, hoping I would bring something a little different to what had been done before. I’ll be really honest, I almost said no, not because I wasn’t flattered, I was, but because I felt like I was already too busy, and I was afraid to write about cons, and afraid to write
series characters. But I’m so glad I said yes and pushed through. THE LOW WHITE PLAIN has been an amazing ride, and I owe Frank a lot for reading that dark and depressing story and seeing what I couldn’t, that I had the right eye for Sam and Rachel, at least for one adventure, anyway. 

Was it necessary to know all about the pair's previous escapades, before you penned yours, or did you come into it blind?

I came in to it pretty blind. There is a series bible I studied up on, and I read a few of the past entries, but since each entry is a standalone, once I had the basics, I started freewheeling and doing my own thing. During the editing, there were a few points that Frank said something along the lines of, “Sam wasn’t in X at this time, he was in Y,” or “Could we change this to X, to better align with a previous entry?”, all of which I was happy to correct, because I know there are some people who have read all these books and really love Sam and Rachel, and I want to do right by them. 

Was it restrictive writing about loanee characters? Did you feel any added pressure? There are some talented guys and gals that have delivered for the project. 

Seriously, some of the people who have written for this series are insane, right? S.A. Cosby. Holly West. Eryk Pruitt. Eric Beetner, Hillary Davidson, Carmen Jaramillo, Gabriel Villajean. I mean, come on. There’s a bit of a legacy there, right? Something you hope you can live up to and stand amongst, and I think, or, hope, I guess, that I did. But the challenges with this book, honestly, didn’t come with the loanee characters, or even the other people who have written for the series. It really all came from that initial email from Frank. I didn’t really know what he wanted me to do, he just said he thought I could deliver something different, and I wanted to live up to his expectations. I hope I did. 

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

It’s pretty close to what I imagined, in terms of plot. But, as I was writing, I realized I had a lot to say about the weight of all this and how it was affecting Sam. That wasn’t in the original plan, at all, but I think it’s the heart of the book, and I’m thrilled I stumbled across it. 

Was there one spark or germ of imagination which started this story off in your mind?

The germ of the story was Sam and Rachel in a cheap hotel in the middle of nowhere, waylaid by a blizzard. I wanted to know why they were there. What had gone wrong right before that, and how they were going to get out of whatever was haunting them. 

Can you remember what your first published story was and where it dropped?

Yes! I don’t think you ever forget your first. It was a story called County Road, at Shotgun Honey. It’s been almost ten years since I wrote that story, and I reread it again a month or so back, and still love it. As a writer, I’ve improved a lot since then, but I think you can read that, and then read THE LOW WHITE PLAIN and see a pretty clear line between the two, which, to me, says I started out right. 

*County Road

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

I’m a midnight guy. I mentioned above how hectic life can be, and I am no good at writing when life is happening around me. I need that break. That disconnect. A dark room, a dim lamp on in the corner of the room, and droning music. I need that midnight vibe to find my voice. 

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’m about 50/50 on knowing what is going to happen. Sometimes, I have an idea in my head and I’m writing to it, but sometimes a story won’t tell you what it is until you’re in the actual drafting process, sometimes it’s something you need to find through doing. At this point, I’m comfortable enough with myself to start, even if I don’t know where something might go, because I know I’ll find it. 

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

Both, I think. I like to plot the broad strokes of a story, X happens then Y then Z, but everything between that, and sometimes the ending, is something I have to find by doing. If I know too much about a story before I write it, the writing itself isn’t much fun, so I like to keep it vague. I think about it like filling in a map. I know Chicago is here, and Denver is here, but all those miles in between, I don’t know anything about them, and that’s where the fun is. 

Are there any subjects off limits?

No. That’s the simple answer. The more complicated answer is: No, but don’t write blithely. 

I think of it this way. You can write whatever the hell you want to write, but publication is a different matter entirely. First, publications have the right to say, “we’re not okay with the content of this piece so we’re going to pass.” Now, most of the time, they won’t even say that, you’ll just get a rejection, but if you think it is because of the content, you need to understand, that an absolutely valid position for a publication to take. For example, I edit for a magazine that has decided we’re not going to take Copaganda stories. Is that not an exercise of our free speech to do so? So often, if you listen to people who crow about how they write things that are only off limits, it’s a weirdly one-way street. They can write whatever they want, but the priliveges of speech extend only to them. If I, or my editorial team, were going to decide something else, suddenly it’s a Free-Speech issue. Which is bullshit. Now take that and apply it to any other popular “off limits” subject. You want to write about child rape, fine. But I don’t have to publish it. 

