Wednesday, 17 November 2021

One Man's Opinion: THE IMPROBABLE MONSIEUR OWEN by GEORGES SIMENON

 


The Improbably Monsieur Owen is the opening story of the collection pictured (US). 

Maigret, enjoying his retirement, is sunning himself down in Cannes, the guest of Monsieur Louis who is the doorman of a swanky Mediterranean hotel. In the middle of his break, Maigret is interrupted by Louis, who is keen to get his old friend involved in a murder case that's just happened on the floor below. 

Louis isn't daft. He knows the ex-inspector isn't in the mood for work and would rather be enjoying the sights and sounds of springtime by the sea. In order to capture his attention, Louis needs to reel him in by dropping points of interest one at a time. It's a great trick, because not only does Maigret become hooked, so does the reader. 

Monsieur Owen is a curious man. He's an ageing Swede who wears grey flannel suits and is never seen without a pair of grey gloves covering his hands. He also employs a nurse, an attractive young lady who is staying in the adjoining room. Monsieur Owen seems to have disappeared and in his place is the marked body of a young morphine addict who has been drowned in the bath. The name of the victim is unknown and there's no easy way to identify him.

Maigret paces and smokes and decides to help Louis solve the case as long as neither the press nor the police become aware of what is going on. 

There are some nice touches from the experienced master of deduction, as well as a few mis-steps, but eventually he gets to the nub of things and all is revealed. 

Hats of to Simenon for this one. Within the space of 50 short pages, a whole murder mystery is built-up, investigated and solved in a way that's engaging and has pace. It's interesting that we get the points of view of the doorman as well as the policeman and the insight in Maigret's retirement is something of a treat. 

A cracking start to this collection and I'm looking forward to reading more.   



Saturday, 13 November 2021

AIN'T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD

 

Out Now

At last it's here, the explosive follow up to Let It Snow and My Funny Valentine, available at half price until the end of November. 

“Nigel Bird knows his characters inside and out—what they want, how they think, how they grow and how they fail. Ain’t that a Kick in the Head might be his best work yet. A convincing, engrossing portrayal of what life is like for cops and criminals alike.” —Chris Rhatigan, All Due Respect Books publisher

“One of my favourite contemporary crime fiction series.” —Colman Keane, Col’s Criminal Library

This year, the fireworks will be red hot…

Skates Farrington is a changed man. Gone are the smart suits, the dull meetings and the extra pounds. Nowadays, he gets his thrills at the skate park and from whatever substances his dealers send his way. The only thing missing from his life is his ex-wife. She’s shacked up with a respectable partner in an isolated farm and striving to create the perfect life. Skates is convinced that she will come back to him when she sees his new self, but when attempts to win her heart all over again are thrown back in his face, he decides a little gentle persuasion is in order. Now he can include murder and abduction among his new-found skills.

DI Oliver Wilson, leading the investigation, has more than a few things on his mind. The case and imminent arrival of his third child should be at the forefront of his thoughts, but the arrival of a sequence of unusual gifts is making him nervous. The packages are sending him a message, he just can’t work out what they’re trying to say.

Hope you love it.

Available here as well as from all the usual suspects

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

One Man's Opinion: BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU?



"Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he'd like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young - but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?"

It can't be easy being a successful author. I suppose it should make me count my lucky stars that in terms of sales and world reputation, not many people are going to notice what I write and, of those that do, mind what my next book is about or what style I've chosen. 

In the case of Sally Rooney, I'm sure the pressure to produce an outstanding novel was significant and much-felt. Conversations With Friends and Normal People have been among my favourite reads of the last decade. While reading each story, I was struck by my emotional involvement as well as by the stunning beauty and occasional brutality of the prose. And I certainly wasn't the only one who felt that way. Apart from the other millions of fans, my teenage daughters also loved them and would discuss them at great length. 

The latest arrival, Beautiful World, Where Are You? was much anticipated in our household and my daughters and I have all read it now. Though we're not entirely in agreement, two of us really enjoyed it but not as much as either Conversations With Friends and Normal People and one was as delighted by it as she'd hoped. 

This time we get to join the relationships of four people who are linked in different ways to form a cat's cradle of connections between each other. On the whole, these relationships are not simple. Some are rooted in childhood and others in teenage years. As with all histories, there are complications, confusions and huge loyalties to deal with. These are histories that entirely influence the present, even to newcomers to their lives. The consequences of them can be positive and negative and, because of this, create a turbulence at every move. Each action has a reaction, each word and nuance a ripple in the world. 

