Sunday, 29 April 2012

One Man's Opinion: THE CRIME INTERVIEWS (volume 1) by LEN WANNER

Though it doesn't say anything about the book, this was the first I'd chosen to read entirely on my android phone.  It seemed perfect for such an experiment given the natural breaks and I must say I enjoyed using the device much more than I expected. 

'The Crime Interviews 1' is such a good idea and it's very well executed.

Len Wanner has interviewed some of the heavyweights of Scottish Crime fiction and presented them in a very engaging way.

It's clear that Wanner knows his subject and he has done a huge amount of research before each one.

The interviews seem very fluid, linking questions together very smoothly as Wanner dances around making sure he exposes all openings without being pushy.  There are core questions that he broaches with all those involved (Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Alice Thompson, Neil Forsyth, Allan Guthrie, Christopher Brookmyre, Karen Campbell, Paul Johnstone and Louise Welsh) which reveal Wanner's academic leanings and perspectives and there are those designed for the individual which reveal the human touch.

We get to consider writing from the point of view of the auteur as well as from being given the opportunity to think about how the individual work is a reflection of society and where it fits in to a scheme of literature with a substantial history.

I felt like the interviews took place in relaxed settings and that the interviewees have utterly trusted their interrogator.  I suspect that the quality and the nature of the answers also demonstrates the respect that the subjects have for Len Wanner and his understanding and knowledge of and about the genre.

As with collections of any kind, some of these I enjoyed more than others.

Rankin and MacBride are great choices to open the book.  I'd like to offer a special word for Alice Thompson's which was a very pleasing surprise.  Icing on the cake though, was always going to be Allan Guthrie for me and I was delighted by what I found.

No matter which author you prefer, each interview is long and detailed enough that you'll feel you got your money's worth and more besides.

If you're a fan of crime fiction, you're a student of the genre or a writer hoping to pick up some tips on your craft, this is a book you'll get a lot from.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


Billy’s driving home, a gut full of beetroot vodka and of the pills his brother nicks from the hospital.  Course he shouldn’t be doing it.  No wonder then, that when he knocks over a pedestrian in the early hours of the morning he feels responsible.  A lump rises on his head and the guilt rises just about everywhere else.

They move the body, go home, take more pills and sleep it off.

Next day, Billy is called to the scene of a suspicious death, a possible jumper from Edinburgh’s Crags.  It’s not a jumper though, it’s the victim of Billy’s driving who managed to get to the bottom of the cliff before his body gave up on him.

Billy’s there in his role as a newspaper’s novice crime reporter.  His mentor, a seen-it-all-before kind of woman called Rose, finds out the name of the dead man; it’s one Frank Whitehouse, Edinburgh’s big, bad wolf.

From this point on the story is simply thrilling.

Johnstone writes with a fairly spare style, yet manages to explore a range of issues to the full.

It’s a very visceral book. 

I was reminded many times as I read of the pleasures of being young and of alcohol and drugs, and I’d like to thank the author for some of the flashbacks he induced.

All the experiences are through the mind and body of Billy, the man who earns the nickname ‘Scoop’ from his older hack partner due to his success in getting incredibly close to the case.  There are shades of pain I don’t think I’ve even contemplated before.  The smells and sights of the city bring the scenes to life.  It’s so well written that at times I felt I was inside Billy’s skin, and inside Billy’s skin was rarely a good place to be.

This book is fast-paced, yet thoughtful.  Everything happens in a short space of time within a small area of the city.  The world outside is full of pressure and, on the inside, the pressure inside Billy’s head builds to a crescendo.

I came out of the end of the ride fully satisfied. 

I’d suggest it’s a kind of Hard-Boiled ‘Crime And Punishment’ for the post-ecstasy generation, the love-child of a Dostoevsky/James M Cain/ Allan Guthrie triangle.

The characters are brilliantly drawn and explored.  What I like about the way they are brought to life is that it’s not because of the wedging in of detail that we come to know them, rather it’s through their interactions.   The ways they bounce off each other.  Boss and underling; boyfriend and girlfriend; two brothers; one man and his dog; lovers; feuding gangsters; dead and living; car and driver...

In particular, I think Billy and Rose are a brilliant pairing.  Either of them would make ideal characters for future books and I’d certainly rush to read any story Doug writes where they’re present (if sequels aren’t your bag, how about a short story or a novella, sir?).  In fact, this is such a great pleasure of a read that I’ll be rushing to read anything Doug Johnstone put out.


Friday, 27 April 2012

"The BRIT GRIT mob is coming to kick down your door with hobnailed boots. Kitchen-sink noir; petty-thief-louts; lives of quiet desperation; sharp, blood-stained slices of life; booze-sodden brawls from the bottom of the barrel and comedy that’s as black as it’s bitter—this is Brit Grit!"

