Thursday, 7 June 2018

One Man's Opinion: WAIT UNTIL SPRING BANDINI by JOHN FANTE



Arturo Bandini is doomed. He’s doomed for so many reasons that it would be painful to list them all. Suffice to say he’s living in extreme poverty, his father is a brute, the love of his life looks down on him from a great height and he’s stricken by the religious fervour of his mother.

Wait Until Spring Bandini (US)offers a series of glimpses into the Bandini household. There’s not a great deal of fun to be had. Mrs Bandini is constantly begging the local storekeeper to sell her essentials on the slate. The cold is intense. Head of house, Svevo, is about to disappear. Winter is a hell to survive, what with Christmas being the property of the rich and the hard weather bringing to a close all sports. What else is there for a child to do but dream and get into trouble? And Arturo does plenty of both.

It’s a tough read in many ways. The downturns in fortune are endless and each carries more weight than the one that went before. No sooner is Arturo finding a glimmer of hope to cling to than the world cuts him down to his knees. The grinding down of the family is relentless. Resistance seems futile. The book’s as dark as the December nights it describes.

If that’s all correct, then what on earth would anyone want to read the damned book for?

Among all of the terrible happenings are moments of beauty. There are passages of sublime description. The internal workings cut deep and are vivid in their bleakness. There are crazy laugh-out-loud moments and descriptions of life that expose the motivations of the central characters in a way that is brutal and yet somehow tender.

The vignettes offered are each gripping in their own way. Mealtimes. The stealing of money to visit the cinema. The classroom. The storekeeper’s miserly spirit. The mother’s intense faith and inevitable depression. The romantic Christmas gift. The Christmas banquet. The new shoes. The brotherly scraps. The rich lover. The examinations of that it is to be an Italian in America.

These stories cling together to form a book that’s well worth a read. It’s almost a collection of short fiction, each tale carrying its own driving force which, when combined, creates an overall narrative that is difficult to resist.

I can’t say this was unputdownable. I put my copy away many times. The intensity could become too much and a rest and a little reflection allowed me to prepare for the next challenging instalment.

I enjoyed the world I inhabited when I was there and found lots of the passages to be delicious. That said, I’m going to lock the book away in a strong box to make sure its ghosts can’t seep out into my world and contaminate the things I hold dear.

Friday, 18 May 2018

One Man's Opinion: SUNK COSTS by PRESTON LANG


Here’s another great read from All Due Respect books.
Their latest, Sunk Costs (US), tells the tale of a young drifter who arrives into town and picks up a ride with from an attractive woman. Things are a little too good to be true and an explosive turn leads Dan into making a deal. All he has to do is to find a key in the office where the lady used to work.
Sounds simple enough, only it really isn’t.
There’s another woman, Kate, after that same key. Kate works in the office and realises that there may be riches to be had if they can get hold of it.
The situation spirals out of control as the prize continually and tantalisingly slips out of reach at every turn.
Dan’s street-smarts and con-artistry are put to the test as the danger level rises enough to swamp him.
Tightly written, punchy and engaging from the start, this is a low-life adventure that you won’t want to miss.
Thoroughly entertaining. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

BATTLEFIELDS

It’s quiet without you.


Tidy, now you’ve gone.

There’s too much space.

Enough room to swing that cat of yours.



Stillness drips from walls

pooling into seas of silent nothing.

Ghosts tease me into searching shadows

and all the you-sized spaces.

The bathroom’s free, the chairs all mine

and I can surf the TV with reckless abandon.

I write BLISS in the steamy mirror

and rub it out before the final S is drawn.



Tomorrow I’ll blast out talk shows,

sprinkle crumbs on the carpet

and pile clothes in random places.

I’ll leave the cap off the toothpaste,

forget to flush the toilet

and miss the bin with every shot.

My shoes will live separate lives at the back door

while bikes stand rusting in the rain.



Until you return,

I will fill this world with chaos

eat with my fingers and leave the lights on

so you can find the way home.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

One Man's Opinion: LADY KILLER by ED MCBAIN



Meyer thought he would die in a way unbefitting a heroic cop. He would die of heat prostration, and the obits would simply say COP FLOPS. Or perhaps, if the news was headlined in Variety, SOPPY COP DROPS.

