Sunday, 20 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: NO SAFE HOUSE by LINWOOD BARCLAY


The weaving process is right at the heart of what an author does. We create the raw materials, spin yarns and throw our protagonists into complicated situations to see how they’ll cope. The trick, of course, is to make sure that the reader isn’t able to see the hand of the creator at work.

In No Safe House (US), Linwood Barclay didn’t quite manage to hide the stitching together of the plot. He’s an author who I’ve enjoyed in the past and have admired for the way he turns normal lives upside down in entirely believable and gripping ways.

What’s different about this one is that the succession of coincidences and unlikely events eventually wore too thin for me to suspend disbelief. This made the process of getting to the end somewhat mechanical. There was plenty I wanted to find out about and I was interested enough to persevere, it’s just that the magic spell was broken and so the impact was reduced.


No Safe House didn’t hit the mark for me. If you’re thinking about it, why not pick another Barclay from the shelf instead - play the safer bet and see how it shakes down.    

Friday, 11 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: THE LONG-LEGGED FLY by JAMES SALLIS


“Jesus, Lew. Sounds like you reached for your hat and got the chamberpot instead.”

The Long-Legged Fly (US) tells a series of stories about Lew Griffin. It spans four periods between the 1964 and 1990 and traces Lew’s life as he sinks into alcoholism and bounces between drunkenness and sobriety over the years.

It’s an interesting book in lots of ways. It opens as a private detective novel, but as it progresses the investigations take a back-seat as his reflections on life and his attempts to get his personal issues together come to the fore.

We meet him in New Orleans where he is hired by some political activists to find an important figurehead for their black-power movement. Corene Davis has disappeared on her way to an engagement. She boarded a plane for the city but didn’t appear when it landed. This story takes Lew into the bowels of the world where his size and reputation allow him to remain safe and to apply pressure when necessary.

Echoes of his first investigation appear in the further episodes in his life. His tough side is ever-present, but is counter-balanced by his warm heart and sense of justice that are shown in unlikely circumstances.

Though a book in four quarters, it’s also a story of two halves. My preference is for the opening half where his detective work is at the fore. The interplay between his life and work is very successful and there’s a dramatic edge to the cases concerned. The hard-boiled influence gave me a lot of pleasure and is a fine example of the genre. In the second part, the cases take a back seat as Lew shifts his world away from what he knows and attempts to forge a steady relationship and begin a life as a writer. Part two is much more focussed upon the philosophical thoughts of an ageing male as his mind moves upon silence. The musings are often poetic, thought-provoking and powerful and offer a huge amount that is worthy of appreciation, there’s just a very different energy to the plots as the cases are diluted.


The Long-Legged Fly is a book I enjoyed. Fans of the detective novel will find this a treat, as will those who are at home among the more literary pages of this world.  

Sunday, 6 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: BEASTINGS by BENJAMIN MYERS


When I snuff you out I will cover the heavens and all the stars will darken said the priest. And that’ll learn you.

Beastings (US) is a mighty read. Even on a Kindle you can feel the weight of it in your hand. It tells the story of a chase across the Lake District as a priest and his poacher guide attempt to track down a young mute girl and the baby she has taken from its home.

The girl in question is escaping a history of pain and misery in the hands of her pursuer. Her life was destroyed by the priest and she was sent to work as a nanny to a family in a home packed with bitterness, disease and hate. When the baby’s well-being became threatened, the girl decided to take her away to safety. In doing so, she discovers a new meaning to the world and a finds a hope that is as bright and as fleeting as the sunrise. With no resources, she learns to live from the land and to accept the kindness of strangers.

Meanwhile, the priest enlists the help of a poacher and sets of in pursuit. The motives for the chase are entirely self-centred as the priest needs to keep his abuses in the home for girls quiet. He’s even scared to sleep in the presence of others as he talks in his sleep and can’t afford to let any clues about his life slip from his mouth.  He’s dark to the core and ranks up there with the most unpleasant characters I’ve ever met on the page. The fact that he is a man driven by his religious zest and who can articulate his philosophies to his own end make him even more frightening than even his actions suggest. His steady decline as he indulges in his addiction for the marching powder that fuels his zeal only adds further to his menace. His conversations with the poacher are intoxicating. The poacher is at one with the landscape and sees the world through practical eyes. He’s a great contrast to the priest and the pair’s arguments are extremely entertaining. They also highlight the bleak and sparse writing style of the book, one that echoes the rugged and stony terrain in which they travel. The humour is pointed as flint, the priest’s lack of emotion as cold as exposed Cumbrian rock.   