45 British writers, 45 short stories. All coming together to produce an anthology, benefiting two charities...

Children 1st -


Francesca Bimpson Foundation -

The line up...

Introduction by Maxim Jakubowski

1. Two Fingers of Noir by Alan Griffiths
2. Eat Shit by Tony Black
3. Baby Face And Irn Bru by Allan Guthrie
4. Pretty Hot T’Ing by Adrian Magson
5. Black Betty by Sheila Quigley
6. Payback: With Interest by Matt Hilton
7. Looking for Jamie by Iain Rowan
8. Stones in Me Pocket by Nigel Bird
9. The Catch and The Fall by Luke Block
10. A Long Time Coming by Paul Grzegorzek
11. Loose Ends by Gary Dobbs
12. Graduation Day by Malcolm Holt
13. Cry Baby by Victoria Watson
14. The Savage World of Men by Richard Godwin
15. Hard Boiled Poem (a mystery) by Alan Savage
16. A Dirty Job by Sue Harding
17. Stay Free by Nick Quantrill
18. The Best Days of My Life by Steven Porter
19. Hanging Stanley by Jason Michel
20. The Wrong Place to Die by Nick Triplow
21. Coffin Boy by Nick Mott
22. Meat Is Murder by Colin Graham
23. Adult Education by Graham Smith
24. A Public Service by Col Bury
25. Hero by Pete Sortwell
26. Snapshots by Paul D Brazill
27. Smoked by Luca Veste
28. Geraldine by Andy Rivers
29. A Minimum of Reason by Nick Boldock
30. Dope on a Rope by Darren Sant
31. A Speck of Dust by David Barber
32. Hard Times by Ian Ayris
33. Never Ending by McDroll
34. Imagining by Ben Cheetham
35. Escalator by Jim Hilton
36. Faces by Frank Duffy
37. A Day In The Death Of Stafford Plank by Stuart Ayris
38. The Plebitarian by Danny Hogan
39. King Edward by Gerard Brennan
40. This Is Glasgow by Steven Miscandlon
41. Brit Grit by Charlie Wade
42. Five Bags Of Billy by Charlie Williams
43. It Could Be You by Julie Morrigan
44. No Shortcuts by Howard Linskey
45. The Great Pretender by Ray Banks

Thursday, 26 April 2012


I've deliberately avoided going over to the other posts on the  5-2 tour in case this poem was already chosen.  It made more sense for me to just do this and find out later.

By way of an introduction, I'd like to highlight my own favourite 'crime poet'.  I doubt he's been called that before, but he writes about injustice and injustice is a crime.  In his words he tells stories that can be violent and very hard-hitting, but it's the rhythm that I love - that dub bass line pattern, the holes and the resonance mixing with the staccato.  Try this link to Linton Kwesi Johnson and I hope you'll hear what I mean.  Or try this one here, or even this one here.  Brilliant.

Now over to the 5-2. 

I've chosen this poem to think about.  It's from The Lineup:  Poems On Crime 3

Articulating Space

by Patricia Abbott

The winter after the assault she made
A series of small quilts patterned on Paul Klee
paintings there were difficulties of course
since the books she used for sources
varied in the precise tint of all those little squares
that sometimes looked like bandages strung end to end
also the squares lost their plumb perfection like
a face pummelled out of it's natural symmetry
and other times the squares seemed rigidly square just
the way he liked things and she felt calm
sitting on the floor amongst the pieces for a minute
before she grew frantic that she could ever
get it right with all the piecing dependent
on what seemed to be but weren't random
choices once finished the quilts were different
from her image of the Klees unframed
they seemed bulky and primitive on the white walls
he insisted on and if she framed the quilts they floated
like fragile fiber sailboats on a chintz black sea.

There are so many things to think about when looking at a poem, but for me the first reaction is usually arrived at without much thought at all.  It's all about discerning the patterns and the flow and the way it feels as it reads.  How the words fit together.  Bounce off each other.  Hold hands or kick hell out of those near.  Architecture with words.

Patricia Abbot gives plenty to savour on a first reading.  It has that flow, like the tide, like the sailboats that finish it off bobbing up and down on the waves.

The opening line tells all we need to know about the back-story, the reasons the quilts are being made.  It's the winter after the assault.  No need to embellish.

Then we come to Paul Klee. 

I imagine the author in a gallery one day looking at one of his paintings and experiencing a reaction, logging it for the day a poem might work.  What I think she might have seen is the contradictions I feel when I look myself.  On the face of things there is order.  Neat shapes.  Symmetry.  Pattern.

Stand there long enough and those initial moments of observation are turned on their head. 

What seemed still begins to move, the kind of movement that you can never actually catch.  It's a confused movement that almost creates sea-sickness.  There is only the illusion of symmetry.  An odd shape or choice of colour might single one piece out from the rest.  Stability at first becomes unreliability, a bit like I imagine a life might imitate after an assault.

