Tuesday 31 July 2012


Richard Price is a heavyweight of a writer that’s for sure.

For the first seven rounds of Lush Life, he’s out like Cassius Clay, speed and footwork, nifty combinations and power, mouth and trousers.  From then on, it’s more of a case of the later Ali, all rope-a-dope with the occasional flurry of brilliance (and sometimes merely a flurry).

Lush Life is set in Manhattan.  The beginning centres upon a group of characters whose lives are soon to intertwine, each of them vividly described and full of life - full of life, that is, until one of them is shot.  The fallout from the murder is huge and the police are quick to arrest the victims boss, barman Eric, on the grounds that he’s been identified by two eye-witnesses. 

Eric is put under immense pressure as the cops try to find the information they need.  As the investigation proceeds, the locality is laid bare and explored quite beautifully.

The day-to-day of police work and cop-politics are also exposed.  Loyalties are stretched.  Favours called in.  Relationships explored.  The need for people to ‘become something’ is analysed.

Most importantly, the interest level is maintained at a high-pitch.  The descriptions are superb and the dialogue purrs.

A new dimension is introduced when the victim’s father arrives in town.  He falls apart as the pages turn and it’s a painful thing to witness as it seems so very true to life.  

So far, so very good.

Up until the point where conflicting stories to those of the eye-witnesses come into play and the resolution to that particular issue is reached I was completely involved and delighted that there was so much more of the book to enjoy.

Not long after this point, I found myself having to make a real effort to move forwards.  There was a lot of revisiting of themes, scenes seemed to be repeated, situations seemed to drag on without any sense of moving towards resolution and it actually felt like the author had lost the plot. 

I became rather bored.  It wasn’t that the writing was of a lesser quality taken sentence by sentence, it just seemed that there was a dilution of purpose.  I had a feeling that Mr Price wanted to include all the ideas and knowledge he’d picked up during research and was determined to find angles that would allow him to do so.

I did battle with my fatigue and made it to the end, mainly because of the investment I’d made by then and because I really cared what happened to each of the main characters. 

The book is far too long for my liking and I really feel the same story could have been told in half the space and would have produced a wonderful result if it had. 

Richard Price has written great books, but for me this isn’t among them.  It almost made it, but lost on a split decision.  5 stars for Part 1, 2 Stars for Part 2 - overall, somewhere in-between.

Monday 30 July 2012


I love the title of this book.  It's a lesson in how to suck a punter in.  The link to poetry was a strong pull for me and also the fact that it doesn't give anything away, the latter possibly explaining why it took me 3 or 4 pages to find the rhythm.

It opens with a fast flow, like the floodgates have been opened on a river-of-consciousness. 

Once I'd worked out how to surf the waves, a simple case of going with the tide, I was completely taken by the style and the first-person narrative.

Page 1, there's a bank robbery going a bit wobbly.  Our man Cooper shoots a cashier in the face with his shotgun.

Next comes the story of how things came to this.  Why, after a successful run of raids this is the one that's not gone to plan. 

It turns out it's all to do with a woman named Cassie.

Cooper meets Cassie when he saves her from a security guard while she's on a shoplifting spree.  She's young and attractive and has an impulsive nature, all of which lead to the pair ending up having amazing sex. 

As it happens, Cassie is rather unbalanced.  She makes Cooper's headcase of a partner seem sedate.  Not only is the woman obsessed with MacNeice, she also walks off with a stash of Cooper's cash and one of his guns before he wakens from a Mickey Finn she slipped to him.

From that point on, Cooper's life becomes rather complicated. Cassie keeps turning up at the most inopportune moments and it's all highly entertaining and unpredictable.

I have the feeling that Bruen had a lot of fun writing this.  He's pushed all the angles to breaking point, throwing in poetry snippets (whether they be transparent, translucent or opaque to this reader), lively humour, a marvellous police detective and lots of poking at the British class structure.

This was a real pleasure of a book and I'd heartily recommend it.