The material of the book makes it difficult at times and it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. To me, the harrowing nature of many aspects of the story simply made it more enticing. The chase itself is gripping, but there’s so much more to hold your attention than that. The dialect is superb. The dialogue is a treat to experience. The description of the area and of the way humans interact with it is beautiful. The battle between the nascent hope and the poisonous power of the inevitable is compelling. The climax was a total surprise to me and tattooed itself on the inside of my brain when I reached the end.  

Beastings is a gem. It’s a book that deserves to be read and appreciated. There are many flavours to the writing and I suspect there are a host of literary and poetic influences which Myers collects  and shakes to create a cocktail that is all of his own.

Highly recommended.   
  


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

One Man's Opinion: I KNOW YOUR SECRET by GRAHAM SMITH


I Know Your Secret (US). I guess that we’d all be frightened to hear those words. It happens to be worse in this case as the blackmailer knows exactly what secret is been hidden and can offer up enough information to prove it.

In this novel, the Major Crimes Team are overwhelmed by work. There’s the brutal and peculiar murder of a priest, nailed to the ground in the way the man he worshipped was attached to the cross; a wealthy landowner who is well-connected wants to catch his employee who has ripped him off; and there’s a rape investigation linked to a model and a porn film to sort out.

There’s a lot of tension in the squad as they go about their work. Former boss DI Harry Evans is on the verge of retirement and is also following a court case relating to the death of his wife. When he’s not pursuing his personal quest, he’s buzzing around the investigations and trying to help out the new kid on the block, DI Campbell, with half an eye on manipulating some position as consultant to the police in the future. Campbell is busy trying to impress his new team and also to work under the pressure of an unsympathetic boss and a wife with a new baby who is in need of support and isn’t happy about the lack of it.


As each strand of the story is dealt with, the major thread of the priest’s murder picks up pace. As new points of view are introduced, the rich tapestry of it all is revealed in a teasing manner and it becomes compulsive reading as the end draws near. The basic premise of the story and the motive of the killer are really well conceived, providing both a strong spine to the work and a conclusion that is entirely satisfying.


The police and villains alike are all well-formed characters, with the main protagonists being particularly well-penned. The setting and influence of the region add a strong flavour to the investigations and the undulating emotions and doses of humour keep things interesting throughout. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

One Man's Opinion: AND WHEN I DIE by RUSSEL D MCLEAN



 ‘Tony deserves to die,’ I say, ‘More than I deserve to live.’

We're all rooting for Graeme Macrae Burnet's His Bloody Project in the Man Booker's aren't we? I'm hoping he wins, but whether that happens or not, I'm delighted for all those involved that the book has had so much exposure and wonderful feedback. I may not have read it yet (it's near the top of the pile) but I'll do the odd old-man cartwheel if it comes in. 

In case you've been switched on by his work, I'd like to shine a light onto another book published by Saraband's Contraband imprint. 

Russell D McLean has produced yet another cracking novel for you to enjoy and I reckon you should pick yourself up a copy as soon as so that you can share in the pleasure of this one.

And When I Die (US) is set in Glasgow. Like any well-written novel, the city itself is part of the fabric of the story. It’s a living and breathing entity which has moulded its population over the centuries, some for better and others for worse.

The Scobies have an interesting past. Previous successes have been whittled away by each generation as circumstance shifts against them and the only way for the current head of the family (Derek) to get back on top was to turn to crime. It turns out he’s rather good at it, too. Of course, it helps if his henchmen are super tough guys with enormous reputations and cold hearts. The most feared of all the Scobie killers is his son, Ray. Ray’s a beast. A giant. A cold-blooded killer who doesn’t feel pain, but he also has a tenderness rattling about inside him. There’s a touch of Frankenstein’s monster or of King Kong to him in that respect, and he’s just as compelling. When we meet him, he’s about to be blown up by a car bomb and he’s not going to emerge from it well. And then things get worse.

The bomb has been planted by an undercover cop (John) whose own identity has always been unstable. His infiltration into the Scobie family has done nothing to help him find clarity in life and he’s more confused than ever about what he should be doing next. He’s so deep into his undercover work that his criminal life has taken over from his police role and he no longer has a sense of what he really is. The waters have been further muddied by his feelings for Kat. Kat was his way into the family in the first place. He wasn’t supposed to fall for her, but things don’t always go to plan. Unfortunately for both of them, their relationship had to end and Kat left the city to find some of the quiet life. In the aftermath of the car-bombing, John is forced to face up to what he has done to her and to see if he can sort everything out and make amends.

