Tuesday 28 May 2013


Great news in today that the superb anthology has now raised a total of $1,754.69 to the Protect organisation.

This is an amazing achievement and I'd like to celebrate it by mentioning that if you buy a copy you'll be helping do even more good.

You can find out lots about the book and the idea behind it at http://the-lost-children.blogspot.co.uk/

Just in case it's slipped your mind or, in case you're hearing about the project for the first time, here's the line-up:

PROTECTORS includes a foreword by rock critic Dave Marsh, and fiction by Patti Abbott, Ian Ayris, Ray Banks, Nigel Bird, Michael A. Black, Tony Black, R. Thomas Brown, Ken Bruen, Bill Cameron, Jen Conley, Charles de Lint, Wayne D. Dundee, Chad Eagleton, Les Edgerton, Andrew Fader, Matthew C. Funk, Roxane Gay, Edward A. Grainger, Glenn G. Gray, Jane Hammons, Amber Keller, Joe R. Lansdale, Frank Larnerd, Gary Lovisi, Mike Miner, Zak Mucha, Dan O'Shea, George Pelecanos, Thomas Pluck, Richard Prosch, Keith Rawson, James Reasoner, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Gerald So, Josh Stallings, Charlie Stella, Andrew Vachss, Steve Weddle, Dave White, and Chet Williamson.

It's available in the US via Amazon, as well as in the UK.

It's also available as a paperback.

Thanks for the support.

Monday 27 May 2013


I like the idea of a prequel when it relates to something I really enjoy. Private Investigators certainly come into that category. The next book on my list is ‘A Drop Of The Hard Stuff’, where I hope I’m going to find out a little more about one of my favourite characters, Lawrence Block’s creation Matt Scudder.

This time around it was another New York detective, Moe Prager, who I was getting to know better. As well as the similarities between Prager and Scudder, there are also big differences. Prager is from Brooklyn and he’s Jewish, which are 2 aspects of his being that make him very distinctive.

In ‘Onion Street’, Prager sits with his daughter and tells her about how he became a cop.

We know early on that it has something to do with his best friend in college, Bobby Friedman, and that there’s going to be plenty to tell.  In part, his thought processes relate to ‘what might have been’ if life hadn’t followed the path it did.

Bobby Friedman is the son of a radical, communist, immigrant family. He’s the exception among a college crowd who have been politicised by America’s role in Vietnam and the possibility that they might be drafted in that he’s very much into free enterprise, dabbling here and there in anything that will make him money.

On the night that Moe bails Bobby out of jail (due to suspicions about the death his girlfriend), Moe finds his own girlfriend (Mindy) in a terrible state. The only things he can get from her are sex and a warning to stay away from Bobby.

The next day, a car attempts to kill Bobby and it’s a good job for him that Moe has ignored Mindy’s warning.

Before Moe can get to the bottom of things, he finds out that Mindy is in a coma having been attacked in the street.

The warning she gave him and the unusual string of events leave Moe desperate to find Mindy’s attacker and also to find out the truth.

As he investigates, he becomes entwined in business that is extremely dangerous. People around him seem to get hurt or killed as he follows his instincts and each open door leads him into a darker and more sinister corridor. It’s not long before his own life is in jeopardy and he has to rely on his street-smarts to help him get through his speedy transition to adulthood. Unfortunately for him, his street-smarts aren’t quite what he thought they were:

“You grow up in Brooklyn, you like to think you’re tough, that your skin is thick and concrete hard and that you come out of the womb all grown up and prepared for anything life can through at you; [but] I wasn’t any tougher or any more prepared for the darts life throws at you than a Kansas farm boy.”

Getting to know Moe in his early years is often a treat. He’s feeling his way the best way he can and his decisions aren’t always as sensible as his older self might make. This does create a slight difficulty for author and reader in that young Moe needs to go through long thinking processes from time to time, and this sometimes has a circular feel to it.  It does also lead to several incidents where the reader seems well ahead of the would-be detective. That said, we’re not in the hands of the protagonist but in the care of a skilled author and the way the labyrinth has been built and then navigated keeps things moving along pretty nicely.

