Potted Reviews: The Rapist by Les Edgerton, Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr, Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler, and Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden

It’s been a while since I posted any reviews. I’m still avoiding most social media, but I thought that my recent reading has included some strong books that deserve exposure to a much wider audience (although Philip Kerr doesn’t need help on that front). And I’m also trying to get back into reviewing again. 2015 was patchy on the reviews front – some of my year end list didn’t have full blog reviews.

So without further ado…

The Rapist by Les Edgerton
The story of Truman Pinter, and how he came to be in prison, is told in his own flowery words on the last night of his life. He is on death row for the rape and murder of a barmaid. Well, he happily admits to the rape, but he denies the murder charge, because she was an intellectually inferior specimen in his eyes and made the mistake of annoying him. Pinter is clearly intelligent, but he’s also insane. He is self-aggrandizing, intolerant of others, and highly unsympathetic and unreliable as a narrator. His unreliability is as much of a surprise to him as it is to the reader. He suppresses and compresses information not because he wants to but because he has internalised so much rage. He reads like a more flowery version of the already locquacious Humbert Humbert.

Les Edgerton’s superb The Bitch was one of my favourite reads of 2014 but The Rapist is as far from that tale as it is possible to get. Whereas The Bitch was tight and mean and made short work of its complex noir narrative, this tale’s prose style is flowery (intentionally so) and nasty. It’s different and difficult. The subject matter alone is going to divide readers, but Edgerton’s execution is what elevates something that could have been voyeuristic or downright dull in the wrong hands. It’s not crime fiction or noir, it’s more like The Belly of the Beast as recounted by Nietzsche. The ending is likely to be as divisive as the subject matter and open to all manner of interpretations. It’s a very strong piece of work. Original and brave. And recommended for those with a strong stomach and an open mind.

Berlin Noir: March Violets / The Pale Criminal / A German Requiem by Philip Kerr
Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels cannily apply the Raymond Chandler model to Germany just before, during and just after the second world war. Gunther, like Philip Marlowe, is a shop-soiled Sir Galahad – displaying decency in the face of corruption and evil. And like the great LA detective he’s just as quick with a one-liner.

The research and detail of these novels is terrific, weaving Gunther seamlessly into historical events and into the orbits of several major Nazi operators. The stories drip with period detail and atmosphere and they are well plotted and the characters are superb. Kerr knows how to push a narrative along and keep the reader interested. And most of the time the writing strikes an excellent balance between storytelling verve and descriptive excellence. However, occasionally Kerr likes to lavish the page with unnecessary metaphors and similes. Sometimes they are right on the money, but other times they jarred me out of the story. Also, the quality of some of the metaphors were wanting in comparison with Chandler. Otherwise this is a superb, highly recommended collection of crime fiction.

Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler
Scorch Atlas is an interesting though not always successful collection of apocalyptic tales and vignettes. Butler’s writing often ascends to some wonderful heights, though sometimes it reads like little more than a shopping list of pestilence and destruction. The best stories (Television Milk and The Ruined Child come to mind) knit superb prose and a distinctive vision of hell on earth. They also display a fear of family and people in general. The problem with the apocalypse is that it gets a little repetitive after a while. The stories often segue into each other – drowned worlds, horrific diseases and deformities, nature rebelling against man and beast – and the lack of memorable characters doesn’t help with differentiating things. If Butler had paid as much attention to character as he did to the rhythm of his prose this collection would be an ouright winner. But he didn’t and it isn’t – decent, though with moments of brilliance

Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden
I wanted to read this before I made a start on the Netflix series Narcos. Basically, I wanted to know the truth (or as close as anybody can get without being there) of the story before watching a more dramatised version of it.

To be honest, it’s a tale that doesn’t need to be exaggerated or sexed up. The story of Pablo Escobar, and the men (both Colombian and American) who lined up to stop him, is so utterly wild that if an author tried to present it as fiction nobody would believe it. Escobar earned billions (back in the days when this was still a relatively difficult thing to achieve), pretty much owned and modernised the city of Medellin, and organised a reign of terror across Colombia. He tried to run for public office in the early days of his empire. He was responsible for the deaths of police, armed forces, government officials, presidential candidates. He was even considered the mastermind behind an airplane bombing and bombs in public places. Like I said, life is often stranger and wilder than fiction.

Even the attempts to bring him down were the stuff of fiction. Endemic corruption in Colombian society meant that Pablo’s snitches were embedded deeply within government, the military, and the police. He was able to evade capture for years (and later escape from ‘prison’) thanks to high levels of corruption. The few people who couldn’t be corrupted were either targeted by Pablo’s sicarios or slated by a press and public that didn’t know what to believe. Even the American operation was mired with infighting by the small, tightly operated, and brilliant Centra Spike intelligence unit and the bloated and highly expensive CIA operation. Centra Spike won the battle to chase Escobar, but it cost them in the long run.

