Monday, 6 April 2015

One Man's Opinion: CONFESSIONS OF A HIT MAN by RICHARD GODWIN



In the early stages of this book, I was reminded somewhat of Lawrence Block’s excellent Hit Man stories. Early doors, the formats are similar in that there are a series of hits to be carried out, each requiring their own subtleties of approach and method of dispatch.

Of course, Godwin’s imagination reaches parts many other authors would not reach in terms of the twists and the twisted and the early events deal with targets of increasingly sordid lives.
Jack, the Hit Man of the title, is an ex-service man who stumbles in to the world of the Sicilian mafia after a chance encounter on the island. His connection sets Jack up with a little work when he returns to London and Jack’s all too happy to find a way out of an existence where cash is short.

He’s good at the work, too. It’s not long before he’s setting out on private hits because his growing reputation has turned him into a sought-after professional.

One thing leads to another and he’s soon coaxed into a job of international significance. He’s to infiltrate and bring down an operation involving the smuggling of plutonium to Syria and feels the hand of the government holding his purse strings. The stakes are higher and the mission is hugely more complex and it’s this story that occupies most of the second half of the book.

I really enjoyed this. It’s well-written and has a slightly breezy style to it in the way the tale is told.
I did favour the shorter tales showing Jack’s early development to the later section of international intrigue. To my mind, the chapter-per-hit formula works very well and within them Godwin seemed to relish the challenges of creating new situations with a playful creativity. The ease at which he managed to allow me to accept the need for execution and to enjoy the killing of the victims has me asking questions of myself that reach fairly deeply. The early links to Sicily and to Italy are also particularly evocative.

The second section does have a slightly different tone. Due to the nature of the job at hand, an awful lot more is required in the set up and a little more patience is taken. Though it hangs together well, it came at the expense of some of that early pace and freshness. I suspect that this says more about my taste in fiction than about the book itself and imagine that thriller fans might well come to the opposite conclusion.


All in all, Confessions Of  A Hit Man is a fine and pleasing read. There’s darkness, humour and a fine sense of character and place to get you in the mood. Well worth checking out.  

Friday, 3 April 2015

One Man's Opinion: THE MURDER BAG by TONY PARSONS



Having seen interviews with Tony Parsons when The Murder Bag (US) was released, as well as a rather good TV piece on boxing in fiction, I couldn’t resist buying the book. Having just piled through it in a couple of page-turning days, I’m very glad I did, even though I have a few reservations.

Max Wolfe is the protagonist. He’s aptly named given that he’s part of a pack as well as acting as a loner much of the time. It’s clear from the off that Max has a strong belief in his convictions and he’ll go against orders when he believes himself to be right.

He’s investigating a series of murders among a group of men who formed tight bonds during their private school days and who have gone on to have varied degrees of success in their adulthood. The killings involve the slashing of throats with a weapon specifically designed to do the job and the perpetrator leaves no clues at the scenes.

When the press get involved, a website by Bob The Butcher and its hashtags goes viral and an MP becomes one of the potential victims, the pressure on the police mounts.

There are many things to like about Murder Bag. The directions the case takes constantly fuel the plot and it’s difficult to stop at the end of one chapter when the path into the next has been so neatly built. Wolfe himself is an engaging sort and the other central players are all nicely formed. The domestic situation, though a little clich├ęd, provides a decent contrast to the drama and the head-scratching.  Wolfe’s thought processes work well and at a number of satisfying levels. There’s also a high pitch of tension when the action takes place and there are some neat little boxing insights that add another dimension. I also really enjoyed some of the turns of phrase; Parsons throws in some sentences of real power and craft along the way and manages to ensure that they don’t feel out of place. London is also really beautifully drawn and had me wanting to go again in the near future – I think visitors to the city hoping to find a read that will add to their overall experience could do a lot worse in choosing their material that this one. I also really enjoyed the final twist – it was a blow that I’d been expecting for so long that I’d forgotten about it and was totally taken aback when it was finally landed.

On the downside, I had a few niggles.

There are passages where the repetition of a word becomes jarring. It may be a deliberate act of style, but I’d have hoped an editor might have suggested a touch of ironing where this is the case.

There’s also an aspect relating to the way the research is handled. Mr Parsons has clearly done his homework and may also have access to things that many others might not. Managing to inserting information to add credibility to a book is a tricky thing and I think a little more subtly would have helped here. It feels, at times, that each character has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world and I’d be looking for better ways of getting a point across in (and hopefully there will be one) book two.  