As the plot twists and turns, any sense that there might be a predictable ending to the book has gone and all bets on working what might happen are off.  What I can tell you is that Moe sticks to the task admirably and it’s clear that he’s a natural.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. I love the little Jewish asides which are inserted to add a strong flavour to the piece. I also really like the sense of Brooklyn and what it might have been in 1967 and it does feel like it is a crucial element to both this story and to Moe’s future. It’s also fascinating seeing a young man start off on his journey into police and detective work, especially when this path emerges so organically from circumstance.

 It’s a book that many Moe fans will enjoy. It’s also one that newcomers might find interesting and, in case they don’t already know, there’s a lot to come if they become hooked.  Onion Street may not be my favourite Moe Prager investigation, but I'm more than glad I joined him on this journey.

Thursday 23 May 2013


First off, a big thanks to Rory Costello for yesterday's piece.  If you didn't see it, I recommend that you scroll down and check it out. I'd also thank Rory for suggesting this book to me as something I might enjoy; as always, he was bang on the money.
A Feast Of Snakes is a stunning novel.

It’s set in Mystic, Georgia during the build up to a Rattlesnake Roundup that’s become a little too successful for the small town to handle.

Joe Lon Mackey is an ex-football player whose career is over at a young age. To take the edge off his sense of failure he’s turned to the bottle and still tries to maintain his top-dog status in the area.

He has a hard-nosed father (Big Joe Lon) who has a talent for dog-fighting, a damaged sister who stays in bed all day watching TV, a sheriff friend who likes to play with young girls, a saintly wife and two children and a hot lust for an ex-girlfriend who has returned to Mystic from college.

The opening at a football game is full of energy – sexual, violent and disturbing – and pregnant with the bizarre. It’s clear from the off that this book is going to be out of the ordinary and that understanding is powerfully underlined as it continues.

There are some very strong elements that a reader can hold on to. There’s the subtle depiction of racial relations and the way people work within the boundaries of time and place. There’s an existential slant to the examination of purpose and the implications of losing direction whether that be through age or accident. There’s a view of the power within relationships on a small and larger scale and that damage that can be done when power is the only tool one has in the box. There are thoughts on madness and the thin ice that we all tread upon. We also get to see the extremes of complete control and absolute anarchy and the dangers of each extreme.

The plot is a gently meandering one is some ways. I read the book slowly even though there was a page-turning element to the writing that might have had me jumping on to find out what was about to happen. Taking my time seemed important as there’s so much to savour. In tone the words and the dialogue seem simple, yet there’s a wonderful subtlety to it all that means it might be better not to miss the gems on each page by rushing.

I was really struck by the parallels between the old dogs coming to the end of their fighting lives and Joe Lon. They’ve all been bullied by Big Joe in ways that no creature should be. It might be that Big Joe feels this is the right thing to do, but his clarity is hugely misguided. The fates of the dogs and the son are sealed and have been for a long time; it’s a shame none of them had other strings to their bows.

The dog fighting and training scenes are fully developed and hard-hitting. They’re gritty as they could be. I’m pleased I only read this after writing ‘Smoke’ otherwise I may not have felt up to the job.

There are also a couple of scenes and situations of bullying that are so profound as to be hugely disturbing. What Crews does here is rather special. Instead of laying the violence and the harshness of the acts of cruelty bare with no supporting frame, he manages to bring out a huge empathy with the victims. Whether it’s Lottie Mae suffering under the sheriff’s weight or Joe’s wife putting up with the most humiliating treatment or the retired salesmen who runs into the wrong people at the wrong time, they’re all flinchingly well-written.

The book really struts to its conclusion and feels like it has put on many pounds of muscle along the way. By the end it has the strength of a powerful beast and, like Goliath, there’s only one way for the beast to go.

There’s a line early on from cheerleader Hard Candy as she feeds a rat to a snake that puts me in mind of what Crews can do to a reader: ‘Nobody’s going to hurt you, little rat. We just gone let the snake kill you a little.’ Be warned.

This was my second read of a Harry Crews story. The first time around, I really didn’t manage to get beyond the beauty of some of the prose. A Feast Of Snakes is something else altogether and now, at last, I can see why the author is so widely hailed as a talent and a huge influence upon more contemporary writing.