Available via these links -  Amazon UK   US 

                                            Mysterious Press

Sunday 29 July 2012


Gerard Brennan is one hell of a talented writer.  His new novel, Wee Rockets (US), is proof of this.  It’s a step up again from his hugely enjoyable novella The Point (US) and I suspect is another stone along a path destined for big things.

The subject of the book is a gang of kids on a Belfast estate.  They’ve been lead by Joe and his sidekick Danny to mugging local pensioners in order to raise money for fags and booze.

When a local Bruce Lee fan (Stephen McVeigh) decides to take on the gang, Joe and Danny decide it’s time to move on (it becomes especially complicated when McVeigh starts sleeping with Joe’s mother in order to gain further information).

Problem is the new leader of the Wee Rockets is unbalanced and greedy, so it’s not long before the Rockets have spread their wings and taken on some bigger targets.

Enter Joe’s estranged father.  He’s returned to his home after time on the run.  He’s still on the run, only this time he’s escaping England.  It’s through his eyes that we get to see some of the changes in the city and get to feel a sense of sympathy for those who have no way of adapting to the pace of change as quickly as it’s happening.  It’s also through him that we get to see that things were ever thus – the neighbourhood is tough and those who live there need to display the hides of rhinos to get by.

Tracking the plot wouldn’t be of help.  The Rockets get themselves into increasingly brazen robberies and assaults and the lives of everyone involved overlap with entertaining and sometimes disturbing results.

There’s no doubt that this is a crime book given the mischief that goes on and Brennan never shirks the darkness or the brutality.  It’s hard-hitting when the time is right and he chooses those moments very well indeed.

It’s also the case that the development of the crime plots themselves isn’t the key to the quality of the work.  What is really striking is the way the characters are so well-crafted and always engaging.  It didn’t take me long at all for me to feel I knew them all and had done for a while.  I can best honour that (and it’s intended as an honour) by mentioning the Coronation Street residents who are so well penned that years can go by and they can be revisited and pinned-down again within seconds of tuning back in.

The other aspect of the characters that I particularly liked is the way they are likeable in the main in spite of the things they get up to.  They are presented warts and all, yet in such a way that there are parallels with situation comedy – Brennan uses humour with great variety in a way that suggests he might try turning his hand to film and TV very successfully at some point (if he hasn’t already); there are one-liners, pratfalls and situational plays all the way through.

I’ve become a big fan over a fairly short space of time and would recommend this highly in the hope that it helps to gets the book the audience it deserves.

A real joyride of a read you should be seeking out before long. 

Another winner from the Blasted Heath camp. 


Friday 27 July 2012


Given that George Pelecanos has been one of my long-time favourite authors, it came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I haven’t read anything by him for a couple of years.  I have no doubt that this has something to do with my patterns of reading since I bought my kindle.  I suspect I’ve become used to being attracted to cheaper options.  What It Was’ (US) came as a great reminder that some things are just worth paying a little extra for.

Even the author’s note was interesting, a brief explanation of the way the book came about.  It reveals something of his researching and how the bigger stories aren’t always the ones to catch the attention.

Last time I did have a Pelecanos in my hand, I was with Nick Stefanos.  He’s in the opening here, too, so I was immediately on familiar territory, though Stefanos only makes a cameo appearance in this book – it’s his drinking partner, Strange, who is telling the story.

It’s set in 1972 and paints a picture of a familiar yet faraway place. 

Red ‘Fury’ Jones is based loosely upon the criminal Raymond ‘Cadillac’ Smith.  Jones has had a hard life and, as a consequence, is a hard man, his philosophy: ‘Take what you want.  Take no man’s sh#t.  No police can intimidate you, no sentence will enslave you, no cell can contain your mind.’  He’s out to make a name for himself and to make sure that people remember him when he’s gone.  He’s already half-way there – ‘Legend was, an ambitious young dude had tried to shank him in jail and the blade had broken in Red’s chest. It wasn’t a legend.’

To nurture the legend he’s creating, Red knocks off a herion taster.  That’s when he gets the information he needs to move up the food-chain and also when homicide detective ‘Hangdog’ Vaughn (‘Dude got no quit’) gets involved.  It’s also when Strange is employed to trace a gold ring that went missing during the killing.

