Thursday, 28 April 2016

One Man's Opinion: BEING WITH ME WILL HELP YOU LEARN by THOMAS McCOLL


Thomas McColl’s collection, BeingWith Me Will Help You Learn (US) from Listen Softly London, offers a varied and entertaining spread of poems that suggest he’s a keen observer of city life and human interaction.

There are stories and moments and ideas painted with a range of brushstrokes, all the way from the broad to the ultra-thin. Often they take a springboard from the concrete and leave on a tangent into the abstract and the absurd, which allows for some fine word-play and fun interpretation.

Many of the pieces strike a fine rhythm, which suggests that they not only read well but might be enjoyed even more when heard in performance.

Humour is often brought into play. It allows for a lot of fun, but also shines a light on prickly issues and less savoury snapshots. Lurking within this body of work are political shouts and calls for change, as well as a solid defence of poets and their oft overlooked value to the world.

The variety on offer means that there sure to be something for everyone. Even those who don’t normally turn to poetry will likely find this to be an accessible and pleasing journey.

Here’s a snapshot in case you’re still teetering at the threshold:

The Chalk Fairy

Each night I traipse
the streets of London,
drawing chalk lines
round homeless people
sleeping rough.

I’ve found
that, even in the early hours
of Christmas Day,
there’s no shortage of bodies
to draw my outlines round:
London’s one big crime scene

every single day of the year.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

One Man's Opinion: TORN AND FRAYED by DAVID CRANMER


Jack Laramie drives his horse-box home into Texas. His welcome at a diner is far from warm and there are fireworks from the off.

As Jack dusts himself down, he encounters Mr Othmer. Othmer is an old rancher who has seen it all. During the great depression, he learned that it’s no fun being down at the bottom of the pile and this has taught him to be humble and generous. He takes Jack on as a hired hand and the drifter detective allows himself to settle down for a spell.

Dynamics change when Mr Othmer’s daughter is threatened and protection money is demanded. In the small town where they live, there’s only one hood big enough to do such a thing and this hood has previous history with Mr Othmer. Jack decides to intervene in this personal battle and is soon sucked into a vortex of family secrets and manipulation. He also finds himself in trouble with a bunch of hard men with no moral scruples whatsoever.  

Torn And Frayed (US) continues the series very nicely indeed. The glimpses into American history are nicely woven into the thread and the spirit of Cash Laramie is ever-present and always welcome.

Gritty, moody and atmospheric with bursts of action punctuating the tale. Here’s looking forward to book 8.     

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

One Man's Opinion: APRIL SKIES by IAN AYRIS



'Ronnie Swordfish getting killed has got me radar bangin through the roof, like all them eyes I see in the shadows, everywhere I go, they're all opened up at once - all at the same time.'

Abide With Me is a special book by a special writer. That was released way back in 2012. It excited the hell out of me when I read it, so when I sat down with the sequel I was a little nervous.

April Skies (US) continues the story of John Sissons. There’s a big jump in time from when he was last on the page and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge. The still waters, mind, are ever-present and they run about as deep as is possible within a human being.
John remains loyal in all the right places. His family and friends are his moons and he’s happiest when they’re orbiting close by. His dead father is still the brightest star in his sky.

John’s working the markets with his stepdad. Adapting to life out of jail. Keen to live a normal life, yet desperate to avoid being ground down by the routines and obligations he sees everywhere. Unfortunately, he’s haunted by ghosts from his colourful past. Those from his future become more threatening every day. As the story progresses and Ronnie Swordfish is killed in prison, the past and future bleed into each other until they’re duelling at screaming pitch. As John prepares for the inevitable backlash caused by Swordfish’s demise, the fabric of everything he holds dear begins to crumble. The foundations of his family, friends, budding romances, factory work and his beloved West Ham United all wobble as he slowly unravels. John’s need to hold it all together is what provides the tension and drama because we know he’s never going to be able to manage.  

As the story comes together and John’s fears materialise, the tension is palpable. It’s real edge-of-the-seat stuff. I couldn’t bear it at times, yet equally couldn’t look away. The whole piece is utterly compelling and ultimately rather beautiful.

The cover says a lot about April Skies. It shows a factory billowing out smoke underneath a claret sky. It’s a sunset of sorts. Holds that point between the dark and the light in the way Ian Ayris does with his prose.
It’s told in the first person and this allows a real intimacy with a narrator who is open and frank about everything. You won’t read many better central characters and you won’t often feel this close to a protagonist, I reckon.  

