Review: Saturday’s Child by Ray Banks

Drunken ex-con Cal Innes is making his living as a private investigator of sorts. He has somehow built a reputation for finding people who’ve gone missing and now seems to have turned that into a business. Although Innes does deal in divorce cases, he wants nothing to do with a pub landlady who wants to murder her landlord husband. He tells her he isn’t interested in that kind of work, tells her to give it more thought when she’s sobered up and leaves immediately. Then he’s contacted by the man responsible for putting him in prison – crime lord Morris Tiernan – and asked/told to find a croupier who has stolen ten grand from his casino. The trail takes him to Newcastle looking for a gambler with a taste for cash and a barely legal girl who just happens to be Tiernan’s daughter. Innes’ task is made harder by Tiernan’s psychopathic son Mo’ who has his own reasons for wanting the girl back, and by a brutal police officer named ‘Donkey’ Donkin, who wants to question Innes about the stabbing of the landlord. As Innes gets closer to the croupier and the girl things start to go really wrong. And after he’s beaten and left for dead, the detective is forced to take drastic action, including some eye-watering torture with a cricket bat, working his way towards an exciting and bitter climax.

Ray Banks is one of those writers who seems to be unable to write a bad book. His sense of pacing is immaculate and he uses language the way Mo’ Tiernan uses a Stanley knife – cutting through to the meat and bone of the tale, trimming away the excess flab. He uses a technique that I first noticed in the brilliant Wolf Tickets – having two different narrators give their voice to different parts of the tale – and much as it does in that novel it works beautifully. Innes provides a bitter, tragic commentary on his part of the journey (showing a true alcoholic’s eye for self-delusion, along with a lot of submerged fury). Mo’ Tiernan provides a funny, frightening and foul-mouthed counter-point. Both voices are superbly written and utterly unique. The story moves along at an incredible pace, never once dragging, and as first parts of a series go Saturday’s Child is one of the finest. Another absolute cracker from somebody who has become one of my favourite writers over the past year or so. Can’t wait to get started on Sucker Punch.

Review: Death on a Hot Afternoon by Paul D Brazill

As regular readers will know I recently reviewed, and really enjoyed, Paul’s 13 Shot of Noir, which if you haven’t already bought it you should do so immediately. So another day another Brazill ebook. Does Death On A Hot Afternoon live up to the high standards set by 13 Shots? Well, see below and find out…

Luke Case is a middle-aged hack working for a Madrid magazine run by local who fancies himself as a patron of the city’s art scene. One afternoon, he is chatting with another hack, Nathan, who starts telling him in a roundabout way about a murder he committed many years before – one he’s been on the run from ever since. The whole afternoon gets boozier and when Case ends up drinking with Lena K, a young Torch singer who seems to have appeared from nowhere on the Madrid scene, he finds he might have the chance of enjoying a very nice evening with her and a friend! But the evening takes a turn for the worse and leaves Case wondering just who this Torch singer is and what it is that she wants.

As witnessed in 13 Shots, Brazill has an excellent writing style and a lovely turn of phrase and you can witness it here in spades:

People fired sharp looks at me like bullets from a machine gun.

Along with some clever dialogue:

“Well, a cliche to me is like a red rag to a bull. I avoid them like the plague.”

Case, for all his seediness, makes a great narrator and protagonist even if he seems to be attracted to trouble the way iron filings are attracted to magnets. The build-up is beautifully done and then – slam – the pay-off comes quickly and the rug has been pulled from beneath Case and the reader. It’s a lovely and controlled bit of storytelling. I’ve heard some folks complain that it’s not long enough. I can understand what they mean (great characters, not wanting it to end etc), but I thought it was the perfect length – in and out and no messing about.

Highly recommended.

Review: A F*ckload of Shorts by Jedidiah Ayres

Jedidiah Ayres is unknown to me, which is one of the reasons I picked this collection. 2013 is going to be a year where everything I read on Kindle will be new crime stuff (new to me, at least). And all my paperbacks will be literary fiction I’ve not read before. But I digress. This isn’t about me, it’s about Jedediah Ayres and A F*ckload of Shorts.

I’ve seen Ayres mentioned on Twitter a few times and also on a few blogs I read, and all the mentions have been positive. That and the fact that it was published by the excellent Snubnose Press was enough to make me pick up this collection of shorts. And I’m glad I did because for the most part I really enjoyed it.

