Tuesday 24 June 2014



‘Adem had come for a girl, and she was a girl worth staying for, regardless of how her soft face had been turned into a horror story of scars, holes and crust. He would have given his life for what was behind her wire-rimmed glasses and London-educated English. He should have, rather than running away from her. This time she would realize that.’

I really enjoyed Anthony Neil Smith’s ‘All The Young Warriors’. It was an amazing story told with power and craft and I was entirely satisfied by its outcome.

I was a little surprised to hear there was to be a sequel, in part because ATYW worked so very well and also because it finished rather conclusively. Even so, I liked the opener enough to give ‘Once A Warrior’ an airing and I’m delighted that I did.

Stepping into the sequel is a little bit like moving up a level in a video game. Everything is familiar, yet it’s a little more complicated and attacks the senses at a faster rate. Because there’s more going on, the reader and author have to be sharper and more alert and reaching the end is all the more satisfying because of that.

Adem’s on his way back to find his Somali love in order to find forgiveness and to make amends. She’s there somewhere and he believes he can find her if only he can follow his instincts and apply all of his passion. In order to do so, he’s had to resurrect his Mr Mohammed character and needs to travel to the Middle East under the guise of being on a pilgrimage.

Adem’s father (Mustafa Bahdoon), meanwhile, has left his job in order to return to the Southside Killaz, a gang he founded way back when in Minneapolis. Needless to say, the current gang-leader isn’t too happy about the idea and it’s not long before there’s a new war on the streets as things fly out of control. All this just to rescue a girl who has been stolen for the sex trade and to hold up his end of the family honour.

In each strand of the story, things become complicated. Neither father nor son can trust anyone completely as all allegiances seem invisible and untrustworthy. Working out who to side with goes way beyond using gut instinct and experience as both of them are stranded way out of their depth.

What is to be admired about this novel is the way Smith has expanded the territory so broadly. He’s introduced the CIA, has the complexity of gang relationships and rivalries, is delving deeper into his protagonists’ culture and religion than before and brings in a higher level of terrorism and manipulation than previously. That these various pieces can co-exist so cleverly and plausibly is a testament to the hard-centred core of the book and the way the motives and drives of the characters are so consistent and understandable. It also helps that the book is always driving forward and has a real sense of energy and tension that rarely lets up. I was completely engaged and wrapped up in this from the start and was still buzzing even when I’d turned off my kindle after the last, gripping pages.

Do you have to read ‘All The Young Warriors’ before ‘Once A Warrior’? Not at all. It stands alone and everything that you’ll need to know of the first book is dripped into the sequel seamlessly.

And which is better? I remember giving ATYW 5 stars without any hesitation. It’s even easier to do with ‘Once A Warrior’; it’s the sequel I prefer and that really is saying something.

You also get a badass called Poe in the sequel. He’s some piece of work and what a name for a villain.
This is a book that can make a long trans-Atlantic flight pass and you find yourself landing as if it’s barely been minutes since take-off. It would be perfect for the beach on a lazy holiday. It’s just what you need to take your mind off the cold outside when you’re sitting by a fire in mid-winter. It’s a great read start to finish wherever you happen to be and whatever the situation.

Go get.

Tuesday 17 June 2014



First a little nice news for me.

How To Choose A Sweetheart has been shortlisted for a couple of awards over at Indie Book Bargains. It's in the Best Romantic Comedy and the Best Overall Book categories and I'm thrilled. Thanks to all at IBB for their hard work. You don't have to buy it to read it if you can access Overdrive via your local library and if you are a Scribd subscriber it's available here.

I also have a couple of collections going for free at Amazon just now. They're With Love And Squalor and Beat On The Brat (and other stories). You'll probably have them already, but if you don't, maybe you'd like to give them a try.

You can ignore all the above quite easily, but I'd like you to take the following words in very carefully. It's new of a book you're likely to love. Here goes:

‘Kyle lay that way for hours, his fear of the lizard-beast bursting in to find him balanced somewhat by a child’s faith in the mystical protection afforded by pulling the covers over one’s head.’

The Lizard’s Ardent Uniform is a collection of stories that have been inspired by the dream diary of a young man who is no longer with us. This is explained beautifully in the introduction by David Cranmer, an introduction which serves as a launch pad into a journey through a new series of realities as told by some of the best short story writers around.