The structure sees alternate chapters from the point of view of Alice and Eileen, while sandwiched between are email communications between the two. This works well in the beginning, but as the story progressed became somewhat obstructive the flow. The email sections, while incorporating plenty of character revelations and showing some of the strengths and flaws of the friendship, also take on a philosophical and political debate that I may well not be intelligent enough to have fully understood. It's interesting and is likely to be very important to the thrust and meaning of the novel, but it was generally an aspect that knocked me from my stride. It may be that I could search for other reviews to help me get a foothold into it's purpose (for purpose there must surely be), and a such a grasp may knock up my opinion a notch, but I would have been happier if this had been cut back a little. It's a small gripe, because I still loved the read, so I hope it doesn't put anyone off having a go. 

I suppose the reason I found that structure difficult is that when the characters are living their lives it's engrossing and compelling. The flashes of the poetic and the ebb and flow of their lives, the extreme lifestyles and the examination of the change into early adulthood, the examination of madness and self-doubt and of deviation from perceived norms all simmer away and over-boil nicely. The email sections gently put the brakes on this eventually had an impact.  

Overall, I recommend it to all. The pleasures (and pains) outweigh the issues (my issues) and even with an ending that I wanted more from, it's still top notch. 

Not that it matters, my favourite character was Felix. Just saying. 

And where is the beautiful world? I'm not sure if it's always out of reach or it's the place we spend every day. I reckon it's both. What do you say? 

Saturday, 6 November 2021

One Man's (second) Opinion: THE BASTARD HAND by HEATH LOWRANCE



Here's a blast from the not-too-distant past. It's just been re-released by Shotgun Honey and has a wonderful cover that I hope will draw readers in. I reviewed this one way back when, and here's what I said:

The Bastard Hand. It's one hell of a title and one hell of a book. 

It’s not that long ago that here in the UK there were lots of fires,                       burning up moorland and woods, challenging the fire-services to

their limits. The countryside had been turned into smouldering
fields, so nobody knew where the next flames were going to sprout
from.

That’s how I see this book. It’s a smoulderer which catches flame
regularly as the author expertly blows upon the embers.

Take the opening. It’s beautifully described. We meet Charlie,
escapee of an institution, free of his therapies and his medication,
wandering as his spirit takes him. Being in a town he doesn’t know,
he finds himself in a dodgy area and is soon battered to bits by a
small-time gang headed by a beautiful woman. He’s stabbed and
left for dead. And he was being nice, too. There’s certainly no
justice in his world.

He’s not one to go to hospital – it doesn’t seem to occur to him that
it might be a good idea. Instead, he does it his own way and lets his
body recover in its own good time.

Soon enough, he ambles over to the laundrette. Puts in his clothes
and discovers a bible with a hole through the ‘O’ of holy. He reads
Genesis until he’s interrupted by a preacher man, the Reverend
Childe, who could talk the Ten Commandments from Moses. Even
though Charlie knows the man’s no good, partly because he was in
a laundrette without any laundry, he sticks with him.

They visit a brothel, for the Reverend likes his drink and his
women and, from that point on, Charlie’s life is intertwined with
Childe’s like a swimmer might get tangled in pond weed.

From then on the book smoulders away, bursting into flame without
warning.

The series of events that follows unfolds beautifully. Not once
during the read did I feel any of the situations were forced, it was
simply the way it needed to be.

Missing preachers, small Southern town life, a crazy (though not
stupid) mayor, a number of women who all have their own allure,
gang battles, illicit stills and a series of plots and counter-plots like
you wouldn’t believe, fan those flames all the way through as does
Charlie’s madness.

Yes, Charlie is crazy, or at least he would seem so if the folk around
him weren’t so unusual. Lowrance is clever with his characters. I
felt blindfolded from the beginning so that I couldn’t tell the good
from the bad or the wicked from the saint. It’s one hell of a thing to
pull off, yet he did it with the subtlety of a close magician.

So Charlie’s crazy and he’s also our story-teller. It gives the whole
piece a curious foundation that’s part cement, part quicksand.

I loved this book. Really loved it.

It’s place in a contemporary setting, yet for me there are echoes of
older works and older times. The images I conjured for myself
were all in black and white and there’s something of the classic-noir
movie in this work.

Though full of dark events and madness, it’s written with a light
touch I hadn’t expected. Smooth as a ride on new tyres in a
freshly serviced car along a flat tarmac road when the living is easy.

His characterisations are so three-dimensional they’ll poke a reader
in the eye if they’re not careful. The people who inhabit the
book I liked, mistrusted, hated and loved in turn, every last one of
them.

The weaving through of the preacher and the bible offers a powerful
medicine of its own. Not an expert on the bible, I have to play it
through the filters of Nick Cave and Night Of The Hunter, but I felt
the weight of the Old Testament burdening the skies in the novel
and my own.

