Wednesday, 20 September 2023



I've often been tempted by these books, partly because of the great covers, because of the recommendation of Keith Nixon and due to the names of the central characters. Now, I've finally dipped in my toe and I can pass on the verdict: come on in, the water's fine. 

It's been a while since my last book thoughts, which reflects the time this one took to get through. This is often an indicator that I wasn't driven to pick up a book to read in quiet moments and there's an element of that here. It's also because it's a fairly substantial read. 

The opening section took me by surprise, with one of central figures being taken out by an explosion. What followed was an investigation spanning decades, on the one hand looking at Bryant and May's first case together and on the other trying to find the killer of Arthur Bryant and the way it relates to that Second Word War investigation. 

I was taken by the scenes at the Peculiar Crimes Unit where the pair first meet. The pair interact wonderfully, each clearly suited to their posting on account of their curious personalities. The conversations are a treat, often flavoured with comedy and wit, and it was impossible not to fall for them very quickly. 

The central case involves a series of murders in London's magnificent Palace Theatre. A dancer loses her feet at the point of death, giving a local street trader a shock when they appear when he returns to work. Members of the cast of the rather provocative show continue to be bumped off, disappear or experience near misses while a ghostly face is often seen at the scene of the crimes. All very Phantom. A little unlikely, perhaps, the show continues while the detectives dig into the lives of those involved in the performance, including the shadowy workings of the theatre's Greek owner. 

I've noted comments in the reviews about some historical inaccuracies, but I sailed through it blissfully unaware, loving the detail of the period and enjoying many of the facts that added to the sense of time and place. 

I also really enjoyed Bryant's leaning towards the spirit world to help him solve crimes. His clairvoyant friend is an asset to the case and certainly added to the enjoyment of this reader. 

There are a few minor issues. The points of view dance around in a way that's not always helpful and the shifts between past and present aren't always clearly marked. The plot is also slightly stretched and a little less of it would have suited me just fine. 

That said, I suspect the strength of this series is likely to be based upon Bryant and May and those in their team and I'll definitely be coming back for more to find out what other peculiar cases they might stumble into. 

Good stuff.  

Friday, 4 August 2023


Lemons Never Lie is a book that just keeps on giving, unless you happen to be the protagonist (Alan Grofied), in which case it keeps on giving and taking and giving and taking and so on. 

Grofield is invited to LA to talk about a job. At the airport, while awaiting his bags, he plays the slot machines. When he draws three lemons it nets him fourteen nickels. This he sees as a sign of bad luck and it's a hex that's going to follow him right until the end of the novel. 

He bumps into an old colleague, Dan, and they attend a meeting of criminals only to discover that the organiser, Andrew Myers, is a flawed human being who has no respect for human life and has a reckless approach to heists. Grofield and Dan leave, but Myers stamps his mark on both of them (literally and figuratively) before they leave town with each of them carries a grudge for Myers that isn't going to leave them be.

There's a little bit of ping pong after that, where the plot works its way through various sections of the story. 

Grofield's main incentive for criminal activity is the running of an old theatre in Mead Grove, Indiana. It's where he lives with his wife, and when they're not putting on shows they are living on stage. They're frugal and motivated and, above all, very happy. It's the kind of idyllic lifestyle many a reader might wish for. Unfortunately, with the Myers job gone and no opportunities on the horizon, Grofield is getting desperate. 

When Dan shows up again and a call comes in for a safe robbery in a superstore, things begin to look up. And then they look down again. Grofield sure was right about those lemons.

After being kicked when he was up a few too many times, Grofield is forced into a position where he needs to take revenge. Myers is no longer just a thorn in his side but a crown of them, with each spike jabbing directly into his heart. By the end of the book, only one of them will still be standing.  

