Friday, 20 September 2019

One Man's Opinion: BROKEN SOULS by STEPHEN BLACKMOORE




I didn’t know a lot of magic back then. Enough to get into trouble, not enough to get back out again.


Necromancer Eric Carter has lost everything and gained a wife in the form of Santa Muerte, the patron saint of death.


He returns to LA to meet up with Harvey Kettleman, a fellow mage and a powerful one at that, there’s every chance that Carter will be able to gather enough information to set his life on the right path once again. Unfortunately, Kettleman turns out to be someone else entirely – an entity wearing the skin of the mage and seems to want Carter dead. The only thing that saves our protagonist is the appearance of his dead best friend, Alex. The warning comes just in time and a tremendous battle ensues.


All this leaves Carter in a difficult position. Someone wants to kill him, but that someone can take on the form of anyone he happens to cut the skin from. There’s no one he can really trust. And then there’s Alex, not quite ghost and possibly a figment of Carter’s imagination. What the hell is he doing turning up to help the man that put a bullet in his head?


Things get messier when a woman with a Russian accent attacks Carter on the train and worse when he enlists the help of the Bruja, a vampire-saving mage who lives on Skid row. Not to mention the strange sense that Carter’s powers are evolving and strengthening in a way that he doesn’t understand.

His only form of defence is to go on the attack, and when Carter is involved anything could happen.


Broken Souls (US) is a lot of fun. There’s plenty of explosive action as Carter paints himself into a not-to-pleasant corner and the balance between the fantasy world and the real one is handled extremely well. There’s a hard-boiled flavour to the whole thing which has just the right infusion of humour to entertain and enough investigation to engage fans of the Private Investigator. It pumps up the volume full blast until the eardrums eventually have to burst. Great stuff.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

One Man's Opinion: KING'S RANSOM by ED McBAIN


King's Ransom is an 87th Precinct novel where the focus is much more upon the criminals and victims than on the role of the police, which makes it slightly unusual in the series. 

A wealthy businessman is planning to rally against a hostile takeover through his own underhand scheming. While the machines of money and greed grind away, there's a kidnapping on his estate. 

Unfortunately for the kidnappers, the boy taken is not the heir to the shoe factory, but is his friend and son of the household chauffeur. 

The police take over the mansion and do what they can and there's a nail-chewing wait for contact to be made. 

Meanwhile, all is not well at the criminals' safe house. The two men involved were not expecting to have such a feisty child in their care, nor for the wife of one of them to be so against the plan. 

About half way through the read, there's a twist that changed my feelings towards the main characters entirely. It's a simple shift, yet when it came it threw me completely. The same can be said of the police involved. 

King's Ransom took me a while to settle into. It works through different gears than many a procedural, yet when it finds its cruising speed it's as exciting and tense as the best of them. 



Wednesday, 21 August 2019

One Man's Opinion: GODS AND BEASTS by DENISE MINA



There are lots of questions surrounding the murder of an old communist killed during a post office raid. The victim appeared to know his killer and entrusted his grandson to a young man with shocking facial tattoos as if recognising there could only be one outcome to proceedings. 


As DS Morrow tries to piece together the elements of the crime, she realises that the dead man has a secret history that no one wishes to divulge. The further she gets into the investigation, the clearer it becomes that there’s a strong possibility of police corruption, something that can’t be denied when two officers decide to walk away with a huge bag of cash and split it between them. 


Alternating with the investigation are stories that follow the tattooed man from the post office and the woes and wriggles of a sleazy politician/folk hero who has been exposed for having an affair with a younger woman that he is desperately trying to deny. 


Much as I enjoyed the read, becoming increasingly absorbed towards the end, I struggled at times with the structure. The strands clearly overlap, but it’s not until the final scenes that they fully come together and allow the reader to make sense of it all. The conclusion is tight and satisfying, though I would have preferred more connection between the strands at an earlier stage. 


The characters, particularly the lead detective, are strong and each carries genuine motivations and frailties. Individual scenes are well put together and the police investigation picks up pace nicely. The political element tended to get in the way for me and, even though it is crucial to the plot, I would have preferred it to have been served in a different dish. 


Gods and Beasts is a pleasing holiday read and a book I was happy to leave behind for the next visitors to our temporary home to enjoy.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

One Man's Opinion: MAIGRET AND THE NAHOUR CASE by GEORGES SIMENON



For ten years, Maigret has been in the habit of dining with his friend Dr Pardon. Even though they don’t use each other’s Christian names, the doctor ranks among one of Maigret’s closest friends.