And there's the act of quilt making itself.  It would be hard to imagine a more suitable analogy for the reconstruction of a life.

As she works, the assault continually haunts her.  There are the shapes 'like bandages'.  A 'face pummelled out of its natural symmetry'. There are moments of calm shattered by anxieties about her pieces and the choices that have been made, and with them the responsibilities of choice and maybe the choices of her assailant.

So who was the attacker?  The man (?) who shattered this lady's world?  I'm not sure, but I'm going for the partner, the man who insists upon the clean white walls and maybe the squares being perfect the way he likes them, as if pleasing him is not just satisfying but essential.

All the time she's put in and they're not quite right.  They didn't help her to glue her life back together just the way it was before.  They're bulky.  Bloated.  Her life is as fragile as the sailboats on the sea.  For her, the sea might be the eggshells upon she has to walk.

That's what I see as the story and, because I'm not an academic, it doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong.  It's the way it looks to me.

The other factors about this piece which I enjoy relate to the choice of words themselves. 

You have a lovely flow, gentle for most of the piece.  When it comes to the disturbance the words get a little harder and sharper - frantic, dependent, random.  To help it along, the smoothing 's' starts and ends and the more bumpy plosives from 'b' and 'p' (almost 10% of the words begin with a 'b' or a 'p', 25% have a strong 's' or 'sh' sound).

There are those slick alliterations: Paul Klee paintings; plumb perfection like a face pummelled; she made a series of small quilts; after the assault she made a; framed the quilts they floated like fragile fiber.

All of these things point to the skill of the writer.

My feeling?

I enter feeling sad that there was an assault.  I wish it hadn't happened.

I leave with that same feeling of sadness that life will never be the same, no matter how many quilts are made, sensing that the hidden frailties of being human will forever be within the vision of this woman.

Which is why I like to read poetry - to have my senses and feelings played about with without from a tiny dose of reading. 

You can find more poems in The Lineup: Poems On Crime 4

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Karo Hämäläinen: Dancing with myself

Piles of papers have crowded the table. Somewhere in between is a glass full of tap water, some dozens of pens, a couple of unread books (and some read ones), chewing gum, an empty Pepsi Max bottle and a laptop. It looks like Karo Hämäläinen has forgotten the interview. The photographer and I hesitate at the door.

"Just come in, just come in," he says. "It took me hours to build an impression of working hard and paying no attention to what my room looks like."

As we sit – I on a chair, the photographer on the saddle of an exercise bike standing in the corner – Hämäläinen checks the latest events in the stock market. It's well known that the author is an eager small investor.

"Ok, Karo, at first..."

"Wouldn't you like to say 'Mr. Hämäläinen'?"

"Oh yes, I'm so sorry. I mean... Don't we know each other well enough?"

"Was that your first question? No, we don't."


"Yes. That was my answer."

"I mean, it wasn't question number one."
"It was. Go on, please."

"Mr. Hämäläinen, you wrote many books before you made your break-through with a financial thriller,

The Buyout. How did you come up with the idea of writing a financial thriller?"

"To be honest,

The Buyout as well as The Bailout are wretched thrillers, because the reader doesn't get what he wants, i.e. fire arms, piles of dead bodies and a happy ending. I call them thrillers as I have heard that thrillers sell better than so called literary fiction."

"But they..."

"Yes, yes, I know. They are very good novels, and yes, I know, I have written them in the form of a thriller. Why is that? Because I love books you can’t put down. I have written many dull books. And read even more. I'm already 35 years old, so I don't have time to write any more of those. In my opinion, you don't have to say good-bye to literary standards even though you write entertaining books. Some might think it's even more challenging to write books that are both deep and entertaining."

"You write literary social novels that are highly entertaining."

"I like your formulation. Although it's mine."

"So what is a financial thriller? How does it differ from an action thriller?"
"Just guess how many times I have answered those questions."


"Not bad. Well, in a financial thriller, the things the characters do and the suspense are fundamentally motivated by the investment world. Financial events aren’t just the milieu like in some action thrillers set in the world of high finance; instead, everything in the thriller starts from the logic of money. The characters’ greatest fear is not dying – they’re afraid of something even more important: losing their reputation and their money."

"Your latest novel The Bailout is set in the economic crisis in the Euro-zone. Isn't that a boring theme?"

"Yes, it is. And finance as a whole is boring. You have to be paid at least one million before you start working. For example, gardening is far more interesting. People are willing to do garden jobs for an annual salary of €20,000."

"One of the three main characters in The Bailout is a hedge fund salesman. Have you invested in hedge funds?"

"Oh yes, once. I got mine back. After that, I have steered clear of algorithm miracles."

"You don't believe in hedge funds?"

