Today's Teenage Triumph (a VERY rare event)

Teen manages to get himself a job in pub as tryout. Perfect, really (for him). Slides out of bed late, fifteen minute saunter away from home, five hours a couple of days a week.

That's how life really works, right?

Teen's first 'day' goes okay. What was supposed to be couple of hours, turned into five (however Teen grumbled about being two minutes early and having to stand outside, waiting. What total waste of life).

AND Teen manages to bring back kitchen towel from local shop (paid for, didn't steal). Teen gets chance for return to pub (four days later). Teen is worn out. He needs all ninety six hours to recover. Playing games apparently very important in doing so.

'Day' Two. Teen heads off. Comes back. Apparently pub wants to 'take it slow'. However, Teen has learnt something critical:

He Gets Staff Discount On Beer.

A triumph!

Underdog (that's me BTW) is rather pleased (also a rare event). Teen will be buying Underdog lots of beer from now on.

Underdog hopes Teen will be paying, but somehow doubts it.

Today's Teen Tomfoolery

This tale relates to Mid Teen, Teen's younger sister.

Mid Teen comes downstairs before school, uniform on etc. Boss Lady informs Mid Teen she is wearing mascara. Not allowed at school. Mid Teen denies all. Boss Lady is apparently mistaken.

Boss Lady repeats her assertion twice. Mid Teen says on both occasions that Boss Lady does not know what she is talking about. She clearly needs to go and lie down.

Boss Lady asks Mid Teen to come closer. Mid Teen reluctantly complies. Boss Lady suggests she spit in Mid Teen's eye to see if the mascara Mid Teen claims not to be wearing runs or not.

Mid Teen loses temper, admits she actually does have make up on. Storms upstairs to wash the stuff off in the five minutes before she has to leave to catch bus...

Today's Teenage Twattery

Boss Lady (wife) finds part time job in local company within walking distance. Part time office work. Boss tells Teen. While he is on his computer (probably playing games).

Teen throws arms violently up in the air. Says, never wants to work in an office. Boss says not all offices are the same and also use of computer in job. Perfect for Teen who did Computer Science A level and was going to do a degree in it too.

Teen is even more annoyed now. Never, ever wants to work with computers. Boss points out he is on a computer right now. Teen ignores irony.

Computer is coming out of Teen's room tonight...

Today's Teenage Tragedy

Teen thinks he has job at the pub he tried out at yesterday. Teen is next in Wednesday.

Teen doesn't know what days they want him, if at all beyond Wednesday. Teen doesn't know how many hours either.

Turns out several of Teen's friends already work at said pub. Teen is clueless of this fact until he arrives for work.

Teen has already resigned from part time cleaning job though.

Worst of all, Teen has no idea if there is staff family beer discount.

Today's Teen Trauma

Underdog (me) took Teen off to friend's house in nearby village. Lad (don't know his name, neither Teen nor Lad introduced themselves). Lad lives on cul-de-sac, maybe twenty houses, max. Lad amazed we managed to find him.

Lad bleats, 'Google Maps says my house is over there' (Lad flaps hand vaguely at other side of road). Lad continues, 'mobile reception is next to nothing'.

Lad even more flabbergasted when I told him managed to track house down by reading numbers outside each house. When I saw 16, knew was in the right place.

Lad literally speechless...

Author of the Week at Digital Ghost

 

British crime author, Keith Nixon, takes a scientific approach to noir, without sacrificing the artfulness.

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By Will Viharo

Keith Nixon is a British author I’ve known virtually for sometime via social media. I can “hear” his words in my head, whether fictional or Facebook posts, even though we’ve never met in person.

This is partly because he has a very affable public platform presence, but also because he’s one helluva skilled writer.

Sometimes we share a common language, but with different accents. This is true not only regarding national identity, but also when it comes to literary voice. For instance, there are many equally valid ways to translate “noir.”

Since I may never make it across the Pond, the colloquial term for the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a good chance I may never get to shake Keith Nixon’s hand. But I still feel a virtual kinship with him, since while I’m not a “crime writer” per se, we do share a certain hardboiled sensibility, even though my stuff is both acutely American and distinctly unconventional.

Keith, on the other hand, is a skilled wordsmith and storyteller who dedicates himself to the authentic art of grittily realistic noir fiction with the precision and passion of a serious scientist interested in solving problems large and small, leaving his own unique impression on the field as he goes.

And since we’re talking about carefully crafted creativity, I should mention this approach is no accident…
 

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You have experience as a chemist. Does this scientific background inform your crime fiction (since several are police procedurals) in any way, in terms of content, structure, or even daily writing regimen?

No and yes! Initially the science background was a drag, I was far too specific about the facts in the early days. I didn’t have sight that the story is the most important factor and specifics are there for support, not the other way around. So now I attempt a balance between the two – get the details right, but not so layered as to lose the plot (literally).