It’s after one such dinner that Pardon contacts Maigret to seek advice. Following their social evening, a couple arrive at the doctor’s home in the early hours, the woman needing urgent attention. The woman, a blond beauty from northern Europe, has been shot in the back and the man claims to have been an innocent bystander who found her in the street after witnessing the drive-by shooting.  Once the treatment has been given and the doctor has set about tidying up, the couple disappear, driving off in a swanky red Alfa Romeo that is later found at the airport.


The next day, a wealthy Lebanese gambler is found dead by his maid. He’s been shot and his attractive Dutch wife is nowhere to be seen. The other members of the household, an offhand secretary who is like a brother to the victim and a group of servants who work in unusual ways, appear to know nothing about anything. 


Maigret’s attempts to see behind the thick curtains or resistance that are being held firmly closed by all concerned soon come to fruition as he pieces together the evidence by following his intuition to shed light on the truth. 


The Nahour case is nicely set up and the limited cast offers a traditional whodunit of real quality. It’s tense and puzzling and a pleasure to read, though the ultimate conclusion felt a tad flimsy given the pleasure offered by the journey and the atmospheric settings.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

One Man's Opinion: THE FORCE by DON WINSLOW



Here’s another gem from Don Winslow. The kind of book that had me relishing the prospect of returning to the pages to find out how the hell things were going to play out. It’s a long, deep, fast, tense, gripping, entertaining and slightly flawed noir to my mind and one I can highly recommend.


This one’s an in-depth study of the Manhattan North task force (da Force) run by the king of the area Detective Sergeant Denny Malone and his team. They rule their patch with a mixture of power and fear and the more subtle art of building relationships and finding balances. There are snitches, murderers, victims, bosses, addicts, pushers, family and politicians to juggle, so ruling the land isn’t an easy business. Throw in the rivalries between gangs and their drug-lords and the racial tensions of the city and it’s one hell of a melting pot. 


The dynamics of the team are altered dramatically following the death of the darling of the bunch, Billy O. Not only does it leave the band of brothers devastated, it leads them into a new level of corruption that they may never have imagined. 


The disintegration, or rather the re-defining, of the moral code in the task force is a slow process. It’s been happening from the early days of their careers and has build up one tiny step after another, toe-by-toe movements to begin with, giant strides as time has gone on. 


It’s not long before internal affairs and the Federal Bureau get involved and Malone is forced to cross a line he never imagined he could be forced over. He’s on a slippery slope and even with his strong and determined fingers, he slowly loses control of the information he is expected to provide. 


As the world closes in, it’s impossible to imagine an ending the story that will satisfy every need. As much as I was desperate to find out how things played out, I also wanted to see how a master could close out the game. Truth be told, it’s a master stroke and the satisfaction as I read the final page was immense. 


The Force (US) is a great read and an epic one. It has all the ingredients of a thriller that you could possible want. The emotional engagement is total and the intensity of the involvement is high. 


Not that this is my favourite Winslow read. There were a couple of issues, some of them personal, that I’ve been trying to work out since finishing. 


Mr Winslow often has a rather poetic style that builds into rhythms and paces which are beautiful to behold. I didn’t feel them here, which is perhaps because of the nature of this beast. I missed that aspect to the read. 


There are also sections where the momentum changes significantly. This is inevitable. After running at a sprint for long sections, there has to be space to take a breather. A couple of times this switch was jarring. This sometimes comes in the form of the nostalgic tales of police work. They're wonderful in their own right and add the background I love, but they are by nature reflective and therefore can stand in the way of the movement of the story. It’s a small thing, but I’m mentioning it anyway. 


And the big one for me lies in the whole perspective of watching the corrupt world of systems designed to protect. There’s a quote from Stephen King on the cover of my copy, ‘Think The Godfather, only with cops’, which is actually nicely put. When we’re dealing with gangsters and criminals, the fact that they can are butchers capable of the lowest acts of depravity can be romanticised by the sense of loyalty, order and regulation. When respect and honour are brought into play, the darkest villain can be viewed sympathetically. Turning this on its head isn’t so easy. Where you start with a code that’s pure in its intention and corrupt the hell out of it, those codes and bonds may be strong, but it’s far more difficult to sympathise with dirty cops than honourable scum. The guys of the force are absolute bastards in the way they rule their streets, vent their prejudices and treat their loved ones. Even when the point is made that the work and the success of keeping peace and order requires a certain level of toughness and demands that the cops see and experience things none of the rest of us would want to even think about, it’s an uneasy shift. Winslow did manage to drag me in to root for these guys and that is a testament to his level of skill. Every so often, though, the levels of behaviour gave me a swift kick to remind me that there was thinking to be done. The opening of the book lists the names (three pages worth) of law enforcement personnel who were murdered in the line of duty during the period of writing. It’s a brilliant mark of respect and a frighteningly long list, so what follows in terms of the corruption is magnified in intensity and is even harder to swallow. 