Though there are a few cracks in the plot in terms of it shooting off in many directions and in certain elements that feel on the unlikely side, there's plenty of paper in the form of the quality of the writing and the energy of the action to cover them over. And there's lots to love. The negotiation when buying a vehicle for a job is perfect. The purchasing of guns. The tension of the heist. Grofield's cool determination and dogged pursuit of his nemesis. Best of all, the wonderful set up Grofield has with his wife and the extra dimensions his love of the theatre bring to his character really shine. 

A neat book in a tidy-sized pocket edition that will have you sitting on whatever seat it is you're sitting on wherever you happen to be.  

Sunday, 30 July 2023



I suspect that Cop Killer isn’t typical of the Martin Beck series. Still, it’s the first I’ve read and there’s enough in the novel to make me want to visit again.

A woman is murdered on the edge of a small Swedish town and her body is hidden by the killer.

Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg of the national murder squad are called in to investigate what is initially a missing person case. This takes them for a long stretch in the suburbs where policing is rather different that in the big cities. Beck is looked after by local cop Allwright who defies immediate impressions by proving himself to be a knowledgeable and dedicated officer who knows pretty much everything that there is to know about his patch. The contrast between city and country is significant and takes Beck and Kollberg back to days when their working lives were simpler.

There are two main suspects in the case, the victim’s ex-husband and a local man who has a dark and confused history. After significant digging and interviews, Beck doesn’t fancy them for this crime. Unfortunately, he’s battling against press interest and national politics in his bid to find justice.

The first half of the book is excellent. Beck’s slow adaptation to a quieter life in a gentle community is rather touching, as is his new relationship with Allwright. Each of the characters involved brings something of interest, not least in the way that they help do show different facets of Beck’s character. There may be the occasional odd phrase or translation to cope with, but on the whole it flows extremely well.

What didn’t work quite so easily was the transition of the story into a new overlapping case. Though it’s essential to the solving of the original murder, it appears from nowhere and feels slightly disjointed. It’s not that I mind multiple cases in one book; in fact, I think I often prefer it that way. However, there’s much more opinion thrown in here with extra detail and reference to facts that slow things down. It brings to light the conflict between Kollberg’s ways and those of his new boss and that is handled more heavily than I would have liked. I much preferred the earlier pace and situation.  

In the end, the cases converge. Our murderer is caught. The personal journeys of the police are rounded off nicely. The friendship between Allwright and Beck are fused and Allwright invites Beck to come and stay at any time- I hope Beck took him up on his offer.

Tuesday, 25 July 2023


Mr Paradise is a bit of an old pervert. To get his kicks, he watches recordings of games where Michigan win with live, scantily-clad cheerleaders strutting their stuff in front of the TV. When the game is over, the party starts.

On one particular night, Mr Paradise’s paid companion, Chloe, persuades her model friend, Kelly, to help her out. Kelly’s only there for the dancing, but is forced to go upstairs
with Mr Paradise’s helping hand, Montez Taylor.

Montez seems surprisingly unhappy to be accompanying an incredibly beautiful woman to his bedroom, so it’s almost a relief for him and for Kelly when two gunmen burst in and shoot Mr Paradise and his lady friend.

Before the police turn up, Montez makes an odd request of Kelly. She may be a famous underwear model but he’s hoping that for a while, at least until he can get some financial arrangements sorted, she’ll play the part of her dead friend.

Enter Frank Delsa. He’s the detective assigned to the case. He has the smooth good looks of, say, a Steve Carella, and a temperament that many find attractive. Not only that, his instincts about people are spot on and he’s able to read a case like it’s the printed word. When he sees Kelly, now pretending to be Chloe, it’s love at first sight. And it’s mutual.

The ins and outs of the case are seamlessly woven. We move through different points of view and different periods of time as the puzzle is constructed. As the plot fits together, the quality of the story becomes clear.

It moves through the gears like a high class automatic car; it picks up pace smoothly and quickly in a way that means you’re deeply involved and turning your way through those pages while barely noticing time passing.

Delsa is a real winner. As far as I can tell, this is the only novel he appears in and I hope I’m wrong on that as I’d love to read more. The book is packed with tremendous characters who feel very real in all respects, especially when in dialogue (a real strength of the book).

