Books & Pals

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 - 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 - 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

Review - Born In A Burial Gown by Mike Craven

Born In A Burial Gown was longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award and it’s easy to see why. This is a consummate police procedural and for several very good reasons. First is the significant depth of detail into investigative processes rarely seen elsewhere. If you’re into the whys and wherefores, Burial Gown has it, although Craven manages not to bog the reader down in detail.

Second is the characterization, Fluke in particular is great. Suitably damaged, suitably driven he pushes the already fast-paced story along in his own way.

Third is the setting. Cumbria (aka The Lake District) is a beautiful (albeit wet) area in the North West of England more known for its tourist attractions than criminal fraternity. Craven offsets the two beautifully.

Finally there’s the plot itself. The woman’s murder and the mystery that ensues is compelling and Craven reveals just enough to keep pulling the reader through to the very satisfying end.

Simply superb.

Rating: 5 stars

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.