I used to be pretty rules orientated in most walks of life (cooking, for example. If a recipe said two hours at 250F, that’s when it came out, finished or not!) but a combination of 20+ years of my more artistic wife kicking me and a commercial job in sales where you have to think on your feet have altered the science stuff. Now it’s just a thread in my life.

In your view, what are the unique distinctions as well as the universal similarities between American and British noir fiction?

Wow, great question! It always amazes me when I see authors crossing the pond – American writers set in the UK and vice versa. I work for an American company and have travelled Stateside a lot. There’s a lot the same in terms of language and culture, and some yawning gaps too.

In terms of distinctions, language is one. The differences between how we speak are subtle, but then again, so are readers. I’ve read a couple of books where the author thinks they understand the British crime psyche but don’t. The result is everybody speaks like the Queen. Likewise with the reverse, everyone speaks like an Italian American from Goodfellas.

Ultimately, there’s a bit of a problem pigeonholing noir on such a broad basis – there are differences between Scottish, Irish and English noir (I’ve never read Welsh noir, so wouldn’t know). I’m sure it’ll be the same in the US. Most people revel in localization these days.

I guess ultimately everybody likes an engaging story, living characters, sappy dialogue and a sense of realism across pretty much every genre, right?

You are amazingly prolific, with several ongoing series to your credit, including Konstantin and Detective Solomon Gray, as well as historical fiction set during the Roman Empire. Commercial considerations aside, what compels you most to devote so much of your talent to this particular medium?

I’m a compulsion writer – I do something every day with regard to a book. Either at least 1,000 words on a manuscript or a marketing task, anything really. I have a full time job and a family so what little time I have needs to be used effectively. I can’t ever imagine not writing. I do so on holidays and birthdays too.

I started with historical fiction, I felt I needed a factual event to base a fictional story around (because of my scientific background!) as I didn’t feel I could come up with a whole book by myself. The research that went into those two books was ludicrous. Eighteen months from start to finish.

Then I was made redundant – which I wasn’t overly happy about. I realized I could kill people I didn’t like, but not get arrested for it, by writing a book and that got me into black comedy crime. Then I gravitated towards police procedurals – primarily for commercial reasons. Until then I’d written what I enjoyed.

The trouble was I lost sight of why I was writing – for fun. I started the Gray series and was fortunate enough to work with Allan Guthrie as an editor and mentor. He broke me apart as a writer and I feel I’m a lot better for it.

What are your influences, literary or otherwise?

I take little pieces of influence from all over. Lines of songs give me ideas, for example. Maybe for a character or a small scene. Then there’s the overall structure of a film and how it plays out. For example Fight Club, I love the multi-perspective aspect of the movie. And Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – how the seemingly unconnected strands of the story and the characters miss each other all the way up to the end.

From a literary perspective, I’ve read for as long as I can remember. And I’ve been writing on and off since I was nine – the two are inextricably linked, I think. I started with adventure stories, then to sci-fi, to fantasy, to thriller, historical fiction and finally to crime where I’ve stayed. My wife bought me three books by Scottish writer Ian Rankin. I’d never read police procedurals before and I was hooked. These days I read a lot less. Primarily because if I’m reading I’m not writing and I don’t want to subconsciously absorb other people’s ideas. However, it’s probably too late for that!

What’s next for you?

I’ve taken back the rights to all my previously published books, so there’s some marketing to be done (when I get time!).  The fourth and final Gray novel is being edited and should be out November 1st.  I also have the first book of a new series (black comedy crime again) written. I’ll be looking for an agent with that one.  And I’ve just started a new Konstantin for a bit of fun.
 

 

Review - Welcome Back Jack by Liam Sweeny

When Jack was six years old, his parents were brutally slain by a serial killer. The police later found drifter Clyde Colsen driving a stolen car, his clothes soaked in blood. He was tried, convicted and executed. Jack grew up knowing the police got their man.

Now a decorated homicide detective in New Rhodes, Jack arrives at the third crime scene of the “South End Killer” murders and finds his name. He will soon find out something else: thirty years ago, they got the wrong guy. And now the right guy’s come back to pay Jack and New Rhodes his bloody respects.

As Jack struggles to stay on the case, his cat-and-mouse game with the killer makes him wonder if he’s the cat or the mouse. His family and everyone in his life is fair game. As the killer escalates and threatens the entire city, Jack has a question he must answer in his desperation: can he stop the monster without becoming one?

Well, this is a nugget of a novel. Even at the outset Welcome Back Jack feels a little more than a standard crime thriller. There’s a host of strong characters, each is flawed and with enough history to make them interesting. Jack in particular, with his parents murdered, case closed. But is it?