‘How do you like this Variety headline announcing my death by heat prostration?’ he said to Carella as they entered another hockshop. ‘Soppy Cop Drops.’

‘That’s pretty good,’ Carella said. ‘How about mine?’

‘In Variety?’

‘Sure.’

‘Let me hear it.’

‘SOPPY WOP COP DROPS.’

Lady Killer has a sense of urgency from the off. A young boy delivers a letter to the police desk.

‘I will kill The Lady tonight at 8. What can you do about it?’

The words are made from letters clipped from newspaper. It could be a hoax. The detectives of the 87th can’t afford to treat it that way and have to give it their full attention. If the letter is telling the truth, they have a day to solve the case. And so the pressure begins.

As is often the case in the series, the weather in the city is extreme. The tarmac on the roads is melting and people are desperate to find some relief from the heat. McBain does his usual wonderful job creating the picture and the temperature features as strongly as the characters themselves and would be enough to get the reader to open a window even in the winter months.

The plot sees an investigation in which no stone is unturned. The lab examines the letter. The paper on which it is made is identified and tracked down. This takes the amorous Cotton Hawes to a bookshop in which he manages to fall in love. Boys dressed like the delivery boy are collected from street corners. Artist’s impressions are drawn. Every effort is made to identify anyone known as Lady and this takes us from saunas to La Via De Putas to the showy apartment of a musical star. No lead is strong enough and the detectives become anxious about the ticking clock.

In the midst of their frustration, we meet the author of the threat. He’s watching the detectives through a pair of binoculars that will later give the team more clues to go on. We discover that the threat is no idle one and that the motivation behind the letter is to give the police a chance to stop him from committing the serious crime he has planned. He’s going to leave a trail of clues that he feels should be easy to solve. Unfortunately, the detectives struggle to get onto his warped wavelength.   

The pace starts well and builds nicely to the exhilarating climax and another really classy read.

A couple of things stand out to me in this one. The first is that there is only the one crime being investigated. That’s unusual in my experience to date. It’s often the weaving of different cases that helps to keep the books moving forward with the suspense I enjoy. It also means that the books usually have a range of tones and flavours that provide excellent contrast and variety to appreciate.

Lady Killer doesn’t suffer at all for having only a single investigation underway. There’s still a great range of characters to get to know and with Cotton Hawes at the fore, we have another opportunity to get inside his head.

If there’s a downside to this one, it’s a minor one. There’s something about the ending that left me a tad disappointed. It was nothing I can’t get over, yet it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped. I’d happily take opinions on that to see if you can persuade me otherwise. Let me know if you have the time. And is there anyone else out there who thinks the title may be referring more to Hawes that anyone else? If there is, same goes.  

Even with that minor point, it’s still a five-star read to my mind and I already have the next one lined up for when I need a reading lift.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Toe Six Press

Toe Six



Things go in cycles. Come at you in waves. Here's something new that'll sweep you off your feet. Authors and readers, you should really check this out. 

I'm only here to make the introductions. 

Something's afoot. Meet Toe Six Press

Saturday, 7 April 2018

One Man's Opinion: MANHATTAN BEACH by JENNIFER EGAN


Manhattan Beach

‘She’d never been good at banter; it was like a skipping rope whose rhythm she couldn’t master enough to jump in with confidence.’

When I read The Keep by Jennifer Egan, I was so engaged with the textures and structures that I knew I’d be visiting her books again. Given that The Keep was never fully within my grasp in terms of understanding the whole, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect from Manhattan Beach.

It’s a very different book. More conventional in many ways, but no less gripping for that.

The central character is Anna. We meet her as a young girl as she visits a Gatsbyesque gangster with her father. The father/daughter relationship is clearly a very special and rather fragile one, the links between father and gangster are new and tentative. Though the early encounters with each of these people is fascinating and beautifully described, it took me a while to get to the pace and cadence of the story.  Sentences took me by surprise and the variation in points of view had me struggling to fully acclimatise. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying things. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was, perhaps, more that I found the landscape disorientating until I found my feet.  

