Review: Black Gum by J David Osborne

Having read a couple of Osborne’s previous works (Low Down Death Right Easy and Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit), and having found them both rather impressive, I’ve had my eye on Black Gum for some time. And I’m glad to tell you it didn’t disappoint.

Originally, I think Osborne pegged the project as a direct sequel to Low Down, in that Danny Ames (one of the main characters in that novel) plays a major part in the proceedings. But somewhere along the way the project seems to have changed and become something else, something different. Ames only appears in the last third of the book, in a small, though significant, cameo, and the book itself feels different in tone and texture to its predecessor. The narrator is a bit of a man-child who lives with an old friend after the failure of his marriage. They deal drugs, have parties, and hang out with the friend’s strange cousin, Shane; and generally they just exist in a vacuum where life is the stuff that happens to other people.

Whereas Low Down felt like a surreal crime drama, Black Gum feels more like a naturalistic drama with an element of crime running through it. The moments of weirdness that punctuate Osborne’s LDDRE are mostly missing here – consisting instead of minor details weaved into the main text (Shane’s body modification, Juggalo parties, the narrator’s strange trip at the end of book). It is also a very short work – more novella than novel – but that intensifies rather than diminishes the book’s impact.

Black Gum has a Carver-esque clarity to it, insofar as its simple, well-written, pared-back prose gets on with telling the story without the need for posturing and posing. What little action there is done without grandstanding; instead, it has more in common with the blink-and-you’ll miss them moments of real life. I liked that Danny Ames’ one-and-only appearance here is done without any real violence (he appears, the characters realise resistance is futile and do what they’re told).

If you’re looking for balls-to-the-wall crime action you won’t find it here, but what you will find is quality, character-based fiction with criminality weaved through it. Black Gum comes highly recommended.

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Review: A Day in the Life of Jason Dean by Ian Ayris

Jason Dean is an a hard man, a very hard man, the kind of scary-looking bloke who gets sent to collect debts and, if needs be, kill people, which is exactly happens on this particular day, but the problem is that his heart isn’t really in it any more. He has a wife who hates him, and the only thing he truly loves is his daughter, Sophie, who occupies his thoughts a lot on this particular day.

So when local gangster, and all-round Wagner-loving psychopath, Mickey Archer, tells him to deal with some debts and then kill a skinhead car dealer who has sold Archer a dud vehicle he does so more out of fear of his boss than any desire to flex his muscles.

Jason’s debt collecting duties happen with mixed success. One of the men, an elderly soldier, commits suicide in front of him, and the other involves dealing with a nightmare family of the kind you’ll find on many deprived council estates. Jason ruminates on writers during many of these incidents, partly because although Jason isn’t a well educated man, due to parental negligence, among other issues, he is a well read and intelligent one.

Finally, he has to face up to the dealer and go through with Archer’s request, but even that is fraught with surprises…

A Day in the Life of Jason Dean is a very strong performance written in a stylised local vernacular that helps burrow into the mind of its protagonist. The character of Dean, who could so easily have been a cliché in the wrong hands, comes across as a sympathetic and even sensitive soul, albeit of the kind that you wouldn’t ever want to upset. The disagreement, although it’s more one-sided than that, between Archer and Dean about Wagner and Shostakovich is both funny and scary, and there’s a similar feeling of unease in another meeting between the two men later in the story – you always get the feeling that Dean is treading on eggshells around his boss. Similarly, Dean’s love for his wife and daughter is equally well evoked, and pays dividends towards the end of the story. Jason Dean is a very well written tale with a genuine compassion towards people on the lower rungs of British society and comes highly recommended.

Review: The Scent of New Death by Mike Monson

When Phil Gaines’ new wife, a kinky young barmaid called Paige, and his business partner, a psychopathic pervert and genius getaway man called Jeff, run off together it’s a case of so far, so bad. But when he realises that they’ve also made off with his life’s savings, accumulated from years of bank robberies executed with zen-like calmness and precision, it’s a matter of life and death. Until this point, Gaines has managed to live a quiet and controlled life of meditation in his modest apartment in Modesto, California apartment and successful robberies out of the state.

But now his life is anything but quiet and controlled. He wants his money back and his wife and partner dead.

However, his ex-cohorts have plans of their own, which include framing and killing Gaines in a big robbery that will make them a lot of money if they can pull it off. But when the plan goes awry and Gaines escapes it leaves the main players chasing each other across the state to the home of an ageing pornstar, where their blood-soaked destinies await.