Ayres’ stories tend towards the grim and mostly reside in crime fiction territory, although there are a few exceptions to this. The humour is sick and twisted, which is a good thing, and his imagination throws up some very dark shit. At its best (the linked stories Mahogany & Monogamy and Fuckload of Scotch Tape; Hoosier Daddy, The Whole Buffalo and Viscosity) it works incredibly well, mixing extreme black comedy with noir tropes to create something fresh and new – not something that’s easy on the well-trodden noir path. Overall it’s a really strong collection, but I have to add that The Adversary, despite being well written, felt too long and I found myself skipping and speed reading through it, but that’s just me – you might love it.

This collection comes highly recommended.

The Next Big Thing

Nick Quantrill tagged me for this in his excellent The Next Big Thing Interview that can be found here. So I guess I better get busy trying to get people interested in my ramblings…

What is the working title of your next book?
Which one? I’ve got three on the go simultaneously: The Glasgow Grin, sequel to The Hunters; Bone Breakers, a standalone Stanton brothers’ novella; and Cry Tomorrow, a revenge novella that will introduce readers to the Blood Smoothie!

Where did the idea come from the book?
The idea for The Glasgow Grin came from The Hunters, which even though it is resolved is also left open for a sequel. The sequel follows on a week or so after the events in the first novel. Bone Breakers came from a short entitled Hot Fat that was due to go in The Greatest Show In Town, but seemed like it would benefit massively from space to breathe. So I dropped it from the collection and rewrote it. Cry Tomorrow came out of reading Incident on a Rain-Soaked Corner from Heath Lowrance’s Dig Ten Graves. I wrote a story with a very similar premise long before I read Heath’s tale. I was ready to include it in my short collection, but when I read IoaRSC it was immediately obvious that the tales were quite similar, and that Heath’s was vastly better than mine, so I dropped it. However, much later, I recycled and altered the short and used it as the basis for a revenge novella that I’d already started drafting.

What genre does your book fall under?
Everything I write, barring a few minor exceptions, is a crime thriller.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The Stanton brothers get revenge on the man who crosses their path.

Will you will be self-published or represented by an agency?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The first draft has taken about six months. The next draft and additional edits will take another two or three.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Wanting to write something that I as a reader will feel compelled to read. Wanting to write something that thrills and excites my admittedly tiny readership, but also expands that readership further. Further inspiration was also provided by my love of tough guy thrillers: Richard Stark, Dan J Marlowe, and most of all James Crumley, whose C.W. Sughrue and Milo Milodragovich first-person narratives helped inspire the Stanton brothers’ general couldn’t give a shit attitude towards the world.

What else about your book might pique the readers’ interest?
A cynical and weary tone-of-voice, a Teesside locale that is pretty much virgin territory in fictional terms, an assorted cast of villains, both humorous and frightening, and most of all the brothers themselves. A series is only as good as its main protagonist/s.

After checking, it seems there is absolutely nobody on the planet who hasn’t already done this, so I haven’t a clue who to pass the virtual baton to. If you fancy being nominated then mention it in the comments below and I’ll tag you after the fact!

BOG OFF – Or Buy One Get One Free, Friend! – January

Right, for the rest of January, in an effort to gee up sales through this grey, cold month, I’m running a buy one get one free deal on my Kindle books The Gamblers and The Hunters (The Greatest Show in Town due to the fact that it is cheaper is not included in this offer – however, it can be claimed as a free book).

How does it work?
Simple! You buy an ebook from Amazon and they give you a receipt (or they bloody well should) that looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 19.10.43

Once this has been emailed to you please forward it to me at The title you bought (either The Gamblers or The Hunters) will be on the receipt, which means it is then up to you state in the email what ebook you want: The Hunters/The Gamblers or The Greatest Show in Town – the choice, as they say, is yours!

Obviously, how you get that .mobi file on to your Kindle is your business entirely, but a handy guide on how to do it can be found here

Review: 13 Shots of Noir by Paul D Brazill

Paul D Brazill has carved quite the niche for himself. He is a prolific writer of shorts that seem to get published in all the major online outlets, plus he’s got himself published in Maxim Jakubowski’s print anthologies, too – all of which are a major deal in my opinion. I’d read several of his stories online (including the quite sublime The Tut), so decided to give 13 Shots of Noir a go.