Wednesday 22 May 2013

Grandfathers Of ''Brit Grit'' by Rory Costello


“What the hell is Brit Grit?” Paul D. Brazill posed this question last fall in order to present a long roster of high-quality British crime fiction writers who are active today. He’d published the piece a couple of times before, including this version in 2011 with “an addendum of worthy Brit Grit authors” – among them our host, Nigel Bird.


Paul wrote, “The godfathers of the new Brit Grit could well be Ted Lewis, Derek Raymond and Mark Timlin.” These were all new names to me, but upon investigation, a hunch of mine turned out to be accurate. After reading Nigel’s In Loco Parentis last year, I considered him to be an heir to a British literary tradition: the works of Alan Sillitoe, John Braine, and others from the late 1950s and early ’60s. Indeed, there’s a clear line that runs from those so-called “Angry Young Men” down to the current generation, through Lewis in particular.


Another author in Paul’s list, David Peace, helped connect the dots. Peace, who grew up in West Yorkshire, talked to Matthew Hart for the 2006 work Immigrant Fictions. He said, “To read John Braine, Stan Barstow, David Storey, Alan Sillitoe, and Barry Hines, and later Ted Lewis and Derek Raymond, was very empowering and inspiring for me – reading about places I knew in language I heard and spoke every day.”


The bleak backdrop of industrial Northern England was essential to the grittiness of those works from that decade or so before “Swinging London” came into vogue in the mid-1960s. It’s also a prime element in much of today’s Brit Grit. And even though crime wasn’t the focus of the earlier authors, it’s an undercurrent, most visible in the borstal boy anti-hero of Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.


Sillitoe himself acknowledged this in the final interview he gave before his death in 2010. The interviewer noted, “A lot of your characters escape the humdrum of their lives through petty crime or heavy drinking. Presently, Nottingham has a bad reputation for both, not to mention gun crime. Do you think your stories have contributed to this myth?” Sillitoe replied, “I don’t know really. I mean this type of crime you get now is nothing like the kind of crime the people I knew when growing up would ever perpetrate. We wouldn’t dare. I wrote before the druggy era…”


Yet despite this crucial difference, Sillitoe et al. paved the way for decades to come. Two more Brit Grit authors of the 2000s, Cathi Unsworth and Martyn Waites, showed just how strong the connection was in this interview they did with each other. “Cookie” – as they referred to Robin Cook, for whom Derek Raymond was a pen name – was an enormous influence on both. He was personally responsible for making a crime fiction writer of Unsworth, who asked Waites in turn about the impact of Cook, as well as Northern writers such as Sillitoe, Barstow, Keith Waterhouse, and Lewis.


Waites underscored Cook’s importance, though in contrast to Peace, he said that he came to the others retroactively. He also said, “It’s interesting you touched on Sillitoe, et al., because they’re writers who are noted for creating fiction that examines society from the bottom up. And that’s the way I think crime fiction – at least good crime fiction – is headed.” He also added, “I think place is vitally important” – Waites focuses on Northern settings – and noted strong echoes of where and how Lewis worked in his own writing.


Cook/Raymond was an upper-class Londoner who came to know and write about that city’s underbelly. Mark Timlin, another Southerner writing about London, took his primary influences from American noir fiction. There’s little evidence of any direct imprint on either from the “Angry Young Men.”


There’s no doubt, though, of the ties between Lewis and Sillitoe, Braine, Storey and Co. Brian Greene, who has written a number of articles about Lewis, discussed the Northerner’s shift between the crime genre and “literary” works. Lewis made his reputation with Jack’s Return Home, the basis for the highly influential film Get Carter. Yet “Lewis returned to the literary fiction milieu with 1975’s The Rabbit, a coming-of-age novel…done in the vein of gritty Brit kitchen sink dramas like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Room at the Top, This Sporting Life, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, etc.”