"I do. They are fantastic instruments that generate piles of bucks to hedge fund managers. But they are disastrous for the investor's wallet. Hedge funds are just speculation and therefore have nothing to do with investing."

"However, investing and the euro crisis are not the main themes in your newest novel."

"That’s true. The Bailout is about people's tendency to behave like the stock market. They pretend to be something they are not. Like you. You act the role of a literary journalist with your pen and your A5 writing block. You try to ask challenging questions. You haven't read any of my books but you give plausible statements about them, because you have eyed some articles and book reviews."

"It's impossible. The Bailout isn't out yet."

"Okay, I think we are finished now. Thank you for your visit. You don't have to send the article to me before publishing it. I'm not interested in what you write. I am hardly interested in what I write myself."


Karo Hämäläinen

(b. 1976) has two
passions: literature and the stock
market. The first combination of his
The Buyout, came out in
2011. Nominated for the Savonia
Prize, it was loved by readers and

The Bailout

(WSOY 2012, 380 pp.)
A topical, timely novel delving into the core of
the European debt crisis.
The socialist opposition leader of Hellenia is ready
to do his last favour to his fatherland: to sign – and
to resign. A young and eager hedge fund salesman
has his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to
show his boss what he is capable of. When the
politician is kidnapped, billions of dollars are at
risk (as well as some secondary matters, such as
human lives).
The Bailout, people and countries behave like
the stock market: they pretend to be something
they are not.

Critics have compared The Buyout to Tom Wolfe’s
Bonfire of the Vanities!

An intense 23-hour
novel in the triangle
of politics, crime
and hard finance

Rights enquiries: Elina Ahlback Literary Agency | |

Monday, 23 April 2012


I found out about this book thanks to a writer friend on mine, one whose taste I respect without reservation.  He'd picked it as one of his top 5 recommendations of last year, so I had to have a copy.

I'm delighted that I ended up with one.

The core of the book is the novella 'Rampart And Toulouse'.

Rampart and Toulouse it the corner at which a fine old building stands.  It holds the charm of its age and is showing signs of wear, a little like a number of its inhabitants. 

Into the building moves a young lady, finding the place appealing to her finer instincts as well as to her purse.

Once there, she mingles within the mini-Bohemia in which she finds herself and takes the next step of her journey into growing up.

The story meanders from one new experience to the next, gentle and touching like a warm spring sun.

Not that it's all light. 

There's a beautiful photograph on the cover of the book, splendid in its black and white print and in it you can see many aspects of the story which I enjoyed - the subtlety and the clever shades and contrasts that are present throughout and the use of space as an impliment.

The protagonist, Vivienne, is a painter and there is a sense that the author of this book has neatly and carefully stroked all the words onto the page with a careful eye.

I really enjoyed the play between the characters, the sense of nostalgia and of hope and the three-dimensional creation of a New Orleans I'm now even more keen to visit than ever.

It's not one for lovers of hard, fast action, but for anyone who enjoys the shifts that happen in a life when the person isn't looking, this might well be for you.  If in doubt, give it a try.  After all, you've nothing to lose, have you?

Friday, 20 April 2012

Dancing With Myself: TAPANI BAGGE interviews TAPANI BAGGE

Before kick-off, I'd like to mention that the book My Friend Miranda is free today and over the coming weekend.  It's not a crime book at all, but is the story of a young girl growing up.  It should work for avid young adult readers as well as grown ups.

Today's interview is a peach.  Welcome please Tapani Bagge.

1. You say you’re a writer. What have you written?

I have published over 70 books, among them 14 crime novels, a couple of short story collections, dozens of children’s books and youth novels. I’ve edited anthologies, translated books from English, made scripts for TV, radio and comics and written a couple of stage plays. For the first ten years of my career, I wrote pulp stories for the Finnish Jerry Cotton, and FinnWest, a Finnish western series.

2. Let’s concentrate on your crime novels. What are they about?

I started out in 2002 with Puhaltaja, (The Jack), the first book of Hämeenlinna Noir, so far a six-novel-series about the crooks and cops of my home town. The fifth one, Musta taivas (Black Sky), won the Clew of the Year Award of the Finnish Whodunnit Society and was the Finnish nominee for the Nordic Glass Key Award. It was recently published in German by Suhrkamp as Schwarzer Himmel. We also have a deal for the next novel in the series, Kummisedän hautajaiset (The Godfather’s Funeral). Hämeenlinna Noir books are darkly comic and at times violent. There really is no hero in them, no good guys or bad guys, just people who make wrong choices, sometimes against their better judgement. The cops and crooks are equally human, and one of the cops (Detective Leila Pohjanen) and one of the crooks (police informant and repenting burglar Allu Nygren) are even getting into some kind of relationship, and finally have a baby together.