Second, and I think this is the most important part of this question, is, if you write something and it is published, you have to be willing to hear criticism of that work. If someone says, “the way you wrote X is disrespectful to this group” or “The way you did Y shows you don’t understand this dynamic,” that’s just as valid as someone saying, “The prose didn’t work for me,” or “I thought the ending kinda ran out of gas.” All are valid complaints, and by taking on touchy subjects, you need to be open to criticism of how you wrote those. Does that mean that all that criticism is going to be accurate or insightful? Absolutely not. But as a writer, you need to ask yourself every time you see a complaint if it is. Because we all know the people who are willing to take NO notes are assholes. 

So, yeah, that’s my response. Write whatever you want, but be respectful of the places you’re sending you’re work to, and be open to feedback. Do that, and you’ll be fine. 

Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

I mentioned it above, but I think BLOOD BENDS THE RAIL is pretty damn good. It’s not quite there yet, but I really like it. That, and, I have a few short stories that I think are really great, but somehow I’ve just never found the right home for them. 


What’s the current project in progress?

Last week, I sat down and made a list of short stories I want to write. Five of them, and I’m hoping to have them all done by November. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have any plans or hopeful homes for most of them, but, over the last year or so I feel like I’ve forgotten the joy of short story writing, and I want to knock out a few before starting in on my next solo novel. 

Other than that, I also have a book I cowrote with Dennis Tafoya called THE THROWAWAY that I’ll hopefully be able to share more about soon. 


What’s the best thing about writing?

Those moments where it’s just THERE, and all you can do is get out of the way. 

One of my most treasured moments in my writing career was while working on a story called “Aperture” that, ultimately, was published in Vautrin. While drafting it, I had a session where I sat down, started writing, and then I looked up and I had a fresh thousand words, with a scene I had not previously thought of, and it was just done. I was sweating, had no memory of writing it at all, and though it was obviously my writing, I had absolutely no memory of where it came from, almost like Automatic Writing. I swear, that feeling was better than any drug I’ve ever done, and I’m always chasing that experience. 


The worst?

The self-doubt, long hours, low pay, and loneliness.  

This is why everyone who writes should be careful in who they share too much with, in terms of other writer friends. Too many love to only talk about the highlights, but the real friends will talk about the grind and how it’s wearing on them. It doesn’t solve for the momentary loneliness, but it does the existential loneliness, and those people who are willing to share that with you? That’s a friendship to be treasured. 


Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read?

The Blacktongue Thief- Christopher Buehlman 

Like a Sister – Kellye Garrett 

Heaven’s a Lie – Wallace Stroby 

A reread of Ellroy’s LA Confidential 

And an unpublished novel I can’t talk about yet, written by a friend. 


Who do you read and enjoy?

This question is just going to turn in to a couple hundred names saying FUCK ITS SO GOOD so, I’m going to give my highlights: Dennis Lehane, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, S.A. Cosby, James Ellroy, Megan Abbot, Nikki Dolson, Elmore Leonard, Clive Barker, Laird Barron, Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock, and Cormac McCarthy. But to see what I’m reading on a pretty up to date way, follow me on Twitter. I try to talk about whatever I am reading over there. 

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock is the book that made me say, “holy shit, you can do that?” and inspired me to try it myself. I truly think, if there’s a book that gets me, in all my grace and ugliness, it is that book. 


Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Listening to music, or playing Dungeons and Dragons. I fucking love Dungeons and Dragons. 


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

I rewatched ZODIAC the other night, and I swear, it’s one of the top five finest films ever made. 


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

We try to squeeze in an episode of something most nights before my wife goes to bed (and I go write). Lately, it’s been:  



And I’ve been goddamn loving WE OWN THIS CITY 

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

“…Five Daggers” by Black Cobra 

“Angel Duster” by Run The Jewels

“HAIL” by Bongripper 




What’s your favourite vegetable?

Cucumbers. Throw some Beaumonde spice on top? Perfection. 


When and where did you last have a fist fight? School, church, a sleazy neighbourhood bar?

The last fight I was in was a literal streetfight. A dude roadraged (despite him being in the wrong) got out of his car, and came to my window, screaming he was going to beat my ass. I got out of my car, he wound back to throw a punch, and I headbutted him, shattering his nose. 

Yes, I did kick him when he was down. 

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

Yeah. Once for being drunk, and once for being a drunk smartass. Both stories, I think, are better told in person. 