There’s quite a powerful psychological element to the writing too. Sweeny (and therefore the killer) throws clues out like breadcrumbs. Leading Jack and the reader along an increasingly taut narrative.

The deaths are sufficiently gruesome to make the reader realise we’re dealing with a sick person (which is, I suppose, the definition of a serial killer) but without ever drifting into the realms of gruesome or meaningless gore.

The dialogue has an excellent depth to it. There’s plenty of conflict between the characters and beyond Jack (for example his father in law, also a cop, begins to question whether they caught the right man, the actual killer of Jack’s parents).

In addition the procedural element is believable and clearly well researched, the cops really feel like cops who know what they’re doing.

Sweeny’s admirers include heavyweights in the genre such as Ken Bruen, Les Edgerton and Joe Clifford. On the strength of this novel, it’s easy to see why.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals Blog.

Rating: Four Stars

Review - The Drowning Ground by James Marrison

When the body of a local farmer is found on the peak of a hill with a pitchfork rammed through his neck Detective Chief Inspector Guillermo Downes is called in. The deceased is Frank Hurst and well known to Downes. Ten years previously Downes investigated the seemingly accidental death of his wife, Sarah. It appeared she’d slipped over and banged her head before collapsing into their swimming pool. The death was viewed suspiciously by the close knit inhabitants of Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds.

Hurst came to Downes’ attention a second time when two girls went missing from the village on separate occasions. Both seemed to have been enticed away and were never seen again. The police believed the children knew their killer. But the person has never been found.

Downes goes to Frank Hurst’s house. What was once a grand construction is now a fortress. Most of the windows and doors are blocked up and the farmer was sleeping with a shotgun by his side. But who was Frank worried about? The interior is a mess, all except for Frank’s daughter’s room, but she ran away to London not long after Sarah’s death and never returned.

There’s clearly some mystery contained within the house, but before Downes is able to return someone sets a fire and the place burns furiously. Rather than destroying its secrets the conflagration reveals another body…

The dust jacket displays a large blurb from Linwood Barclay. He says that The Drowning Ground is, ‘Dark, gripping and unexpected.’ He gets it just about bang on.

James Marrison’s debut introduces Guillermo Downes, a moody copper with a difference. He’s half Argentinian, born and raised in South America, but now living in the Cotswolds. He’s like a fish out of water. As a point of interest the author is Cotswold born, but these days resides in Buenos Aires. It’s a decent guess that his own experiences of dislocation have been used to colour Downes, to great effect. Downes has a dark past that’s barely alluded to in the story, but he’s clearly a man with baggage. He lives and works in a small village where even third generation residents would be seen as newcomers.

There’s another unusual aspect to The Drowning Ground. The opening pages have a distinct feel to them, which is initially quite hard to pinpoint. If you weren’t aware of the setting the sense of place would be two-fold – exotic, say Cuba, with a 1950’s genteel feel to it.

Another intelligent element to the reading experience is Marrison’s process of a steady stream of reveals. Just as you’ve assumed an understanding of a character, the author will spring out another facet which twists the story a little more. The best example of this is Frank Hurst, the man whom the story really revolves around. It’s impossible to say more without giving anything away, but Marrison manages his character very well.

Most of the story is in first person, from Downes’ perspective. However, every now and again there’s a third person chapter in the head of his new sidekick, Graves. It works, but only partially. It gives some additional material which adds to the story, but seems to be used randomly. A little more of Graves would have been valuable. However, this is a minor issue. All said and done this is an assured debut which promises much for the future.

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover

Rating: Four Stars

Review - Preserve The Dead by Brian McGilloway

Detective Sergeant Lucy Black of the Derry police force leads a full and complex life. Her father is suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and has been badly beaten by another inmate at the secure unit he’s currently in. But before she can complain about his treatment a body is discovered floating in the river that passes beneath the unit. Black drags the corpse ashore. It’s an old man, fully dressed and appearing as if he’s been at a funeral.

Investigation shows the old man was dead before he went into the river. Actually he was ready to be buried and had been embalmed. So how did he end up in the river and why?

With the corpse taken away and questions swirling in her mind, Lucy heads home to her father’s house, only to get sucked into a domestic abuse case. One of her neighbours asks for help. His sister’s wife, Fiona, has been badly beaten. Lucy agrees, but she doesn’t declare herself to be police in case it scares Fiona off and makes her return to her husband. Lucy awakes the next day to find she’s landed another case. A homeless man has been found in the compacter of a rubbish truck. He’d been emptied into the truck from a bin he’d been sleeping in. Only it wasn’t the compacter that killed him. The tramp had been beaten up first.