What the stories have in common is that they seem to shimmer in a dreamlike way so that it’s always clear from the outset that things aren’t exactly as they might immediately seem. It’s like entering the Twilight Zone in that you’re told that things will be unusual at the outset and yet you are still surprised that nothing turns out as might have been expected.

The Lizard’s Ardent Uniform by Chris F Holm is a classy piece about a boy, Kyle, who has been moved from his familiar surroundings and has been successfully bought off by a telescope. Unfortunately for Kyle, he spots things in the distance that he may rather not have known about.

Dust To Dust is a wonderful story by Terrie Farley Moran. It’s rooted in the very real and cruel world of conservative America, as a young adolescent girl is moved out to stay with her grandma to have the baby she’s conceived out of wedlock. It’s told in flashback and the strength of the feeling it gives off and the horror of the situation is beautifully handled.

Twin Talk by Patti Abbott takes a fabulous look at a home where twin daughters rule the roost. They have that spooky communication thing going on and the sinister feel pervades the whole piece so that it’s impossible to stop reading.

The Malignant Reality by Evan V Corder is a slick and classy take on the theme of soul-selling. What is surprising here is how superbly this old concept has been bent out of shape so that it becomes something utterly fresh and new.

Ghosts In the Fog by Steve Weddle has its feet planted mainly on the ground. It’s set in a hospital after an incident the main character might well have done better to avoid. There’s a real sense of introspection as a cafeteria conversation takes him back through the hoops of his life to find how he got to this point and what he wanted to do with his life way back:

“It’s like this catalogue we had in college,” I said. “We used to get in the mail. Where you can get DH Lawrence’s shoes for $200. How they tell that story and you’re walking through the light rain in Ceylon and this woman knows your name and then she takes you to a cafe and someone is playing the violin and you watch the moon between the buildings and everything is just right and whatever. I wanted that. Whatever that is. Not a job.”

 Powerful stuff.

The Debt by Hilary Davidson is a wonderful thing. A living hell for a hitchhiker who just can’t escape the circles in which he’s trapped. It’s this simple sentence at the opening that sets things up so nicely:

‘The hitchhiker heard a car behind him, and he half-turned to look. It was a silver Prius, of course. Always the silver Prius.’

The Zygma Gambit by Garnett Elliott is a futuristic work set in a world where greed still eats up people and things. The protagonist sets off on a journey into the future to replace his uncle, even though he’s seen clearly in a dream that the gravity boots he’s wearing have been sabotaged. Imagine a western in space. A great way to round off the collection.

The pieces here are superb in their own right. As a collection, they come together perfectly. If they’re a memorial of sorts, it speaks volumes for the man it celebrates, one Kyle J Knapp. This may be a disparate gathering in the sense that there are a range of genres, but there’s also a gel that holds them altogether. Perhaps it’s that dreamlike quality I mentioned at the opening or, maybe, it’s that these gems were all spawned from the same Petri dish.

On the cover it mentions that this is Veridical Dreams Volume 1. This reviewer is definitely hopeful that 2 and 3 are just around the corner.


Wednesday 11 June 2014



“What would you say to a bottle of Tinto de Verano?”

“I’d say: I love you. Will you marry me?”

If you like your fiction hard-boiled then A Case Of Noir is a book for you. The above example of sharp dialogue is just one a thousand examples of crackling, punchy prose that weave through this book like a spider on speed. The quips are so very well handled and serve many purposes – they colour the characters, add zing, focus images and bring humour by the Sam Spade-load.

The atmosphere is hot and pregnant with lust (‘Lena was a heat-seeking missile and I was the target.') and disaffection, with lowlife and alcohol, with apathy and action  and has a soundtrack that would make a nice little compilation.

 Follow Luke Case (the eponymous anti-hero) as he trawls from one sordid experience to another. While you there, you can also discover how killing really is and how it’s nothing like it is on the TV. You’ll get to know parts of Europe that you may never have visited and, if you’ve been there, you’re unlikely to have seen them in this light:
Red Esperanto (Warsaw)
Death On A Hot Afternoon (Madrid)
The Kelly Affair (Granada)
The Big Rain (Toulouse)
One Of Those Days In England (Cambridge)

Refreshingly straight and unpretentious stuff that brings a new zing to an old favourite.
Really, what's not to like?