From there on the book follows the different players – hookers, police, mobsters and killers – as their lives converge.

There are the trademark references to music throughout the book and cares are described in ways that even got me interested (not an easy thing to achieve).    All the characters feel very real – they’re all flawed and capable of extreme acts.  I was struck by the way he shows the impact of war on three different generations of Americans – it’s subtle but raises powerful questions.

The multiple perspective is handled brilliantly as Pelacanos always does and the plot is fully satisfying in the way that the grip is held all the way through and that the climax plays out with an honest feel without offering any hard-and-fast solutions. The story has been ‘What It Was’, just the way life is. 

It was great to be back and I shan’t be leaving it for so long before my return.   

Wednesday 25 July 2012


Even though he’s cool as a cucumber, Gideon Miles is the kind of US Marshal who creates waves wherever he goes.  It’s not just the badge he carries that sets people against him, it’s the colour of his skin.

In Miles To Little Ridge (US), the folk he meets when he rides in to town don’t take kindly to him for other reasons, namely that he’s there to pick up a clean-living pillar of the community who’s also the only living parent of a young girl.  The Miles is to take the man in for trial, the charge being armed robbery.

Serendipity has it that the guy he should be paying attention to, an axe-wielding Swede, is the first to set eyes upon him.  The Swede and Miles have history and the Swede is determined to get his revenge.  Problem for Miles is that the sheriff in Little Ridge is racist enough to want to tilt the odds in The Swede’s favour.

It’s a great tale.  The opening description sets the scene perfectly. The flavour of Western is so strong I could practically smell the body odours, the heat and the horse-sweat.  Great, too, the way the blacks and the whites are merged to greys as the plot unfolds.

I’ve also picked up a new line in swearing – ‘You stumblebum fiddlefoot’; I’ll be trying that one if I ever get into a tight spot.

A very enjoyable and stylish read.

Monday 23 July 2012


There are so many aspects to America that make for great material in entertainment - prisons, mobsters, barflies, boxing, petty-criminals, jazz, private-investigators - not to mention the melting-pot that is New York.

Dirty Words (US) is something of a melting-pot too, and it's great to have all the themes mentioned and more besides touched on in the one collection.

Todd Robinson certainly doesn't short-change the buyers of his book.  Each story is really substantial (and there are 11 of them altogether).  Better still, he delivers tales skillfully, playing around with ideas and telling them in an almost conversational way; imagine taking a long bus-ride and sitting next to Ed Bunker (I know Ed's dead, Baby - imagine)  and how fully entertained you'd be and now you're on the mark for what you'll find in Dirty Words.

The voices of the stories always flows.  The characters are superbly drawn.  The themes seem familiar, but the way Robinson approaches them, you'll never know what's coming; in a way he's pulling a scam of his own every time he takes us on a journey and he's always clever enough to stay at least one step ahead.

The dialogue is exceptional.  There's one point where part of a conversation is in Italian.  My Italian is non-existent, but I understood the meaning and appreciated the humour, not to mention the situation (a mafia boss telling his crew to drop their trousers).

There's a lot of humour in their, too.  Todd and his characters are quick and sharp with their lines and deliver with the deadpan look of a slapped fish.  You'll also find a huge amount of humour in the way things play out.  Thing is, it's all done with a grace of writing that makes it look like it's all been completely effortless, when I know that writing this good takes a huge amount of graft.

I'd love to hear that someone of the ilk of Quentin Tarantino would get hold of this and try and roll it together and make some kind of Short Cuts.  That would be quite something to see on the screen.

Set to it.  You won't regret it (unless you have serious issues with sex, violence, swearing and illegal activity).

Big smiles.

Sunday 22 July 2012


Before starting the review, here are a couple of bits of news.
Dirty Old Town (and other stories) (US) has now made it’s 1999th sale, which is amazing.  If you see ticker-tape falling from the sky, you’ll know where it’s coming from (Dunbar).