Lucy returns to the case of the floating man. She learns someone was cremated in his place, but all they have left are the ashes and some metal pins and plates. One of the plates is from the skull and it has a large cut in it. Seemingly the person was killed by a blow to the head. With multiple mysteries on her hands Lucy carries on digging and it appears the case of the homeless man and the unidentified cremation are connected. It transpires homeless men have been going missing all over Derry, drawn towards the offer of work by a mystery man in a van. But who was cremated and why was he killed? And how is he linked to Fiona’s husband, the wife beater? What Lucy eventually finds shocks her to the core.

Preserve The Dead is the second novel featuring DS Lucy Black. From the first page she is beset with a series of issues to resolve personally and professionally. Her father has Alzheimer’s, but there’s also the a difficult relationship with her mother, who left Lucy and her father when she was eight and happens to now be the Acting Chief Constable so is ultimately Lucy’s boss. The characterisation is strong. For example, it’s particularly easy to associate with Lucy and her troubles.

The book operates well enough as a stand-alone novel with minimal reference or impact from previous story lines. The only significant element is the tension with her partner Robbie, who was previously injured in a car bomb meant for Lucy. It’s a wise aspect to add, though, as it adds another dimension to her trouble and complex life.

One slight disappointment with the book is the editing. Sometimes the diction is repetitive and there are some mangled sentences. This aside, Preserve The Dead is a very good read and will appeal to anyone who enjoys police procedurals or strong female leads. McGilloway is a rising star in the crime world, and deservedly so.

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover.

Rating: Four Stars

The Eagle's Shadow - over at David's Book Blurg

Synopsis

The British army is shattered, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by subterfuge and betrayal. Caradoc flees the battlefield, the crown heavy on his head and his heart set on retribution. He has to make hard decisions and tough compromises, but with the sovereignty of Britain at stake, personal pride sometimes has to take second place.

Emperor Claudius is determined to make as much political mileage as possible out of the Roman victory in an attempt to consolidate his own position. That doesn’t sit well with the Roman military, who have their own objectives and who will do whatever it takes to achieve them.

As the Romans consolidate their gains and begin to push west, Caradoc finds he has few friends left. He must turn to the Durotriges, a wild, hill fort dwelling tribe. But the Durotriges are riven by strife and petty squabbles.

Aulus Plautius, commander of the Roman army, brings his siege weapons to bear, can Caradoc resist the onslaught?

Review

Before I start have you read my review of The Eagle’s Shadow?? If not where have you been? Check it out here

Ok. So here we are trust back into the war between the British and Roman armies. During the first book we learn of a battle which turned out to be a major win for the Romans due to the divided loyalties of the British tribes at the time. This book continues on after book one and we are back we one of my favourite characters Fionn and the action is pretty much non-stop in this fast moving tale.

In the first book I really liked Caradoc but in this book you see a different side to the man. He becomes blinded by revenge and we see Fionn and his friends struggle to see eye to eye with his decisions. Fionn has his own demons in this book too.. I’m not saying too much as it would spoil it for you.

While Caradoc has his mind set firmly on revenge Fionn wants to hit back at the Romans so this book mainly focuses on the period where they are trying to gather support from the other tribes. Needless to say things do not go Fionn’s way.

Keith has written an excellent follow up book which he clearly researched well. I think it’s always hard to get the flow right between two books but the transition is seamless and it felt as if I’d never but the first book down. There were some great additions to the characters in this one which made the book feel fresh but you also had a lot of detail given to some of the characters from the first book which gave them more depth. I particularly enjoyed reading anything involving Anatolius.

One of the things I loved the most was the different point of views. You see the story play out from both the British and Roman stand point and it made for compelling reading

There’s only one downside to this book.. it had to end..I just wanted to turn the page and keep reading. It’s a true talent to keep a reader wanting more when it comes to a series of books but Keith managed to do this within the first few chapters and has hooked me in with his story telling so much already that I already have another non historical fiction piece of his in my review pile and I intend to read more of his work over the next few months

If you are a fan of the genre this series is a must!

Here’s hoping Keith writes Caradoc #3 soon!

The Corpse Role - over at Liz Loves Books

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Not everything that gets buried stays buried… sometimes things have a nasty habit of resurfacing…

When the body of a security van driver implicated in an unsolved £1.2 million heist turns up in a shallow grave two years later it’s just the beginning for Detective Inspector Charlotte Granger.

She embarks on an investigation that takes her into dangerous territory – a world of dirty cops, dodgy private investigators, local villains and nosy journalists. Meanwhile events from Granger’s own past are threatening to come back and haunt her..

Really terrific crime fiction from Keith Nixon – I basically read it in a day, bit of a page turner, some great characters and an authentic and hard hitting storyline.

Told in two timelines, brilliantly constructed and ever engaging, there is a beautiful flow to the prose that keeps you hooked right in, some twisty turny goodness and a jaw dropping ending.