Once I’d come to know Anna’s family (a mother who has given up on her dancing career and on many other aspects of her life in order to become a carer; Anna’s severely disabled sister who rarely speaks but steals many of the scenes in which she appears; her bagman of a father; and her errant aunt who makes a living from the men she connects with) everything settled down. Like Anna, who will later find great insight from fumbling around in the darkness of the underwater world, I was able to find my way through the twists and turns with delight and navigate land and sea as if a natural.

The flesh on the bones of the story is rich and delicious. It offers great insights into a world at a different time. There’s a war on. Many of New York’s men have gone to fight and many of those remaining are about to leave. Women are finding new roles as necessity gives birth to invention without eliminating prejudice or changing attitudes. Similarly with race, equality is available only in small, practically invisible measures. There are barriers everywhere for Anna to overcome, but she’s strong and wise and determined.

As well as an insight into wartime New York, we get a great view into life in the Merchant Navy. As Anna’s aunt mentions, the sailors involved count among the overlooked heroes and from the stories we get to witness, any stripes they earned cannot be begrudged.

The gangland element of this tale is mysterious and fascinating. Dexter Styles is our eyepiece. He has risen through the ranks of the mob and married into power and society until he is on the verge of being completely legitimate. He has an uncanny way of understanding people and situations. He sees the world with clarity and certainty. He’s an adorable bad guy. His grip on the world only begins to loosen as a grown-up Anna re-enters his orbit.   

Overall, this one’s a real joy. I didn’t want it to finish and when I was inside I was totally submerged in Egan’s creation. I felt like I was there and could cut loose from reality and drift like a raft upon the ocean at any point in time simply by opening the pages at my bookmark and sailing on.

Is this the perfect read? Of course not. There are flaws. Where the scenes on the shipyards, of the diving and of life at sea appear to be deeply researched (all explanations being deftly handled), the world of the gangster seems to be less understood and I think I’d have liked a more solid grounding here. The early stages do take some orientation. There are a number of coincidences in terms of the plot that are a little too convenient if you want to split hairs.

As far as I’m concerned, any imperfections are easily overlooked. Jennifer Egan’s style is superb whether she’s working with large or fine brushes. It’s her insight into her characters that ultimately wins out. Her ability to describe the impossible or unreachable with poetic similes or slices of magic is wonderful. Her trump card, I reckon, is her ability to throw her human creations into the world and then be able to describe every one of their reactions. This ability to empathise to such depth within fiction is a rare thing. She may even have to wear a protective suit to get right down to those levels. I felt it most when she was dealing with loss, a recurring theme throughout the novel. That’s when the delicate touch can be most keenly felt. And now I’ve come to the journey’s end, I’m experiencing my own sense of loss. But, never mind:

‘It was all still there, everything he’d left behind. It’s vanishing had only been a trick.’

Absolutely loved this read. Go and escape.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Southsiders: The Collected Jesse Garon Novels

SOUTHSIDERS

Four novels, four terrific tales. Follow the adventures of the young Jesse Garon as he struggles to survive after being left home alone.

From Amazon US, UK, Australia, Canada and Germany 

and more widely available here.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Dancing With Myself: KAREN HARPER interviews KAREN HARPER

https://www.amazon.com/Shallow-Grave-South-Shores-Harper/dp/0778331199
SHALLOW GRAVE

ME:  You are definitely a survivor in the ever-changing publishing world.  Published since 1982 with over 70 novels?  So how old are you? 

AUTHOR:  I don’t answer that question, and if I did, it would be fiction.  I’ll just say I am in the baby-boomer category. I taught two years at Ohio State (good-old Freshman English) and 15 years of high school English before I began to write full time both contemporary suspense and historical novels. 

ME:  Don’t you need a split personality for that? 

AUTHOR:  It does take a brain transplant to switch from one genre and era to the other, but I love doing both.  The historicals about real British women take more research, but each of my suspense novels hinge on something that takes background reading.  I’m currently researching cryonics and butterflies—yes, there is a link.  I guess, even in writing entertaining fiction, I’m still trying to teach about interesting things. 