Mike Monson is a fairly new author to me. I’d read a couple of pieces of his flash fiction over at Shotgun Honey (Tough Love being an especially memorable tale), but The Scent of New Death is I believe his first longer-length work. Although the title page calls it a novella the story manages to cram more incident and character into its pages than many works that are twice the length. And I honestly loved every second of it. The characters of Phil, Paige and Jeff are fully realised and are starkly contrasting. Phil is controlled and calm most of the time, thanks to his zen meditation, but he also has a sociopathic disregard for human life, which means he’ll kill anybody who gets in his way. Paige is wild and initially fun-loving, though her idea of fun differs markedly from that of most regular people. Jeff is as vile as they come – a sexually deviant psychopath with absolutely no regard for human life and enjoys murdering for the sheer thrill. Even the minor characters have a feeling of interior lives, rather than as pieces to be moved around an elaborate literary chessboard. The prose is clear and precise and doesn’t get in the way of the action and incident, of which there’s plenty, and the dialogue is sharp and snappy without being showy. It is a superb crime thriller with some very, very violent and kinky moments. If you’ve got the stomach for it I can’t recommend The Scent of New Death highly enough. Superb.

Review: Dreamland by Keith Nixon

Keith Nixon’s novel The Fix was one of the best I read last year (only just missing out on my annual ‘Best Of’ list). This tale of crooked financiers, betrayal, and murder featured some great characters, but my favourite was without doubt the homeless Russian man Konstantin Boryakov. Despite his appearance, he had a very specific skillset, and was as hard and sharp as a box of titanium nails. Well, Dreamland is the story of how he became that hobo. He’s ex-KGB, just out of prison, and freshly touched down in Margate, enjoying (not) the delights of the Dreamland amusement arcade, where he makes the mistake of crossing dealer Dave The Rave – or, more to the point, The Rave makes the mistake of crossing and trying to steal from him. Konstantin puts his training to good use and defends himself. He also takes Dave’s money and gets rid of the drug wraps to Dave is carrying for somebody a lot higher up the criminal food chain. And from there it only gets worse for all of them…

Dreamland is a highly enjoyable tale in its own right but also works as a kind of a taster for Nixon’s longer work. The same short snappy sentences, the same foul-mouthed, funny dialogue, and the same tight plotting that made his debut such a pleasure to read are here too in miniature. Konstantin is also great character to spend time with: brutal, hard as nails, curt, weary and also at times capable of tenderness and affection, he lights up the narrative like a beacon. Dreamland comes highly recommended by me. Grab it today and then bite your nails and wait for the arrival of the next Konstantin novellas from Caffeine Nights – they’re just as good as this.

The Curious Case of The Missing Moolah

CuriousCaseCoverFor those of you who have been missing the Stanton brothers (and there are a handful of you out there), the next instalment of their thrilling adventures is now available on Kindle.

This one goes back in time a bit. Chronologically speaking, this is the first of their tales – where it all kicks off for the brothers, and they decide to do what they do so well (hurt criminals and take their cash).

Here’s the Amazon blurb for those of you who are into that sort of thing:

Eric Stanton has a big problem. Three armed robbers have stolen ten grand of his boss’ money from him. So far, so bad.

However, his boss isn’t the kind of man who will take that kind of loss lying down. If Eric can’t get the money back, then it becomes his debt. And his boss isn’t the kind of man he wants to owe money to, especially when he can’t afford to pay. So Stanton has one option: get the money back before anybody notices it’s gone!

But when he realises that he’s been set up, and that this is part of a bigger picture, he does the one thing he can think of to even up the score – he brings in his brother, Derek. Now, Derek might not be the smartest man on the planet, or the most reliable, but he’s six-feet four, strong as an ox and handy with his fists.

So the brothers decide to play detective, and take a trip around the seamier parts of Teesside in search of the money – upsetting the locals, breaking bones and trading quips, right up until the brutal finale.

Foul-mouthed, fast-moving and bone-crunchingly violent – this is one Case that’s bound to make you Curious!

You can buy it on Kindle for £1.99/£2.99 here

National Bone Breakers Day!

The Stanton brothers are back!

Today sees the release of Bone Breakers on Kindle. A twisting, turning, out-of-control, wild ride that sees the brothers attempting to get their hands on fifty grand from some very nasty people. Bone Breakers moves through its Teesside backdrop like a rocket, keeping it lean, forcing the reader to turn the pages until the tale is done.

Get it today in the UK for £1.99 and the US for $2.99

Also, for those of you haven’t caught up with the brothers yet, I’ve cut the price of the first novel The Hunters for 99p/$0.99 and The Greatest Show in Town, the short story collection in which they feature heavily, for 77p/$0.99

Less than a week to go till…

Bone Breakers is up for sale. It’s a wild and crazy mix of snappy dialogue, fast action, brutal violence, and the Stanton brothers doing what they do best – bickering, breaking bones, and relieving other criminals of their wrongfully earned money.

It’s only £1.99/$2.99 on Kindle. Bargain!

And during July I intend to make my other Stanton brothers book The Hunters 99p/$0.99 and the short collection that features the brothers, The Greatest Show in Town, will be 77p/$0.99.

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