Lowrance plays with Charlie like God played
with Job. He takes advantage of Charlie’s misplaced senses of
loyalty and obligation, lets things go well then turns them all to
shit when he’s least expecting it.


I’ve mentioned a few of the echoes I felt as I read. Here are a few
other ghosts I felt were hanging around – Harper Lee, John
Steinbeck, Guthrie’s Slammer and the movie Inherit The Wind;
maybe it’s way off beam to cite those, but you’ll have to read it for
yourself make up your own mind.

A brilliant book by a writer of real talent.

A++

I stand by everything I said. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, 31 October 2021

One Man's Opinion: TEN PLUS ONE by ED MCBAIN



'Forget it. There's no protection against a sniper. I used to be one.'

Time for another McBain, Ten Plus One (US). 

We have a sniper on our hands. Whoever it is, they appear to be striking at random and with unnerving accuracy. 

The book opens wonderfully with the death of the first victim. It's something McBain uses quite often, a description of what a human being is doing just before they die. The sense of the everyday and the knowledge that they have friends, family, hopes and dreams, brings an extra power to their loss and makes the need to find the killer all the more pressing. 

This one's down to Carella and Myer. As further killings take place, the pair disagree about whether the killer is the same person, given that there are no obvious links between those on the slab. They go through the usual legwork and procedures to glean what they can from witnesses and those close to the dead. 

Taking a break from the action, McBain throws in something of a cameo for ex-con Frankie Pierce. Two bulls, unrelated to the 87th Precinct, stick their noses and their fists into the case. They pick Frankie up and, ignoring protestations that he's going straight and has a date lined up with a lovely woman who is prepared to overlook his past, proceed in trying to get to the truth in the only way they know. It's a brutal chapter and memorable enough in itself to warrant mention and it could stand up as a short story in any top crime anthology.

There is a link between the victims and when it's discovered the case maintains it's quality and pace until close to the end. 

I really enjoyed this one, all the more so because of the feel of the 1967 Penguin edition in my hands. The sniper theme is effective and exciting and the interviews and case work is as entertaining as ever. My only grip comes with the ending and I'm not sure why. It makes sense of everything that has come before and brings its own tension, yet I felt that it all happened a little too easily. Perhaps it's because the outcome means it would have been impossible for the reader to deduce from what has come before. It doesn't fall flat, but it doesn't quite add the quality of icing that such a delicious story of a cake deserves. It's high quality, nonetheless, and it's definitely one for the to be read pile if you haven't had a visit already. 

For another take, check out the Hark podcast

Friday, 17 September 2021

I WAS BORN A LOST CAUSE by HEATH LOWRENCE

 


I'm a big fan of this man's work and know that you're really going to love this one:

"Collecting stories originally published in Shotgun Honey, Needle Magazine, Crime Factory, and other magazines and anthologies, I WAS BORN A LOST CAUSE brings together the best of Heath Lowrance’s previously uncollected work— disturbing tales of crime, psychological horror, satire, and dark comedy— as well as two brand new forays into darkness."

I Was Born A Lost Cause came out this week, featuring Heath's short stories. 

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

One Man's Opinion: CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS by SALLY ROONEY



With her new book (released yesterday) on the way, I decided I'd revisit Sally Rooney's first two novels to get me in the mood. Without doubt, they have left me wanting more and I'm sure that Beautiful World Where Are You will be another terrific read to delight in. 

Conversations With Friends essentially follows the affair of a young writer and a handsome actor in Dublin. It's a perfectly simple idea, yet the twists and turns of their interactions bring levels of tension and engagement that make the story feel very real.

Frances is our lens and through her we explore the difficulties and wonders of being in love. I found the level of exploration of her emotions and thoughts to be so involving that Rooney's writing became more than words, as if Frances's consciousness had somehow become intertwined with my own. I have no real understanding of how that was achieved and can only hope that however Rooney created the depth and strength of the characters, some of those skills will filter by osmosis into my own work. At times, it's as if we can see through an skin and into her inner workings and at others like we're wearing that skin on top of (or perhaps instead of) our own. 

Perhaps what allowed the bond between Frances and my reader self to grow was the sense of common experience. It's so easy to identify with elements of the frailty and lack of confidence that we surely must all feel or have felt when growing up. It's magnified because the imagery and choice of phrase is so skillfully handled. There are poetic lines as well as cold and abrupt jolts that maximise the resonance and turbulence of the tale; she'd be a wonderful writer of noir should she ever want to reach a little further in that direction, which may not take such as big a step as you might think.   

The ending was wonderful and I was totally conflicted by what happened. It's a cracker that had me shouting at the pages and pulling faces at walls while I came to terms with it. 

It's a great read and I was really pleased to have Normal People as my next in line so that I could step back into a similar world as quickly as possible. 

A+