You really don’t need to have read the first book in the series to enjoy this second. Ayris makes gentle references to Abide With Me all the way through. They speak for themselves and offer enough of background for the uninitiated to keep them straight. As for my nerves in relation to the sequel, I should have known better. I loved Abide With Me, but I think April Skies is even better.
  
A gently caveat. There’s a lot of swearing in this book. It adds a level authenticity and layers of character to the story. If you don’t like profanity, this one’s not for you. I only mention this because I hope this novel will gather the plaudits and loving reviews it deserves and I wouldn’t want those raves to be tarnished by folk who couldn’t see beyond the language to what really matters. To me it’s just part of the purity of the work. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

One Man's Opinion: RUN FOR THE MONEY by ERIC BEETNER


Here’s what the blurb says:
Standing between Bo and Slick and $642,000 from the bank job:
Prison. A hurricane. A horny cop. A naked priest. An angry cab driver. Two wanna-be criminals. A speeding train. A hot soldering iron. A peeping tom. A fed-up girl. A gun dealer. A homeless lady. An empty shotgun. A girlfriend with other plans. One pissed-off mom. Two pissed-off drug dealers. A bitchy landlord. And 48 crazy hours.
When this is all over, they’ll either be rich, in prison or dead.
Which is a really great summary of Run For The Money (US).

Slick and Bo are being taken away to prison when a hurricane intervenes in their favour. There’s an accident and the opportunity to escape presents itself like an act of divine intervention.

 There are no loyalties between the criminal pair. Slick leaves his friend for dead and sets off on the journey to collect the cash he’s got stashed back home.

Also waiting back home is his girlfriend Emma. Emma Lives in a bizarre lodging house where the owner and her son pay close attention to everything that’s going on. Emma can’t wait to get to the new life a whole heap of cash can offer her. What lies between her and the money is a handsome cop who is watching her every move so that he can snare Slick when he gets home. Emma and cop become tangled in a steamy affair that takes both pairs of eyes off the ball, but at least this may be the start of a beautiful friendship that might lead to a happy ending.

Bo manages to save himself. He’s also heading for the money and has high hopes for a new life.

As you might imagine, the journeys of the central characters aren’t straightforward. They get into tight spots wherever they turn. Each new episode is packed with drama and tension. As soon as one problem is solved, another stares them in the face. There are desperate acts and explosive scenes from start to finish. It’s action-packed, fun and addictive. The pace is break-neck and the humour dark. Beetner does a great job of filling his characters with life and uses his limitless imagination to turn the screws.

This one definitely gives the reader a run for their money. As for the people in the book, they get to sprint with a limp all the way to a finish line of razor wire where they’ll find a fiery and unexpected conclusion.


Excellent entertainment.   

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

One Man's Opinion: THE SLAUGHTER MAN by TONY PARSONS



I started reading April Skies (US) by Ian Ayris yesterday.  It’s the follow up to the incredible Abide With Me. Published by Caffeine Nights, it’s available for pre-order just now and will get its full release tomorrow. So far it’s delicious and I’m so glad to be lost in a world created by Ayris again. The voices be creates are really stunning and very original. Check it out.

I also noticed that the second book in my Southsiders series is also up for pre-order and is due for release this Friday. It’s published by Blasted Heath and it’s called Southsiders: Jailhouse Rock.  It’s currently available at for £1.59 here in the UK ($2.99 in the US). I don’t know what the pricing plans are, but from experience I’d say that the price is likely to rise in the near future. If you started the journey with Jesse Garon, I hope you’ll tag along for the next episode in his life.

And so to TheSlaughter Man (US)by Tony Parsons.  It’s the second in the DC Max Wolfe series.

I read the first, The Murder Bag, and wrote quite a long review for that one. In some ways, I feel I could duplicate that and could save myself some effort.

The Slaughter Man opens with the brutal and sinister murder of a wealthy family. It’s very dark and immediately engaging. The incident throws up several points of interest: the weapon used by the killer is a cattle stunner used in the slaughter house; the youngest of the children is not among the dead and his whereabouts are unknown; the family are wrapped in immense wealth, happiness and minor celebrity. These elements lead to an interesting case with lots of twists and turns.

Max Wolfe is an engaging character. I do rather like his approach and his attitude. He and his team delve into the world of the rich, a community of travellers and a world of prostitution and sex slavery. The contrast between each area is of interest and put together well.

