The joy of Ed McBain

Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter aka Salvatore Albert Lombino) is one of those writers who sometimes seems to get name-checked more than he seems to be read by some modern day crime fiction readers. Despite the fact that he gets into all the top ten crime greats lists there seem to be some folks out there (even in crime fiction circles) who know the name, and the rep, but not the books.

So, I’m telling you now, if you haven’t read McBain before then go and do yourself a favour, and buy one today – and then bloody well read it!

So, why should you read McBain over that flavour-of-the-month novelist whose book you’ve been gazing at on your shelf or Kindle list? Well, I’ll tell you.

For a start, McBain writes clean, pared down prose – he uses words rather than wastes them. Nobody is ever going to describe him as a master stylist (a la Raymond Chandler) but nor will they slate him as an empurpled adverb clown  (a la Dan Brown). And as anybody reading modern crime fiction will tell you, that clean pared-down style is currently very much in vogue. McBain’s prose measures up very well with these guys.

Secondly, like Simenon’s Maigret stories, the 87th Precinct mysteries are darker and stronger than you might anticipate, and are happy to get into the blood, the guts, and shit of a major metropolis. They’re happy to put readers into the mix with the criminals and scumbags. To paraphrase Chandler, they did a Hammett, and took crime out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley. McBain used swear words, though sparingly. Quite a few of his tales were fairly violent. But he didn’t dwell on things, which is why he might be seen as tame by today’s gory standards.

Thirdly, are you after a fast-paced read? Well, hello… In the earlier books, McBain nearly always got his business done in under 200 pages (often well under). Even the later books weren’t doorstop fiction. He didn’t do bloated character-building moments. When he dealt with Carella, Kling, Meyer Meyer, or any of the other members of the 87th he wove their personal moments seamlessly into the plot – again, part of that no words wasted ethos he seemed to have ingrained into his DNA.

Ah, so you’re worried he might be dated? Obviously in this time of DNA and CSI the methods in the earlier novels might seem antiquated but any novel written of its time will date to a degree. Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Simenon, Thompson; the moment they mention some outdated argot, or recondite phrase, or mention an item of clothing, or a now ancient piece of technology, then that automatically places the stories in a time and a place. The same goes for McBain, but, like the rest of these guys, his stories deal with age-old human themes of murder, violence, heroism, love, hate, greed, lust, and, frankly, that stuff isn’t ever going to date (not while humans continue to populate this planet, anyway). Yes, I am aware that today’s literary police seem to need a maverick streak, a fatal flaw, or some kind of intellectual brilliance to succeed with modern day readers – but don’t you find all those mavericks a touch tiresome? Wouldn’t you prefer something different?

Well, the policemen and women of the 87th aren’t mavericks or intellectuals, they’re regular folks, which is why McBain is so bloody good. They’re  dedicated officers who put in legwork, are dogged, and work on hunches and feelings (backed up by the evidence). You like these guys because they’re just like us, rather than a band apart.

Lastly, and crucially in my opinion, his storytelling chops are spot on. He knows how to hook readers from the first line. He knows how to pace his tale just so. A lot of literary snobs like to put down writers like McBain and other popular authors because they dare to entertain, and have no illusions that what they produce is high art. Well, storytelling is an art and McBain is a damn fine practitioner, and if you pick up one of his novels I guarantee you that you will be entertained.

But where to start, right? After all, McBain wrote a lot of them. Well, Ice is a particular personal fave, along with Sadie When She Died and Shotgun. But why not start with the first one Cop Hater? It’s a tight, top-notch thriller and introduces the boys from the 87th in fine style.

Go on, what are you waiting for. If you haven’t read him before you’re in for a treat. And I envy you that first-time feeling of reading a future favourite author!

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The Greatest Show In Town – cover redux

Here’s the new, and final, cover for The Greatest Show In Town.

When I posted the first version of the cover the feedback was really quite positive, but a few people pointed out a couple of things that stuck in my craw. Not because they were wrong, but because they were very much right.

I felt that I could do better – much better. Hopefully these minor tweaks have brought out a major improvement.

The basic photograph is still the same as the original, but I’ve applied a few extra colour filters to it, which have given it a stronger more vibrant appearance. I also removed one of the layers, which sadly didn’t add much other than a background texture.

The major change has been to the font, which has been replaced with a stronger, bolder face. I’ve also separated the name and title blocks, which – as a previous comment pointed out – made the top of the cover look cluttered.

Oh, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with the landmark – this is a very nice shot of Teesside’s transporter bridge.

