Sunday, 8 May 2022

One Man's Opinion: THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT by WALTER TEVIS



 'Sometimes, her head reeling, she would feel in the depth of her stomach an anger as intense as the pain of a burst abscess in the jaw- a toothache so potent that nothing but drink could alleviate it. Sometimes the drink had to be forced against a rejection of it by her body, but she did it. She would get it down and wait and the feelings would subside a bit. It was like turning down the volume.'

Like many, I watched The Queen's Gambit on Netflix and delighted in the production. Captivated by the opening, it also was something of a slow-burner for me as I was unsure the substance would prevail over the style. I should have had no doubts and in the end I was totally satisfied. 

Which led me to the book. 

I had a similar experience of watching a Walter Tevis story before seeing it on the page almost forty years ago. I went to see The Hustler at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill. Part of the attraction was the promise of a free book, something I couldn't wait to read after watching the film again and the experience was totally rewarding. It was the same all over again with this one. 

The first thing I realised was that the adaptation of The Queen's Gambit is loyal to the original story. Not only does the sequence work, the characters may well have emerged straight from the pages.  

We open at the orphanage where Beth Harmon is to live out her early years. It's a cold place in the main and she has to squirrel away the grains of comfort where she can. These grains come in the form of an older girl, Jolene, the little green pills given out every day and the visits to the basement to learn about chess from the janitor there. 

Chess is the perfect world for Beth to occupy. Everything is in black and white, which is pretty much the way she understands most of the people she encounters. It soon becomes her preoccupation and, along with the medication, keeps her going. She visualises boards and games with a stunning understanding of the rules and memory for what she has learned from books and it's not long before she comes to the attention of a local chess club organiser. Being allowed to leave the orphanage for a tournament is no small thing and the experience is totally alien to her, as is a chess world that isn't ready to accept a newcomer of any kind, let alone one coming in the form of a young girl. 

Suffice to say, she's an amazing player and is required to overcome a series of issues in order to maximise her potential. 

Given that my chess knowledge is limited, the descriptions of the games make them hugely exciting; they're so good that I had to stifle cheers and tears when reading on the train. The characters are all sharply defined and even those who occupy little space are distinctive and interesting, particularly when seeing them through Beth's filter. Best of all, the notions of compulsion and addiction are plainly explored in a matter-of-fact way that really rang true to this particular reformed reader. 

The Queen's Gambit is truly a wonderful thing. Perhaps the images and the Technicolor merged into the words from the TV series, but I was too engrossed to give that much thought. Highly recommended whether you've watched or you haven't. 

Now back to searching out that old copy of The Hustler. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

One Man's Opinion: HE WHO HESITATES by ED McBAIN



Something of a novelty in 87th Precinct terms, the police are merely part of the backdrop rather than driving cases forward. 

Roger Broome's a big man. His visit to the city has been successful and he's sold all of the bowls and furniture he brought in from home. His mother's pleased with the result and he's ready to return, but something's not quite right. 

He chats to his landlady for a while and meets a beautiful woman working in a nearby drugstore. He buys the former a Valentine's Day card and the asks the latter to take the day off work in order to go out with him on a date. 

All the while, there's something in the back of his mind that won't let him rest. It's pricking his conscience and sees him hanging out outside the police station trying to work out whether he's ready to go in an report whatever passed the night before, the story of which is slowly revealed during reflective and/or obsessive moments throughout his day. 

The main police action takes place when his landlady reports a stolen fridge and Broome is interviewed as a possible suspect, but there's also a meeting with Parker who's in a bad mood and a little bit of stalking of Steve Carella. Their presence is so light that it's barely an 87th novel at all. Instead, it stands strongly by itself and adds a great new dimension to the series. 

Essentially, we're inside the mind of the criminal here. It's a position that has worked very successfully in a number of books and does so again during this one. The structure and balance between past and present creates significant engagement and the final outcome is expected and unexpected in equal measure. 

I imagine this isn't for everyone, but I really enjoyed it on the whole. The only reservations I have relate to the language of race, though there is balance between the couple in their burgeoning inter-racial relationship. 

Definitely one worth taking the time for and great to see McBain mixing things up a little, no doubt to stretch himself and prevent things becoming stale. 

 

 

Friday, 18 March 2022

One Man's Opinion: HOLE by GERRY BROWN (illustrated by EDUARDO RISSO)



Here's a turn up for the books, me reading a one-man-fighting-machine-against-the-odds thriller, something I've tended to avoid for quite a few years now. Without understanding quite why, it's a genre I avoid as it doesn't really engage me beyond the page-turning energy of trying to find out what's going to happen next (the edge of that energy slightly dulled by the knowledge that the protagonist is indestructible and will be able to use their black-ops skills to kick ass and summarise all defensive and attacking positions in the blink of an eye). In a nutshell, I read a Jack Reacher book once and really enjoyed it, but didn't (and won't) go back for more. 

The blurb for Hole reads:

It was the perfect shakedown.

Moundsville State Prison was rotten to the core. The guards were almost as crooked as the cons. Gangs ruled the jail, and Davie Ingram ruled the gangs.

The way it worked was Davie and his boys would isolate an inmate with no one to back him up. Hurt him, hurt him bad, on camera. Then send the video to the inmate's loved ones.

They wouldn't ask for much. Five, maybe ten thousand.

The first time.

Because if you didn't want your son, your nephew, your brother to play punching bag for the meanest motherfuckers in Moundsville, you had to pay again and again and again.

But this time Davie's crew picked the wrong man to shake down.

He's a man who won't take kindly to seeing a video of his brother being stomped by half a dozen vicious goons. A man who's a professional in the art of making people pay. Not with money, but with blood.

A man named...HOLE.