Now the dust has settled for me, a week on from my read, as well as the strength of the story the unpicking of the tiers of the justice and the political system stick hard and fast. It seems like the further one rises up the ladder, the bigger the payouts become. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and I know that it’s only a work of fiction but the levels of are stomach churning. I was left feeling angry about so many things and wonder if I can channel that anger into ways of making changes in some way. Having just witnessed the arrival of Boris Johnson at Number 10, I have to wonder if things can ever really be changed as another product of wealth and the elite private education takes the reins and sets up cabinet to reflect whatever underhand and unethical promises were made during his campaign for leadership. 


Meanderings over. 


You should read this one. 


And when you do, may da force be with you.


Friday, 19 July 2019

One Man's Opinion: MONSIEUR MONDE VANISHES by GEORGES SIMENON


Mme Monde jumps the queue at the police station using the arrogance of status to set up an appointment with the superintendent. Her husband has gone missing, leaving her in a difficult financial position that requires that he be found. 


Monsieur Monde, however, has no intention of being located. Nobody has noticed it was his 48th birthday and, unless he does something drastic, his anniversaries will remain unmarked until he reaches the grave. The stifling world of work, respectability, the disappointment in his family and his mundane routines are the sum of his protected life and he finally decides to do something he has longed for before – to leave it all behind and start again by joining the people he has observed getting on with things without pretention or expectation. 


He removes a huge amount of cash from the bank, trades his tailored suit in for something off the peg, shaves off his moustache and boards the train for Marseilles. 


From his hotel room, he overhears the violent breakup of a couple and, worrying for the safety of the woman involved, goes to intervene. Before long, he and Julie are joined at the hip. She’s free and easy in her skin and it’s not long before their relationship becomes physical. 


They head to Nice, home of minor celebrities and those in search of a good time. An unfortunate series of events follows, though Monsieur Monde is untroubled. It’s precisely the challenges of daily life and the weightlessness of lacking purpose that he sought. He winds up working in an illegal gambling establishment where his job involves the careful observation of the clientele. All seems to be going well until the appearance of the morphine-addled Empress and her sidekick, who just happens to be Monde’s first wife. Action is required and Monde is once again reminded that it takes more than the removal of a moustache to change one’s way of being. 


This is a story that really had me hooked. It’s difficult not to care for M. Monde from the off, to admire his decision and his courage. In waiting for everything to work out, each of his actions and encounters adds a new layer of tension. The stifling world of cheap hotel rooms and seedy bars offers Monde a sense of liberation as he sucks in the simple pleasures of the world. The cold ways of his wife are a polar opposite to the honest affection of Julie and his new friends. The freedom of his daily grind is a stark change from the mechanical motions of success. 


All in all, it’s a terrific piece that falls slightly short as it wraps up. The ending was unexpected and, though satisfying , there may have been a more engaging conclusion. My favourite sections all came early on, those following the thought processes of Monde as he decides to take the leap and is taken up by the flow of life like a leaf in a fast-flowing river.  

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Indie Crime Crawl 2019


Small Presses = Life Blood for titles and talent that don't get a look in on the mainstream shelves. It helps to encourage new writing that isn't constrained by the need to make a huge profit and, therefore, allows freedom to be whatever an author wants to be. 

Not that the small presses don't need to make money. It takes effort and commitment to keep an independent publisher going and a little reward for that effort, whether that be to compensate for some of the time invested, to offer encouragement that it's worth carrying on or to help to keep afloat and invest in future titles really matters. Buying a book or two is a great way to offer support, to say thanks and to ensure the material you enjoy reading continues to be available. 

It's even easier to do that when you purchase a title during the Indie Crime Crawl. I'm a little late to the party, but if you purchase a book before the 21st July directly from the publisher, you'll get a range of deals. Check out what's on offer by following #indiecrimecrawl over on Twitter.  

I believe the Down and Out Books family are offering 20% discount (by applying the code indiecc20) or 25% discount for purchases totalling $50 or more (using indiecc25). 

There's some pretty cool merchandise out there, too, if your shelves are already croaking. 

The list of those involved is on the picture at the top of the post and none of them will disappoint, I'm sure. 

Go check it out. You know you want to: 

Shotgun Honey
Down And Out Books
All Due Respect
Polis Books
Prospect Park Books
Fahrenheit Press
69 Crime
ECW Press 
Red Dog Press
Run Amok Books
Orenda Books
Crippen and Landru
The Dome Press