Kat had another special relationship in her life, a bond with Ray that holds them tight. She comes back for Ray’s funeral, not knowing that Ray isn’t in the coffin. Returning home screws with her mind as she reflects on her past. Needless to say, the last person she wants to see is also the first she’d like to meet, and that’s her ex. When they do finally get together again, their chemistry is rather explosive, though not in any of the more romantic connotations that phrase might hold.

Kat and John tell their stories in alternating chapters and in the present tense. This means the action feels fast and that the tension is amplified as it constantly builds. As the world around them falls apart, loyalties are tested to the full. Everyone is conflicted in some way and each decision comes with a slice of doubt or a dose of guilt. Nothing is easy and none of the options are likely to end up with a simple conclusion.

Ray is magnificent. John and Kat are perfectly flawed. The surrounding cast play their parts admirably and McLean shows off his talent for creating gripping and emotionally demanding tales.


Noir with deep roots and a bagful of broken promises. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

One Man's Opinion: THE HOPE THAT KILLS by ED JAMES



The first thing I can tell you is that I liked DI Simon Fenchurch from the start. He’s a roughly hewn character with a nose for police work whose exterior hides the pockets of vulnerability within. His life has been shaped by the disappearance of his daughter and he’s been unable to let go of the hope mentioned in the title ever since. And, yes, it is slowly driving the life from him.

When he enters a derelict building in the middle of London to check out the murder of a young woman of about his daughter’s age, his involvement in the case becomes more personal that it should be. Finding the killer becomes his new obsession and he’ll stop at nothing to get to the bottom of things.

The case isn’t simple from an operational point of view. The body was found on the boundary between two police forces and the City police are keen to get a slice of Fenchurch’s action. Conflicts arise within the force and none of those involved are keen to compromise.

With the help and hindrance of colleagues from the vice squad, Fenchurch pushes into the world of the sex trade and also into the greasy sleaze of the financial world.

The finding of another victim doubles Fenchurch’s efforts. With his perfectly drawn sidekick, Nelson, he drives the case forward with a passion that’s close to obsession.

As they crack open the case, they open doors to a darkness that’s even more sordid and disturbing than any of them could have imagined. The revelation about what has been going on sends shockwaves through Fenchurch as new and terribly sinister possibilities regarding the fate of his own child become clear.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ed James’s new creation. The mix between the solving of the case and the detective’s personal life is balanced to perfection. The action scenes are fast and furious. The tension mounts nicely as the story unfolds and the wrapping up of the novel carries a weight that took me by surprise. 


Fenchurch is a guy you’re going to want to get to know. That being the case, why not get on board and make his acquaintance right now so that when the second book is released very soon, you’ll have something rather special to look forward to.  

Friday, 30 September 2016

One Man's Opinion: THREE KINDS OF FOOL by MATT PHILLIPS


‘He tried to remember his insurance deductible, but that felt too regular and he crushed the thought like an insect.’

Jess Forsyth is the kind of character I love to read about. There was no silver spoon in his mouth when he was born and life’s been against him from the start. He’s made a lot of choices along the way and not all of them have been wise. Even so, he wants to do the decent thing. If only he had a stronger will and a little more in the way of luck.

An encounter with gun peddler Mikey at some point before our main story begins, landed Jess in prison. He was lucky though, because the woman (Kersey Sims) who put him in prison senses something about him and has become a kind of a mother/grandmother figure. She’s given him a second chance and he’s happily living life on the straight and narrow as a pool cleaner to some of California’s wealthy folk when we meet.

All might go well, only another encounter with Mikey sets things on a new course.

Mikey invites Jess to come along on a job. The aim is to shake down a drug dealer, Griffin, at his mansion. As they carry out their crime, a young woman is killed and there’s a lot of mopping up to be done and this is where things really start to spiral beyond anyone’s control.

Griffin wants his money back. Mikey isn’t sure about what’s going on. Jesse has fallen for the dead girl’s friend Shawny. Shawny knows there’s more money in the house and she wants it. Jess wants Shawny and the money. And there’s a loose cannon called Rimbaud who, like the poet he’s named after, just loves to explore life and find new experiences.

What I like about this book is the way the gears change so smoothly. You have a really good balance between the build up of tension and action scenes that always serves the plot well. More importantly, the whole series of crime capers has the secure foundation of strong characters. We get to know Jess through his interactions with the criminals mentioned earlier, but also through more tender and complex situations with one of his pool owners, with Shawny and with Kersey Sims. We also get to ride with him through his dreams and watch them as they spill out into his reality.


Three Kinds Of Fool (US) offers plenty of nourishment for the reader. You can get your kicks from the adrenaline-fuelled deeds or you can savour the thought-provoking elements and let them twist up your thinking for a while. There’s no real room in here for good or bad and black and white have swirled together to make a new kind of grey, which is just the way I like it.