This seeming desire to get everything right also throws up another issue. In trying that hard, it somehow highlights the points where there are contradictions or improbable procedures. I’m not going to draw your attention to them as that may not help your enjoyment of the story when the time comes.

Overall, I think that if you’re a fan of the police procedural this is definitely one for you. It has most of the things you’ll want and a little more besides. I enjoyed it very much and am definitely going back for more should Max Wolfe make his reappearance.


A winning crime debut.

Monday, 30 March 2015

One Man's Opinion: CRY UNCLE by RUSSEL D MCLEAN



David Burns is a hard man of the old-fashioned variety. He believes there’s honour among thieves and has been the ruthless leader of Dundee’s underworld for many years.

In steps Craig Nairn, the new contender for the Burns’s crown. Nairn is growing arms and legs and when his tentacles reach into Burns’s turf, tensions soon grow out of hand.

Sandwiched in between them is private investigator McNee who is working as one of Burns’s henchmen while undercover for the police.

Cry Uncle is a story that is full of drama, action and tension. It’s a book that had me craving slots of spare time so that I could continue reading and I made sure that I carved out those slots wherever I could. The chapters are perfectly bite-sized to suit these purposes, satisfying the appetite for the book and keeping the pace and momentum high, yet never quite fully sate the appetite until the final pieces are put into place.

McNee is a terrific first-person narrator. His voice is compelling and he’s articulate enough to take us through the ins and outs of the plot with ease. We follow him through a series of events in which he is always weighing up his moral position and, more often than not, considering how he can survive in a world where his friends and enemies all seem to find him expendable. He offers glimpses into Dundee past and present that paint a very vivid picture. He also takes us through the landscape of his internal workings, which is like taking a walk along cliffs that are at once beautiful and treacherous. McNee has limits and also has the capacity to cross them; it’s a moral ambiguity that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I loved Cry Uncle (US) and urge you to check it out. It works on so many different levels that I’m sure it has a broad appeal. Those who like a thriller, a PI novel, a police story or a brutal gangland battle should be fully engaged. As a bonus there are great character studies, curve-balls and tender moments. There’s even an ending that has something about the Count Of Monte Cristo to it and that’s saying something.


Really great stuff. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Lost Carnival




Arthur Bird makes radio documentaries. Life is pretty normal for him until the day he receives a mysterious package. What is to come is a perplexing tale surrounding the leader of a lost carnival, Popou Ingenue, the finding of a Phoenix egg and an exotic trip to Morocco. 

Arthur is soon to find himself in a very difficult position, caught between two rival factions that both seek his attention.

Intrigue, humour and the fanciful come together, along with newspapers with missing articles and gun-toting broads. A little hammy and totally absorbing. 

Find the first three episodes of The Lost Carnival here

Friday, 13 March 2015

Sleeps With The Fishes for your listening pleasure

Here's a story for you to listen to. It could be while you're doing the washing up or, if you'd rather, while you're doing the hoovering.

The production is by Bird On A Wire and is narrated by Geoff Bird.

Many thanks to Geoff for the support and the effort - such things are the acts of kindness that make the world a better place. 

If the video below won't work for you, please try the link to Soundcloud instead.



video

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

One Man's Opinion: VOLUNTARY MADNESS by VICKI HENDRICKS


“Too bad my mother didn’t have a gun. I might have gotten to know her better.”

This one opens like a hurricane. Juliette’s a smoking a joint, idly playing with herself as she waits for a suitable victim to flash. Within a tiny space, the chaos of her early life and the darkness of her future are revealed. She’s hooked up with the love of her life, a diabetic alcoholic writer called Punch with whom she has a suicide pact. While they’re waiting for the date of their deaths, they’re supposed to be living life to the full, collecting stories for Punch’s novel. If she thinks it, she has to do it – that’s the rule. It’s like she’s a dice lady without the numbers.

In truth, the first chapter knocked me back onto my heels. I just wasn’t really ready to walk in on the situation. That disorientation was a feeling I really enjoyed and what I wanted was more.

As the early pages went by, I became a little worried that I might just be wandering through a series of interesting, well-written scenes that weren’t heading anywhere in particular. That sense soon disappeared as my emotional involvement grew quite sharply.