A mention also that there are 2 free books available today that you should have.  The first is WeeRockets (US), an absolute joyride of a book.  The second, very appropriately for this piece is Bullets For A Ballot - US - (another in the Cash Laramie/Gideon Miles series). Go get.

Silver Gulch is a mining town that’s all but run out of metal to mine. Those who stay are either born optimists or are too lazy to move from the mountains.

In rides US Marshal Cash Laramie.  He’s there to collect an armed robber, Lobo Ames. 

Between Cash and his man is a bartender with a sawn-off shotgun and a walrus moustache, not that Cash is going to be scared off by a little bit of facial hair.  In the process of arresting Ames, Cash ends up spilling blood and burning down the only bar in town as well as all the booze in it.  That doesn’t please the miners, who don’t cheer up much when he takes the only two women (prostitutes) with him as he sets off to bring Ames to justice.

A posse of miners go after the girls.

The situation gets further complicated when bounty hunter Cole Bouchet turns up hoping to take Ames in for the reward.

The impending winter storms look like they’ll have something to say in the outcome and you’ll have to read it to find out whether they do or not.

It’s a fairly uncomplicated Western.  The men have hard names and are used to living with nature.  The horses are noble.  The prostitutes have hearts of silver. The description is evocative and the action comes thick and fast.

Cash Laramie isn’t as full of contradictions as he seems in the collection of stories The Adventures Of Cash Laramie And Gideon Miles (US), but that may be as much to do with the nature of the job involved in this novel.  He remains a character I’ve come to love reading about and this did more than enough to have me itching to read more (and so I did – review later in the week).

A solid, unflinching Western.

Saturday 21 July 2012


Before the main event, a mention for my current read.  WEE ROCKETS by the excellent GERARD BRENNAN is a real joyride of a book.  It's published by BLASTED HEATH and it's free today, so I'd get over there and get a copy if I were you.  You won't regret it, I promise.  

I loved DEADFOLK, the story of Royston Blake’s adventures in the town of Mangle.  I loved it so much that I didn’t’ feel able to move on to BOOZE AND BURN for fear it might just not do Blake justice.  Now I’ve been there, I realise I needn’t have worried.  All I’ve been doing is wasting time.
The other issue that can spoil a follow-up book is the over-doing of the references to the previous work.  Charlie Williams kicked that one in to touch early on as Blake addresses the reader and says of Deadfolk:

‘You what?  Forget it pal.  I ain’t telling you that story no more.  I’ve told it enough times already – especially to the cops and I’m sick of it.  You want to know about the guns and chainsaws, go ask someone else.  Everyone knows around here.'

Perfectly handled.

In Royston Blake, I reckon we have the world’s finest unreliable, first-person narrator.  He’s a warts-and-all story-teller who’s neither afraid to embellish or to cut himself to the quick (then again, Royston’s not afraid of anything).

He’s back on the door at Mangles’ premier drinking establishment (Hoppers), throwing his increasing weight around as only he can.  It doesn’t take long for the new equilibrium of Mangle to be disturbed when a new face arrives in town.  Not only is the guy an outsider, he’s soon to become the owner of Hoppers  and the supplier of a new kind of sweet/drug to the young of the town.

One of the gang of young is Mona.  She’s had a personality change since being introduced to the new drug and she’s fallen for the supplier.  Mona’s father, Doug, employs Blake’s services to sort out the guy, which is the point at which the story explodes.

I’m so impressed by Charlie Williams.  He’s created an even more special book in Booze And Burn than he managed in Deadfolk.

Blake’s character is even sharper as are those of the others in the cast.  Blake’s a real rogue – the cleanest term I can think of to make sure this doesn’t offend the Amazon boards – but he’s immensely loveable with it, for reasons I don’t entirely understand.  Many was the time I wanted to put my arm around the guy (metaphorically, of course, as my arms would need to be twice as long to do the job) and have a whisper in his ear – “You don’t want to be doing that, Blake.” Or “Why don’t you try saying it this way instead?”  Not that he’d listen.

