Thursday 29 May 2014

One Man's Opinion: THE OLIVE STAIN (and other stories) by KRISTIN FOUQUET

This is a lovely thing. It’s the kind of book that brings pleasure to the browsing of book stores, an unusual work that might easily go overlooked in a world where the senses are bombarded by the noises and images of the big hitters. It’s the type of thing I’d pick up and begin and then just want to carry on exploring, until eventually falling for it and buying so that I could take it home as my own.

What’s unusual about this thought is that I read it as an ebook, as I so often do these days, and it’s probably the first time I’ve had this thought.

It may be the way the book is constructed that added this new dimension to my kindle. Each of the stories here is accompanied by a stunning photograph. The prose and the pictures complement each other perfectly.

The first six pieces are short sketches. They dip into a moment or a life and are framed in a way that creates a little shudder. They touch darkness and suggest shadow, a little like the photos that go with them. Some of them are really super.

Though the openers earn their space in their own right, they also serve as hors d’oeuvres for the main event.

The Olive Stain is a much more substantial piece. It opens in a fairly contemporary setting and manner, but there are hints of the haunting that is to come. Soon after, it becomes a full-blown Gothic Horror. A young woman who hasn’t yet established her place in the world goes to visit her estranged brother and his partner, Byron. Their mansion is beautiful, but hides a tiny imperfection, and their own lives are crumbling in all respects. Byron (who is rather well-named) warns the woman to leave while she still can, but she’s been captivated by the magic and the stories of the place and decides that she’ll stay on. As you might imagine, it may not have been her best decision, if indeed there was a decision to be made.

This story has a lovely tone and I’d recommend it to fans of older horror fiction.

If there’s a negative about the collection, it’s the length. Having really enjoyed the starters and the main course, I really could have done with a pudding. It’s a little gripe, but I do have a big appetite and a rather sweet tooth. Maybe I’ll just have to find that satisfaction in future releases.

Go and take a look. I’m sure you’ll be captured by the opening and want to wander in more deeply. Browse away!

Tuesday 27 May 2014

“It was a new time now, a new place, where weak men weren’t destroyed immediately – they were destroyed inch by inch, murdered slowly by stronger men in an indifferent world. It was a much crueller time now, Miles thought.”

Gideon Miles has seen a lot. He’s been at the thick of the West’s wild and seen the horrors of war at first hand. Now he’s landed in New Orleans to a world that is supposedly more civilised. He’s the owner of a jazz club and should be settling happily into his retirement with his lovely wife.

Thing is, there’s a killer on the loose. A crazed axe-man who is targeting prostitutes. Because his victims are considered to be lowlife, the police aren’t interested in investigating, even though there are strong links to a previous set of brutal killings from some years earlier. 

The owner of the whorehouse of the latest victim has had enough and goes to try and persuade Miles to tracking down the murderer and putting an end to his spree. Miles, however, isn’t interested. Isn’t interested until the Black Hand become involved and make him an offer he can’t refuse.

The setting for this one is very strong. I really got a sense of the layers of the society as it was and the nuances of a new world forming. An eclectic mix of characters shows the energy of a city fuelled by the exciting tunes and rhythms of jazz and the dark forces of the night. As powerful as anything is the prejudice that is around every corner in a melting pot where things are far from liquid:

“If there was one thing sixty-plus years as a black man had taught him, it was that the need to defend oneself was ever present.”

The story builds really well and the tones are always of the right shade. Lawrence has the ability to drift along with the ease of an old story-teller, capture a mood or a moment with a broad palette and sense of total immersion,  then mix it up with simple phrases that convey a huge amount, all of this coiled tight around an engaging plot that pulls no punches when the going gets tough.

Top of the bill is Gideon Miles himself. He’s wrestling with some of his own demons, in spite of his success. He’s a young man in an old man’s body and his lust for action just won’t let him be.

Whether you’ve read about Gideon Miles in his previous adventures or not, it matters not. If you’ve been there, the references to his past are slickly handled and avoid being overplayed. If you haven’t, I’d wager that it’s likely you’ll go looking for more now you’ve had a taste of what’s on offer.

A really entertaining read.

Friday 23 May 2014

Dancing With Myself: PRESTON LANG interviews PRESTON LANG

Q: You have a new book out called The Carrier. What’s it about?

A girl with sultry voice tries to hijack drug courier. The courier plays innocent and the girl becomes violent. Things get complicated.

Q: How does it start?

            CHAPTER ONE

Cyril hadn’t given another thought to the boy in the baseball hat. He assumed the kid had gone back to play pool with his friends or drink beer directly from the pitcher. Cyril turned to the bar and tried to read the scrambled captioning for Monday Night Football. The players hit each other too hard, so he decided to go back to his motel room. He was halfway to the door when the girl stopped him.