Some really excellent plotting adds extra depth to both characters and storytelling, the past element being really most addictive – this is a crime thriller with heart, a mix of police procedural and thriller with intelligent storytelling and a sometimes almost noir feel.

You’ll note I havent said too much on the tale itself. For very good reason. Go find out!

Review - Long Way Down by Tony Black

Gus Dury is a down at heel ex-reporter with a dark past. He’s kicking his heels in life when Danny Murray, a runner for local gang boss Boaby ‘Shaky’ Stevens, asks Gus to do a job for him – find an old friend, Barry Fulton. Gus is reluctant, but £3,000 helps sweeten the deal. Gus quickly learns Barry has got involved with Irish gangsters encroaching onto Shaky’s patch and, unless he finds him soon, someone’s going to end up dead.

This standalone novella is part of Black’s Gus Dury series, the other four (Paying For It, Gutted, Loss, and Long Time Dead) are full length novels.

Long Way Down is a gem of a story. It’s theoretically a quick read, however I found myself spending a lot longer than normal with it simply because I wanted to stay immersed in the prose. This was a challenge because the action starts on the first page, when Danny steps into Gus’s sphere, and doesn’t let up.

The characters are very strong, Gus himself clearly has a deep background with references made to a difficult upbringing. He drinks, swears, fights – not someone you’d want your daughter to bring home. But he’s resolute, loyal, tough – someone you’d want at your back. The supporting cast of (few) friends and (many) enemies are equally entertaining – Gus mixes with some dubious company. A particular favourite is Mac the Knife, a man not to be messed with.

The dialogue is sharp and at times witty, despite the gritty and grimly sharp Edinburgh location which, is excellently described with a minimum of carefully chosen words and some local vernacular. For example:

The bar was dark, dingy. In days gone past there’d have been a pall of grey smoke you’d struggle to shine headlamps through. Now the nicotine-stained walls and ceiling looked painfully over-exposed – the woodchip papering would turn to writhing maggots after a few scoops.

And another:

I picked out the smell of p*ss and sickly-sweet Buckfast mingling on the grimy stairwell. Some of the young crew had been in to tag the walls since my last visit, and despite being a respecter of the creative urge I couldn’t help but think their efforts sucked balls. Right into a hernia.

The only ‘disappointment’ with Long Way Down? I finished it too quickly! Top drawer noir.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Rating: Five Stars

Review - A Room With No Natural Light by Douglas Lindsay

It’s a long, hot summer in the south of England and Pitt’s small vineyard is in crisis. The bank’s chasing debts and government inspectors are snooping around. Yet Pitt is drawn further and further into Yuan Ju’s dark and disturbing world. How far is he prepared to go to help her?

Pitt’s wife looks on, nervous and insecure, impotent with fear, while her mother watches everything, biding her time. She will be not fearful, but vengeful.

And walking through the vines in near silence, Pitt must address the most perplexing question of all. Where are the birds? Just a few dead at first, but soon the skies are empty.

In A Room With No Natural Light Lindsay succeeds again in creating a world and characters that are just off centre. The characters are full of angst and fascinating as a result. There’s Pitt, a man seemingly devoid of emotion, but singular in his focus, Yuan Ju who never says a word but communicates in volumes to Pitt, Daisy who’s Pitt’s wife and you’d think the worst woman in the world but she pales into insignificance next to her mother (simply called Mrs Cromwell). Last but not least is Hardyman, Pitt’s only friend and confidante, a polar opposite and interesting foil.

The setting is unusual – a vineyard steadily losing money and where birds suddenly start falling out of the trees, dead. But beneath it all Lindsay draws on an all too familiar set of sad tales of exploitation and loss which Pitt cuts through to make life better for himself.

Nobody writes quite like Douglas Lindsay and here he proves it yet again.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals.

Rating: Five Stars

 

The Eagle's Shadow - Review at David's Book Blurg

David kindly reviewed Caradoc #1 over at his blog recently:

This book is a fast paced, epic war story and boy did I enjoy it.

First of there is a lot of information in this book but Keith very handily added a section at the beginning of the book to explain the names used within the book since place names have changed over the years along with rivers etc. This was not only useful so I could set the scene but it was also very interesting information

We find ourselves thrust into time when Rome was planning to invade Britain and the author decided to tell his tale from both the Roman and the Britons view point. This gave a great feel to the book and broke up the action perfectly so you kept reading without even noticing the time pass.

Keith has picked a very interesting subject for the book and built on this story with the characters. There are a few I liked a lot.. Fionn & Etain stood out for me.  The action with Fionn had me hooked!

There are a large number of characters in this book; Because of this some don’t get a chance to develop. Once you read the book you can totally understand why though as there so much going on in the book it would be too much to squeeze in and also the story is so strong and violent it’s inevitable some of these characters will die

The author goes into some great detail describing the warfare tactics and clearly has researched well.