It’s a story that benefits from Bowden’s impartial and considered approach. He doesn’t sensationalise or sex things up, probably because he knows that the facts speak for themselves, and his storytelling skills are strong. He keeps the prose in the background and never shows off, which throws the astonishing events into sharp relief. This is an excellent bit of non-fiction that reads as compellingly and quickly as some of the finest crime fiction. Highly recommended.

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Social media hiatus

I’ve been getting angry recently. Angrier than usual, I should add. Most of this is borne out of frustration. A Funny Thing Happened is still moving very slowly, to the point where I’ve considered abandoning it on a couple of occasions, and the important tasks I’d set myself for the first month of the year haven’t even been started. I’ve been procrastinating a lot. Or my own personal favorite: I’ve been juggling so many tasks that I become paralysed and let them all drop uncompleted. This has made me both sadder and angrier.

Then I visit Facebook (the procrastinator’s friend) and get swamped by a tsunami of bad news, murder, racism, clickbait, and this makes me angrier and I feel the need to vent my spleen. Happy posts seem to be few and far between these days. The case is very similar on Twitter.

I’m tired of reading about jihadists murdering anybody who stands in the way of their doctrines and dogma, watching Donald Trump channel Adolf Hitler in his candidacy run, and observing a Conservative government that despises everyone and everything but Big Money and Corporate concerns, and shaking my head at mankind’s blinkered stupidity regarding the state of the environment.  It makes me sad, depressed and perpetually enraged.

And tired. Very, very tired.

All this anger is exhausting. It is gradually consuming all my positivity and drive, and it is burning me out.

So I’m dropping off the radar for a while, at least until I whittle down my ever-increasing to-do-list. I’ve deleted Facebook off my phone and my iPad and will hide my account either later today or tomorrow (assuming you can still do that). I’ve deleted Twitter off my phone and iPad, too. I’ll also log out of my accounts on my computer shortly and not visit them for quite some time. I’ve also deleted a lot of my news apps. Right now, I don’t want to know about the world.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I want to conserve my energy and positivity for my home life, my writing and my graphic design work (i.e. how I earn my living). The background can remain in shallow focus for a while. I’ll know it’s there, but it won’t bother me because it’ll be nothing more than heavy bokeh.

At the very least I’ll be off the grid for a month, but I suspect it will be a bit longer than that. Until I’ve got a workable second draft of A Funny Thing… ready for editing, and until I’ve got several other tasks out of the way, I want to maintain my focus. Staying off social media for a while is a good way of achieving that.

Those who want to get in contact have my email or my mobile number. As for those who don’t: So long, I shall see you all in a while (virtually speaking).

2016: No Resolutions, just a resolve to push forward

2015 was the year I finally finished and published The Glasgow Grin. The process was more difficult than I’d anticipated, which meant that I barely wrote another word for a good couple of months. To be honest, I felt written out. If I’d tried to write a sentence as simple as The cat sat on the mat during this period I would have fucked it up. Instead, I sat back and studied my initial sales in the hope that GG would make a decent start to its life.

I’d set myself a sales target of 1,000 books in total for 2015, hoping that The Glasgow Grin would make up the largest percentage. This would be a decent increase on 2014, and would mean more readers and a bigger audience for the next one. During my two-month period of inactivity The Glasgow Grin quickly gained sales momentum and became my biggest seller.

Then it kept on selling…

It was the first of my books to break the 200 sales in a month barrier, then it was the first to break 500 in a month, then it sold enough to propel my combined sales through the 1,000 in a month threshold. And then it repeated the feat in the following month. It also managed to break into the UK Top 1,000, albeit briefly. In short, it was the (not so) little book that could.

Sales of The Glasgow Grin hit 3,400 this year and all my other books took the total just over 6,000.

Not bad for somebody who just wanted to crack the thousand mark.

I’m not going to try and break the 6,000 barrier in 2016. Instead, I’m going to try and maintain and build on my current audience. To do this I intend to finish and publish A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum in the first quarter of 2016. This is actually set earlier than The Glasgow Grin (In fact, it occurs after the events of The Curious Case). Not because it was intended as a prequel, but because I started a lot of novels and ideas at the same time – they just happened to finish in an utterly random order. A Funny Thing just happens to have taken far more time than everything else.

After all, I want to make sure it’s a good read.

After this, I’ve got a novella called Sexy Lexy, started simultaneously with A Funny Thing and set during the same time period. It might make it into 2016.

Then I’m sending the boys on holiday, and I’m writing something different for a while: The Amsterdamned is the most obvious candidate, though I have an idea for a psychological thriller that should come together quite quickly (famous last words).

I also intend to build a more specific author website for myself, with an email subscribers’ list to keep interested readers up-to-date with the latest news, and merge this blog and reviews into that.

Adios for now!