Do you have any tattoos?

I really want to answer this with “just scars” but I don’t think people can see how I’d be laughing at anyone who would say that seriously, so we’ll just say “no”. 

What was your first pet’s name?

Gracie. She was a West Highland Terrier, and the best goddamn dog ever. I miss her. 

What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

Probably something that had some poppyseed bullshit in it. 

Do you have any irrational fears?

Heights. I hate heights more than I can tell you. 

When did you last tell a lie?

“Nah, of course you can have that last taco. I wasn’t going to eat it, I promise.”  


Many thanks to Paul for his time.

You can catch up with him at the following haunt.

Twitter @PauljGarth

Do yourself a favour and check out The Low White Plain.

Terrified and on the run after a disastrous con in Dallas, grifters Sam and Rachel find themselves trapped by a blizzard in Nebraska. Low on cash and nerve, they find a local job that seems easy enough: orchestrate the fake kidnapping of a down-and-out academic, then split the ransom with the "victim."

But underneath all that open space, malice and hate breed quickly. Sam and Rachel soon discover everyone is lying, and that this simple job is a lot more complicated—and dangerous—than either of them expected.

Trapped by circumstance and need, the grifters find themselves hunted by occultist Neo-Nazis, extravagantly armed private security, a crazed art dealer with cartel connections, and some of the most powerful institutions in the state, all while another blizzard bears down.

Caught between family, faith, money, drugs and power, Sam and Rachel can only rely on their skills, and each other, or see their own blood spread atop the constantly falling snow.



A down-and-out, wheelchair-bound lonely man calls 911 from a trailer that’s just burst into flames. The tragic fire claims the man’s life. It seems like an accident until the cops find a few arguments against that theory. And another puzzler — the dispatcher seems to be keeping some dangerous secrets…

Police psychologist Dot Meyerhoff, on call to counsel police station employees, soon finds herself trying to help the traumatized dispatcher. But as the action-packed investigation accelerates, Dot can’t help but get drawn into an ever-expanding series of crimes seemingly orchestrated by the scariest prison mastermind this side of Hannibal Lecter.

As Dot helps track down the possible arsonist, she proves herself a sensitive yet doggedly persistent sleuth — even when ordered to mind her own business. The gripping case drags her through the seedy underbelly of her small town, and finally to the local prison. During a couple of risky trips to the lockup, she becomes reacquainted with the imprisoned puppetmaster, who also happens — coincidentally? — to be a menacing old friend…

Colleagues and friends keep warning her away from the ruthless and powerful criminal, which is excellent advice, right? If only good advice were easy to take...

The adventures of Dr. Dot strike a rare chord in the mystery genre: author Kirschman crafts emotionally intelligent and action-packed stories that will appeal equally to fans of traditional mysteries (especially British ones), discerning cozy readers, and all admirers of nosy women sleuths. Dot’s latest tale will especially delight fans of psychologist mysteries like those created by Jonathan Kellerman, Meg Gardiner, Val McDermid, and Jacqueline Winspear.

The Answer To His Prayers is the fourth Dot Meyerhoff mystery from author Ellen Kirschman. I've enjoyed the first three; Burying Ben, The Right Wrong Thing and The Fifth Reflection. The fourth was no exception.

Our main protagonist Dot is still working as a police psychologist, still butting heads with Chief Pence, still with boyfriend/fiance Frank and still having regular differences of opinions with her mother. She's due to get married soon and she is undergoing therapy herself. She has doubts and concerns over her upcoming nuptials having been hurt immeasurably in the past by her first husband.

She's also still a bit of a sh*t magnet cum busy body when it comes to getting involved in active police investigations. 

Arson, death - either murder or accidental, trauma counselling, a prison visit, a blast from the past, a gang boss manipulating Dot and pulling her strings, a missing family, a despatcher with secrets, a feisty headstrong female cop,  a jailbreak, a kidnapping, an unhappy husband-to-be, a sting operation and eventually answers to all the questions posed at the beginning of the book.

It's a quick, busy entertaining read with a decent plot, interesting characters and a satisfying outcome. I hope there will be more Dot Meyerhoff books in the future.    

This was probably a bit of a change-up from my usual reading, but it was a welcome one. It's good to mix things up every so often and it keeps my reading fresh, enjoying different sub-genres within the crime and mystery field.

4 stars from 5 

Read - July, 2022
Published - 2021
Page count - 166
Source - review copy from author
Format - PDF read on laptop