“Do you have a second?” she asked.

She was dark-haired with quick, vital eyes, and she had a voice—low and tangy.

“What’s on your mind?” asked Cyril.

“That frat boy and two of his brothers are waiting for you outside.”

“The frat boy?”

“I just thought you should know.”

“Thank you.”

They stood for a moment together, neither one ready to end the conversation.

“Why did you call him a fuck monkey?” the girl asked.

“He was acting . . . like a fuck monkey.”      

Q: Can you give us the best metaphor you used in The Carrier?

A: “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

Q: You didn’t write that; Raymond Chandler did. Also, I’m not sure you understand what a metaphor is.

A: Fair enough.

Q: How long could you last just on the food you have in your apartment right now? Assume unlimited water.

A: Four months. Maybe more. I guess it depends. 

Q: If you were a major league baseball player, what song would you want them to play when you came to bat?

A: I Want'a Do Something Freaky To You, by Leon Haywood.

Q: What if they played books-on-tape excerpts instead of songs when you came to bat, then what?

A: Chapter 14 of To the Lighthouse. I wouldn’t step into the batter’s box until they’d read the entire passage. Get a hot dog if you like; I’m waiting for Briscoe to have her vision.

Q: The average major league baseball game takes three hours and four minutes to play. Do you think this is too long?

A: No, I don’t. This is a lot of baseball questions.

Q: Who are some writers you like a lot?

A: Cain, Stark/Westlake, Jim Thompson, Mindy Hung.

Q: What’s an idea for a book you’ve discarded?

A: I had an inspiration about a cat detective novel: a cat who solves mysteries. I thought it was the most original idea ever, but there’s like a thousand cat detectives out there. Really, look into it some time. Most crimes these days are solved by cat detectives—some amateur, some professional.

Q: Do you like writing?

A: Yes. I like writing a lot. I like rewriting too. Mapping it out, fitting it in place, using varied voices, it’s all a lot of fun.

Q: Do you have anything else coming up?

A: I have a few more novels that are almost ready to get out there: one about some nasty domestic blackmail and karaoke; one about an amoral Canadian investigator, looking into sex and drug trafficking in the USA.

Q: Thanks for answering some questions.

A: Thanks for asking. I’m just happy to be here.


Wednesday 21 May 2014


‘Bad luck, it falls upon people every day. It’s one of the only certain truths. It’s always on deck, it’s always just waiting. The worst thing, the thing that scares me the most is that you never know who or when it’s going to hit. But I knew then, that morning, when I saw the kid’s frozen arms in the back of the car that bad luck had found my brother and me. And us, we took the bad luck and strapped it around our feet like concrete. We did the worst imaginable thing you could do. We ran away. We just got in to his beat-up 1974 Dodge Fury and left.’

Here’s a book I’d like you to try. It’s my third Willy Vlautin novel in a fairly short period of time and it seems I got there and went in the wrong direction, this being his first. It matters not a jot that I haven’t worked in sequence – I’d have read all of three by now no matter where I’d started. The guy has a knack for writing stories that I love and telling them in a way that I find utterly compelling.

In ‘The Motel Life’ we meet up with a couple of brothers. Frank’s first, suffering from a severe hangover when a duck flies through his motel window and then his brother turns up with news that he’s run over a boy in the middle of the night and has his body in the car. Even though there was nothing that Jerry Lee could have done to prevent the accident, he’s riddled with guilt and the guilt only seems to want to grow.

The pair set off on the road hoping to escape the law and to avoid any kind of retribution.

What follows is a remarkable tale. It’s remarkable in the sense that it doesn’t follow any linear storytelling. As they young men move forward the story also moves back to the past to let us know how they came to be here in the first place. This skipping back and forth builds up a wonderful, multi-layered picture that quickly becomes three dimensional rather than flat. Needless to say, these stories are bleak and full of pain, but they’re also full of life and a strong sense of the way the people who inhabit the tales cope with the luck that’s dealt their way.

To add to this, there’s another tier of story-telling. Frank Flannigan happens to make up his own tales. Sometimes he writes them down for his brother to read when he’s passing time, others he just tells the ones he’s been working on or old favourites depending on the mood. These stories offer escape and comfort to those who listen as well as to Frank. They are occasionally in the current situation and always seem to have a bearing on the present. Importantly to those who hear them, they usually have a grain of hope. It’s that trace of hope that allows them all to keep going.

Vlautin has an easy style. The voice is natural and poetic and really makes me want to listen. It’s this, above all, that has raised the guy into the position of being one of my all-time favourites. Given that it seems so effortless, I’m also incredibly jealous of the man’s talent.

I’ll be trying to hold off from reading his latest, The Free, for as long as I can, but don’t think it will be long. When I’m done, I’ll be left waiting for him to write afresh. I guess I could always try his music while I’m waiting.