3. That was then. What now?

I am currently working on two crime series. One is about the hard-luck lawyer Onni Syrjänen of my birth town Kerava, a small railroad community near Helsinki. Onni doesn’t belong to the bar any more, even though he regularly goes to one. Onni may bear some resemblance to the classic private eyes like Philip Marlowe or Matthew Scudder, but basically he’s a loser. In any case, he does his best to stay sober and help his friends, relatives and other clients, who are usually criminals. His paths often cross with characters of the Hämeenlinna Noir novels.

There are two Onni Syrjänen books, Kasvot tuulilasissa (The Face on the Windshield, 2010) and Kasvot katuojassa (The Face in the Gutter, 2011). A couple of short stories starring Onni Syrjänen can be found online in English.

4. And the second ongoing series?

My historical series follows the trials of detective sergeant Mujunen of Valpo, the State Police. The first novel of the series, Valkoinen hehku (White Heat), is set in 1938, when the scars of the Finnish Civil War of 1918 are still fresh. Mujunen tries to solve the murder of a beer brewer´s son and locate some missing documents and a missing male secretary of a German arms dealer. At the same time, there are several assassins plotting a hit on State Minister Kekkonen, who is fighting against the extremists on left and right. The second book, Sininen aave (The Blue Phantom), depicts the summer and fall of 1940, just after the Winter War, when the Finns have to choose between the plague and the cholera, Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union. A Finnish passenger plane explodes en route from Tallinn to Helsinki. The recently widowed Mujunen starts an affair with a Lithunian danseuse, who may have a hidden agenda, and tries to find her brother. There may also be a big conspiracy or two on the make. A sample of the book is online in English.

5. What’s new?

The third novel in the Mujunen saga, Musta pyörre (Black Whirlpool), is coming out in Finland this spring. The year is 1942 and the choice has been made. Again, Finland is at war against Russia, this time together with Germany. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler arrives for a visit, and Mujunen is ordered to be his bodyguard. Himmler offers the final solution to ”the Finnish Jew problem”, the underground communists are sabotaging the Finnish war effort and killing policemen, and not one but two femme fatales are entering Mujunen’s life. Things get pretty hectic for him as the story progresses.

6. Who is this Mujunen, anyway?

Mujunen is a man of principle. He won’t hit the suspects to get the truth, because he knows that can distort the truth. He won’t bother to report the rationing crimes, and he frequently resorts to the black market himself. After his wife died during the Winter War, he’s had his share of affairs with sad endings. He’s a reliable workhorse of the State Police, but he’s also a man of conscience. When his bosses fraternize with Gestapo and SS and follow their example in too many issues, Mujunen begins to have his doubts about the justification of his work. Drinking doesn’t help, so he takes action. And if the law is wrong, you have to break it. Or at least bend it a little.

7. Why do you write crime stories?

When I was twelve, my family and I paid a visit to one of my uncles. He was in prison, and he wasn’t there as a guard. He was there for a good reason, but he was still the same uncle – he hadn’t grown any horns on his head.

It was some sort of revelation for me. I understood that the cons are human, too. I try to keep that in my mind when I write.

About that time, I was introduced to the works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Donald Westlake, and they made a lasting impression. Later, I’ve found many other great crime writers, as well as writers of other genres. I also like humour in my books. In my own crime novels, it’s mostly black and sometimes absurd. My take on life.

8. Why do you write about history?

We humans seem to make the same mistakes again and again. Maybe it’s too late for us to learn anything from the past, but you can find some great stories there.

9. Why don’t you write about criminal masterminds?

Simply because there aren’t too many of those around. When I was in high school, one of my pals decided to rob the post office. Until then, he had been a pretty decent guy, he even

coached soccer juniors. Maybe he had some money problems. Anyway, his robbery was a classic: he made almost all the mistakes one can think of. He borrowed a target pistol from a friend, rented the getaway car on his own name, went to the post office where his girlfriend (later on, ex-) was behind the counter, got some money, left the getaway car with doors open in the parking hall of the local department store, and was at home counting the money when the cops arrived. On his way home, he had even dropped in at the pub to brag about his deed.

In real life most criminals are sad cases. I have no idea where all the criminal masterminds in fiction spring from. Probably from other books and movies.

10. What’s next?

Next, I’m writing the fourth and final novel about Mujunen, titled Punainen varjo (Red Shadow). It is set right after the Continuation War, with the Second World War still raging elsewhere in the world. The Russian Control Commission casts a big shadow over Finland. Mujunen is now head of the counterspy department in the State Police, with new leaders, after the old ones escaped to Sweden, and he investigates the mysterious death of a Soviet captain in Helsinki. He has to report to the Russians every night, and there are rumours that the Soviet Union might use the murder as an excuse to occupy Finland. Will Mujunen find out the truth – and can he reveal it?