I felt the story easily pulled me in and I even found myself shouting in my head “Move, Move” when it came to clashes between the two armies.

One of the most interesting parts of this book for me was the relationships between the tribes in Britain at the time. I won’t spoil the book for you but these relationships coupled with the unified force of the Romans made for an epic tale

From reading the authors historical notes he gives a great insight into some of the characters and the time period and it’s definitely peaked my interest and made me want to read up on this time period.

I’m very pleased to see there is a follow up book and I’m looking forward to reading/reviewing that soon

Conclusion… Do I think this book is worth the 99p asking price currently on Amazon? Hell yes!

If you enjoy tales involving warfare, blood, guts, tension, betrayal then you will certainly like this book.

Review - The Point by Gerard Brennan

Paul Morgan, small time crook, crosses crime boss Mad Mickey one time too many. He’s given a week to get out of Belfast or suffer the consequences. Deciding it’s wisest to start again, Paul drags his brother Brian along to a backwater called Warrenpoint (which gives the story it’s title).

But before he departs forever, Paul steals and burns a van belonging to Mickey who can’t ignore the insult. As the brothers settle into their new life, Brian going straight, Paul finding new and increasingly serious ways to break the law, Mickey hunts them down.

I devoured this offering from Gerard Brennan. The style is pacy, direct and hard as nails. There’s an underlying sense of humour throughout that doesn’t sensationalise the criminal acts that come thick and fast.

The characters are excellently drawn, the dialogue snappy and the setting bleak. The Morgans are similar, yet different. Paul is totally incapable of changing his ways. He knows he’s in trouble from pretty much the first page, but he can’t help himself, despite the consequences this has for his brother. Brian, deep down, doesn’t particularly enjoy the seedier side of life, recognizing the consequences of his actions where Paul does not. For example he apologises to a girl the pair had scared during a robbery by putting a postcard through her door, pretending to be from the IRA and a case of mistaken identity. Misguided but actually amusing in the fashion it’s written.

Paul relishes the move to The Point where he meets another strong and defining character, Rachel O’Hare. When we first meet her, she’s exacting revenge in a rather painful manner on an imminently ex-boyfriend. Then we learn she’s receiving counseling for assaulting a fourteen year old boy who’d tried to rob her at knife point. This girl doesn’t mess around.

Unfortunately, Paul’s continued bad behavior attracts the attention of Mad Mickey’s men, forcing the trio to make a decision – stay and fight or run and start again. The resulting ending was masterful and quite a surprise.

An example of the no-nonsense prose, when the boys are out committing the burglary.

”So which one?” Brian asked.

“This one.” Paul stopped dead in his tracks and turned to his right. He walked up to the front door of number 45 and grabbed the knocker. Then he pummeled the door as if it had spilled his pint.

An excellent story cleverly told by a masterful writer.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Rating: Five Stars

Review - Dexter Is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

Dexter Morgan is in a Miami prison, in the section reserved for the worst of criminals. He’s being held for the murder of three people, his wife, his lover and a man by the identity of Robert Chase. Worse still the police are claiming Dexter is a paedophile. But this time Dexter is innocent. Chase is the killer and he’s the paedophile who had designs on Dexter’s children.

Dexter was arrested by Detective Anderson, a cop who hates him with a passion. As a result he’s been in prison for an age, the system seemingly arrayed against him. No-one seems willing to spring Dexter, not even his sister, Deborah. She knows Dexter and his desires and has sided with him before, but now even she has had enough. Deborah arrives at prison with papers for Deter to allow her to legally adopt his children. She has disowned him, and Dexter is alone.

Weeks go by until Frank Kraunauer turns up at the prison. He’s the best and therefore most expensive legal eagle in Miami, and even the police are scared of him. He gets Dexter out on bail immediately. It transpires that Dexter’s equally depraved brother, Brian, has put up the bail money. Dexter is surprised, Brian isn’t wealthy, so where did the money come from?

Dexter goes to ground in a hotel, he checks in but heads out immediately to see Deborah and hand over the papers. On his return he finds two bodies. One on the bed, the other in the wardrobe. It looks like one was awaiting his return, someone else entered and a fight ensued. Someone is still after Dexter.

The US cover.

Brian reveals he stole money from a drug baron, Raul, whom he was working for. The dead are Raul’s men. With Anderson still hot for Dexter’s head and the clock ticking before he’s back in prison he needs answers. When Deborah gets in touch and says the children have been taken Dexter knows who has them and what to do about it. But will it be the end for Dexter?

This is the eighth, and final, installment in Lindsay’s hugely popular Dexter series, the serial killer everyone roots for. It featured in our list of the best serial killer series – one of the most popular articles on our site, and there’s even a Dexter wiki. By day Dexter is a blood spatter pattern analyst with the Miami Dade police force, by night he hunts the killers that have slipped through the net.