Hole has an interesting concept at its core. The idea that a prison gang can extort money by torturing an inmate is pretty cool. It works really well as a hook and, because Vint Hole is the man outside trying to save his brother, there's menacing energy in spades. 

Vint Hole is actually very engaging. He keeps himself to himself and anyone with any sense is going to him allow him to do that; the Warlords might have been wise to do their research first so they could have found this out. While trying to save his incarcerated brother, he needs to take on a mean and well-organised crew. The journey will take him back to his roots as well as into the middle of a nightmare.

It's a fast-paced read, is written well and has a couple of unexpected and inventive twists to add to the pleasure. Illustrations by Eduardo Risso bring an extra and pleasing dimension to the whole thing.

As with Reacher, I really enjoyed this but won't be dipping in for more. That said, if Reacher and his many offshoots/imitations are what you dig, you should get your spade out now as I suspect Hole is a treat you'll devour.   

Saturday, 5 March 2022

One Man's Opinion: AX by ED McBAIN



'Uptown, in a slum basement, one cop missed death by four inches and another cop missed staying alive by four inches.'

When there's a reading slump here in the Bird house, I can usually rely on Ed McBain and the fighting 87th to shake me out of it. Ax certainly helped in that respect, watering barren landscapes to produce a brief flowering of enthusiasm for books. I'm hoping the plants will last all year, but am equally ready for the bloom to disappear as if it's a momentary oasis in a desert. 

As the title suggests, there's an axe (I'm adding the e out of habit, not to be obtuse) in this one. And there's a corpse that has been savaged by said axe. It's that of a janitor found in a dingy basement and it's not a pretty sight.

The discovery of the body leads Carella through a series of encounters with mothers and their children. There's the wood-chopping Sam and Mrs Whitson, the agoraphobic son of the janitor who stays at home to look after the vulnerable new widow, the curious boy and the nosey neighbour Mrs Moscowitz and the wonderful Mrs Teddy Carella and their own kids. This series of meeting provides the background to the story as interesting vignettes, but the investigation doesn't really kick in until these foundations have been laid. 

In the course of this novel we meet a great cast: ex cons, an informer, a bunch of veterans from the Spanish-American war, a psychiatrist and a bent cop. Each set piece is well handled, all the more so because Carella and Hawes take the lead, and allows us to circle the case without nailing anything down.

As the number of pages diminishes and a solution seems as far away as ever, there's a bolt from the blue. My initial feeling was one of being cheated- all the legwork and the stories and the answer falls into their lap (something that happens from time-to-time with the 87th). Only it doesn't and the false conclusion is yet another satisfying twist in the tale. 

Thanks go out to Ed McBain for bringing another dose of sanity into a crazy world. Well worth the read.   

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

BLOOD SENTENCE

 

BLOOD SENTENCE 

"Accomplished writing from one of the best authors in the UK." M.W. Craven, Sunday Times Bestselling author of the CWA Gold Dagger Washington Poe series

Three bodies, one suspect. That suspect is you…

When the unidentified corpse of an apparent suicide victim is found hanging above a complex pattern of forty photographs of children, Detective Inspector Jonah Pennance of the Met’s specialist Sapphire Unit is brought in to investigate.

A post-mortem reveals the suicide was murder, and Pennance realises he knows the man. But as the body count rises, all the signs point to a care home in Kent – a place that Pennance is all too familiar with.

The problem is the only person connecting the victims is Pennance – and he has a solid motive for wanting them dead… Can Pennance prove his innocence?

Perfect for fans of Ian RankinStuart MacBride, and Peter James Blood Sentence is the first book in the explosive series featuring Detective Inspector Jonah Pennance.

What Others Say

"A compelling murder mystery with a multilayered and engaging new hero. A great read."
Mason Cross, author of the Carter Blake thriller series

"Keith Nixon is a sparkling crime fiction talent."
Howard Linskey, author of the Detective Ian Bradshaw crime series

"Takes the police procedural elements and gives them new life."
Luca Veste, author of the Murphy and Rossi crime series

"One hell of a writer."

Ken Bruen, author of the Jack Taylor novels


Available here

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Snuff Racket by Tom Leins Free This Valentine's Day

 


A missing video. A dismembered girl. A deranged ex-con. And a disgraced private investigator. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it...


SNUFF RACKET is the pulse-pounding new thriller from the author of SKULL MEAT.
Still recuperating from his previous case, Paignton private eye Joe Rey is hired by a mysterious stranger to track down one of the few remaining copies of a notorious 1970s Giallo movie - only to find himself embroiled in an increasingly vicious running battle with a demented ex-convict.


(Author's note: this book contains scenes and language that readers of a sensitive disposition may find disturbing.)


SNUFF RACKET is also available as part of the collection MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (published June 2018).



Monday, 3 January 2022

One Man's Opinion: MR SALARY by SALLY ROONEY

 


A nice surprise at Christmas this, Sally Rooney's short story Mr Salary

It's great to see short fiction sold like this and it's a fine way to explore the work of writers you love or those you might want to check out in the future. 

Mr Salary is a wealthy Irishman who picks up Sukie upon her return from Boston. Sukie's motives for coming home are mixed. Her father is dying of leukemia, she isn't making significant relationships in the States, it's Christmas and the man she loves is in Dublin. 

The size of the piece is small, but the scope is fairly large. Those who've read the novels will feel they're in familiar territory in terms of the glances of the poetic language, the abrupt and direct approaches of the protagonist, the sexual tension, submission and purpose. 

It works as a one off and as it is, but I'd be more than happy to read on and find out what might lay ahead for the trio involved; there are certainly great riches to be mined and explored here and if it were an opening chapter, it would be a great springboard into a novel.

An inspired gift, Nancy (such a treat and the words in your card meant a huge amount), one that I can recommend for the Christmas stockings of 2022.