I also have some plans for a new Onni Syrjänen book and the return of Hämeenlinna Noir, but we’ll see about that.

Tapani Bagge
Red Shadow
Punainen varjo (Crime Time 2013, 300 pp.)
Mujunen experiences twists of fate in postwar

”These are dreadful times”, says the prime minister
of Finland in 1944. A treaty of peace has just
been concluded between Finland and the Soviet
Union and the Finnish troops are now fighting
Germans in Lapland.
The Russian control commission has occupied
the Hotel Torni in Helsinki, casting a long shadow
over the entire country. Mujunen is interrogating
prisoners of war, but is called to investigate the
murder of a Russian captain – and to report to the
commission. Are the Russians using the murder
as an excuse to occupy Finland?
Tapani Bagge (b. 1962) is a versatile
author of novels, screenplays,
children’s books and radio plays.
Winner of several literary awards,
Bagge is also an international
author whose crime fiction has
been translated into German.

“Bagge is a great writer, who
really knows how to
put together a good plot.”
Forssan Lehti

Rights enquiries: Elina Ahlback Literary Agency

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Dancing With Myself: COURT MERRIGAN interviews COURT MERRIGAN

So, the Spinetingler Awards are once again upon us.

If you haven't heard of them, I'd suggest that you pop over to the Spinetingler site and check out the nominations.  They'll give you lots of pointers for reading, blogs to follow, reviewers, zines and stories that will offer as good as a compass bearing in the crime-writing world as you're going to need.

I've been lucky enough to have my story Hoodwinked nominated in this year's Best Short Story Online list, which makes it 2 in a row for my collection Beat On The Brat

Pulp Ink also gets a pick in the best anthologies (and that's hotter than hell, that list) and Dirty Old Town gets a mention for its cover.

I find it all very exciting.  Thanks to Spinetingler for doing all the hard work.

In that Best Story Online list, you'll see enough talent to sink an ocean liner.  It'll be a Titanic struggle.  Except we're not fighting.  In fact, I'd like to have you consider today's guest for your vote (ideally, you'll read all the choices and select from that point). 

Court Merrigan has a lot to talk about - he's been around and he's written a lot.  It seems that lots of his irons are about to be pulled out from the fire with a glare of white heat.  Here's what Court had to say when he caught up with himself:
And you are …?

A writer of pulp in sundry forms. Too Twittery?

A bit.

I write stories encased in a solid armor of artfully hardcore sentences. That crank your tulip?

It’s better. Justify your existence.

My short story collection, MOONDOG OVER THE MEKONG, is coming out soon from Snubnose Press. A baker’s dozen of stories of guns, crime and general mayhem. The stories are like that Johnny Cash song, man, they’ve been everywhere: the muddy Mekong – the sex capital of Asia, Pattaya – Tokyo – the Arizona desert borderlands – highlands Wyoming – Afghanistan and the bleak horizons of a South Dakota Indian reservation – Bangkok – the mountains of a Colorado resort town – the parched Himalayas – the trailer park across the tracks of your hometown. Cock fighting and crank cooking. Shrapnel wounds and slathering hellhounds. Dirt-road getaways and motorcycles crashing into water buffalo.

They aren’t traditional crime tales. No PIs and the cops only get there in time to chase gun smoke. They’re stories about the folks whose eyes you avoid in the check-out line, the ones who don’t show up at your high school reunion because they’re on the lam. Folks who could be you, if only you weren’t so damn smart.

No, justify YOUR existence:

Oh. Not sure I can. I am American, after all, vacuuming up vastly more than my fair share of world resources, scribbling late into the night when my kids are asleep, bottle of bourbon handy. Working toward that holy grail: getting paid to be tell stories. Other than that, I’m just a normal guy. Take my daughter to soccer practice, feed my son Cheerios. Get up in the morning and go to work.

How’d you get here?

Mainly I chose my parents well. Got born in the First World, received a top-notch education. Everything after that is a footnote, really. You have to be on third before you can steal home, you know?

My wife’s from the Third World. She keeps me grounded. When we lived in Thailand it was easier; I’d walk outside and there was a whole village who laughingly tolerated my paunchy white Westerner predilection for shutting myself up in a room alone for hours on end. Here in America, where being a hermit is marginally more socially acceptable, I have to work harder to bear this in mind.

And how’d MOONDOG OVER THE MEKONG get here?

A lot of stories, strung out over some years. I wrote the title story back in 2004. Been looking for a publisher for some time, getting lots of no’s. Then the gentlemanly Brian Lindenmuth of Snubnose Press responded to my pleas. I’m still sort of stunned, to tell you the truth.

So now that you’ve got some skin in the game, what do you think is the future of publishing?