The plot here is developed and a perfect pace.  It becomes fairly complex, but is always easy to stay with.  There are plenty of cliff-hangers to keep a reader interested. The turns of phrase are superb and Williams is a master of the simile – “[I]wanted nothing more than the comfort of clean sheets and a firm mattress, though...the mattress were about fifty year old and as firm as an old man’s tadger.”

Blake’s is also a master when it comes to shoving his boots into his own mouth.  Here, he’s trying to make his recently attacked girlfriend feel better about some damage to her face – “ ‘Reckon you won’t be doin’ much more strippin’, I says, giving her a friendly smile. ‘Less you wears a paper bag.” ‘

All in all, Booze And Burn shines a light onto things we might rather not see, then throws in a magnifying glass to make the focus more unpleasantly clear.  Britain at its worst can have a defensive, island mentality, compounded by small-town attitudes, brutally sharp tongues and minds narrower than barges.

For me, the book takes the Ghost Town of The Specials, the darkness of the Thatcher years, the cultural highs of Clint Eastwood and Minder and uses the energy to create the most wonderful set of characters imaginable.  Blake would have no problem wrestling any Spitting Image character to the ground, knocking the hardest from Viz to the ground, out-seducing Lady Chatterley's lover or drinking Homer Simpson under a table.  It’s funny, powerful, clever, brutal and a total joy from opening to close.

Royston Blake – Cheers.

Friday 20 July 2012


Lost Things was described as a short story when I bought it, which has now been corrected to 'A Novella (An Original Short Story)'.  It's an important distinction in so many respects, not that the quantity matters when a work is this good. It's superb.

The opening is straightforward enough. A couple of young guys are walking home after a night out when they ate attacked. In an act of self-defence one of the muggers is killed. Evan and Peter spend a while working out whether they should call the police or not. Thing is, they both have plenty to lose.

From this point on Rector really turns the screws and sends his main character through the mincer. It's tight, uncomfortable and tense and puts me in mind of some of the best noir writers of all.


And the best thing of all?  I got myself a ticket to see the man himself at the 'Bloody Scotland' festival later this year and this book leaves me with no doubt that I made the correct decision when I did. 

Thursday 19 July 2012

One Man's Opinion: OLD SCHOOL by DAN O'SHEA

Dan O'Shea's collection OLD SCHOOL from Snubnose Press is well worth a read.  The work has a natural feel to it and there's also a huge range of subject-matter.

His first section deals with middle-age.  

The opener is a reflective piece about a childhood incident, one that's helped to shape a life .

You'll meet meths addicts here, men facing tough decisions, hit men and guys trying to find different ways out of the holes in which they find themselves.  You'll even find Shakespeare, no less.

The Golden Years brings a change of flavour, but continues with O'Shea's sharp, hard-hitting work.  There is a slight change of gear, here. O'Shea captures some of the physical hardships of old age, but blesses his characters with tough minds and wills.  

One particular tale has us visit to an old-people's home allows us to meet and ex-cop who has his interest in the world rekindled when a new guy is wheeled onto the block.  It's a quality piece which could easily be much longer, though is hugely satisfying in this small bite.

After the great starters and a fabulous main course, O'Shea still has the generosity to offer up a couple more as a fine dessert.  

I'm looking forward to more short fiction from this guy for, unlike many of his creations, I know there's plenty of life left in this old dog.

Wednesday 18 July 2012


One of the lovely things about holidays is having the time and the mental space to read.  

I've read some cracking books over the last fortnight and I'll be telling you about them here over the next few weeks.  There was only one (I think) that I gave up on early on and the rest all had me in some way or other.

I'll start with my thoughts on the first book I chose to read - the Kindle really paid dividends in this respect - Sandra Ruttan's HARVEST OF RUINS published by Snubnose Press.

This book has a great opening.  It’s like crashing into a swimming pool from the flumes into deep-cold water as it takes a little time to find orientation.

On the surface, this book is a courtroom drama, a very good one at that.