A brilliant book that took my breath away more than once and then put it back again every time.

Thursday 15 May 2014


Before the review, news that there have been some strong releases this week.

Anthony Neil Smith has the follow-up to the wonderful All The Young Wariors called Once A Warrior. It's published by Blasted Heath and that alone should have you salivating.

Another title is A Case Of Noir. That's by the excellent Paul D Brazill and looks like it has a tour of Europe to keep you entertained.

And now to Brilliance by Marcus Sakey.

In some ways, I think Brilliance is almost brilliant. There’s a huge amount to enjoy and much of it is highly engaging.

The plot is rather well put together and is based upon an interesting premise. Essentially, the world (read for world, the United States) has been rattled by the appearance of a new type of person, the brilliant. Brilliants have their own highly developed skills and talents, skills that go way beyond the expected norms. Nick Cooper, for example, has the ability to read people by seeing their intention projected in minute physical tells. He can also create patterns by using intention and character to work out what is likely to happen in the future. These skills make him perfectly suitable for working for the government as a DAR agent, a government that is rather nervous about the brilliants because of their talents and because of a growing terrorist fringe within their ranks.

There’s plenty for the brilliant to be unhappy about in a modern world where difference is deemed to be problematic, in particular the treatment and segregation of brilliant children who are taken away and practically brainwashed.

Cooper is a dedicated upholder of law and order. He firmly believes that he is saving his country from civil war and he is completely driven to making sure he succeeds in his work. His dedication to the cause of hunting down brilliant terrorist groups wavers a little when he realises his daughter is also a brilliant. He sees some of the unkind educational indoctrinations of the brilliant academies first hand and hopes he can find a better way for his own child.

In Part One, the world of the novel is set out wonderfully. I particularly liked the way it didn’t take a huge tangent from the way things really are, making each of the dilemmas posed all the more interesting to wrestle with. It’s clever and works very well. It also had the effect of drawing me in completely and in a very natural way, so that I was hooked from the off.

Another reason for the immediate engagement was the high quality of the action and the sense of danger. I enjoyed following Cooper in his initial hunt for the terrorist Vasquez who is on the verge of starting a war and needs to be captured. That hunt doesn’t end as Cooper might have predicted and he is struck by the dedication and passion felt by Vasquez about the movement to which she belongs.

Part Two was where I stuttered a little. Whereas in the early stages I felt I was on the main road and travelling at top speed, in the second section I felt more like I had been diverted along a series of backstreets and didn’t feel quite so connected. In part, this is because Cooper’s mission has taken a huge twist and he enters uncertain and unknown territory. Though there is lots of interest and detail here, there also seems to be a lot more explanation of what is going on and why. A lot more filling in of gaps so that everything remains understood. I also had some sense of being manipulated here, as if page-turning had become the main driving force.

Things do come together again. As relationships form and the many plot twists come together as a tight whole, it regains its balance and returns being an intelligent thriller. The action is all the more exciting because of the amount invested in the characters and it certainly goes out with a bang.

I imagine that this would make a great film. In fact, in some ways it feels like it was a film before it was a book, the structure and mood feeling very cinematic at times.

I really enjoyed the read and think any thriller lovers should pick this up.

I also had a look at the preview of the next book, something I very rarely do when I finish something. The opening line reads:

‘On the monitor, Cleveland was burning.’

How’s that for a hook? It’s certainly got me very interested indeed. There’s plenty in Brilliance to make sure I’ll be back for another look into the world Sakey has created. The things I know are that I have no idea how the story is going to unfold and that it will be a very exciting and interesting read.

Good stuff.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

‘Hoods’ is an extremely strong collection of short fiction. It recreates a period in modern American history that I’ve always been fascinated by and paints it in shades I’ve not really associated with it before. There are strong themes in the work as outlined in the title and the stories overlap a in a number of respects. They’re also substantial pieces in their own right and any one of them would be worth the price of entry.

Many of the characters have been damaged in some way, often related to coming back from war and having to come to terms with their nightmares. Either that, or they’ve lived through the depression or been damaged by those who were supposed to keep them safe. They’re trying to find something or someone to settle their hearts and minds and to help them with their loneliness and this is no easy quest. They’re also capable of extremes of behaviour that make for interesting reading.

I found each piece to be haunting even after their resolutions, for in these stories the ending is often only a new beginning.

Wrapped up in the tales of car racing, robbery, scrapping, killing and stolen guitars there are many tender moments of humanity and poetry.

I loved the backdrop and the way the writers handled the sense of time and place. They had me purring like some of the car engines I’ve come to know a little better.

I’ll not single out any one in particularly; for me, my favourite was always the one I was reading at the time.

An excellent collection that you really shouldn’t miss, especially if your looking for something vibrant and fresh to engage with.