ME:  Since this is an interview, do you interview your characters before you start to write a book?  I know some writer friends who do that. 

AUTHOR:  I used to write bios of my main characters, but I have learned to let them “grow as I go”—that is, develop and speak and come alive on the page.  Likewise, I let the plots develop as I write much more than I used to.  It probably drives my editors crazy when I hand in the required proposal and tell them halfway through it, and this is what might happen…maybe this is how it will end. Of course, with the historicals, I stick to what actually happened in the lives of some amazing women. 

ME:  So do you start with character? 

AUTHOR:  Actually, I start with a setting or location I know and love and then develop the story from there.  (I was honored to meet the famous British author P.D. James and was really excited to hear she started with place too.)  My current SOUTH SHORES SERIES is set mostly in South Florida where I lived for 30 winters.  I’ve used Appalachia and Amish Country, both locations I often visit.  My history ('her story') novels are usually set in either Tudor or Edwardian England. I’m a rabid Anglophile and have been to ‘Merrie Olde’ many times.  Have laptop, will travel! 


ME:  What are the benefits and drawbacks of a long writing career? 

AUTHOR:  Drawbacks--stamina and flexibility are needed.  Benefits:  I have made many friends among other writers, in various pub houses and in my longtime literary agency.  I’m blessed to have great editors, especially at this time.  I belong to some national writing organizations and some local, so that’s double-dipping with business and pleasure.  I have seen so many changes in publishing, but I must admit it’s much easier not to have to use a typewriter and not to have to schlep heavy manuscripts to the post office, then back and forth for revisions and proofreading.  Now, I just hit the ‘send’ key on my laptop.  As much time as it sometimes takes away from writing and research, it’s great to have a Facebook page and website to be able to more easily keep in touch with my readers.  I love to visit libraries for talks, also, and the photo of me with the tiger (a tiger is in SHALLOW GRAVE (US) story) was taken during such a talk.  Thanks to Sea Minor for this outreach opportunity!  


Friday, 23 February 2018

Dancing With Myself: YVONNE VENTRESCA interviews YVONNE VENTRESCA



1. This interview thing is a little awkward. What made you think this was a good idea?



At least this time, there’s no intimidating tape recorder. And I can skip the hard questions, right? I’ll just exclude them, and no one will be the wiser. We’ll do eight – that’s a significant number for Ella in Black Flowers, White Lies, my young adult thriller (published by Sky Pony Press).



2. Why is the number eight significant?



Ella’s father was born on August 8th, and when she was eight years old, she could have died, but didn’t.



Here’s more about the story:



Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a connection that transcends the grave. Since her mother disapproves, she keeps her visits to the cemetery where he’s buried secret. But when Ella learns that her mother may have lied about how Dad died sixteen years ago, it’s clear she’s not the only one with secrets. New facts point to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom always claimed.



When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger, as he did once before, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks on her. But as the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her.



Soon the evidence points to someone new: Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering from a mental breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers—no matter how disturbing the truth might be.



3. Why did you become a writer?



Growing up, I was an avid reader. There’s a certain joy to losing yourself in a good book. That love of story inspired me to write, because it allows me to recreate that experience for other readers.



In college, I double majored in computer science and English, but it wasn’t until after I graduated and left my corporate job that I decided to seriously focus on writing. I transitioned by writing about technology first, followed by more general nonfiction, but creating a novel was always my ultimate goal.



4. Why write fiction for young adults?



It’s an interesting age to write for and about, because the teenage years are filled with both potential and uncertainty. It’s also what I enjoy reading.



5. I’m an adult. Will I like your YA fiction?



That depends. If you enjoy other young adult novels, or you like reading stories set during the main character’s teen years, then it’s more likely you’ll like this story as well. There was an interesting article in The Atlantic in December about the general appeal of young adult novels.



6. Black Flowers, White Lies is set in Hoboken, NJ. Are all of the places mentioned real?



I used to live in Hoboken, and it was fun incorporating real restaurants, landmarks, and trivia into the story. Ella and her family live in the 77 River Street building, and I put her boyfriend in an apartment on Bloomfield. There are also scenes set at Stevens Institute of Technology, The Brass Rail, and the PATH station.