Who knows? I do think the rise of self-publishing and the likely downfall of traditional publishing has, paradoxically, made the gatekeepers even more important. Ebooks have unleashed a cornucopia of writing on the world. Too much to even begin to try and choose from. Instead, folks are going to rely on tastemakers, and read accordingly.

The big question is: who will those tastemakers be?

I haven’t a clue. But books will continue to be written, readers will continue to read them. As to what form these books will take, and which ones will get read how often, it's anybody's guess. Holograms, maybe?

Yeah, Tupac hologram, huh?

Yep, and yet somehow I still don't have a flying car.

And your future?

First help get MOONDOG OVER THE MEKONG into the world. Sometime this year or next. Been a long, long while coming and let me tell you ,there was a long succession of days in there when I wasn’t sure it was ever going to get here.

Speaking of, the cover for MOONDOG is under production as we speak. Here’s a prototype.

What do you think? Thumbs up, thumbs down? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

In a similar vein, one of the stories to be included in the collection, "The Cloud Factory," is up for a Spinetingler Award. If you'd like to vote, headright here. And if you’d like to vote for me, I'd appreciate it mucho much. I really would.

Here, a sparkle girl for you. She says please better than me.

And what are you working on now?

I've got a couple projects on the burn: a historical fantasy involving bounty hunters, a tiger-killing poet exile with a price on his head, a slash-and-burn rebel Buddhist monk, a girl-queen, a marooned seafarer bounty hunter, a scorned general with a serious lust for vengeance, purposely illiterate hill tribes, and the wiliest lady of the court this side of Game of Thrones, all set in a semi-mythical Southeast Asia.

Also at work on a post-apocalyptic Western crime noir.

And some short stories, such as a mild homage to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? set in Wyoming’s banana belt featuring a washed-up community college professor. And then there’s another about a fugitive slave girl who takes some gory revenge on her masters and then books it for the hinterlands, baddies in full pursuit.

When can we expect to see these released into the ecosystem?

Soon, I hope. Working on some deals I can't talk about just yet, but rest assured, I'll be yapping on about them when I can.

Thanks, Nigel & me, for talking to me!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

One Man's Opinion: MURDER MILE by TONY BLACK

Tony:  The New Black

Last year I had the pleasure of being introduced to DI RobBrennan, the new kid on the block for Scottish police fiction.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him and was left looking forward to the next time we’d meet. 
I bumped into Rob again earlier this week in the new book Murder Mile.
He looked well, at least in the circumstances.  Tough, dogged, passionate about the job and not about to suck up to anybody for any reason is how I found him – no change there.
He’s working another case.  That of a psychopath in Edinburgh.  A real nutter who delights in mutilation of young women.
Kicked out of the house by his wife, missing his daughter and having had to break the news of a new death to a young woman’s parents might be things he takes in his stride, but I think I know him well enough to see him buckling under the pressure no matter how philosophical he tries to be.
And hell, I don’t envy the office politics in his place; I thought my school was bad, but it has nothing on the police station, not even close.  Seems the economic crisis is hitting the boys in blue as much as everyone else.  So I told him, get the best you can to do the job, the bean-counters can go and play with their chick peas while you set about solving the case.
Now I happen to know that there’s a pimping ex-con with only the one prostitute in his team, and she’s past her sell-by-date even though she’s only a young-un.  Drugs, you see.  They’ll do that to some people.  Anyway, this guy has some information on the killer and is thinking about earning a little money to pay off a loan-shark – which means he has to be pretty desperate if you ask me.
I’d tell the DI, but I know he likes to work these things out for himself.
All in all, it was a whirlwind of a meeting.
Brennan’s nothing but stoical.  He’s doing the usual thorough search and he’s not going to let it go.  Dog with a bone that guy, with sharp teeth to go with it.
I’m really glad that I caught up with him again. 
I reckon you’d like to meet him too.  Will it matter that you didn’t get to know him on his last case?  I don’t think so.  I know him better now, but I would have loved him while he works the Murder Mile even if I’d never set eyes on him before.   When he tells you stories, they stand alone with a lot of strength, so don’t worry on that score. 
If you’ve already been there, then you’re in for a similar treat.  There might be a little of the ‘deja vu’, but that’s only because you’re like old friends already.
I’m hoping we’ll get together again next year.  Hard to guess whether he’ll have been thrown out of the force by then, or got sick of that politics or whether he’ll be on the way back from another ‘break’.  Who knows?  Only time will tell.
Till then, DI, good luck with catching that lunatic.  Make sure our kids our safe on the streets.   Bless you for that, sir.  Bless you.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Elliot Gast is a man of taste and refinement.  He has a nose for a fine wine, and eye for fine detail and a palate that has appreciated the best of food.  He works for a company called IBIS as a social facilitator in business dealings, having moved on from being a small cog in some murky palm-greasing on behalf of American business interests at the point of the formation of Europe’s Common Market. 