I think it’s a considerable improvement upon something I already thought was quite nice. Hopefully you all agree. Let me know your thoughts.

The Gamblers special offer – half price on Kindle

For those of you who don’t already have it, The Gamblers will be half price from now until the end of the month. This means it’s $1.50 for those who wish to buy it at Amazon US and it is currently 96p for those who wish to buy it at Amazon UK.

This special offer is for a short time only and ends on May 31st, when it goes back to its usual price of £1.99/$2.99.

Review – The Engagement by Georges Simenon

Regular readers of this site will know that I love the work of Georges Simenon. I love the Maigret novels, which are harder and darker than their reputation might suggest, but I also love the Roman Durs, of which this novel is one. These novels are equally as dark and cold and mean as their American noir cousins.

The Engagement isn’t a Simenon that I had encountered before, but it’s definitely a high quality addition to his superb back catalogue; one that should appeal to both fans of his previous work and make a perfect introduction for new readers.

The Engagement is about Mr Hire, an overweight and slightly creepy man, who runs a legal, but hardly ethical, postal scam. Hire is a furtive and shy individual who keeps himself to himself, ensuring the suspicion of those who live and work in the block of flats where he resides. So when a prostitute is brutally murdered in the area all eyes are focussed on him. There are reasons for Hire’s odd behaviour but, because the police are brought in and nobody thinks enough of him to ask the reason why, they automatically assume that he is guilty. As the story progresses and the tension ratchets up to almost unbearable levels the reader is genuinely unsure what Hire’s fate will be.

For a writer who has been lauded for the ‘psychology’ in his novels, there is surprisingly little in The Engagement. Most of what goes on is rendered in clean, camera-eye prose that gives little insight into the psychology of the characters. And yet, Simenon’s brilliant word choices and descriptions give us all the information we need to know about the shy and reserved Hire, the conceited and unpleasant concierge and the other characters, mostly unpleasant, who populate this tale. Also, his effortless handling of the tension is a lesson to any writer who wants to know how to create a page-turner with minimal fuss, and without drawing attention to his writing. The Engagement is a superb read and comes  highly recommended to those who like their stories dark and diamond hard.

Review: All The Young Warriors – Anthony Neil Smith

All The Young Warriors is a change for author Anthony Neil Smith. His previous novels and novellas have been very much in the noir and hardboiled genre. This one is more the international intrigue thriller, though with a faster pace than most.

The story kicks off in Minnesota where two cops are killed by a gangbanger named Jibriil after pulling him and his friend Adem over. Adem has nothing to do with the murder, other than as a very unwilling witness. The two boys, of Somalian descent, flee to Somalia to fight for the country and the Muslim faith. Once there, Jibriil takes to the life like a duck to water, whilst Adem finds the culture shock too much.

One of the cops Jibriil killed was the girlfriend of detective Ray Bleeker and was carrying his child. Like anybody in that situation he carries a real urge for revenge. He ends up linking up with Mustafa, Adem’s father, who’s convinced of his son’s innocence, and they pursue the boys to Somalia and find that the things are going to get very difficult and very bloody before everything is done.

ATYW is definitely the finest novel that I’ve read by Smith. It marks a clear progression from Yellow Medicine and its sequel Hogdoggin’ (both strong works). It’s definitely the work of a more mature writer – almost as if moving to a bigger canvas, one that involves research, helped sharpen his focus as a storyteller and hone his ability to write clearly defined characters. It also has more heart and soul than his two Billy Lafitte novels, so when bad things happen to the main characters they carry a real emotional punch. It’s a very good thriller with an excellent narrative pace, and recently won Smith an award at the Spintinglers. ATYW comes highly recommended.

The cover for The Greatest Show in Town

The cover for my new short collection - The Greatest Show in TownHere for anybody who cares to have a look is the cover for my upcoming short story collection The Greatest Show in Town and other shorts. It features a very nice photograph of the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough as its main image, along with a bit of photo layering and a touch of transparency effects to get something that I feel is quite evocative of the contents within.

It has a different look to The Gamblers and The Hunters, but that was intentional. I wanted to differentiate it, draw attention to the fact that it’s a short collection. The Stanton brothers books will all have a very similar visual theme  – following the look developed in The Hunters. And even though the brothers appear in quite a few of these shorts it isn’t strictly a collection about them. I wanted the cover to reflect that.

Anyway, enough waffle from me…

Let me know what y’all think. If it’s appealing, do tell. Similarly, if you think it’s a big bag o’ crap then kindly tell me why it offends you!