But I did fictionalize some aspects of the city, adding a cemetery, an animal shelter, and a bookstore on Newark Street. (The story was written before the arrival of Little City Books.)



By the way, I created a collection of my Hoboken photos on Pinterest which I referred back to as I was writing to remind me of specific setting details.



7. Are there themes that you think are common to all of your work?



I’m drawn to the idea of creating scary situations in our ordinary world. For example, in Black Flowers, White Lies, a series of unsettling events occur during an otherwise normal summer. This book also combines the frightening and the ordinary when Ella starts to question her perception of reality. When I wrote Pandemic (about a deadly contagious outbreak), it seemed natural to use the town where I live as the setting, because it underscored the idea that disasters could happen in regular places. I did rename the town in the novel, because it felt like bad karma to unleash deadly bird flu on my neighbors, even fictionally.



8. Last question: Tell us about the Black Flowers, White Lies cover. Did you have any input?



The cover images were inspired by the final book title. (It was originally called In the Dark, but my editor and I realized there were already several books out with that name, so we changed it.) I loved the cover concept, created by Sarah Brody for Sky Pony Press, since its inception. My small bit of input was to suggest more tombstones in the cemetery at the bottom of the cover, since an early version only had one. The paperback cover is essentially the same as the hardcover, with a different blurb and the addition of the award seal (the 2017 Independent Publisher’s Gold Medal for YA fiction) on the front.




That’s a wrap!


 




Excellent! If you’re interested in more information, you can learn about me and my books at YvonneVentresca.com.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

One Man's Opinion: MAY by MARIETTA MILES


May

May is told from two alternating angles.

In the first, we get to see her working alone to maintain holiday accommodation and preparing for the arrival of a big storm. She’s independent and isolated and her main social contacts come through the dope dealing that allows her to make ends meet. As the storm approaches and a couple of odd characters are hanging around her flats, we get to see May as a strong survivor who leaves in her wake the sense that she’s vulnerable and brittle.

The second strand tells us the story of May’s growing up. We get to watch her trip as she steps across the threshold into the world of the young adult and witness her parents allow her to crash without attempting to break her fall. The cruelty within her family is painfully cold and brutal, the hurt that May feels utterly palpable.

These elements fit together nicely as one builds with suspense and the other becomes so raw that it’s unbearable. The history helps to put the older May into perspective and adds to the building desire to see her make it through when the clouds darken, the winds get up and those hungry for her wares tire of sniffing at the door.

I really enjoyed this book, particularly in the section dealing with the troubles of her teenage years. The images are vivid and the swirling angst of the isolated adolescent spins hard and fast like the imminent storm itself. It’s the kind of book that can make you wince and cry and shout out at the injustice of it all. As chapters close and you enter quiet moments of reflection, you can be relieved that this is simply fiction in the way you might experience relief when realising that the nightmare you just had isn’t real after all.

If you’re a regular here, it’s likely that May is going to be right up your street. If that's not enough, another reason to recommend the read is that this book left me with the sense that Marietta Miles is going to write something truly amazing in the near future. You want to be on the journey with her when she arrives at the next stop, so get on board now and enjoy the scenery.   

Friday, 2 February 2018

Jeremy Corbyn Recommends...

We Know What We Are


'Great descriptions of people and power. Read it!' Jeremy Corbyn MP (Leader of the Labour Party)

When a woman takes on the vested interests in politics and football, a city is forced to take sides. We Know What We Are is a gritty contemporary political thriller, with a strong female protagonist who battles corruption, power and prejudice in a quest for a fairer society. It's set in a Midlands city.


A girl searches for her missing brother, a council leader fights to hold on to her principles and a chief executive battles to hold back the tide of cuts. Over them all looms a threatened football club and the sinister shadow of its chairman. As identities shift and allegiances are tested, how much will each of them risk to save the city, the club – and themselves?

The novel explores how our sense of ourselves affects our ability to make change, to determine the future for ourselves. 