My only issue with the read is the ending. Things have been so smooth and well-handled, that when the conclusion is being laid out and there are a few gear crunches and bumps in the road to contend with, it’s something of a shock. It’s not that it’s not a fitting way to close, it just didn’t click at the point when my expectation had reached its peak.

Very sleek crime fiction and I recommend it to the house.

Saturday, 22 July 2023

Work In Progress


Four months now since I finished my current work in progress.

Though I was happy with my original draft, I had a strong sense that something wasn’t working. Unusually for me, I sent the manuscript to a couple of trusted friends to gather their opinions. The hope was that they would highlight the issues I felt were there, confirming my suspicions, and I’d have an easy sail through the next attempt.

The feedback was excellent. And I was right about my reservations.

I was also wrong about several other points and they were revelations.  

The process of using the perspective of others has been interesting.

First of all, in spite of knowing that every comment was valid and was exactly what I was after, it still stung. The ‘lots to like’ and ‘really enjoyed’ were small comfort and the salient points were sharp.

The stinging moved on to another feeling. The crushing sense that I can’t write anything anymore. That maybe I’ve lost whatever skills I possessed and would just have to accept the passing of a major aspect of my life.

Thankfully, that lasted for only a short while.

Next step, the question of how to make the changes.

In order to solve some of the problems, key aspects of the story needed altering. Relationships weren’t right. The work was too shallow. Several events seemed unlikely given the situation. There were even questions about the whole premise.

Being lazy, I wanted to find the simplest fix. A band aid might do it. A few extra sentences here or there, a dialogue change or two, a twisting of a key moment to slightly alter the shape. And then the realisation that if I wanted the story to be as good as I can make it, the lazy approach wasn’t going to cut it.

I chatted this all through with another good writer friend. He’s always there and has the understanding of stories that most humans don’t possess. Even without giving him much detail, a couple of cups of coffee later there were a few suggestions that I could hold on to in case they might be useful.

Then came the waiting. The suggestions needed to swirl around in my unconscious for a while until they emerged from the clouds. When they were almost in focus, I began again. The first chapter was cut and I made a fresh attempt at chapter one. That’s almost in the bag now. And, of course, a new opening means there are new possibilities about the ways ahead.

More waiting.

Two nights ago, just before drifting into sleep, I found myself thinking about the book. An almost fully formed suggestion appeared that manages to link the loose threads of new thinking to the core of the original plot. It was a wonderful moment. One of those Eurekas. I could wake up and write it down or I could drift back into sleep (surely I’d remember it in the morning); falling asleep proved far more attractive. Morning came and I did remember, which is when I forgot. Thankfully, my daughter Kitty asked me about my writing in the evening. It all came back to me. I still didn’t write it down, but it’s pretty fixed in my mind as a way to proceed and I’m sure I can make it.

Now all I have to do is sit at the laptop and type.

The good news is that I have a week to myself coming very soon. My family will be returning from holiday at the end of the month, while I have ring-fenced another seven days as a retreat of sorts. If I don’t make significant progress in that time, then I’ll only have myself to blame.

I think I can pull it off. I’m still lazy and want to keep as much of the original draft as I can, but that’s acceptable. After all, the original idea is still the one I want to put across to future readers.

All being well, if I work hard and pull it off, maybe I’ll be putting out something half decent in a few months. If it’s not up to scratch, at least I’ll know that I did the best I could with the germ of the idea.

Here’s hoping.  

Friday, 21 July 2023


I'm on holiday and I have my kindle packed with books I've chosen in the past, yet the lure of the small English library proved too much and I borrowed a paperback. My kindle has a role when traveling, but I don't always to have to feel responsible for it when I go for a swim in the sea, river, lake or pool and a physical book is so much less likely to be taken or broken when I do. 

Anyway, the choice of books in the library doesn't offer books that I'd usually go for. Hence, my first attempt (as far as I can remember, that is) at a Michael Crichton. I felt pretty confident. I was a big fan of the films Coma and of Westworld, so I felt I would be in safe hands.