On one of their early adventures, the couple break into the Hemingway house at Key West and set to enjoying Hem’s space in every way they can. When a guard shows up and there’s an explosion of reflexive violence, Punch and Juliette worry that their crime will be uncovered.

Into her life walks a lesbian white witch called Isis. Isis brings a different kind of love to Juliette and adds a new dimension to the story. It allows Juliette’s vulnerability to come to the fore. In sharp contrast to Punch’s mean spells, Isis is full of warmth and concern. Crucial for me, it meant I no longer wanted the suicide pact to go ahead and shared Isis’s hope that there would be a way to get Juliette out of her way of thinking.

The criminal acts of Punch and Juliette become more intense. They’re exciting, tense and unsettling. As they work through their Bonnie and Clyde routine, the date of their death rushes at them (and rushed at me) at a startling pace. The end comes into view and even as the crash is about to happen, I had no idea how it was going to play out.


From that amazing opening, through those early uncertain chapters and into the meat of Punch and Juliette’s journey together, I was delighted and totally engaged with their world. I really enjoyed the writing style and the whole range of tensions, including the warmly erotic moments. Juliette’s highs and lows seem very real and those emotions seeped from the pages into my pores. I guess that’s what I want from a book – complete involvement and total immersion. A really great read.

Voluntary Madness (US) was re-released last month by New Pulp Press.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

BERLIN BURNING by DAMIEN SEAMAN

Chapter 1

The teletype ran hot through the night shift, spewing its litany of crimes from the precinct houses of Berlin for the detectives at the Alex.
At 00.21 a runner brought the latest to the Kripo squad room – Precinct 87, possible murder in a tenement.
Kriminalkommissar Trautmann and Kriminalassistant Roth took the call and Roth cursed their luck. Trautmann knew what the younger man was thinking.
Precinct 87 meant a small-time pimp or a KPD agitator; the odds of finding the culprit were long. They’d have to talk to Fleischer, see what the usual noses were picking up.
Trautmann sent the runner to requisition an auto and then run on a little further and inform the lab.
The kommissar expected a long night. Little did he know how long.