Where the book falls down for me, just like in the opening novel in the series, is in the jarring extras that distract from the pace of the story. It may well be that for many readers this hasn’t been an issue. For me, it’s a major flaw. Once I was aware of it, each occurrence had me vexed. There are countless explanations of the roles within the police force and their procedures. Each acronym is explained in more detail than is necessary. There are many examples of research clogging up the development of the drama – the research is there for all to see and it would be more appropriate in a London guide book than in this novel. The visits to the Black Museum feel tired now that they’re so frequent (and provide more of the research chunks that cause obstruction). There are also a few too many coincidences in this world for my liking.

My feeling is that there’s a really good book hiding in here. That the series could go on to be something special if a talented and experienced editor were put onto the job. The reason I think this is that there was enough in the character for me to return for book two and I did find the investigation to be compelling and very entertaining. There are also some very nicely handled resolutions that are emotional and also satisfying.

It’s rare for me to have such mixed feelings about a story and I’d be interested to hear if these thoughts resonate with you.

My overriding reaction is that I’m glad I’ve been on the journey so far and that I’m unlikely to follow Max into his next investigation unless I see some reviews that persuade me otherwise.


Good, but definitely not great. 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

One Man's Opinion: ROUTE 12 by MARIETTA MILES


“She buttons the top tab to her coat and when she slides her hand into her pocket, she feels soft paper underneath her fingertips. She had never been the kind of girl to get notes. A note is acceptance, and invitation to a life less lonesome. Notes are soft pencil marks, expectations, and friendship. She is surprised. Excited. She pulls out the paper and nearly rips it open.”

 Route 12 (US) is an unflinching novella that’s full of beautiful writing and excruciating pain. Three souls with broken pasts are brought together and become tangled up in webs of darkness. Percy is sent to a boys’ home/prison when his mother is sent to jail; Theresa has also lost her mother, in this case to suicide; and Cheryl has been left crippled by polio.

When Percy leaves the brutality he has grown up with in his institution, he’s full of anger and bile. The only way he can express himself is through sexual violence and hate. He descends upon Belle Gap where Theresa and Cheryl are surviving the knocks of teenage life and of growing up in impoverished circumstances. As the trio come together, it’s clear that terrible things are on their way.

Miles does a wonderful job of focusing in upon detail and creating mood. The sense of impending horror is strong and the way the strands of the tale are brought to life there are no soft landings. At some points I found the material so tough that I struggled to continue. This wasn’t because of poor writing. In fact it was just the opposite. The quality, rawness and honesty were precisely the reasons I found it so difficult. It’s a compelling read that will challenge more than a few. Read this on days when you’re either feeling strong or when you need a fix of something different from the norm.

The second novella brings together a cast of misfits to weave a sinister plot set in North Carolina. Pastor Friend is there to look after his flock. He has a particular way with young pregnant women who feel the shame of an era pressing down on them. He’s not what he seems, however, and his sick mind is capable of the most hideous of manipulations.  


Harrowing and challenging throughout, this is a heavy slice of noir that isn’t always easy to digest. Go dig in.      

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ian Ayris: INSIDE OUT


In my first novel – Abide with Me – four years ago, not all of the characters made it through. Not having planned the book in any way, some of the characters that left its pages surprised me as much as it did them. It was just the way it was.
            But not all fell by the wayside. Some did make it through.
            I received a comment a few days ago from the brilliant American writer, Josh Stallings, telling me how much he was looking forward to reading the advance copy of April Skies – the eventual sequel to Abide with Me - I sent him. Josh said:
I can't wait. I'm finishing up Lou Berney's second book, and then I get to check in on my old friends. See where they have taken you.
So attached, and so real, had the characters in Abide with Me become for so many readers, writing a sequel held huge anxieties for me.
Old friends. Blimey!
I always knew these characters were an integral part of who I am. How could it be any other way, for any writer? Characters can only ever come from one place – the writer himself. So, as Josh said, where were they going to take me next?
The answer: to a place I already knew and didn’t want to go.
The characters were pushing me out of my writer’s world and out into the world outside.
The thing is, my life outside was fast falling apart. It was the last place I wanted to be.
For it was dark there.
And it hurt.
Yet go, I must.

And out of it came April Skies.

April Skies is currently available for pre-order here (or here if you're in the US).