The closest I've got to this one before is probably the ripping Down Deep by Mike Croft, an exciting under-sea adventure with a strong message. 

Sphere starts off well. After the first fifty pages, I tried explaining to my daughter that even if the plot sounded bonkers it was well-written and gripping. I was hooked. Was I going to become a new Crichton convert? It very much looked that way. 

Basically, a psychologist (Norman Johnson) who had previously worked for the government on a paper relating to possible human reactions to meeting extra-terrestrial beings is called in to a situation by the US navy. There's been a discovery at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. There's an unidentified craft down there that appears to have been involved in space travel and has also been there for some three hundred years. 

In his paper, Johnson recommended a team of experts and the team has finally been assembled to go down and take a look at the craft. 

Turns out it's likely to be a time-travelling craft that set off from earth to explore a black hole. As things progress, the team discover that it has picked up something in its travels- the sphere of the title. It's likely to be an alien ship, though they have no idea how to open it or what might be inside. 

When the action starts, the pace slips a little. There's much more explanation of theories and scientific speculation, though it was still interesting and thought provoking at this point.

After the mathematician of the group enters the sphere, everything changes. The alien finds a way to communicate with the humans, but it's still unclear whether this entity is malevolent or benevolent. ,

Things begin to go horribly wrong, though this could be down to cultural differences between the different life forms. Variations of sea creatures appear in vast numbers. There are attacks. People die. It's a race against time and against the force that has been unleashed. Of course it is. 

I'm not sure when I started to disengage. About half way through is my guess. The theories become more unlikely. Events lose their interest. Another crisis is just about averted, but there's another looming. The stuff of many a sci-fi thriller movie. 

By the end, I just wanted to find out what the conclusion would be. And it turned out to be disappointing. 

On the back it says that this is Michael Crichton at the top of his form. I very much doubt it. 

Not for me. I much preferred Down Deep. Maybe I'm more of a Crichton movie kind of human. 

Wednesday, 19 July 2023


I put down my thoughts on Manchette's Fatale a few weeks ago, basically saying that I didn't really enjoy it. A little browsing among other reviewers suggested that Fatale wasn't one of his best and I sensed that he deserved another shot, so I jumped into Three To Kill.  

There are many elements to this one that should have made me enjoy it more than I did. 

A man is thrown out of his usual life pattern following an incident on the road where he saves a man from a car accident and drives him to hospital. It turns out that the victim of the accident had, in fact, been shot and that by attempting a rescue the protagonist (Georges Gerfaut when we meet him) has interfered with an assassination attempt. This triggers an attempt on his own life by the pair of hit men and causes a series of events that he may never have expected. 

Truth be told, Gerfaut wasn't enamoured by his existence in the first place (job, wife and kids all rather humdrum) and his love of jazz was never going to be enough to save him. When he is plunged into responding only to what is around him and driven to act in order to survive, he finds a new vigour as he casts off the restraints of the norm. 

The two hit men are a great creation- they're like bickering brothers or an overly-familiar married couple. The lists of jazz musicians hit the spot. Gerfaut's response to his new life is interesting and his new encounters are interesting and imaginative. Manchette has the skill of summing up a huge amount in a very short phrase. The plot works well and there's enough to maintain interest even though it's difficult to predict which direction lies ahead. All to the good. 

Where I struggled again is with the matter-of-factness. It's brutally cold. Emotions are practically stripped from the work to an extreme, reducing people in a way to something less than human. While this may be a bonus for many, I think that's my main issue with the style. There's also something about the point of view that is a bit off- occasionally the author will raise a question or suggest a not-quite omnipotent understanding of the characters that intruded on my involvement.  

This is likely to appeal to those who like straightforward prose, crystal clear noir, existential sensibilities and uncluttered action (which, in theory should include me). Don't let this put you off and find out for yourself, but two shots and two hits of the woodwork mean I'm unlikely to be back.