Many will lament his passing, myself included. The hugely successful books spawned a successful television series which ran for eight seasons, garnering a following of its own and 23 Emmy nominations. It depicted Dexter at his dark and gory best, yet allowed the characters to develop and grow.

In Dexter is Dead our favourite serial killer isn’t his usual, incisive self throughout. He makes mistakes, gets a bit confused and has conflicting feelings, particularly after Deborah disowns him. For a murderer who operates without qualms this is a surprise to him, it will probably surprise you as well. He tends to stumble through the plot, bumping into one issue, resolving it, then moving onto the next, only Brian at his side. He seems lost and trying to find his place. For a man who was so certain of his goals in life it’s disturbing. There’s no real plan here, beyond the next objective, until the end when he faces up to Raul and knows what to do… sort of.

The opening paragraph says, “It wasn’t supposed to end this way.” That’s the thread within the novel, Lindsay setting up Dexter for the conclusion. It’s clear to see why and what he’s done on the final page, but it does drag the story down a bit and dulls Dexter’s incisiveness. The finale will more than likely please some people but I was somewhat disappointed. As ever a good plot, but a sad ending…

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover.

Rating: Three Stars

Review - The Samaritan by Mason Cross

There’s a serial killer operating in Los Angeles, here in Mason Cross’ latest Carter Blake thriller. Trouble is, nobody realises it until the mutilated body of a young woman is found in the Santa Monica mountains after torrential rain produces a mud slide and reveals her body. When officers begin to investigate the dump site they find more bodies. Each victim was mutilated before the coup de grace: having their throats cut using an unusual knife which leaves behind a distinctive wound.

LAPD detective Jessica Allen has just recently transferred to the force. On viewing one of the corpses Allen knows she’s seen the killer’s handiwork previously. The cut is unmistakable. It’s a killer she’s remained keen to catch. She and partner Mazzucco begin to piece together the case. The killer preys on lone female drivers who’ve broken down. Dubbed The Samaritan by the press, but there’s nothing good about him. Somehow he manages to persuade them to get into his vehicle and sadly for them, it’s the last thing they do. Allen’s work and background knowledge prove that The Samaritan has been operating undetected for a long time and across many US states. But what has brought him to LA?

Carter Blake, ex-military and now private contractor for hire, is in LA too. He finds missing people and he’s very good at it. After wrapping up his latest assignment he sees the news. The manner of the women’s death has been leaked and Blake believes he knows The Samaritan. So he begins his own investigation and offers his help to the LAPD but Mazzucco turns him down, much to Allen’s frustration.

As the case widens The FBI enters the frame and Allen loses the investigation to them. She wants to catch The Samaritan, whatever it takes, and starts working with Blake behind Mazzucco’s back. As the net tightens around the killer, the real reason he’s in LA is revealed. Blake and Allen are in a race to prevent more deaths – can they find The Samaritan before he goes to ground again and starts killing elsewhere? Time is against them…

Mason Cross is a Scottish writer producing American crime thrillers and he does it very well. One of the strongest points in his writing is the American styling that pervades the novel, from spelling conventions right through to mannerisms and observations. Although this is the second Carter Blake novel it can easily be read as a standalone. The opening chapters set up the narrative very well, with an introduction to Blake’s special seek-and-destroy skills.

Blake operates in first person perspective and an air of mystery is maintained about him. Blake isn’t his real name, for instance. Snippets of his past are revealed, while keeping the rest closed off, presumably for the future. The remaining characters are covered in third person narrative and because there are so many of them it’s easy to lose track now and again. There’s a mixture of chapters for Blake, Allen, Mazzucco, the killer and so on…

This is a minor flaw with in an overall package which is tightly woven and continues at a very high pace. It really is a difficult novel to put down. The characterisation is strong, the sense of place powerful and Cross’ scenic descriptions vivid and compelling. This is a very well written crime thriller and Carter Blake deserves many more outings.

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover.

Rating: Four Stars

Review - The Jump by Doug Johnstone

One day Ellie’s teenage son, Logan, committed suicide by stepping off the apex of the Forth Road Bridge and plunging to his death. Less than six seconds from stepping over the railing to smashing into water as hard as concrete. In the intervening six months Ellie has been struggling to cope with her loss. She can’t understand why Logan did it, there were no signs of his unhappiness, his intent. She and her husband are simply existing, each getting through via their own coping mechanisms.

Ellie walks for miles, swims and has tattoos of Logan and the bridge all over her body. Almost every day she leaves her house that sits in the bridge’s shadow and climbs to the point where Logan jumped, trying to imagine what it was like. She posts messages on his Facebook page and even watches CCTV footage of Logan’s last moments, all in an attempt to make sense of life and death. Meanwhile, her husband has become a conspiracy theorist. He believes a chemical has been released into the atmosphere that drives people to their deaths and Logan succumbed to it.