Hunter is a detective and she’s on trial for setting in motion a chain of events which led to the killing of Tom, her partner at work and also her partner (even though he’s married to someone else) in her personal life.  The story opens with Tom being shot by his own daughter, Vinny, who puts a serious full-stop on the arguing of her estranged parents.

Sandra Ruttan uses a number of methods to reveal the story behind the killing, one which followed the deaths of a number of teenagers in the area.  She uses the courtroom, a diary, Vinnie’s work from English class, conversations with colleagues and a series of dreams she’s been having from Vinnie’s perspective. The range is big, and I was concerned that it wasn’t going to hold together; it turned out I was wrong to be worried as each of the fragments remains solid.  It’s a credit to Rattan that she not only holds all the pieces together, but that she creates genuine tension and a powerful desire to find out the true facts in a way that I can only resort to cliché to report that I found page-turning.

To leave it there wouldn’t do the book justice.  It examines some of the sensitive aspects of parenting, friendships and growing u with real skill, tenderness and insight.  How vulnerable the young can be and how far the grown-ups of this world will go to cover up the vulnerabilities that linger.

Whether you enjoy a police-procedural, a courtroom drama or a more serious examination of life and its relationships, this is likely to be a book for you.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Why Pulp Ink 2 is the Place2Be

I'm back.

Two weeks in Italy with my children, sunshine and books and I'm home.

Things aren't entirely back to normal yet and I don't really want them to be for now.  Better if the Venetian images can blind me for a few more days yet.

It's a fast moving world.  Things change.  One of my favourite new additions to the world it the sequel to Pulp Ink, Pulp Ink 2.   

There are many reasons that you should buy this, and here are a few:

it's the follow-up to Pulp Ink.

the stories are brilliant.

the writers are fantastic.

it's been published by Snubnose Press.

Chris Rhatigan is a great editor (I've loved working alongside him again, and look forward to the next time)

and the profits from our side will be going to charity.

Here's what I wrote in the intro:

When dealing with young people, schools have a huge responsibility.  There are so many pressures relating to academic performance that they sometimes need support to ensure they carry out other no-less significant responsibilities, such as with regard to pastoral care.

Within any population of youngsters, there will be issues that arise and need attention.  Teachers, bless them, have many strings to their bows, but when it comes to therapeutic approaches, they may be left-wanting, not least because of the pressures on their time.

Place2Be offers a solution to such problems and that's why all the proceeds from Pulp Ink 2 will go to help this wonderful organisation.

By working with pupils, their families and teachers, Place2Be achieves results that the curriculum couldn't begin to manage.

The approaches are varied, depending on the needs of a child.

For the most significant in terms of need, those who are the most damaged, a full year of weekly counselling sessions are offered within a therapeutic environment is offered.  As relationships are built, so is confidence and self-esteem.  Families and teaching staff are included in the support so that progress can be continued outside of the therapy room.

There's also the offer of Place2Talk.  It's open to all the children in a school so that they can discuss any situations that might be troubling them.  This can lead to mediation sessions or group work where appropriate.

The Place2Be staff also run circle-time sessions for classes to develop 'emotional literact' and respect for selves and others.

It doesn't stop there.

Working with children who have a range of difficulties is hugely challenging for staff.  Place2Be offers them the opportunity to talk about their own issues and keep them on track, thus helping to maintain high standards of pastoral care and education.

On top of that, all therapists have their own counselling sessions to make sure that they understand the significance of what is happening and to ensure they aren't pulled under by the tow of their pupils' needs.

The therapists work on a voluntary basis.  The core staff and organisers can't.  As with all great initiatives, there's a funding aspect related to its maintenance.

I'd like to see Place2Be grow so that it's in every school.  Our children deserve that.

By purchasing Pulp Ink 2, you'll be helping kids along on their way.  And that's a wonderful thing.

Pulp Ink 2 is available as a Kindle ebook (US)or in print.  Go celebrate.

And tomorrow's post won't be entirely unrelated to this one - a review of the novel 'Harvest Of Ruins'.  The links may become clear when you read what I thought of it.

Nice to be back.

Now where's that umbrella?