In another piece, Greene noted that Lewis’s first novel (an unsuccessful 1965 effort called All the Way Home and All the Night Through), was also written in the “Angry Young Men” vein. Of particular interest in that article, however, was Lewis’s passion for the cinema. Here too the influence of the “kitchen sink dramas” is visible – this was one of the finest periods ever for British film. Directors such as Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, and Lindsay Anderson translated the literature brilliantly to the screen. In fact, in a 1999 article, journalist Vanessa Thorpe wrote about a revival of “the hard-bitten tradition of social realism…launched on the back of pictures such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving, and This Sporting Life.” The term she used? “Brit-grit.”

Wednesday 8 May 2013


There are a number of writers out there who are playing with noir fiction and bending and shaping it in new ways. Think John Rector, Eric Beetner or Heath Lowrance. If they’re writers you dig, you should add Chris Rhatigan to the list. He has his own style and that comes to the fore in ‘The Kind Of Friends Who Murder Each Other’. Truth be told, I was bowled over by the end of the first chapter; from then on he just kept on hurling the balls at me and his characters until things had to end. This book is taut, strong and put together like an old classic. Don’t miss out (US).

Thursday 2 May 2013


I’ve been struggling to read of late.  In fact, I always struggle to read to some extent.  To make it worth the effort of revisiting lines and sentences that haven’t made sense, I have to be really engaged.

An audio-book seemed like a good thing to try as an alternative.  I get to drive to work 2 or 3 times a week and have a CD player, so why not?

This isn’t the first audio-book I’ve tried. I’ve experimented many times in the past, but generally have found them a little frustrating.  Apart from anything else, there are always those stutters and echoes that come with the territory – no doubt that comes from the ever-increasing number of pot-holes in our roads.

Anyway, I set off to Tranent last week to The Watchman by Robert Cray, read by William Roberts.

The story opens pretty slowly and in a fairly run-of-the-mill way.

A rather annoying rich girl is involved in an accident.  Before long the FBI are interested because the girl identifies a dangerous killer as one of the passengers in the other car.

Not long after that, it seems that Larkin’s life is in jeopardy.  That shouldn’t be a concern to a very wealthy father, only the first couple of safe-houses set up by the FBI under the protection of Bud are attacked by men aiming to kill Larkin.

In steps Joe Pike at the behest of the Bud.  This pair has a history going back to Pike’s early days in the LAPD. It’s a history that is explored as the book unfolds and becomes a very satisfying strand of the novel.

The play is now that Larkin is under Pike’s protection.

They move to another safe house, one of Bud’s own.  It should be perfectly safe, but it’s not long before they’re attacked and Pike is able to demonstrate some of his almost super-hero like abilities.
Pike and Larkin have little in common, or so it seems, and Pike’s insistence that they do things on his terms mean that the pretty little thing he’s protecting really has to slum it for a while.

It’s fairly ordinary up to this point.

I also found the narration to be a little strained.  Some of the intonation jarred and the need to take on the voice of a gruff male and a teenage girl is quite a stretch. 

There was also an element of repeating information just to make sure I’d got it as the listener that seemed a little heavy for me; a little more subtlety might have helped me here.

In spite of any reservations I stuck with it.  The story had enough juice to keep me interested and I’m so glad I didn’t give up.

It’s not long after this that the plot thickens.

Elvis Cole comes into play, forensics at the LAPD, fraudsters, Mexican gangs, terrorists become part of the plot and it thickens up like perfectly made custard.

Best of all is Pike and his need to move forwards.  Even when he’s wrong, there’s only one way.

As he does his job, his relationship with Larkin gels. They soften towards each other. The story develops into a rather splendid buddy tale.  As each of the pair let their guard down, I got to know them more that I might have imagined. They even get to know each other in a way that seemed impossible at the off. It’s superbly done.

All the while, as things grew more complex and more gripping the narrations also became familiar. The jarring had gone and instead I found things to be smooth and silky – I guess that’s when a reader has done a good job.

By the end of the first week of commuting I had to bring the discs into the house.  They’ve replaced the TV in the evenings and accompanied me as I’ve done the housework.

Pike's a great character.  He has some of the hardness of Jack Reacher, but is far more human, believable and likeable.

It’s a very enjoyable book and a very satisfying listen.

I’ll be back for more audio-books and I’ll definitely be picking up more Robert Crais.