'Authentic and wise. We Know What We Are (US) is proof that local politics is as ruthless as anything that happens in Westminster.' Erin Kelly (Broadchurch)

Saturday, 27 January 2018

CLOSING TIME

CLOSING TIME

With the death toll at the Phoenix Festival rising, Jesse is one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately he can’t see things that way. As soon as he regains consciousness, there’s only one thing on his mind – REVENGE. He enlists Danny’s help to find the men who killed his girlfriend and intends to deliver justice in the old-fashioned way. 

Danny goes along with him, but only on the condition that Jesse doesn’t get his hands dirty when they’re on the job. Unfortunately for Danny, even the best made plans can go awry. 

The explosive and final instalment of the Jesse Garon series.


Closing Time (US)is 99p/99c today and over this weekend. 





Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Dancing With Myself: LISA BLACK interviews LISA BLACK


Perish

Me: Lisa Black, despite the courteous welcome, is actually pretty damn antisocial. She would rather be left alone than share her thoughts with someone. She would prefer to sit on the lanai and read a book, or go biking, or frankly do laundry instead of conversing so I gave her a vodka and Sprite Zero Cranberry to loosen her up.

It didn’t really work. It’s unseasonably cold in Florida at the moment, so perhaps I should have gone with a hot chocolate martini. I waded in nonetheless.

Me: Why do you write?

LB: Seriously? Come on! Start with an easier one than that.

Me: Um, okay. Why do you write murder mysteries?

LB: What else is there?

That seemed to settle that, so I tried another direction.

Me: Give us the synopsis of your series.

LB: Maggie is a CSI in Cleveland, Ohio. Jack is a homicide detective who has killed criminals when he did not believe they could be convicted. This is his life’s work, and he’s very serious about it.

Me: How is he different from Dexter or Charles Bronson…what was his name in the movie…

LB: Paul Kersey. They both enjoyed the killing. Jack doesn’t. That’s why he tries to make it as quick and painless as possible. To him it’s an unpleasant but necessary task.

Me: Why do you write about a homicide detective who kills people?

LB: I don’t know. I’m not trying to be a pain! But I don’t know. It just seems to me a logical extension of behavior. You have these bad people doing bad things, so kill them. End of problem. That’s how Jack sees it, and it baffles him just a little why the rest of the world can’t admit that it makes perfect sense.

Me: What if he gets the wrong guy?

LB: He doesn’t.

Me: But what i--

LB: He doesn’t. He’s very, very careful about it. At least he hasn’t yet. I know I should have a plot in which he does kill an innocent person, to make the lesson about why vigilantism is a bad thing and why we have to live by the rule of law. But I think that would be little cliché. Just as I should write a plot in which Maggie encounters someone so terrible or personally threatening that she does a one-eighty and asks Jack to kill them, but I don’t want to do that, either, because it’s been done. 

Me: So your writing is all unique.

LB: I didn’t say that! I’m sure I hit lots of clichés. But only the ones I like. In my opinion, clichés are clichés because they’re universally true, and we never get tired of them.

Me: So what’s this particular book about?

LB: About the financial crisis, believe it or not.

Me: Um--

LB: I got fascinated by the financial meltdown and the housing bust, and had to work it into a book. So Jack and Maggie investigate a predatory lender who is eviscerated on the marble floor of her mansion, and have to enter the shark tank of a financial firm to find out who did it.

Me: Okay. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

LB: I think one of my strengths is dialogue. Not that I am terribly observant or have a great ear, I don’t, but at least it doesn’t sound as if it were written by an English teacher. And I’m good at sticking to the story without digressions. You can’t be self-indulgent when you write. I’m not too good at describing things, but happily I go by Lawrence Block’s dictum that just about anything can be described in one sentence. My biggest weakness, I think, is characterization. I tend to make my characters, they’re there, they are who they are, and that’s all you need to know. I can’t make them grow and stretch and suffer and have pages of internal monologues very well. I’m accustomed to looking at a murder case with a great deal of detachment, so it’s hard for me to make my characters feel personally involved. That’s necessary for fiction, but it’s a really bad idea for real life.

Me: So at work you’re a hard ass.

[She laughs uproariously.]