When they arrived on the scene they saw the 87th had sent a whole squad, some of the men outside going door to door under the flickering street lamps. Word from the Schupo on the tenement door was Kessler was running things inside.
‘Not any more,’ Trautmann said, tasting sweat on his lips from the warmth of the night air. ‘Where is he?’
‘One floor up,’ said the Schupo. He smoked a cigarette, raising it to his mouth with trembling fingers. It was unprofessional but he didn’t seem to care. He chugged the smoke without pause.
‘A whole squad?’ Roth said, as they passed into the dusty tenement hallway. ‘What the hell’s going on?’
The Schupo ignored the question, eyeing a Jew who passed by on the other side of the street. A couple of the uniformed officers stopped the man and began asking questions. Trautmann shifted his attention inside.
Scuffed blood droplets on the stairs and the squeak of heavy shoes on bare floorboards overhead told Trautmann to expect a mess. Sure enough, when they entered the brightly lit apartment there were far too many uniforms in there. A crime scene needed the rigour of a Bach prelude; this was more the chaos of a Stravinsky score.
Trautmann disliked Stravinsky. He disliked procedural laxity even more. He managed a glimpse of a body lying on a blood-soaked rug near the fireplace at the end of the room before calling for Kessler.
‘So they sent me the Mule,’ said Schupo-sergeant Kessler, coming through from a connecting room with his shako dangling from his left fist. Sweat dripped from him and made dark patches in the underarms of his uniform jacket. Trautmann itched to bring out a handkerchief and mop his own face.
As Kessler came nearer, he glanced at Roth: ‘I see you brought Admiral Nelson with you.’
Roth touched the stump where his right arm had once been.
‘That’s enough of that, Kessler,’ Trautmann said, pulling the sergeant’s gaze back to him. ‘I need you to clear this apartment. There are too many people in here.’
‘We’re trying to solve this one before word gets out.’
‘You don’t solve a crime by ruining the evidence,’ Roth said with a jerk of his pomaded head.
‘Roth,’ Trautmann warned.
Kessler just smiled.
‘What do you mean, before word gets out?’ Trautmann said.
‘Victim’s a brownshirt,’ Kessler said, scratching one of his chins. ‘You know as well as I do there’ll be reprisals by tomorrow lunchtime if we don’t make an arrest…’ 
‘Yeah, reprisals from who,’ Roth muttered.
‘…It’s a tinderbox out there.’ Kessler led them past the body to the next room, a bedroom. Then he waited for them to catch up. ‘The trail begins in here.’
The sheets on the bed were rumpled. A brass candlestick lay in a pool of drying blood on a patch of floor between the bed and a dresser, and there were red-brown speckles on the sheets and on the walls. A picture frame had toppled from the dresser into the blood; one corner of the frame was stained with it and the glass had cracked.
‘Reckon our boy came in and caught his woman with some other chap, leading to a struggle.’
Trautmann pulled a pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and pointed at the candlestick. ‘The murder weapon?’
Kessler laughed. ‘Slow up there, Mule. I’ve got more…’
Trautmann put on the gloves and picked up the picture frame, angling it to catch the light as Kessler rattled on.
‘…So there’s a fight in here, our boy with his woman, or the gentlemen caller, or maybe both…’
The photograph showed a young woman with dark hair and eyes and a beguiling smile.
‘…Our boy takes a nasty blow to the head that knocks him to the floor. There’s a corresponding mark on his right temple, as you’ll see. Then…’
Kessler paused and made them follow him back to where the body lay. Trautmann brought the picture frame along.
‘…at some point, two shots to the torso.’
‘A gun?’ Roth asked.
‘Well, I may just be a humble Schupo,’ Kessler said, ‘but I reckon I know a fatal gunshot wound when I see one.’
Trautmann looked down at the body, a young blond male dressed in the brown uniform of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung. Dead though he was, he still oozed blood onto the rug. ‘Anyone hear anything?’
‘Round here?’ Kessler made a face. ‘What do you think?’
‘I thought you had your ways,’ Roth said.
‘Now now, Admiral. No need to get jealous because we know how to get results.’
‘So what have you found out?’ Roth snapped. ‘Anything?’
‘Do we have the boy’s name?’ Trautmann cut in.
Kessler referred to a notebook. ‘Jan Meist, according to his landlady.’
‘Who is…?’
‘The old girl on the next landing up. And a real pleasure she is, too. I can’t wait for you to meet her.’
‘And the young woman here?’ Trautmann showed them the photograph. ‘She lived with him, I take it?’
‘That’s the best part.’ Kessler grinned. ‘You’ll never guess who she is. Fair gives us our killer straight out of the gate.’
‘You’re right,’ Trautmann said. ‘I won’t guess who she is. So why don’t you just tell me.’
‘Maria Fleischer.’
Trautmann looked at Roth and Roth looked at Trautmann.
‘She’s related to Fleischer?’ Trautmann said.
Kessler clapped his hands. ‘I know. Great, isn’t it? I can have my squad ready to pick him up as soon as the lab boys are done here.’
Roth clicked his tongue in disgust.
‘No, you don’t,’ Trautmann said. ‘Not without we’ve spoken to him first.’
‘Oh, come on, Mule!’ Kessler said. ‘What more do you want? Meist beats up his girl, makes her go out pros-pec-ting’ – he drew out the word – ‘to pay the rent. She tells her uncle, who comes and puts two bullets in him for her. Simple.’
‘Whoa, not so simple,’ Trautmann said. ‘Beats up his girl?’
‘Ask the landlady. She’s full of it. You’ll get all you need from her.’
‘And what about this man she was supposedly with when Meist came in here?’ Roth said. ‘Anyone see what happened to him?’ 
‘Who else but Fleischer would be able to get hold of a gun in this part of town?’ Kessler said.
‘Maybe they didn’t get the gun in this part of town,’ Roth said. ‘Maybe this gentleman caller was an army officer. Or a pol…’ He cut himself off and regarded the knot of uniformed patrolmen standing close by.
‘Or a what?’ Kessler said.
‘We can soon settle this,’ Trautmann said. ‘Do you have the gun?’
‘Sarge,’ bellowed a voice; a young Schupoman entered the apartment with a pistol in his hand. ‘We found it! In the drains outside.’
Trautmann couldn’t contain his anger. ‘Kessler! Tell me that man isn’t contaminating evidence!’
Kessler blushed.
‘That’s it!’ Trautmann shouted. ‘Everybody out – RIGHT NOW!’


 This extract has been taken from the novella Berlin Burning by Damien Seaman, published by Blasted Heath.