But then everything changes. On one of her walks Ellie meets a young man, just a few years older than Logan, who’s about to jump from the same point on the bridge. Ellie talks Sam down and so begins a series of events that will change the course of their lives. Ellie learns that Sam has just stabbed his father, a policeman. He survived but is in intensive care. He did it because his father was interfering with his 11-year-old sister, Libby. Ellie decides to help both Sam and Libby, undertaking a crusade to save them from their father, and herself from her unhappy existence. With the help of her husband Ellie goes to the furthest reaches of what is lawful in order to do so, and beyond.

Doug Johnstone is an author who counts the likes of Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Chris Brookmyre among his admirers and, on the strength of The Jump, it’s easy to see why. This is a real page turner, the narrative deceptively fast. It took me only two sittings to chew through this novel. The basis for the unfolding events – suicide and incest – are dealt with bluntly, but with sufficient sensitivity. It’s like the author’s wrapped a brick in velvet and hit you over the head with it a couple of times. Smooth and blunt.

For example, Logan’s suicide is relatively graphic. Ellie calculates how many seconds (5.6 to be precise) it takes to fall from the bridge, thinks about the impact of the fall on the human body, and studies the description of the CCTV footage. It’s painful and in your face, but it isn’t gratuitous. There’s real empathy generated. And by doing so the author creates some very strong motivations for his major characters, us mere mortals would probably go running to the police, unable to take the steps that Ellie and Sam do. Johnstone keeps it just the right side of grim and believable.

Given the subject matter there can’t be a truly happy ending, but it is satisfactory, nevertheless. The characters get about the best out of it that they can. And from where they started that’s a pretty good deal…

Originally reviewed at Crime Fiction Lover.

Rating: Four Stars

I'm Dead Again - Review at Mystery People

A review of I'm Dead Again over at Mystery People:

The newest from Keith Nixon’s darkly comical crime books. This one, again features David Brodie, once a first-class reporter, but now seriously not only on the slides, but right down at the bottom. His wife is gone, and he is broke. Then he receives a phone-call with a difference-from a dead man. Only this could make things worse.

Next the corpse of Emily Hollowman’s ex husband turns up, in very dodgy circumstances, and Emily employs the tramp Konstantin Boryakov to investigate. All roads lead to a business man called Gordon Dredge. Dredge being the man that caused Brodie to lose everything. However, Dredge has big problems too, with The Steroid. The Steroid is a gangland boss called Oakhill, who himself is in a perilous situation, with a Chekhovian called Adam, who is out to take over his empire. The list of colourful and comical characters goes on.

This is hugely enjoyable, tongue in cheek, writing, and highly entertaining. The actual story moves at pace, which is always the sign of a good story-teller. It has its fair share of twists and turns, and Nixon manages to make the baddies somehow likeable. The humour is dark. It is well written with pace and style. I found it great escapism and a fun read. Recommended.

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Reviewer:  Linda Regan

www.lindareganonline.co.uk

Review - The Shadows Call by Matt Hilton

The Shadows Call.jpg

Jack Newman needs somewhere to live. He finds a house that’s large enough for his children to stay and, most importantly, is cheap. As an ex-teacher now working at a plumbing supplies business and paying maintenance to his ex-wife money is in short supply.  But there’s something about the place that his friend, Sarah, doesn’t like. It feels oppressive. But Jack ignores her and takes the lease anyway.

Almost immediately Jack begins to experience events that are out of the ordinary - voices and a malevolent shadow that are all too familiar to him. Eventually Jack figures out the ghost that possesses the house is an ex-girlfriend who clearly wants to do him harm. As the strength of these occurrences grow they threaten Jack and Sarah’s very lives.

Appraisal:

Matt Hilton’s works are characterized by pace and tight narrative with a steadily increasing tension that bursts at the conclusion. The Shadows Call is no different. Although sitting firmly in the paranormal genre there is a thriller element that forms the basis for the story.

Hilton immediately throws the reader several intriguing bones on the opening pages, is there really a ghost in the house? Jack is a non-believer, whereas Sarah, a work colleague who he likes, has a distinct interest in the area. There are parallels to my own situation where I am a sceptic, but open minded to the idea, whereas my wife has experienced events.

Hilton handles this ying and yang skepticism / belief very well, gradually increasing Jack’s acceptance and tying it to past events. Nothing is quite as it seems and in the last quarter Hilton turns the whole story on its head. I read this book in two sittings in 24 hours, the second at 3.30am. Even as a non-believer I made sure the lights were on when I walked around my house…

Originally reviewed for Books and Pals blog.

Rating: Five Stars