Review: Wee Rockets by Gerrard Brennan

Joe the leader of a gang of Belfast yobs called the Wee Rockets has decided it’s time to leave the gang. Not because he feels in any way bad about what he does, but because he’s growing faster than the other gang members, and he’s worried that this will make him easier to recognise. At the same time, concerned local citizen and vigilante wannabe, Stephen McVeigh is desperate to do something about the Wee Rockets gang and stop them from attacking innocent pensioners in the area. He starts investigating, which brings him into contact with Joe and Joe’s mother, with whom he starts a relationship. Joe eventually passes the Rockets leadership over to Liam, a fat loser who desperately wants to be respected. The moment Liam takes control of the gang he ups the ante and, instead of playing safe like Joe, he gets them to move into robbing stores and younger people, because the takings are bigger. And when Joe’s criminal father also appears on the scene after many years away, the scene is set for mayhem that ultimately leads to fatalities.

Wee Rockets is the first Brennan that I have read and I must say that I was impressed by the confidence and fluidity of his writing. He is very good at fast scene-setting and renders his characters nicely in only a few sentences. The dialogue is also spot-on, with a nice grasp of how people really speak. The plotting is well handled, though I did have a few minor issues with the ending, which leaves one particular character still walking the streets when he should really be behind bars after all the mayhem he has caused. But, like I said, it’s a minor issue rather than a big deal, and is more than offset by Brennan’s confident storytelling abilities and his excellent characters. I like the fact that Joe, despite his occasional sentimental moment, remains a scumbag throughout. I also like the way that Liam’s transition from fat loser to remorseless gang-leader is realistically handled in terms of motivation. Like so many of Blasted Heath’s other publications this is an excellent crime thriller and marks them out as one of the most exciting new publishers around. Highly recommended.

Review: Killing Cupid by Mark Edwards & Louise Voss

Mark Edwards and Louise Voss are excellent examples of authors who have done very well out of the self-publishing boom. Their novel Catch Your Death was one of 2011’s best-selling Kindle novels and Killing Cupid also did very well in the charts.

In fact, they were offered a book deal due to their online success and this is how I came to be reading the print edition of Killing Cupid rather than the ebook. Apparently both this novel and Catch Your Death have been amended from the ebook editions, though I obviously couldn’t say how much this changes the finished article.

The novel begins with a woman’s death, by a fall from the stairwell of her building. Alex describes fleeing the scene of the crime whilst giving the reader an indication that he’s prepared to kill for the woman he loves. The object of his affection is the teacher of a creative writing class that he attends, Siobhan.

Alex falls in love with Siobhan at first sight and becomes obsessed with her. Stalking her first on Facebook and then in the real world. Hanging around where she lives and then finally getting into her home. He becomes jealous of his teacher’s friendship with one of the other students, a female and this is where death comes into the equation. Siobhan, who is dealing with a relationship break-up, doesn’t initially realise she’s being stalked, but once Alex steals her credit card details in order to send her gifts she finally cottons on.

She kicks him off her course and threatens him with the police if he doesn’t pay her back for every penny he stole. From here the story changes tack. Alex starts a relationship with a friend of his flatmate and Siobhan begins to become obsessed with Alex, initially through interest in writing a novel but eventually through rage, and starts to take revenge on Alex and his new girlfriend. Meanwhile Alex is having to deal with the fact that a friend of the girl who fell from her stairwell is probing into her death and doesn’t believe the police’s version of events that it was accidental. As things wind to a close, Alex gets a few surprises he didn’t expect…

Edwards and Voss do a good job of making Alex come across as sympathetic, even though you know he’s a seriously screwed-up individual. They also do a good job of making Siobhan seem sympathetic in the earlier part of the novel but make her transition to angry stalker later in the story unfold realistically. The technique of narration via the character’s journals gives the story some nice turns and delivers a satisfying twist or two at the end. Killing Cupid is a good solid novel with a few narrative surprises and will give readers a lot of enjoyment. Recommended.

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.

Review: Dig Ten Graves – Heath Lowrance

One of the beauties of being on Twitter is finding a thriving hardboiled crime fiction and noir community. Meeting people (in a virtual sense) with similar interests to you; Meeting people whose knowledge of my chosen field of interest far exceeds my own, people like Heath Lowrance.

Heath recently did a potted history of hardboiled/noir fiction on his brilliant Psychonoir blog. It was good enough to make me buy the Kindle version of The Bastard Hand, which in typical hoarder style I have yet to read (though it’s now next on the list).

But I also recently downloaded Dig Ten Graves, his collection of short stories, which in also typical style I got around to reading first.

What can I say? Well, it’s flat-out superb stuff, for a start. And second, just bloody well buy it. You’ll be guaranteeing yourself some top-notch reading, and finding yourself a new favourite writer!

The entire collection is of a very high quality, but the stand-outs for me are Incident on a Rain-Soaked Corner, which is not only superb but, damn it, similar to a story of mine that was going in a collection of shorts I’m releasing late in February (although I’m now wary of including it because, trust me, Heath’s story is far far better); The Most Natural Thing in The World, which beautifully takes a man’s relationship with his dog and turns it on its head – a gruelling bit of psychological survival horror; and finally, From Here to Oblivion, which chronicles one man’s attempt to kill himself with brilliantly comic results (I have two words for you, Sayonara, bitches) – I guffawed regularly during the story, which got me a fair few looks whilst travelling on the underground.

If you’re looking for a quality collection of shorts, with not a duffer amongst them, then look no further. Dig Ten Graves is superb short story writing from a superb writer. Buy it today.

The Gamblers free for this weekend only!

Am I crazy, you ask?

Probably.

However, that’s neither here nor there, as this weekend (to celebrate The Gamblers inclusion in Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library scheme – for all you lucky folks with Amazon Prime accounts) I am making the Kindle edition of my novel completely free.

You read that right – free.

Not $1.99. Not £1. Not $0.99. And not 86p. NO – IT’S FREE!

This mini sale starts tomorrow, 10 December, and ends on Sunday at midnight.

Grab ’em while you can, folks.