Saturday, 24 September 2016
Another Mystery and Thriller promotion, this time for 99c deals. This one features my own Mr Suit (a personal favourite of mine) and a wide spread of other titles. Well worth checking out folks. The offers are good for 24th and 25th September. Happy hunting.
Wednesday, 21 September 2016
‘There was a time when The Lawyer would have said no man deserved to die in the dirt. That time had long past.’
The Lawyer was once a good man who did his work with the law on his side. Following on from the murder of his family he’s still a good man, only now he’s prepared to use different tools to find justice.
He’s on the trail of Big Jim Kimbrough and winds up in a town called Sundown. While there he is horrified by an act of barbarity carried out by local bully Buchanan who drags a local black man into town to be hung because he’s stolen a slice of pie. The Lawyer can’t tolerate this and steps in to try and alter the planned course of events. Unfortunately, Buchanan has the backing of twisted minds and those who rely on him for employment. Intervention means going up against practically the whole town.
With only one ally, The Lawyer draws his line in the sand and becomes the target of the deranged mob that doesn’t appreciate his set of values.
The Lawyer: Six Guns At Sundown (US) is a quick and enthralling read. The usual Western props are present in abundance and the action is delivered with the tension and pace that you can confidently expect in a story by Eric Beetner. Themes of the underdog against the hoard and of the just against the brutes may be commonplace, but the element of racism that forms a key platform for the tale brings an extra dimension that is compelling and offers a reminder that though things have changed, there’s still a way to go.
Thursday, 1 September 2016
The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet (US) attacks the senses with unpredictable shifts of theme and tone and has the power to stun, move and create uncertainty. The sum total of the collection is even more powerful than its considerable component parts and it is, therefore, a shining example of an anthology. Best of all, the stories continue to live on after the words have been left behind; it’s this stirring of my imagination that I enjoyed most of all. Terrific and inspiring fiction.
All due respect to the publisher, All Due Respect - yet another belter from their team.
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
‘Towards the end, back when he still lived at home, his father, well along in years (fifty-plus when he was born), would spend afternoons stalking about the front yard, staring at what was left of the city’s curb, at remnants of paint on the side of the house, at abandoned birds' nests and tree trunks. He had always believed the old man to be thinking. About how his life had gone, maybe, or the meaning of it all. Slowly he came to understand that the old man wasn’t thinking at all, he was searching - looking aimlessly about, with a dull but persistent hope, for something he’d never had.’
The Killer Is Dying (US). The cops are dying. Everyone is dying. That’s something we all have to come to terms with at some point in our lives.
It took me an age to read this one even though it’s not a long book. I started it just before the Olympic Games which, when they began, quickly absorbed much of my attention and spare time. It wasn’t just my preoccupation with sport that slowed my reading, however. That’s also down to the fact that there isn’t a clear and driving narrative to the story and also because each chapter is dense and powerful and requires a good deal of focus.
The killer is on a job that goes unexpectedly wrong. As we get to know him, we loop back through his life to find his history is colourful and interesting and that he also has a wonderfully philosophical view of the world. He’s also a very particular kind of hit man and an extremely successful one. Hits are set up on the dark web and are advertised as doll sales. They’re carried out clinically and yet with a form of compassion at the same time.
He’s been chased down by a couple of cops who are also surrounded by death. It’s their business. They’ve seen a lot and each case has had an impact of sorts. The cop we get to know well is Sayles. What’s interesting in this novel is the sense I had that the differences between hunter and prey are minimal. They’re human and therefore share setbacks and suffering on a regular basis. What they have in common is bigger than what they do.
The third strand comes in the form of a youngster who is forced to bring himself up when his parents leave. He makes his living selling interesting items and passes the time by surfing obscure corners of the internet and by reading stories to old folk experiencing their final months down at the local care home. He also happens to be confused by a procession of dreams which come from the killer’s consciousness.
As these parts converge and are woven together, they become so tight that it becomes difficult to distinguish one from another. They share a consciousness or a way of being of sorts. They’re all reflective and tied to their memories as well as being able to see wonder in small things around them.