And what a strong collection it is. The stories are tight and never outstay their welcome. Added to which, Brazill has a lovely way with words; take this gem from The Man Behind The Curtain:

Carole has barely been out of her teens when Doctor James Parker, as glimmering and sophisticated as a Brandy Alexander, swept through her humdrum life like a tornado, picked her up in an Oz that bore than a passing resemblance to Chiswick, West London.

As the years trundled on, however, James’ gambling and drinking habits ballooned to the size of the Hindenburg, his mood swings and behaviour grew more and more erratic and Oz turned out to be no place like home.

The Oz reference in particular is superb and clever. I like writers with a clever turn of phrase, and the ability and confidence to employ them correctly, particularly as a rather plain prose stylist I am rarely capable of them myself. And here’s another from the very nicely put together Mr Kiss and Tell:

As the years trundled on, Billy Kirby, alone in his two bedroom Housing Association flat, like so many lost souls, turned to Mecca. Come rain or shine, come hell or high water, every Monday and Friday afternoon Billy was in the Mecca Bingo.

13 Shots is a very strong collection of shorts, but my particular highlights include The Tut, Mr Kiss & Tell, Drunk On The Moon (which has spawned a successful series about werewolf P.I. Roman Dalton), The Final Cut and the beautifully twisted and brief M.

Highly recommended.

Getting re-jiggy with it

My most recent The Gamblers cover doesn’t seem to have improved sales (quite the opposite, in fact), which means that the minimal look doesn’t really cut any ice with the buying public. I have a feeling that the muted palette, minimalistic feel and grungy look just doesn’t work the way I had anticipated. Sometimes louder is better.

So I have decided to have another go at it (just because I can). I’ve gone slicker, played up the guns ‘n gambling angle more, and brightened the palette considerably. I’m hoping this will at least get casual Amazon viewers to give my work a closer look.

Let me know what you all think, ta! Obviously it needs a few tweaks here and there, but I’m just trying to gauge opinion here.


Review: We Are The Hanged Man by Douglas Lindsay

When the perpetually depressed DCI Jericho is asked to get involved with ailing reality show Britain’s Got Justice he is less than happy but he goes along with it because he’s given no choice. While this is going on he is being sent Tarot cards featuring various images of a hanged man. The show goes as disastrously as expected, with Jericho being made to look as incompetent as possible by the show’s makers, particularly as one of the show’s contestants has been kidnapped by a killer who rather enjoys performing torture experiments on people (just to see how much of it they can take). As more Tarot cards arrive Jericho realises that they have a link to some mysterious deaths that, in turn, are linked to him by blood. As the show progresses things get worse for Jericho and when a colleague that he is having an affair with disappears, leaving him as a suspect, he goes on the run in a desperate attempt to prove his innocence and work out who and why he is being targeted, setting up a final confrontation with the murderer.

This is the first Douglas Lindsay I have read and it won’t be the last, because I like his prose style and his facility with storytelling, both of which are excellent, but it will be the last DCI Jericho story I read. As much as I tried to warm to Jericho I simply couldn’t. His depression makes him surly and rude, and he spends much of the first half of the book just staring at people he doesn’t like (more or less everyone), which would be fine if he had other elements to his character that made him compelling – a way with words, a sense of duty, a brilliance of detection, or even a certain amount of self-deprecation – but he has none of these. Alas, he is a charisma vacuum throughout the entire novel.

Being a noir person, I can deal with detestable protagonists as long as there’s something about them, however minor, that I can warm to. I just couldn’t warm Jericho at all. Normally this would be the kiss of death to me finishing the story, but I have to say that Lindsay’s narrative was beautifully paced and his writing style is as smooth as warm butter, and these were enough to keep me flipping the pages. The last quarter of the book is a lesson in how to keep a story driving forward at an ever greater pace, at which point the last of my objections to Jericho became null and void and I just enjoyed the story.

I can’t highly recommend WETHM because of my issues with the character of DCI Jericho, but I can recommend it because Lindsay’s narrative and smooth prose style are excellent and he does know how to tell a story well.

The Stantons get new clothes…

As 2013 will see the eventual release of two new Stanton brothers books (The Glasgow Grin and the standalone novella Bone Breakers) I have decided to do a rebrand. It’s all a bit grungier, a bit grittier, with new typography. From now on, all future Stanton brothers’ stories will share this new look. The Hunters, as it’s already on release, will be the first to get the look on Monday.

Let me know what you think, ta! Comments and opinions are always welcome.

TheHunters2013 GlasgowGrin2013 BoneBreakers2013