Saturday 7 June 2014


If you have a TV or radio or computer, I imagine that it was difficult not to think about the D-Day landings yesterday. I’m always hugely moved by the human stories of the period and the levels of desperation people must have had to endure and move beyond (if they were lucky enough).
I have my own tiny story. It’s not a fiction, though it is blurred by a failing memory and the piling up of the years.
It was 1984. I’m pretty awful with dates and can rarely be bothered to work things back to find out when things happened. In this case it’s pretty easy. As part of my adventure, I remember being dropped off in Paris by a German in a sporty car who had a love of continental thrash punk. The rain poured and the cafe we took shelter in was showing the Olympic Games from LA. I was with my good friend Gareth and we were hitchhiking around France and were having one hell of an adventure.
The part of the holiday I wanted to mention here was near to Bayuex in Normandy. Gareth and I were in the area. Must have been dropped off by someone at a junction where his plans and ours went in separate directions.
The area was rural. It was boiling hot. With a typical lack of preparation, we had hardly any food or drink with us and the road seemed pretty deserted. After an hour or so, things were looking bleak. The car-drivers who passed looked disinterested and usually refused to give eye-contact. The evening was drawing in and the prospect of sleeping in a field seemed to be very real.
At that point, just when our spirits fell off the scale, a van drove by. A guy popped out and had a chat with Gareth about our plans. Said that if we hadn’t been picked up by the time he returned in an hour or so, he’d take us home and we could stay at his place.
For a while, Gareth and I were full of joy and I’m pretty sure we didn’t stick out our thumbs again until the man came past again.
True to his word the man came back, threw our bags into the back of his van and drove us back to his house.
I remember experiencing some relief when we were introduced to his wife and his child, a toddler who should now be well into their thirties. There were dogs, too. I wasn’t comfortable with children or animals back then and just did my best to seem at ease. We had a home cooked dinner, shared some wine and were given beds for the night.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, the man took us on a tour of the area. My French is shocking so much of it went over my head. Thankfully, Gareth was a very capable translator. Still is. The tory was about the war. How the tanks had appeared in the area. How one of them had got stuck and was rescued by the local people, including the man’s father. How grateful everyone was to the soldiers who had come to liberate them. How pleased they were with the outcome. There was a real power to his words. He was conveying his own gratitude to us for the freedom that came, passing on his father’s joy and filtering them to us as if he just couldn’t help himself. As if the hospitality he’s shown us was a thank you to those soldiers who’d passed through his land way back when.
I was amazed by it.
Not that they’d finished.
The man’s wife took us to visit the cathedral after our walk and then dropped us off at a spot where she felt we were bound to find our next lift.
To thank the family, we bought a rather lovely looking cake for them to share over lunch. It was a small thing to do to, buying them that flan, but it taught me a lot. I’m grateful to Gareth and to the family for the lesson.

Et voila. Nothing earth-shattering, but a tiny speck of a thought on something that happened a long time ago that had me thinking about a time even further back in history.

Wednesday 4 June 2014


I had high hopes for Galveston. The tags are all there. The awards, nominations and reviews collected. The ball is in my park. It almost lived up to my expectations, too, only just not quite.

I have some mixed feelings about the book. I feel that the word-for-word writing is very good. That each vignette is well crafted and pitched in the required tone for the moment, this usually being in the minor key.

The central characters are strong and interesting and their lives haven’t been easy. I can say this because there’s plenty of back-story to back this up.

There’s also a pretty good plot in there. Hard man working for the mob falls foul of his bosses, is set up and manages to get out of a tight spot, goes on the run and picks up a prostitute who becomes his buddy along the way. The guy has just found out he has only a little time to live and the woman has no idea how to survive in the world if the sex is taken out of it.

What didn’t quite work for me was the way all of the individual parts were put together. The rhythms of the piece are a little erratic and the slower sections lumber in places. There are also elements to the story that seem overly contrived. An example of this is the relationship between the 2 runners which never seems to quite fit. They really shouldn’t stay together and even with their battered past and need for something in their lives, they make a pretty unlikely match.

The overall arc contains a tragic tale and the grim images and thoughts of the protagonist, Roy Cady, are often beautifully expressed. Some of the prose is truly stunning. There are many lines and expressions of pain and sadness that are remarkable and, to my mind, this is the big strength of the book. The ending is one of those seriously good moments and is quite sublime.

Recommended for the quality of the prose, the settings, tones and the vignettes rather than as a thriller.