In the end, I was won over by the author. I can’t really explain why I liked it so much, but can tell you that I loved being in the company of these characters as their lives unfolded before me. It was refreshing to be taken on meandering journeys, random tangents and through regular lists of simple things. There’s just enough in the police investigation to keep the pace moving in a forwards direction. Each page has something outstanding to appreciate whether that’s a nailed phrase, a moment of poetry, a meditation, a philosophical musing or just a swift kick out at complacency.
The Killer Is Dying is light yet meaty. Mundane yet exciting. Beautiful yet horrifying. Oh how I love a contradiction.
Saturday, 27 August 2016
You’ve written a nonfiction book about gangs, Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, and now a novel about a gang called Skin of Tattoos. Girlfriend, what’s up with all the gang shit?
I first encountered gangs as a young newspaper reporter in New Jersey, USA, when I was assigned to write a story about a notorious motorcycle gang delivering Christmas toys to a local hospital. I went to interview them in a small suburban house, very normal-looking apart from the bunch of Harley choppers out front and its rather gloriously hirsute occupants, who insisted they belonged to a “club” not a gang. I was fascinated by them and their lifestyle. Years later, I interviewed gang members deported from Los Angeles to El Salvador, where they had landed like fish out of water because they’d left Salvador as babies and small children during the civil war. Some barely spoke Spanish. That was before gangs spread like a pandemic and really took control of northern Central America. Anyway, their stories resonated with me, and formed the genesis of Skin of Tattoos, which is about a Salvadoran family who fled one war zone only to arrive in Los Angeles and find themselves in another, which is basically what happened to thousands of refugees.
You’re a white, middle-class, middle-aged lady, so how the hell did you write so convincingly about this whole other world?
Research. Much of it was done in the context of my job as a journalist. I was able to interview gang members, their girlfriends and parents, prison inmates, as well as numerous sociologists and other experts who study gangs, and police officers who work in gang units. I also read a heap of books about gangs, including memoirs by gang members, who tend to write their stories whilst they’re incarcerated, and others who work with gangs, ranging from priests to anthropologists. I also had the benefit of co-authoring a book on gang intervention – that’s the Peace in the Hood book you mentioned. Before you ask, gang intervention is about taking former gang members and training them to be street peacekeepers, to interrupt the cycle of retaliation that drives gang violence. My co-author is a former Black Panther who’s been working with gangs in South L.A. since the seventies. I’m proud to say the book is being used a textbook for various courses at the University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Hmm, do you think we can ever get rid of gangs?
As long as we have economic inequality and discrimination in societies, gangs will exist. You don’t see middle-class kids joining gangs, for the most part, or middle-class neighbourhoods being claimed as gang turf. The key element that fuels gang formation and membership is the perception in disenfranchised sectors of society that gangs offer more opportunity – money and status - than conventionally accepted paths in life. It’s worth mentioning that not all kids in these neighbourhoods join gangs. In fact, most don’t. Gangs particularly appeal to youths who have little family stability. The gang becomes their surrogate family; it gives meaning to their lives. One interesting thing I found in Los Angeles, where gangs really took hold in the 1970s and are now in their third generation, is that gang affiliation runs in families and is a source of pride, even among former gang members! The real way to combat gangs is improving access to education and jobs in disadvantaged areas because that diminishes the need for belonging to a gang and resorting to a life that ends in death, prison or the hospital.
This is starting to sound way too much like some stodgy BBC interview.
Well, you did ask.
I have a recently released YA suspense novel called Girl on the Brink. It’s sort of a romantic thriller, but it’s got an important social message. It chronicles a teenager’s abusive relationship and her recovery from it.
Crikey, you’re really into these cheery themes, aren’t you?
I’ll put it down to my background as a journalist. I’ve spent years, decades, actually, writing about the problems of the world.
It certainly shows. I’m starting to crave a Xanax talking to you.
I really don’t want to drive you to pills. Do you want me just to tell you some of my favourite crime novels?
One is Queen of the South by Arturo Perez-Reverte, the story of a Mexican woman who ends up running a drug empire in Spain. It was really before its time, before all the cartel violence in Mexico, another favourite theme of mine. Okay, okay, I won’t go there. Anyway, I couldn’t put it down. Another is Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood, an Australian classic first published in 1881 about bushrangers and cattle rustlers in western New South Wales. Loved it. My favourite fictional detective, by the way, is Australian, Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte, a half-Aborigine who solves crimes in the western Queensland. Arthur Upfield wrote the books in the early 20th century.