His life is good. 

On the way home from a splendid meal one evening, he is kidnapped from the streets of Brussels. 

Initially, the kidnappers have a civilised approach to their guest, treating him with a modicum of respect.

Luckily Gast is a pretty cool customer.  He’s been in hostage situations before.  He’s been trained for such eventualities.  He thinks he’ll be able to hang on till the necessary formalities for his release are completed.

Unfortunately, he’s not in the hands of any typical captors. 

He finds himself accused, a little in the manner of Josef K, of being guilty of something by a group of people who are part of a bigger organisation that is ‘diverse by nature’ and with ‘many controls and safeguards’.  There’s to be a punishment, and what better punishment could there be for a man like Gast than to remove his 5 senses?

To gain support for their cause, the kidnappers are showing the entire event online.  The general public are to vote on Gast’s future and to donate to buy his freedom or otherwise.

The situation is a complete nightmare. 

The journey through it is told by Gast in a generally dispassionate way.  He reflects on his past, the events that have taken him to such a point in life, and upon the present as he tries to figure things out.  The stories are formed in such a way as to amplify the miseries of his predicament.

The premise of the book is superb, but a good idea in itself isn’t enough.  To my delight, Stona Fitch works with the concept wonderfully well.  The detail, the similes, the tales recounted from Gast’s past create a vivid experience and in doing so heightens the horror when it comes to the removal of his ways of interpreting the world. 

I’ve seen mentions here and there of it being Kafkaesque and it’s easy to see why.  What comes to mind when I think of Kafka is a dispassionate description of terrible situations, life turning on a moment, bureaucratic mess, individual guilt, alienation and the horrors that go hand-in-hand with it.  There are elements of each throughout Senseless.

What’s more, the book was published way back in 2001.  I guess that makes Stona Fitch a kind of visionary who’d seen early on the complex range of issues presented by globalisation, by reality TV and by the opportunities offered to anyone of enhanced methods of communication and our inevitable dependence upon them.

I also think that it’s a testament to the quality of his writing that there were points where I had to look away from the page.  The anticipation of what was coming was quite overwhelming.  Now, it’s not because I’m squeamish when it comes to violence and difficulty in fiction – I’d say the opposite was true – but when it’s done this well I do get goose-bumps, not just because of the acts buy because of the implications of them.  Within the small pictures he shows us the whole world and in the world he shows us the miniature.

It’s a seriously good book and it deserves to be read, and it’s great value as there’s the ‘bonus track’ in that I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come. 

Kindle US  UK

Sunday, 8 April 2012


Fuck me.  What a book.

Or to quote Donald Ray Pollock:  ‘Good Lord, where the hell did this guy come from?’

Frank Bill describes his work more succinctly and directly than I’m about to when he says at his blog, ‘House Of Grit’, ‘I don’t waste words, I write them.’

In ‘Crimes In Southern Indiana’ we have a book to cherish.

Essentially a collection of short stories, the work grabs hold harder with each page read. 

Stories overlap as characters and histories reappear in new situations, the circles becoming tighter and tighter until the lines of definition begin to blur and it begins to feel like a novel and like a work of major force.

They tell of a culture that seems completely engrained in the communities and families we get to visit.  It’s a culture of depth and of major contradiction, one that an outsider might feel the need to eradicate without wanting to throw out the babies with the bathwater.  There’s good and bad in there and they’re so tangled together that there’s little hope of separation.

Family loyalty and blood ties are deep-rooted.  Revenge is on an eye –for-an-eye basis; better still, two eyes are taken for the one.  History and economics has left the people impoverished and forgotten.   War veterans pick up the pieces.  Police do what they can and sometimes what they shouldn’t.  Children are ruled with iron-fists and belt-buckles.  Need drives all, even the selling of a young girl or the delivery of a knife into a throat. Guns are as part of daily life as pieces of furniture.  Hunting takes on new boundaries.  Friendships are tight until they aren’t.  People react to survive in any way they can.

In all the snapshots shown, the centre of the event is often an act of brutality.  Within a short space of time, Bill is able to explain lives and reasons and facts without ever being heavy-handed.  What is clear is that black and white aren’t really colours – they’re illusions.  There were times during the collection that I was applauding acts of immense brutality and I’ll applaud the next time I read them, too.

What I love about a really good short story is the way that it can engage with feeling and with power to leave me completely bowled over.  The effect of stringing a series of interwoven tales of the highest calibre is absolutely stunning on all levels (stunned by craft, plot, character, situation, imagination, heart and courage). 

Frank Bill is a man who can take hold of the emotional core of a situation as if it were some winged insect, and at the end decide whether to squash it or let it go.  He never shirks from difficult finales and tells things exactly as they have to be.

Miss this one and you’re making a huge mistake.

Simply magnificent.