LB: I’m about as tough as a half-drowned kitten. I’m a middle-aged white lady from the ‘burbs. But it is the ‘burbs, so I don’t have to be tough. On the other hand, I can stroll up to a badly decomposed corpse without batting an eye, so I don’t feel the need to prove anything to anybody.

Me: Except that you can write?

LB: Well, yeah, that. In my opinion the jury’s still out on that.

Me: Does it get depressing, working around all those decomposed corpses?

LB: No. I prefer to think it has made me appreciate life. I’m very practical about death, in my humble opinion. I don’t want to live forever. My plan is to do everything I want to do, go all the places in the world I want to go, before I’m 60. Then from 60 to 70 I’ll sit on my lanai and drink wine and read books. Then at 70 I’ll be ready to go. Of course that’s easy to say at 54. I might have a different idea at 70.

Me: So you have a bucket list? What’s the most unusual item on it?

LB: I want to be on an episode of Drunk History. I’d be adorable on Drunk History!! I’d tell them about the Torso Murderer of 1930’s Cleveland. Though they usually have more uplifting stories than a never-caught brutal serial killer, so that must be why I’m not on Drunk History. Yeah, that’s it.

Me: Do you want another vodka?

LB: Yes. 

Me: So why do you write?

LB: Now that I can make (some) money at it, I write to make money. But I wrote for many, many years without making any money at all, so I really have no idea why I kept at it. I just did.

Perish is available here.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

One Man's Opinion: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE by W R BURNETT



Theo J Hardy is the new Police Commissioner. He’s straight, determined and ready to clean up the act of the force he oversees. He has his hands full with his colleagues and the press, so when the infamous heist planner, Riemenschneider  (aka Herr Doktor, aka The Professor) finishes his spell in prison, Hardy’s not to happy that no one has noticed.  Riemenschneider has disappeared into thin air and the cops have no angle to track him down.

I say thin air. That’s not exactly the case. He’s turned up at a gambling joint run by the shady Cobby and he’s ready to put into motion the perfect crime. To put everything in place, Riemenschneider requires a team and a bank roll. In order to find these, he insists on seeing the biggest cheese and slipperiest bastard on the block, Emmerich.

Now Emmerich’s in a spot of bother. He’s spent all his dough on a dame. As well as supporting his bed-ridden wife at home, he has another house in which his sexy young thing enjoys all the trappings of luxury that money can buy. The tax people are after him and the prospect of a huge hit on a jewellery store is irresistible.  In order to keep the balls in the air, he has to come up with other alternatives and prepares various plans in which he will end up double-crossing someone or other.

Dix is the Italian Stallion. At least he used to be. He’s been tamed by his wife and is besotted with his new son. He’s almost gone straight, but is keen to maintain his wealth to make sure his family are financially secure.

Dix and Brannon are hard men. Big tough guys who both play their cards close to their chests. Dix is batting for the gang, Brannon for Emmerich. There’s a showdown in prospect and you can almost smell the testosterone and the blood from the first moment we sense the pair will come together. The ensuing battle doesn’t disappoint and, as has to be, only one of them can walk away.

Gus is a hunchback. He works a diner counter. He has good beef for his friends and Grade B and C burgers for everyone else. He has a temper, a surprising power and he’s connected to everything that happens in the underworld crime scene. As it happens, he’s also a big fan of Dix’s and will back him all the way and make sure that he stays safe, no matter how many cops or villains are after him. Gus’s knowledge and connections spread everywhere like the sewers under the streets. There’s not a corner he doesn’t know or a sharp he hasn’t come across.

What happens when all these characters come together and the heist is played out is gripping. The plot shifts as fortunes rise and fall and circumstance changes. The robbery itself is tension-fuelled and the police chase is always engaging. The highlight, however, is the interplay between the criminals and the observation of the ways their loyalties split and fuse while their world turns to shit.

In the end, I was rooting for almost everyone. If it were possible, it would have been great for the cops to succeed and for the robbers to get away (most of them, at any rate), but that can’t happen.

The rounding off of each individual’s journey is compelling and triggers an emotional reaction. It didn’t all pan out in the way I hoped it might, but if it had it would have been much less of a book that it is.

The Asphalt Jungle (US) is cracking read. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.