Two from Down Under? What gives?
I was born in New Zealand, grew up in Sydney.
And now you live in Los Angeles? Wait, I’m not even going to ask that one.
I was hoping you wouldn’t.
Christina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishers, August 2016) and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, August 2016). She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014). She resides in Los Angeles. For more information, see www.christinahoag.com.
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
All The Pretty Girls (US) is a well put together police procedural that maintains a keen interest from the beginning.
The book opens right in the action as we join a serial killer enjoying a moment of murder. It’s great to get into the mind of the perpetrator straight away and the sinister mood haunts the rest of the tale as the book progresses.
Taylor Jackson is charged with leading the police investigation. There’s a sense of building urgency to her work as the killer becomes increasingly active. The banter between officers works really well and keeps up the momentum of the story, as does the involvement of Jackson’s secret partner, FBI profiler John Baldwin when he is brought in to unpick the case.
As well as the police investigation, an ambitious TV reporter has been selected by the killer as a point of contact. Though she’s unsure why she’s been chosen, she begins to see it as a lead that might take her from local success to national star. It’s a lead that she can’t resist. As she is drawn further into the killer’s world and begins to put things together, she begins to see that the situation is closer to home than she could ever have imagined and she is forced into a position that none could envy.
The killer continues to make appearances throughout and I enjoyed these insights into his world. His mind is twisted and his methodology is to take the hand of one victim and leave it with the body of the next. These moments offer a contrasting darkness to the energy of the other strands of the plot.
As things approach their conclusion, the action comes thick and fast. There are pleasing twists and turns all off which lead to a satisfying conclusion.
I enjoyed my read. The pacing and the strands are handled with skill. Things do rely on a number of coincidences and unlikely connections, but the key elements are enough to brush these issues firmly to the side. This one was perfect for summer holiday distraction and will lead me to more of the author’s work and to more Taylor Jackson in the future.
Wednesday, 17 August 2016
‘One can’t live with one’s finger everlastingly on one’s pulse.’
Marlow recalls an adventure to his shipmates on the Thames. Like any recollection, the story is offered through the filters of memory and experiences and is prone to the exaggeration of detail and key elements. This allows for a richness of description of people and place as well as for the cranking up of tension throughout.
Marlow falls into a job of captaining a steamer on its journey along the Congo to meet up with a renegade ivory trader called Kurtz. Kurtz is the one-time darling of the company, but his success and obsession seems to have gone awry and the respect that he was once held in has festered into the fear and contempt of those he works for.
As the story progresses, a sense of impending horror builds. Each of Marlow’s encounters offers foreboding. The chances of surviving the heat and conditions seem slim. The pictures that are painted of Kurtz offer contradictions, but unify in the danger they emit. As the time comes for the steamer to arrive at Kurtz’s camp, I felt and genuine panic and curiosity about what was about to follow. For me, this engagement is brought about because of the device of the story-teller addressing the audience directly. It’s also heightened by superb detail where all is viewed through whatever the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles might be.
The bulk of Heart Of Darkness (US) is beautifully put together. The power of the unseen and threatened is immense. If there’s an issue for me, then it’s that the journey is so much more than the arrival. Kurtz, such a giant throughout, is something of a shadow of himself by the time we meet. That which is unseen shrinks as the curtain is pulled back. This is clearly intentional and it’s more than likely that I’m missing the point, but the sense of anti-climax I experienced has been difficult to shrug off. Maybe the issue was that I was expecting Brando to make an entrance and it felt more like they’d sent on an understudy who had never really acted before.
I thoroughly enjoyed much of this one. The unpeeling of humanity down to raw flesh is brutal. The levelling of civilisation to an animal common denominator is unsettling. The conflict between the futility of life and the need to fully suck out all of its juices battles to leave a sludge that’s as dark as the title suggests. The voice of the storyteller is perfect and the images conjured are vivid throughout. The destination may not have been the one I wanted to reach, but I’m delighted that I finally went along for the ride.